The general

A silent, black and white film which has some laughs.  65%

 

The General poster.jpg

Despite being the major creative force in this movie (looking at Wikipedia’s entry for this movie now, I seem him co-credited for roles such as director, producer, script writer and editing) Buster Keaton seems to humbly list himself in last position as far as the acting credits go, even though he is the lead actor in this movie.

In this story Johnnie Gray (played by Buster) is a railway engineer (…um…’just’ a train driver?) in America’s South. It also happens to be set in the spring of 1861. For non-Americans, that date may not mean much, but no doubt most Americans would recognise it as the time when the American Civil War broke out (very early on in the movie, at the train station Johnnie pulls into, you do see two young black males carrying luggage…it certainly doesn’t seem like the South is a Hellhole for black people…but then again, you don’t see anymore blacks afterwards). When his love interest Annabelle Lee (played by Marion Mack) wonders when Johnnie will enlist to fight for the South after seeing her father and brother do so, he goes to great lengths to do so, to some comedic effect. Marion makes for a feminine and attractive co-star. Keaton himself makes for physical prowess and derring do in his performance.

Being an ancient comedy (i.e. being in black and white and silent to boot), I think that the humour is no doubt dated for modern audiences (or at least adult ones), but I did chuckle more than once for its duration. E.g. when Johnnie contrives to be alone with Annabelle when there are two young boys inside the mansion with them (I have no idea who those two boys were meant to be…and it’s also quite weird in how Johnnie and Annabelle first meet…it’s by no means clear they are meant to be a’courtin’). The other scene which made me chuckle was when Annabelle takes it upon herself to do some sweeping on Johnnie’s train (which is called “The general”, hence the title) at a rather odd moment. A few seconds after that event, there’s a bizarre moment between him and her. Anyway, the humour for the most part is of the “slapstick” variety.

The Wikipedia entry for this movie mentions that there are different versions of this movie which have different running times. The version that I saw was screened on ABC1 (Australia) on 06/01/2014) at 1:50 a.m. Of course I PVRd it to watch later, as well as the cult Australian movie “Stone” which preceded it. Yet to see the Australian movie though…and I saw “The general” some weeks after I recorded it…and am writing this review weeks after seeing it too. Anyway, in case the following information helps identify which version of the movie that I saw, the running time from go to whoa is 75:30 minutes length. The score features a lot of piano solo music to it…I’m assuming some of the score references a funeral march piece one time, and I can definitely hear “The teddy bears’ picnic” later on…it’s played on a constant loop for a while and later on it is used to comedic effect at an apt moment. There is one scene where the advancing army of the North gets a jaunty score…which makes me wonder if this was a later version of the movie.

“The general” has a cast of 100s at times and the cinematography is nice at times…with shafts of light breaking into a forest. There’s also a probably a good example of special effects ‘magic’ in one scene where you see a lightning flash. For one scene with a shot of a train on a high bridge, I did wonder if that was a model, but I could see figures moving inside of it, suggesting it was not a special effect.

In favour of this movie is the good, easy to follow narrative structure and the way that the captions linger on the screen even when there is the occasional slab of text, making it less stressful to read the dialogue before it disappears.

One thing of interest to note about this movie is the fact that in it, it’s the South (as represented by Johnnie et.al) which is the ‘hero’ of the movie. This relates to my earlier query about whether the score for the advancing Union army was a later inclusion.

This is my first Buster Keaton movie. As an Australian, I have to point out that having seen this movie now, I can definitely see the homage being paid to Keaton by the Australian comedian Frank Woodley (of “Lano and Woodley” fame…in fact, they made a sit-com together as well, “The adventures of Lano & Woodley”). I was very impressed with his 2012 sit-c0m “Woodley” and found it funny and sweet. He leans on the kind of minimalist slapstick humour utilised by Keaton in this movie. In any case, I suppose I’m saying that if you are a fan of Keaton’s work, I can recommend “Woodley” at least…his other work/tv shows are too foggy in my memory to recommend.

The smartest machine on Earth

Score: 80%

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1837301/reference

An interesting documentary concerning the attempt by IBM researchers to create a computer capable of competing on the American game show “Jeopardy!”. As these boffins explain, the ability of computers to play chess was once seen as the pinnacle of computer intelligence. However, the highly formalised and rigid nature of the game of chess was something which computers quickly mastered, even recently being able to defeat chess grandmasters…I Wikid this topic and found some interesting information on this, as well as a link to a documentary on this achievement:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garry_Kasparov#Chess_against_computers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_Over:_Kasparov_and_the_Machine

An interesting quote from the first link, above, is:

“Kasparov claimed that several factors weighed against him in this match. In particular, he was denied access to Deep Blue’s recent games, in contrast to the computer’s team, which could study hundreds of Kasparov’s.

After the loss Kasparov said that he sometimes saw deep intelligence and creativity in the machine’s moves, suggesting that during the second game, human chess players, in contravention of the rules, intervened. IBM denied that it cheated, saying the only human intervention occurred between games. The rules provided for the developers to modify the program between games, an opportunity they said they used to shore up weaknesses in the computer’s play revealed during the course of the match. Kasparov requested printouts of the machine’s log files but IBM refused, although the company later published the logs on the Internet.[108] Although Kasparov wanted another rematch, IBM declined and ended their Deep Blue program.

Kasparov’s loss to Deep Blue inspired the creation of the game Arimaa.[109]

That first paragraph in the quote, above, mirrors something which happens in this current documentary…the computer created to play on “Jeopardy!” improves once it has access to the answers already provided by human contestants in the category currently being played.

For what it’s worth, the computer designed to compete on “Jeopardy!” is called “Watson” by the boffins.

The appeal of this documentary is the insight provided into how a computer of this sort approaches providing answers to the sorts of ‘questions’ given on the game show. It’s the nature of those question (well, the show is sort of bizarro…contestants have to provide a question to the sometimes cryptic ‘answer’ given in the show) which mark out this experiment by IBM as being much more demanding of computer science than building a better chess playing machine. Ordinary language isn’t as rigid and formal as the rules of chess, hence creating a machine capable of competing against the very best players of “Jeopardy!” is a much tougher proposition.

Two approaches to the issue of artificial intelligence are mentioned:

1) Rules approach – this is a kind of “brute force” approach which is suitable for chess programmes. The computer simultaneously thinks through all the possible combinations of moves which made me made by itself or its opponent…a figure of something like 30 moves ahead is mentioned…which absolutely dwarfs what the best human chess grandmasters can manage.

Some of this approach is used on Watson. The computer programmers code millions of items of “common sense” to make the computer able to give logical answers to questions. An example of that would be the distinctions between “child”, “teenager”, “adult” say, and “boy”, “man” etc. If you know the meaning of one of those words, then you can make deductions and inferences based on that knowledge. However, a limitation of this approach is humans aren’t really capable of formalising all these kinds of “common sense” facts which we all take for granted.

2) Machine learning – this is more akin to human learning. The computer is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. When humans can’t code the millions upon millions “common sense” facts which we all take for granted, another approach to make Watson able to compete against the champions of “Jeopardy!” will be required to fast track the process of making it competitive against them.

There are some laughs to be had in this documentary. In trial runs against humans at IBM headquarters, comedian Todd Crain hosts the game show. He often mocks Watson for incorrect answers. For instance, due to computers coming up with answers to questions as found on “Jeopardy!” differently to how humans do this, Watson proposes that “Richard Nixon” is a First Lady of the U.S.A! To a human, it’s obvious that a man cannot be a First Lady, hence Watson’s answer is extremely stupid. Presumably the IBM programmers didn’t add that kind of Rule into Watson’s database!

