I have a guilty secret to share. Sometimes I go weeks without paying attention to the news, only checking the surface for sports scores or when a major event happens that is all over social media. As a result, when I’m busy or stressed, I can have no idea what is happening in the world outside my personal bubble. My news-watching habit was pointed out to me when I checked out the movie, Citizenfour, to watch one day.
The person on the cover didn’t look familiar, but the plot sounded promising: a behind-the-scenes look into privacy invasions by the NSA. I started watching and wondered continuously who this “Citizenfour” character was, a person conversing with director Laura Poitras and later with journalist Glenn Greenwald through incredibly encrypted and secure channels, one who was telling them that the secrets they had to share would blow the lid off of a huge governmental conspiracy.
Even when Poitras and Greendwald flew to Hong Kong to meet Citizenfour at the hotel room where he had been camping out, I still had no idea who he was, but the topic was fascinating. Hundreds upon thousands of classified documents that he had taken from his contracting job with the NSA that highlighted evidence of mass numbers of both indiscriminate and illegal privacy invasions that the NSA had perpetuated over many years. That tickled my brain. Things were starting to sound familiar. I then looked closer at the face on the screen. Edward Snowden! That’s what this was about.
Citizenfour follows Snowden’s decision to hand over thousands of classified documents that he gathered while being on loan to the NSA about many different secret programs and projects that the NSA and other governmental organizations had put together, as well as some information about the programs that other countries were a part of, all under the guise of surveillance after the tragedies of September 11th. What I found to be interesting about this documentary was that Snowden wanted the focus to be on the information contained within the classified documents and less on the person that was leaking them to the press, himself. The interactions between Snowden, Poitras, and the journalists that he came in contact with while in Hong Kong highlight the varying degrees of secrecy, intelligence gathering, and electronic surveillance that Snowden was seeking to expose to the world. Unplugging the hotel phone, hiding under a sheet to type in his password, talking through notes passed back and forth may seem to a passing person like signs of paranoia, but as Snowden highlights throughout this documentary, the government is capable of tapping into anything and everything, whether we choose to believe it or not.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out the materials below!
This year was a big year for fans of the Back to the Future movie trilogy as we finally catch up with the future timeline in the films. Buzz has been all over the internet with folks comparing the movie’s predictions of life in 2015 with what has really happened. For the full list of movie comparisons versus reality, click here.
What seemed to get the most attention was predictions the movie made about the 2015 baseball season. According to Back to the Future II, the Chicago Cubs win the World Series in a sweep over Miami on October 21, 2015. Fast forward to the real 2015. With the start of the baseball pre-season, fans of both the movie and team began posting on Facebook that the Cubs were going to win the World Series this year. Considering the Cubs have not played in the World Series since 1945, let alone won since 1908, this seemed like more than a long shot. But…what if? As the season went forward and the Cubs were looking better and better, more and more started to believe. When they beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, even I started to believe (just for a tiny second). In the end, they couldn’t quite do it, but there was definitely some kind of magic in the city of Chicago during the 2015 season.
The Back to the Future franchise was ready for what they knew would be a great year to revive the 80’s trilogy. A Back to the Future Anniversary Trilogy DVD set was released earlier this year and the entire Back to the Future cartoon series. Let me just say, I loved that show! Also out is a Back to the Future PS4 video game.
Hollywood has followed up on this hype by releasing a brand new documentary about the making of the movie trilogy. Cast, crew and fans are featured in this 30th anniversary tribute. Back in Time stars Steven Spielberg, Micheal J. Fox, and Lea Thompson. For those of you that love the franchise, this is a must see. Back in Time along with the other anniversary items are available at the library.
John Green, the ever popular young adult author, has made yet another one of his novels into a movie and this time, it is Paper Towns, starring Cara Delevingne as the beguiling Margo Roth Spiegelman and Nat Wolff as Quentin, the boy who is hopelessly in love with Margo.
Paper Towns tells the story of Quentin, a boy who has been in love with his across-the-street neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, since she moved in, the event that he says is “THE moment” of his life. Quentin and Margo are best friends through childhood until they hit high school when Margo becomes a mysterious and enigmatic cool person who goes on wild adventures that everyone speculates wildly about. They essentially stop talking until about a month before prom when Margo suddenly shows up at his bedroom window in the middle of the night asking to borrow his parents’ car and needing his help to complete a list of somewhat peculiar “revenge” tasks. After this adventure, Quentin believes he and Margo have reached a new stage in their friendship only to discover that Margo has disappeared for what looks like good this time. Knowing that every time Margo disappears, she leaves clues, Quentin soon finds himself deciphering a stack of said mysterious clues that quickly result in he and all of his friends embroiled in an adventure to find out where the elusive Margo has disappeared to this time. This movie is a true coming of age story showing Quentin and his friends as they gain a more complete understanding of what friendship and love really are.