Before Watson is ready to tackle “Jeopardy!”‘s finest champions for real, on television, some ‘bugs’ must be addressed. Another issue is Watson’s inability to hear contestant’s correct answers to questions in a certain category which would allow it to work out what the ‘question’ is really entailing. Once that data is provided (the human contestants already have this information) Watson will have the ability to “self-correct“. In other words, if Watson is not ‘getting’ the import of a category on “Jeopardy!” and is giving ‘stupid’ answers, then ‘hearing’ correct answers given by the human contestants will allow it to work out what feature of their answer is relevant to the notion of providing a correct answer in that category. For instance, if Watson gives the answer to a question on dates as a particular day – and gets it wrong – and the human contestants give a month as the answer, Watson can self-correct to match a month to two dates given as clues in the ‘question’.

The documentary does mention the computer programme called “Eliza” which is available on the internet now. I’ve interacted with that before and may post my experience of that sometime soon here.

P.S. since posting up this review, the machine at the centre of this documentary (“Watson”) has been in the news again. I.B.M. is looking to incorporate Watson into mobile phones:

http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13970_7-57619588-78/ibm-to-take-watson-mobile-with-developer-challenge/

A paragraph from that link above reads:

“During a keynote address at Mobile World Congress 2014, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, a global competition to promote the development of mobile consumer and business apps powered by Watson”.

Pigeon guided missiles and elephants

Thought I’d transfer some posts from a Group of mine which I hardly ever use any more to this site. I’ll repost my introduction from my Group to this site too:

Time stamp on Group when I posted it: 21/09/2001 (01:09:30 -0700)

I heard about this article during a public seminar on the question of whether god is dead or not. It relates to the terrorist attacks on the US. It is by British evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. Stick with the article as it does have a serious point.

Below are reader’s reactions to the article:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/15/september11.politicsphilosophyandsociety1

Religion’s misguided missiles

Promise a young man that death is not the end and he will willingly cause disaster
Richard Dawkins

A guided missile corrects its trajectory as it flies, homing in, say, on the heat of a jet plane’s exhaust. A great improvement on a simple ballistic shell, it still cannot discriminate particular targets. It could not zero in on a designated New York skyscraper if launched from as far away as Boston.

That is precisely what a modern “smart missile” can do. Computer miniaturisation has advanced to the point where one of today’s smart missiles could be programmed with an image of the Manhattan skyline together with instructions to home in on the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Smart missiles of this sophistication are possessed by the United States, as we learned in the Gulf war, but they are economically beyond ordinary terrorists and scientifically beyond theocratic governments. Might there be a cheaper and easier alternative?

In the second world war, before electronics became cheap and miniature, the psychologist BF Skinner did some research on pigeon-guided missiles. The pigeon was to sit in a tiny cockpit, having previously been trained to peck keys in such a way as to keep a designated target in the centre of a screen. In the missile, the target would be for real.

The principle worked, although it was never put into practice by the US authorities. Even factoring in the costs of training them, pigeons are cheaper and lighter than computers of comparable effectiveness. Their feats in Skinner’s boxes suggest that a pigeon, after a regimen of training with colour slides, really could guide a missile to a distinctive landmark at the southern end of Manhattan island. The pigeon has no idea that it is guiding a missile. It just keeps on pecking at those two tall rectangles on the screen, from time to time a food reward drops out of the dispenser, and this goes on until… oblivion.

Pigeons may be cheap and disposable as on-board guidance systems, but there’s no escaping the cost of the missile itself. And no such missile large enough to do much damage could penetrate US air space without being intercepted. What is needed is a missile that is not recognised for what it is until too late. Something like a large civilian airliner, carrying the innocuous markings of a well-known carrier and a great deal of fuel. That’s the easy part. But how do you smuggle on board the necessary guidance system? You can hardly expect the pilots to surrender the left-hand seat to a pigeon or a computer.

How about using humans as on-board guidance systems, instead of pigeons? Humans are at least as numerous as pigeons, their brains are not significantly costlier than pigeon brains, and for many tasks they are actually superior. Humans have a proven track record in taking over planes by the use of threats, which work because the legitimate pilots value their own lives and those of their passengers.

The natural assumption that the hijacker ultimately values his own life too, and will act rationally to preserve it, leads air crews and ground staff to make calculated decisions that would not work with guidance modules lacking a sense of self-preservation. If your plane is being hijacked by an armed man who, though prepared to take risks, presumably wants to go on living, there is room for bargaining. A rational pilot complies with the hijacker’s wishes, gets the plane down on the ground, has hot food sent in for the passengers and leaves the negotiations to people trained to negotiate.

The problem with the human guidance system is precisely this. Unlike the pigeon version, it knows that a successful mission culminates in its own destruction. Could we develop a biological guidance system with the compliance and dispensability of a pigeon but with a man’s resourcefulness and ability to infiltrate plausibly? What we need, in a nutshell, is a human who doesn’t mind being blown up. He’d make the perfect on-board guidance system. But suicide enthusiasts are hard to find. Even terminal cancer patients might lose their nerve when the crash was actually looming.

Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? If only! Nobody is that stupid, but how about this – it’s a long shot, but it just might work. Given that they are certainly going to die, couldn’t we sucker them into believing that they are going to come to life again afterwards? Don’t be daft! No, listen, it might work. Offer them a fast track to a Great Oasis in the Sky, cooled by everlasting fountains. Harps and wings wouldn’t appeal to the sort of young men we need, so tell them there’s a special martyr’s reward of 72 virgin brides, guaranteed eager and exclusive.

Would they fall for it? Yes, testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next.

It’s a tall story, but worth a try. You’d have to get them young, though. Feed them a complete and self-consistent background mythology to make the big lie sound plausible when it comes. Give them a holy book and make them learn it by heart. Do you know, I really think it might work. As luck would have it, we have just the thing to hand: a ready-made system of mind-control which has been honed over centuries, handed down through generations. Millions of people have been brought up in it. It is called religion and, for reasons which one day we may understand, most people fall for it (nowhere more so than America itself, though the irony passes unnoticed). Now all we need is to round up a few of these faith-heads and give them flying lessons.

Facetious? Trivialising an unspeakable evil? That is the exact opposite of my intention, which is deadly serious and prompted by deep grief and fierce anger. I am trying to call attention to the elephant in the room that everybody is too polite – or too devout – to notice: religion, and specifically the devaluing effect that religion has on human life. I don’t mean devaluing the life of others (though it can do that too), but devaluing one’s own life. Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.

If death is final, a rational agent can be expected to value his life highly and be reluctant to risk it. This makes the world a safer place, just as a plane is safer if its hijacker wants to survive. At the other extreme, if a significant number of people convince themselves, or are convinced by their priests, that a martyr’s death is equivalent to pressing the hyperspace button and zooming through a wormhole to another universe, it can make the world a very dangerous place. Especially if they also believe that that other universe is a paradisical escape from the tribulations of the real world. Top it off with sincerely believed, if ludicrous and degrading to women, sexual promises, and is it any wonder that naive and frustrated young men are clamouring to be selected for suicide missions?

There is no doubt that the afterlife-obsessed suicidal brain really is a weapon of immense power and danger. It is comparable to a smart missile, and its guidance system is in many respects superior to the most sophisticated electronic brain that money can buy. Yet to a cynical government, organisation, or priesthood, it is very very cheap.

Our leaders have described the recent atrocity with the customary cliche: mindless cowardice. “Mindless” may be a suitable word for the vandalising of a telephone box. It is not helpful for understanding what hit New York on September 11. Those people were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards. On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from.

It came from religion. Religion is also, of course, the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place. But that is another story and not my concern here. My concern here is with the weapon itself. To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.

Richard Dawkins is professor of the public understanding of science, University of Oxford, and author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Unweaving the Rainbow.

comment@guardian.co.uk

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/18/september11.usa18

Saving Mr. Banks

Humour, pathos, reality. 100%

Saving Mr. Banks Theatrical Poster.jpg

An amusing and entertaining account of the protracted efforts of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) to acquire the film rights to the novel “Mary Poppins”, by Pamela (Mrs!) Travers (played by Emma Thompson. No, not “Hermione” from the Harry Potter movies!). The reasons why his efforts are so protracted become evident throughout the movie.

Firstly, I have to confess to never having seen the movie nor read the book. Truth be told, it took me ages to work out who the titular character was! Now that I have the seen this movie, exploring the source material and more seems worthwhile.

“Protracted”…well…Mrs. Travers sort of comes across as a female version of Basil Fawlty in this movie (of the famous U.K. sitcom “Fawlty Towers”)! She is brusque and has the manner of a stern, toffee English woman. Mrs. Travers is consistently and insistently brusque throughout the movie and most amusing for that. That being said, seeing as how “Fawlty Towers” never found favour in the U.S., it might be hard to picture American audiences being much amused by her. There is some nice, subtle humour in the performances of those Mrs. Travers has to work with in the movie…the would be song writers for the film “Mary Poppins”…I recognised one from the U.S. version of “The office” (B.J. Novak).

If Mrs. Travers was nothing more than a female Basil Fawlty, then I suppose I might not have enjoyed this movie so much. Thompson, however, brings a great sense of pathos to her role. She is a woman who miserably carries her cross with her all the time. Not having read her book, I wonder how much of a ‘disconnect’ there is between the author and her creation.  Having seen a few award bait movies recently, I can’t say that any have particularly grabbed me. As Travers does have a narrative arc or sorts and displays multi-dimensional emotions, I think Thompson deserves a Best Actress award. The recently held Golden Globe awards gave that honour to actresses in “American hustle”, but to me “Saving Mr. Banks” is the superior movie and Thompson a more deserving recipient (I have no idea if Thomspon was even nominated in those awards).

Tom Hanks is also recognisably Tom Hanks in this movie, but it didn’t detract from his performance. Seeing as how positively I responded to this movie, I would be generous in giving him a Best Actor award. Seeing as how this movie is made by Walt Disney Studios, it’s no surprise that his representation is imbued with a vaseline glow. I was trying to recall what the controversy was with him, so I looked him up on Wikipedia to see if it was mentioned there…it is…anti-Semitism and racism. Of course, I doubt if a movie of this sort would really have any business delving into that aspect of his character.

What is good about this movie is how it attempts to ground Mrs. Travers personality with her childhood experiences. To me, it seemed to provide a basic level of insight into her, which wasn’t harsh. Without having explored this aspect myself, it seems to me that the film does provide some sort of explanation for the relationship between her book and her childhood experiences. Perhaps I would have liked more insight into the relationship between her childhood experiences and the woman she became…they seem pretty tenuous in the film, but then again I’m not sure psychonalysis would be of much help here. It’s just my sneaking suspicion that there is more to her adult form than what we see in the movie. This aspect is intriguing to me.

If I do have one criticism of the film, it is that it appears quite obscure on her family’s story. It wasn’t clear to me what Mrs. Travers’ father did for a living before he moved his family to the middle of nowhere in Australia. Did he have to change jobs? Also, there is a scene with Mrs. Travers’ mum (when she is also a child) where her mum pockets some liquor at the clothesline. Was that drink for her? Or was she hiding it from her husband? More clarity would have been appreciated here.

There was one scene which I appreciated in this movie…after a moment of crisis between Mrs. Travers and Walt, Walt travels to England to see her. He connects with her on a human level, I felt, and displayed empathy with her. The less pleasant scene (although it is played for laughs) comes later, when Mrs. Travers returns to see Walt, unexpectedly. It seems an affirmation of what Mrs. Travers might have imagined their relationship to have been all along…merely mercantile (on his part).

This movie portrays Mrs. Travers as having her D.N.A. (so to speak) all over Walt’s movie. Since the movie is regarded as a classic, it seems her efforts were entirely positive and beneficial to Walt’s movie, perhaps? In which case, she’s hardly deserving the scorn that she draws at times, right? If she hadn’t of been so insistent on her vision for the movie, would have it been as so unutterably awful as she imagined it could have been?

On reflection, it also seems to me that Mrs. Travers is, in fact, a kind of unintentional heroine of this Disney movie. Recently my Duckduckgo (a search engine) app had an interesting news story feed on it…via the “filmschoolrejects” website. The story was called “6 things the film industry does not want you to know about”. Number 6 concerned studios stealing scripts…poor script writers submit a script and an eerily similar one gets made into a movie later on with no compensation for the original script writer. I say “Bravo!” to Mrs. Travers! A true hero!

If the movie’s script isn’t just basically the conversations transcribed verbatim at the time from tapes, then I’d also give this film a best Script award. It’s also my personal Best Film so far.

I did entertain the notion of scoring this movie 95%, then 95+% (which is my threshhold for giving a film 10/10 on sites with a scoring function. But then I thought “Sod it!”. It’s near perfect and perfect enough.

American hustle

Dry, arch comedy with a straight face.

72.5+%

 

File:American Hustle 2013 poster.jpg

 

The basic story in this movie is relatively straightforward…a couple of con artists (Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser) are nabbed by an ambitious F.B.I. Agent (Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso) who promises not to charge either of them so long as they can help him catch bigger criminals by using their skills as con artists. Irving and Sydney agree to this…Irving’s wife Rosalyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t really privy to all of Irving’s activities…illegal or adulterous. The start of the movie informs the viewer that “some” of the movie is based on actual events. Presumably accuracy hasn’t been kept at the expense of good fun.

During the movie I frequently laughed out loud as the situation went from bad to worse for Irving and Sydney, or the stupidity of Rosalyn later in the movie (Lawrence shows a talent for character based comedy in this movie). Despite this humour, the movie did strike me as being a dialogue driven piece…a wall of dialogue. It’s also 138 minutes long…putting those two things together, it was quite demanding of your attention, perhaps at the expense of just providing pure entertainment. It’s not exactly intellectually taxing, just demanding of your attention. Even though I don’t usually watch movies again, the thought of watching this movie again due to its demanding nature made me think that I wouldn’t want to do that again in a hurry. I’d have to wait a decade, maybe. The way the characters relate to eachother perhaps has a ‘Brooklyn’ vibe to it. Maybe some people might find that taxing too.

A way that the movie attempts to keep you intrigued is by making you question the motives of the various players…are Irving and Sydney using each other? What is real? Where does the con begin and end? Who’s conning whom? This may provide pleasure for some as a viewing experience.

Can’t say that I knew how to interpret this movie…initially I missed the introduction explaining that it was partly based on a true story. Without that knowledge, I was wondering whether the movie was a comment on the Hollywood factory (e.g. Bale putting on the bat costume, pretending to be a superhero as a kind of con) or a metaphor for the American dream…in the guise of reinventing oneself to reach higher…if that is indeed the American dream…I’m Australian…I don’t know these things. If the latter, maybe that has something in common with the novel “The great Gatsby”, which is regarded as a classic in America and has also been turned into a movie…multiple times. Would still be inclined to think that on some level this movie is ‘saying something’ about the American experience, beyond merely fictionalising a true story.

Another thing that struck me was how often the look of the characters reminded me of other people in movies or tv or real life. E.g. when I caught the start of the movie, with Irving elaborately doing his hair, I was reminded of Tom Cruise in “Tropic thunder”, I think it was; Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito reminded me of a young Liberace perhaps…or that kind of Teddy Boy look…if that is the right phrase; Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen reminded me of Bill Bailey (the English comedian); one guy kind of reminded me of a young Michael Douglas; there’s one mob guy who kind of had a George Clooney in “O brother, where art thou?” look to him (that I don’t remember these character’s names just reflects on how demanding of your attention this movie is); Bradley Cooper in one scene (or two) reminds me of Kevin Kline’s turn in “A fish called Wanda”. Sort of related, perhaps Bale channels Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in his performance at times. Jennifer Lawrence sort of reminded me of Renée Zellweger in her looks at times…but maybe that’s just me?

Speaking of self-referential moments…I got the feeling that a member of the crew had the same surname as the lawyer who appears in the end of the movie…something like “Tellegio”…if that is the case, perhaps it’s a sort of in-joke or something? Maybe there’s more of that too?

There is some good 1970s music etc. in this movie but it’s not quite in the same league as “Boogie nights” on that front, which was stacked with the kind of songs I love from that era.

“American hustle” is a true ensemble work and I suppose in a year in which no particular movie or performance has screamed “Award!” to me, the extra yards Christian Bale has put in to perform his role (putting on a lot of weight, by the looks of it…assuming it’s not a fat suit), he’d be as worth a winner of a Best Actor award as anyone else. In other movies of his I’ve seen it occurred to me that he was often overshadowed by minor characters in star vehicles for him, like The Dark Knight (Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker) and Terminator: Salvation (Sam Worthington’s character Marcus Wright was more interesting than John Connor). It’s perhaps ironic that Bale may win an Oscar in a movie/character which isn’t a ‘star vehicle’ for him. Unlike Batman, Irving is an interesting character…more filling and nutritious, acting chops wise than the caped crusader.

One last thing…the ending…I did wonder if the film took a morally dubious stance on the targets DiMaso was chasing…i.e. not sure that I share those sentiments.

The day of the Doctor (50th anniversary special)

Clever boys. 85+%

Poster Day-of-the-Doctor.jpg

 

As all Who fans (Whovians…!) would know, this feature length episode of the famous serial was screened around the world at the same time yesterday (6:50 a.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Savings time on 24/11/2013). In fact, perhaps in a first for the series, it even got a short run at the cinemas…and is still playing today, at least (25/11/2013). I passed on the opportunity to see it in the cinema – in 3D no less! – due to feeling trepidation at how good it would be plus having to fork out $25 for the ‘privilege’. Turns out that this episode is in fact one of the best ever, right up there (in my estimation) with the classics of the revived series, like “Blink”, “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The empty child” (that last one only got bumped in my estimation after seeing it in repeat some years later). No doubt there are many classic stories of the “Classic” series, but I saw them as a child and hesitate to list them here.

I’ll briefly deal with the plot before having my say about the revived series versus the Classic series. The revived series at some point began mentioning some cataclysmic war between the Time Lords and one of the Doctor’s great adversaries, the Daleks. It comes to light that in one regeneration, the Doctor ended that war (“The Time War”) by destroying every last Dalek as well as his own home planet (“Gallifrey” ) and people (“Time Lords”). This movie finally provides more information on that narrative which had only previously been alluded to. No doubt it is common knowledge that at least two regenerations of the Doctor feature in this movie (the current one, played by Matt Smith, and the previous one, played by David Tennant) due to the promotional art for this release…as seen in the graphic for this review. We also see the unDoctor (responsible for ending The Time War), played by John Hurt. This narrative device (i.e. multiple Doctors appearing together) has been deployed a handful of times, starting in the Classic series..actually, all of them were in that series…until now. Did come across information yesterday (i.e. 24/11/2013) explaining that this device was always assocatiated with significant anniversaries for the series. I do know that there is a (mutual?) admiration society between the creator of the classic “Buffy the vampire slayer” series (Joss Whedon), and the people behind the revived Doctor Who (Russell T. Davies, I think). In fact, I do remember buying some of the early “Buffy” comics which contined on the story from the final episode in that great tv series. One of those comics references Doctor Who via the inclusion of a blue police box in one scene. It would please me to think that Whedon would absolutely love this movie…but then again I do suspect that he would love even those episodes of the revived series which I undoubtedly hate.

On its own, “The day of the Doctor” is a terrific piece of entertainment. For those with a good knowledge of the Classic series and the revived series, it offers up many treats. Like the best of Whedon’s “Buffy” work, it is funny and witty and poignant. One of the best episodes of the revived series, no doubt.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the bouquets out of the way, time for the brickbats. Part of the promotions for this movie feature the slogan “This changes everything”. That philosophy pretty much sums everything I hate about the revived series. Watching the revived series, I reflected on how it lacks compared to the Classic series. As I remember my childhood experiences watching the original series, I can now reflect on that and sum up the philosophy of the stories you got in that…”This changes nothing”. Davies’ philosophy seems to revise the history of the original series as well as making a franchise out of it, in the manner of Marvel Studios. He also pitched it more towards the American market, which was bad for it, I think.

For example, it seems to me that Davies had it in his head that the Classic series lacked strong female characters, so he would ‘rectify’ that. However, I feel like reminding him of the great Leela, from the Tom Baker years as the Doctor in the Classic series. Or Romana Mk.II, perhaps. Davies also seems to think that he could ‘rectify’ the absence of family for the companions in the Classic series. Watching Davies’  work it seems clear to me that the Classic series had it right all along…seeing as how boring and cringeworthy those scenes in the revived series were.

Don’t even get me started on those stories which had bits I wish I could get UNIT’s memory eraser to do its worst on me…episodes where folksy songs are sung to the glory of the Doctor (and Donna), that one where everybody on planet Earth chants the Doctor’s name and phones on him on their mobile phone. FFS!!

Nor does the Classic series have companions who usurped the importance of the Doctor…which the revived series does with monotonous regularity.

If I could define what I like the best about “The day of the Doctor” is how it rectifies its own missteps. With those above instances in mind, I wish we could have an “It was all dream!” resolution. This is the next best thing…well, close enough. I like what this movie has done and am favourbly disposed towards this series for its new journey. Now, if oly we can somehow off River Song from this journey…

Just in passing, I’ll note:

* Similar stories in the Classic series had the newer Doctors deferring to the First Doctor. I like how Matt’s Doctor is pivotal in this story.

* Didn’t like the Curator of the gallery aspect of the story…this seems an ill-conceived paradox which should have been avoided.

* It’s odd that the Time Lords (like the General and Hurt’s Doctor) use the word “God”.

* Also odd how Tennant’s Doctor calls the TARDIS “he”…after all, I think it may have been in his tenure that the TARDIS is personnified as female!

* The scope of “Rose” goes beyond what the narrative says of her.

* Marvellous eyebrow acting from Joanna Page as Queen Elizabeth I in her “body of a weak and feeble woman speech”. Page took a page from the definitive portrayal of QEI in “Blackadder II” by Miranda Richardson. Fortunately her character doesn’t go The Full Miranda, as that would be a fool’s errand.

JFK assassination: synthesis of recent documentaries I’ve seen on this

I’ll attempt a synthesis of the two following documentaries I’ve recently seen on the assassination of JFK and which I’ve reviewed here:

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/jfk-the-smoking-gun/

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/jfk-the-lost-bullet/

As stated previously, I do find the “JFK:TSG” to be the best starting point on this topic as a point of reference.  I’ll list below some of the assumptions that I make and which would have to be overturned/disproved to favour an alternative theory for that day…as the “JFK:TSG” documentary is now my default theory as it gels best with the evidence for what happened on that day.

Firstly, whilst the former documentary is superior to the latter mentioned one, neither is ideal in how they present the facts to the viewer who would rely on that for their opinion. Having said that, I did find “JFK:TLB” analysis of the “magic bullet” shot to be very good as far as it went…although I do wish it went further for that particular shot and also the lethal shot. How might that be done?

I’m glad you asked! Some sort of graphic animation – perhaps coupled with laser sighting in actuality, as per that demonstration in “JFK:TLB” – which explicitly states the sequence and timing of shots as well as the details of the wounds from medical reports. E.g. state where the entry and exit wound for the first hit on JFK were and where that bullet travelled into Governor Connally. An animation showing that would be good. Do that for every shot fired that day. Then perhaps tie all that together with a real time animation for the entire sequence of shots being scrupulous as to the timing of the shots/hits and location on the body and street etc. At least that way give the conspiracy theorists something to argue with…and come up with evidence to disprove that.

Secondly, neither documentary really went into what the medical reports showed. I.e. without regard to the theory of where the source of those shots were, just go by the entry and exit wounds and the position of the bodies at the time of impact as captured in Zapruder’s famous film. Without assuming where the shots came from, what does the medical report or reports entail? I’m thinking of issues like angle of entry, angle of exit, size of entry hole etc. Then work backwards from that…if the shot must have come from a certain angle, reverse engineer that shot…all of them, actually. What does the medical evidence show? I’m presuming that such ‘reverse engineering’ would likely confirm the best theory and debunk inferior ones. The analysis should also address such issues of whether Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullets were capable of entering a hole in JFK’s corpse which was smaller than it…prima facie evidence to me that a different bullet was responsible for the lethal shot. Whether the bullet was likely frangible also comes into things. “JFK:TSG” makes a plausible sounding argument to a layperson like myself that the lethal shot did not have the properties of the bullet allegedly fired by Oswald.

Issues to be addressed for me to change my mind on the plausibility of the account in “JFK:TSG”:

01) How can the 6.5mm bullet that Oswald had been firing at JFK go through the entry hole in JFK’s head for the lethal shot which was less than 6mm, I believe?

02) “JFK:TSG” argues that the lethal shot on JFK was a frangible bullet of a smaller caliber than the one used by Oswald…explaining the smaller entry hole in JFK’s head for the lethal shot, which should not be the case if Oswald really was the man who fired the lethal shot. This documentary also argues that the Secret Service lied about having a rifle which fit the description of the rifle and ammunition alleged to have fired the lethal shot…i.e. the weapon carried by JFK’s Secret Service detail that day. Which leads into…

03) “JFK:TSG” is ‘the best fit’ of a theory which also explains the actual conspiracy by the Secret Service to destroy/fabricate evidence as well as their illegal removal of the corpse from the Dallas hospital. How does the “lone gunman” hypothesis explain this illegal/conspiratorial activity? So, to no longer support the Donahue/McLaren theory I’d need to be shown that the evidence McLaren re-discovered was not of good quality…all that stuff about x-rays being rigged, witnesses not being called to the Warren Commission, evidence destroyed etc.

04) Have credible/impeccable experts commenting on the ballistics/medical evidence. Ideally the findings should be peer reviewed and such that you would really have to a conspiracy theory ‘nut’ to deny them. E.g. qualified doctors commenting on the size of the entry wounds, angle of entry etc. and scientists commenting on properties of bullets (as in frangible bullets, for instance) and source/origin of shots needed in order to line up with the medical evidence and actual footage of the assassination etc.

On one forum someone did post a link to an article which does argue that the “JFK:TSG” documentary wasn’t persuasive…this article here:

The Australian, David Free, 16/11/2013 “Unusual suspects in the endless theories about JFK’s assassination”

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/unusual-suspects-in-the-endless-theories-about-jfks-assassination/story-fn9n8gph-1226759260572

That article does cover the supposed impossibility of a large caliber bullet like Oswald had creating a hole smaller than it. Some experiments are mentioned…for the love of God I sincerely hope that no people were harmed in that experiment! Ouch! In any case, it’s in arguments like this where peer review is important…I’m not a scientist or a medical expert or ballistics expert…I want any discussion on this type of stuff to be authoritative.

I did initially neglect to mention the extended timeline for the assassination brought up in “JFK:TLB”. That documentary seems to use that to implicitly make more believable that Oswald fired off three shots at JFK (conspiracy theorists often point to the ‘impossibility’ of Oswald being able to fire off three shots in just under six seconds, as the Warren Commission found (presumably…as in I’m not sure if that commission commented on how long those three shots took). That documentary proposes a pause between the first shot and second shot of about 6.3 seconds and a pause of 4.9 seconds between the second and third shot. It’s not clear to me if this proposition does any damage to theories which do not accept that Oswald was the only person to have fired a shot which hit the president that day. However, if a documentary came along and did a real time animation on the proposed sequence of events which knocked out one of these theories, then I’d have to go with that.

My reviews of these two documentaries:

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/jfk-the-smoking-gun/

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/jfk-the-lost-bullet/

P.S.

I’ll just add in another programme that I saw in the mean time since I’ve seen this two documentaries…

Planet America, ABC News 24, 22/11/2013

* Hugh Aynesworth – a reporter at the time of the assassination – says that Jack Ruby took 4 minutes from paying a stripper $25 to cover her rent at a Western Union shop to shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Aynesworth suggests that this means Ruby was likely to have been opportunistic in killing Oswald…he saw a crowd and went into it. Hmm.

* Guest Pr. Larry Sabato (https://twitter.com/larrysabato, see his Tweet of ) claims that his current book disproves the 1970s Federal investigation report finding that a conspiracy occurred to kill JFK. Sabato says whilst this doesn’t mean that there was no conspiracy, it just rules out the one the Federal Investigation purported to have found. He does state taht the Warren Commission was poorly done. Sabato also claims to have utilised the very best scientific experts in debunking that Federal investigation finding.

- Sabato also mentions that in 2017 the C.I.A. will be required to release 1,171 documents related to the assassination…unless the president at that time allows them not to do this. Sabato thinks it appropriate that the documents be released.

Criteria for my idea of the definitive documentary on this topic:

01) Autopsy and medical records for entry and exit wounds for JFK and other occupants of the car, as well as the paths of bullets in these bodies.

02) Details of blood splatter patterns and damage patterns on the vehicle from gunshot.

03) Animated graphics of the sequence of events and trajectory of bullets and how they gel with the first two bullet points (ahem!).

04) Examination of the evidence produced in “JFK: The smoking gun” concerning the actions of the Secret Service in the wake of the assassination as well as claims that they had autopsy evidence fabricated to deflect any into investigation into whether they fired the lethal shot on the president; plus the evidence examined in the same documentary concerning the railroading of evidence by the Warren Commission.

As things stand, “JFK:TSG” so far remains the best account of this topic that I’ve seen, but it could do with something as rigorous as “JFK:TLB”‘s account of the “magic bullet” shot.

JFK: The lost bullet

A mixed bag. 60%

 

This documentary was screened on Australia’s flagship current affairs programme “Four corners” recently. Even without having seen the far superior documentary “JFK: The smoking gun” (screened on SBS TV beforehand and reviewed here by me) you can see that even by its own standards it occasionally slips into poor journalism/analysis. It should be noted up front that this documentary seeks to prove that the findings of the Warren Commission are accurate (cf. the SBS TV documentary). That being said, I did find certain aspects of this documentary illuminating and well done and it may even shed new light on the events of that day.

Since I mentioned that this documentary is flawed, I’ll just go straight into the major ones:

(1) Compared to the far superior “JFK: The smoking” gun, this documentary makes the inexeplicable decision to completely disregard the evidence of ballistics and the autopsy report. Extremely shoddy as a result and not definitive as a result.

(02) Whilst doing a great job in arguing for the truth of there being nothing “magic” about the bullet which hit both the President and Governor Connally and for finding plausible/persuasive evidence for the trajectory of Lee Harvey Oswald’s first shot which missed the president, it is a huge oversight not to have gone into the same level of analysis for the 3rd and lethal shot which devastated JFK’s head. E.g. there is great documentary technique in recreating the assassination with a sniper at the actual site with a laser sight attached to their rifle. The visual of the JFK stand-in in the car with a red laser dot on the back of their neck is compelling in how when that stand-in moves out of the way, the laser dot apparently co-incides with the entry wound of the Governor Connally stand-in. Unfortunately the rest of the route of that bullet is not continued – perhaps due to fearing that viewers might consider its path “magic” or something…but I have read crime articles in newspapers where a bullet takes an odd route after entering someone’s body. In any case, assuming that the documentary accurately reflects the entrance wounds for both JFK and Connally, the demonstration is the best yet of the veracity of the “magic bullet” path…as in it buries that cynical phrase for good.

a)  Likewise, the reconstruction of events to posit a trajectory for the bullet which LHO missed with on his first shot is excellent work. I’m happy to go with their account of that. In support of their theory they find archival footage which shows the scene after the assassination. In a traffic light which they show to be plausibly between LHO and JFK, there is bullet sized hole in it. That to me is persuasive evidence…for that bullet sized hole to have been caused by LHO’s unsuccessful first attempt at JFK’s life. Perhaps this documentary and the SBS TV one are at odds over this too…going on memory, the SBS docu argues that debris from LHO’s missed show hit JFK, prompting the President to say “My God, I’m hit!”. It’s just my impression that the Four Corners’ documentary doesn’t state that JFK was injured via that missed shot…but I could mistaken on these issues.

b)  Anyway, here is the massive oversight of “JFK:TLB”…where is the laser sight experiment or reconstruction for the 3rd, fatal shot? It’s just ASSUMED to have come from LHO. Well, that’s slightly unfair…there is ONE piece of evidence which stands in for something more rigorous…the testimony of a young male African-American, Amos Euins. He testifies to hearing the three shots come from the book depositary where LHO was sniping from. He also testifies that after hearing the first shot (or perhaps the second one), he moved behind cover to avoid being hit from that position. Now, whilst I have no reason to doubt his testimony on the first two shots – which I believe – would not his testimony of where the shot(s) came from after he hid behind cover be more open to doubt? As in he could be mistaken for any number of reasons…position, pandemonium etc. Since “JFK:TSG” now posits another theory about the source of the lethal shot on JFK, then that’s just another obvious reason to go into the same level of analysis of that 3rd shot as was done for the 2nd shot, especially.

Minor flaws:

(3) The testimony of witness Patricia Ann Donaldson is interesting. She gives a verbal description of the three shots that she heard…describing how there was a pause between the first shot and the second shot and then “bam, bam” (i.e. quick succession) between the second shot and the lethal shot. This possibly implies to me that it would persuasively rule out LHO taking the lethal shot on JFK, insofaras he couldn’t have reloaded his rifle (or whatever…I’m not a gun expert here) in order to take that lethal third shot. Many conspiracy theories draw on the fact that it would be physically impossible to take three shots in the reputed six seconds that it took LHO to take his shots. This is a minor flaw by virtue of people’s perceptions of time being “rubbery”…e.g. “time flies when you’re having fun” and ‘time drags when you’re feeling miserable’…along those kinds of lines. Another reason is that, assuming Donaldson is mistaken, the documentary does posit that LHO had some 11 seconds to take all three shots which he was reputed to have taken. Personally, whilst I think that this helps the Warren Commission finding, I don’t think it hurts the theory presented in “JFK: TSG”…even though that assumes a six second time frame for all three shots which were on target.

(4) This is a really weird aspect of the documentary…the focus on the placement of the empty bullet casings in the book depositary. It’s almost as if the documentary is indirectly tackling some conspiracy theory which they do not wish to address explicitly. I believe that for this section of the documentary they call in a contemporary Secret Service agent of the time, John Joe Howlett. The point of this section seems to confirm the findings of the Warren Commission…that LHO acted alone and took all three shots himself. To explain the ‘wayward’ bullet casing in his nest, Howlett posits that LHO took his first shot (only, I believe) from a standing position, then he knelt (I think) for the other two shots. Now, not being a shooter/hunter/sniper/assassin etc., I found this theory to be implausible…or at least warranting further journalistic work to confirm its plausibility. I.e. interview military trained snipers on how likely any sniper worth their salt would be to go for a kill shot from a standing position. It just seems unlikely to me, from a layperson’s perspective. Having corresponded with someone who claims to have checked out the book depositary, they state that the windows are fixed there, insofaras as they would not allow for someone to take a shot from there in a standing position. I have no idea if that is true, or if it only became true after the event (as in perhaps the fixed windows are a recent feature of the building…I don’t know). Furthermore, the issue of the empty bullet casings in “JFK: TSG” addresses this issue, but from a different perspective…I’m relying on a quote from someone who watched the documentary, so I just hope that it is accurate as far as what is stated in that other documentary: “The third bullet casing was a dud, kept loaded in the breach to stop dust getting in during storage of the rifle. It was expelled before Oswald loaded the first of two bullets”. That for me is a plausible account (I assume…apparently gun users do this kind of stuff) of the ‘wayward’ empty casing…i.e. the other two empty bullet casings fell where they did because they were fried at JFK, whilst the other one was discarded manually (presumably) and landed where it did for reasons other than firing at the President. Also, the person who mentioned being at the book depositary also brought forward the common sense view that the crime scene may have been disturbed or tampered with, thus one can’t read too much into the location of the empty bullet casings. All in all, this whole segment seemed to me to really contort their theory in order to make it confirm the Warren Commission’s findings.

05) I noticed that the final moments of this documentary, the lethal shot is obscured. Not sure if that was the case all the way through…but if it was then that perhaps implies to me that any evidence of the third and lethal shot coming from anywhere other than the book depositary was fudged…perhaps. More on that later.

06) Holland mentions militar ammo and the fact that that is meant to pass through people…thus justifying the trajectory of the so-called “magic bullet”. However, having watched the far superior “JFK:TSG”, it’s odd how this bullet’s behaviour is not contrasted with that of the third, lethal bullet, which basically shattered in JFK’s skull. “JFK:TSG” goes into how there are different types of ammo…and how the “magic bullet” shot is plausible for LHO’s type of ammo but that the lethal third shot is consistent with the kind of ammo the Secret Service was using that day…which was of a smaller caliber and designed to shatter in that way. Even though “JFK:TLB” totally ignores the ballistics and autopsy report, I think that the “JFK:TSG” findings do point to a new “magic bullet” problem for adherents of the Warren Commission…namely, how did LHO’s larger caliber bullet go through an entry wound in JFK’s head which was smaller than it (for the kill shot, I mean) and why did his ammo shatter in that way, when it is not designed to do that? “JFK:TSG” has the superior analysis and answers to these kinds of issues.

Okay, now to the parts of this documentary that seem to warrant some merit:

01) Best of all, the enhanced contemporary footage of the time, including that of the Zapruder home movie…but there other sources of footage too, which is a bonus.

02) The great visual demonstration of the debunking of the “magic bullet” shot which used laser sights and stand-ins for the President and Governor.

03) The reconstruction of the trajectory of LHO’s first, missed shot on JFK.

04) The enhanced home movie images from one source (Nix?) shows fine mist of blood in front of JFK’s head for the lethal shot, which the documentary use for the argument that the lethal shot came from behind JFK (the book depositary) and not from in front of the car as many conspiracy theorists hold…the grassy knoll etc. That bloody mist would be early on in the kill shot. I’ve got the name “Max Holland” in my notes as the person saying that that bloody mist confirms that the lethal shot came from behind JFK. Presumably Holland is the on-screen narrator or journalist/whatever of that documentary. Again, I would just reiterate that the analysis of the origin of that third, lethal shot is far short of the documentary’s own analysis of the first two shot’s origin/likely source.

05) The enhanced footage does rule out a recent conspiracy theory I had come across browsing a conspiracy theory magazine, I believe…that the lethal shot was fired from inside JFK’s car by his own staff. The enhanced footage demonstrates that to be merely a man on the front of the car turning around to look at what was happening. Presumably the conspiracy theory magazine was relying on blurry, grainy footage? I.e. in the gloomy image they claim to see the man in the front holding a gun, pointed at JFK or something. Yuh.

06) During the documentary’s reconstruction of the timeline for the missed shot by LHO, they perhaps plausibly extend the window of those three shots to about 11 seconds. Holland states that the gap between the first and second shots is about 6.3 to 6.4 seconds. The gap between the second and third shot is about 4.9 seconds. Again, this raises the issue of what LHO was capable of doing that day. If the first gap is his ‘rhythm’ then perhaps the shorter second gap between shots would rule out him firing that third, lethal shot?

Okay, laying my cards on the table and stating that I am in the “JFK:TSG” camp, I now wonder whether the use of Secret Service agent John Joe Howlett is part of another Secret Service disinformation campaign. Perhaps not, but odd nonetheless. In other words, if you accept the proposition that the Secret Service accidentally killed the president (which would explain their illegal actions in the wake of that as well as their cover-up of it) then it’s safe to assume that they would to falsely ‘confirm’ the Warren Commission findings or muddy the water with further false conspiracy theories on who killed the president.

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2013/11/11/3885332.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JFK:_The_Lost_Bullet

Further posts by me on this topic:

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/jfk-the-smoking-gun/

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/jfk-assassination-synthesis-of-recent-documentaries-ive-seen-on-this/

Jackie without Jack

Amateurish ‘documentary’ by seemingly jilted French man. 35+%

 

I got sucked into watching this ‘documentary’ by the promotions on SBS TV here in Australia which implied, I think, that we would hear former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy discuss her experiences after the assassination of her husband, President Kennedy. The promotion mentioned a series of interviews Jackie conducted following that assassination. For those people who are seeking such source material, you will be sorely disappointed. With the aid of having the captions turned on, I saw pretty much only three sentences spoken by Jackie and these were quickly faded out and recycled throughout the ‘documentary’. Actually, I’m not even sure if it was Jackie speaking! Maybe it was an actress? Instead of Jackie in her own words, we get the measured, avuncular tones of the male narrator, who sounds perfectly reasonable but by the end you realise he has just been conducting a character assassination of the former First Lady for the previous 60 minutes.

Now, all this may be well and good (and true)…it’s just that I don’t know if it is! The most scandalous part of this ‘documentary’ is how often you are unsure if what the spiteful narrator is saying is a paraphrase of what Jackie said, or providing the documentary’s own interpretation. For all I know the ‘documentary’ makers could not get their hands on the source material so just conjectured what was in it and put their own nasty spin for their interpretation of it. The entry in The Age’s “Green guide” (a tv lift-out, 07/11/2013) says “acclaimed director Patrick Jeudy” is responsible for the documentary. He seems so ‘acclaimed’ that Wikipedia doesn’t even have an entry for him! IMDB does have a listing for him but I can’t see a listing for a documentary with this title…it sounds similar to the 2003 listing “Jackie Kennedy: What Jackie knew”.

If this ‘documentary’ has one ‘redeeming’ feature, it’s the archival footage of the subjects together. Even though I can’t say how ‘new’ those shots are or whatever, it did provide some interest value. At the risk of perhaps regurgitating unsubstantiated nonsense in this documentary, I’ll just go over some of the claims made as well as my interpretation of them:

01) Jackie’s series of interviews after the assassination was about creating a myth about the president and herself…her account makes her out to be more important in world affairs and her husband’s thinking than was actually the case.

02) It’s asserted that Jackie made a weird comment about finding her husband’s skull fragment at the time of the assassination aesthetically pleasing…’flesh coloured, not bone’ or something of the sort. From my point of view she just isn’t cut any slack here. If she actually said that, then obviously she is transgressing some sort of taboo…in other words, perhaps someone in this situation might actually think that…but you just wouldn’t say it. I can’t imagine being in this situation, but if you loved the person you just saw killed in that way, perhaps an odd thought like that would pop into your head. Who are we to judge?

03) In another nasty attack on her character, the narrator presents Jackie as being selfish and only thinking of herself after her husband is killed…she apparently wonders where she will live. Gosh…her husband has been murdered and she can no longer stay in the White House…yuh…who in their right mind would be thinking “What’s to become of me? Where will I live?”. It just makes you think what arseholes the people behind the documentary are.

04) The narrator uses the adjective “lying” of Jackie insofar as she is alleged to have claimed that she was kicked out of the White House after her husband’s assassination.

05) JFK is asserted to have slept with prostitutes and offered drugs to at least one woman. That woman was called “Mimi”, I think, who was 19 years old at the time. JFK gave her as a ‘gift’, apparently, to one of his supporters or collaborators.

06) It’s suggested that JFK’s brother, Bobby, may have been having an affair with Jackie whilst John was alive…I’m going on memory here, perhaps it was after the assassination…unsure now.

07) It’s suggested that Bobby was okay with the ‘bungled’ autopsy on his brother due to concerns that it would be discovered that John was taking illegal drugs for his physical ailments.

08) The narrator uses the phrase “poor Madame de Gaulle”…since my memory isn’t the best after the gap between seeing the ‘documentary’ and posting my notes into this review, I think this may refer to some alleged unbecoming comments made by Jackie about her, whilst John was still alive. That may be fair enough. I just don’t know. It might depend on whether Jackie said the alleged comments in private or public. If she said it in private, then give the woman a break!

09) Perhaps all this nastiness towards Jackie stems from her allegedly making unkind comments about France or the French after her successful trip there with her husband, a trip where her husband was referred to by some as “Mr. Jackie Kennedy” (or some such!).

From my point of view this ‘documentary’ comes across as an attempt to burn every bridge between Jackie and anyone else she may have been close to or any natural sympathisers. The worst thing about it is that its opinions are pre-digested for you and regurgitated for you to swallow…like sheep…sorry if my metaphors are getting mixed here! Hard to tell whether this ‘documentary’ is a troll, sour grapes or whatever. One to avoid. Or at least wait until a documentary comes out which actually features the subject doing what she is purported to be doing in this ‘documentary’…talking.

No doubt this ‘documentary’ says more about the makers than it does about Jackie.

P.S. I made a note of “Bobo the lobo”…I’m not exactly sure what that was in reference to…maybe it was unrelated to this ‘documentary’?

http://www.sbs.com.au/documentary/program/1316

JFK: The smoking gun

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2523389696/tt2945784

JFK: The Smoking Gun

The awful truth is staring you in the face. 10/10

   I have had a casual interest in the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy since I was a child and saw the great (as I remember it) documentary/mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald in “On trial: Lee Harvey Oswald” (I’ll call him “LHO” from now on). Even though the details of that documentary now escape me, I do recall my disbelief that the jury assembled for the ‘trial’ of Oswald found that he was solely responsible for the assassination (as per the findings of the Warren Commission). It would be interesting to revisit that documentary in the wake of this seemingly definitive documentary. Lastly, I also remember seeing Oliver Stone’s “JFK” but the details of that escape me too. Yet again, it would be interesting to revisit that drama in the wake of the puzzle seemingly being solved by this current documentary.

   So, as a casual observer of this conspiracy theory laden event par excellence, I have to say that “JFK: The smoking gun” is either the starting point or the end point of anyone who wants answers to the mystery of “Who shot JFK?”. For some, definitive proof will never be enough, so this documentary should start as a jumping off point for them…as in they MUST heed the findings here, lest they seem obstinate. For example, I think it was in “On trial: Lee Harvey Oswald” where I first heard of “the magic bullet theory”. The effect of this theory is to lead one to suppose that any scenario where LHO’s bullet is supposed to have hit the targets it was meant to is so ludicrous as to be ruled out of hand. “JFK: The smoking gun” proves that the bullet DID in fact do what it was supposed to have done and it only seems “magic” if the assumptions that you make about the layout of the car are false. So, assuming that the layout presented in “JFK:TSG” is correct, there’s just no way in the world you can credibly dismiss that bullet as having “magic” properties. It’s just ludicrous to assert that it is anymore.

   “JFK:TSG” is presented by an Australian former detective Colin McLaren. He treats the assassination as a ‘cold case’ and goes through The Warren Commission’s report, in the wake of reading a theory by Howard Donahue (a ballistics expert) later documented in Bonar Menninger’s book “Mortal error: The shot that killed JFK”. In the wake of JFK’s assassination, Donahue was involved in a television network’s recreation of the assassination to ascertain whether LHO could indeed have fired off three shots in under six seconds. Donahue could…but after three attempts…suggesting that LHO is unlikely to have done so, seeing as he only had one attempt to do this. So, in essence, McLaren’s documentary is basically overkill for those who think ballistics science is inadequate…for whatever reason. McLaren finds testimony to support Donahue’s theory.

   The basic findings of this documentary are as follows:

01) LHO fired two shots at JFK. His first missed the target BUT, via a ricochet, JFK was hit by debris, which prompted his comment of “My God, I’m hit”.

02) LHO fires off his last shot. It hits his target and also injures Governor Connally. Due to the seating layout, the ballistics stack up such that there is nothing “magic” about the bullet’s trajectory. It fits the injuries sustained by both occupants of the car.

03) In a car behind JFK, Secret Service agent George Hickey, arming himself with a rifle in the wake of the (potentially) non-lethal shot on JFK picks up an automatic rifle in order to counter-attack the would be assassin but is knocked back by his car accelerating away, accidentally firing off a shot…the shot which impacts with devastating results on JFK’s head.

04) The Secret Service, knowing full well that one of its own killed JFK, systematically covers up this truth at each and every opportunity#.

05) The Warren Commission also is a white wash, with Assistant Counsel Arlen Spector actively derailing any opportunity for the truth to become known about the Secret Service’s involvement.

   I would add here that what I outline here ties in neatly with LHO famously claiming “I’m just a patsy”. He’d know full well that the lethal shot was not fired by him. So, he could either claim that the kill shot was not his own…or that he did not in fact fire any shots (which the other documentary on this event which I reviewed after I posted this – “JFK: The lost bullet” – proves to be the case…he was denying all involvement in the assassination).

   Where there is scope for the conspiracy theorists, I’m sure, is the extent to which the Secret Service’s killing of JFK was accidental, as well as the usual stuff about who LHO was involved with. This documentary does not answer those questions…it assumes – probably quite rightly – that the lethal shot was accidental and does not delve into who LHO was involved with…perhaps due to that being so murky as far as definitive answers go.

   I’m satisfied that the account presented here is accurate and best fits the facts…the ballistics evidence and the testimony of the time all reinforce the account…in ways which the Warren Commission’s findings don’t. It was staggering to read how unprofessional the Secret Service agents were the day before the assassination and it’s an open question as to how justified their cover up was in the wake of this tragedy. # Not raised (conspiracy theory, anyone?) is if the Secret Service themselves orchestrated the assassination of LHO due to his being knowledgeable on the lethal shot not being fired by himself. As a casual follower of this historic event and its aftermath, I’m not sure if that theory is regularly trotted out or not. But given the fact that McLaren finds good evidence to show that the Secret Service actively sabotaged the investigation into JFK’s assassination, they would have the motive to murder LHO as well.

   Interestingly, George Hickey waited over two years before suing Menninger over the contents of his book. It was dismissed due to exceeding the statute of limitations. When the book was later re-released in paperback, he sued again. The publisher etc. settled out of court…Hickey had ground out a ‘win’ for himself. I’m not sure that ‘victory’ is good for history. I hope that Jackie  Kennedy knew the truth of what happened too and that it was ‘only’ the public who were ‘protected’ from this awful truth.

The review above is pretty much a re-edited version of my IMDB review for this movie, which is, as yet, not up yet (having posted it yesterday, 05/11/2013). Since IMDB has a word limit for reviews (roughly under 1,000 words), I couldn’t include all the comments I made in my notes for this film…so, below, I’ll rectify that:

* As I mentioned earlier, for me, as a non-expert or scientist, I’m happy to take as authoritative Donahue’s findings, ballistics wise, which do settle the matter for me. E.g. his findings that the devastating shot on JFK could not have come from LHO’s rifle. The science behind that is the fact that the entrance wound on the lethal shot was – from memory – around 6mm. A bullet creates an entrance wound slightly larger than its own size. LHO’s bullets were 6.5mm, therefore if they provided the kill shot, the entrance wound in JFK’s head would have been BIGGER than than 6.5mm…therefore LHO did not make the kill shot.

* To expand on my comments about the Secret Service, McLaren provides evidence that they were drinking into the early hours of the morning on the day of the assassination…to 5:00 a.m., I believe. No doubt this would have impaired their ability to react effectively when the attempt was made on JFK’s life. That appalling lack of professionalism also meant that George Hickey (who was not guilty of such ill discipline) was pushed into a role he was not trained for, due to other agents being unable to perform their duties that day.

- Secret Service Agent Sibert O’Neill (edit…looks like I conflated two people here: F.B.I. agents James Sibert and Francis O’Neill) took notes during JFK’s autopsy (hopefully I have the right agent here as my notes aren’t clear to me now) and Assistant Counsel Arlen Spector of the Warren Commission questioned him on this outside the Commission. If I can try and reconstruct my notes here, Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman made sure he got all such notes and medical evidence (as in autopsy photographs from the medical staff). When Spector learned that O’Neill had taken notes, he made sure not to have him testify before the Commission. Kellerman was the last person to be in possession of all that kind of evidence…the medical staff had handed over all pictures etc to him…and those documents and that evidence disappeared from the record after Kellerman took possession of them.

- Whilst Kellerman (?) seems to have been actively involved in derailing the Commission, Warren himself seemed earnest to find the truth…Warren demanded to question Ralph Yarborough, a politician in the motorcade who smelled gunpowder in his vicinity at the time of the shooting (thus putting into doubt the LHO as the lone gunmen scenario). Yarborough never testified, despite Warren’s demand that he appear. Despite this discovery, McLaren does declare that the Warren Commission was not interested in finding the truth. The Yarborough demand though does complicate issues…for me at least…as far as to what extent Warren himself was trying to railroad the findings.

- The Secret Service also broke the law by breaking the chain of evidence in the Dallas hospital, by insisting that JFK’s body be flown to Washington before an autopsy had been performed…even though the doctor at the scene insisted that this law be observed. Later on in the process, one of the doctors, I believe, is told (by the Secret Service?) to fabricate evidence by planting bullet fragments consistent with LHO’s munitions in an x-ray of JFK’s skull…to cover up the fact that the bullet fragments in the original x-ray suggested bullet fragments consistent with the kind of munitions used by the Secret Service detail that day. Unsurprisingly, the Secret Service rifles used that day in Dallas were withdrawn…the implication being that this was done so in order not to tie their weapons to the ones which caused JFK’s fatal injury. McLaren also finds evidence of the Secret Service lying that they did not have that kind of weapon on the day of the assassination.

- The President Bill Clinton era “The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992” required the relevant bodies to provide their records of this era. The Secret Service destroyed their documents one week before this came into force! The Act was intended to reexamine the evidence/crime.

* Amusingly, one of the production companies behind this documentary is “Zapruder”…you see this company listed on a lot of Australian wit Andrew Denton’s productions…as “Zapruder’s other films”…the famous footage of the assassination is, of course, by Abraham Zapruder. Denton finally gets to make a film which ties in with his conceit! Edit in…I’m assuming that this is the case…or perhaps a credit is actually given to the Zapruder who filmed the assassination.

   In summary, as a layperson, it seems to me that Donahue’s older work scientifically establishes the basic mechanics of who shot who and when. I.e. it’s maths, it’s science. You can’t argue with it. Donahue’s theory is made out by the maths and science. McLaren just finds evidence of the time which perhaps humanises the evidence for those whom maths and science isn’t a strong point. E.g. he says that the wind was blowing in a certain direction that day at a certain speed. The wind factor was such as to rule out people on the ground smelling gun smoke from LHO’s vantage point. I.e. it is consistent with a Secret Service Agent firing the lethal shot for people to have smelled that Agent’s gun smoke at the time…and there were numerous people who testified to smelling gun smoke near the motorcade.

Further posts on this topic by myself:

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/jfk-the-lost-bullet/

http://dfle3.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/jfk-assassination-synthesis-of-recent-documentaries-ive-seen-on-this/

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