Interested in other books by John Green? Check out the ones below! (The Fault in Our Stars is also a movie!)
The Syfy channel premiered Ascension, a limited event series, in December of 2014, as a way to introduce people to the idea of what would have happened if Project Orion (also check out their Wikipedia page), a government sponsored program from the 1950s that would have placed over 150 scientists on the moon and even been able to send expeditions to other planets, would have actually happened. Ascension chronicles what could have happened had Project Orion actually occurred.
Ascension gives viewers a glimpse into the secret programs of the government and the lives of the people who both wittingly and unwittingly found themselves stuck on that spacecraft. In 1963, at the height of the Cold War, the government secretly recruited 350 people for a mission into space. A huge interstellar spaceship called Ascension was launched into space on a 100 year journey to another solar system. Present day on the ship is 50 years later and viewers are introduced to the children of the original crewmembers, the middle group of people, the ones who are doomed to spend their whole lives on the ship without ever being able to see their destination. Their parents started the ship and their children will be remembered as the ones who complete the journey. This middle group will be forgotten.
Tragedy has struck on Ascension with their first murder having been committed. This leads to chaos as the captain and his crew struggle to figure out who committed this crime while also working to keep the rest of the ship calm. Striated class systems and struggles for power dominate the investigation of the death of a woman from the upper decks as people from the lower decks are accused of the crime. This television show is wracked full of plays for power, multiple ship romances and trysts, and rivalries that will have you on the edge of your seat. Add in the fact that people on board only have access to culture, information, and technologies from 1963 and before and the whole spacecraft takes on an eternal 1960s feel that is intriguing and pleasing to the eye.
Check out this show to learn more information about the launch of Ascension, the people aboard the ship, as well as information about the founders and the governmental organization responsible for making sure the mission stays on course no matter the cost.
Have you ever watched a show that had you continuously scratching your head and wondering what was going on and how any of it could possibly be happening? My latest head-scratching television show is Wayward Pines, a Fox television show that premiered its first season in May of 2015 . This show stars Matt Dillon as Secret Service agent Ethan Burke who is sent to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents. On his way to investigate, Burke is in a serious car accident and wakes up in a hospital in Wayward Pines, a creepily idyllic town in the picturesque mountains of Idaho.
After breaking out of the hospital, Burke begins the investigation into his missing colleagues and also into what actually happened to him before he woke up in the hospital in Wayward Pines. Burke soon realizes that crazy things are happening when he stumbles upon one of his missing colleagues and she tells him she has been in Wayward Pines for years, when she disappeared from DC five weeks prior. Burke tries to leave, tries to get in contact with his wife and son, and tries to pry answers from the sheriff and the townspeople, only to be rebuffed and in danger no matter what he tries. When his family comes looking for him, Burke takes matters into his own hands and desperately searches for a way to free them all for the walled city of Wayward Pines. This television show can be confusing at times, but the giant conspiracy around the whole endeavor had me clamoring for more once I watched the season finale.
This television show is based on the Wayward Pines novels by Blake Crouch. The order of the trilogy is Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town. You can find all three at the Davenport Public Library.
In The Making of the Mob: New York, AMC has created an eight-part docu-drama series that begins in 1905 and traces the rise of the American Mafia for over fifty years. This series examines the lives of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, and several other notorious gangsters as they all struggle for power when the mafia starts becoming more organized. The amount of attention to detail that went into the establishment of the five major heads of the family, also known as the Commission, and Murder, Inc., the group of Jewish hitmen who killed around 1,000 people in ten years, shows that the new mobsters rising up in the ranks were definitely looking to run the mafia as more of a business with set consequences and an elected representative board.
This docu-drama looks into the five main families of the American Mafia and goes into great detail showing how organized crime came to exist and flourish in America. What I found to be the most intriguing part of this series was that it included interviews from former politicians, mobsters, actors, and other influential people, as well as actual archival footage and sound recordings of the actual mobsters alongside the actors’ dramatic interpretations of what was happening. The inclusion of actual footage and interviews really drew me into this docu-drama and had me fully invested in the lives of the mobsters, the shady deals they were doing, and the specific individuals and governmental organizations who were working to bring down the American mafia.
Actors taking a turn behind the camera as directors or producers has become increasingly more common. Russell Crowe has joined the ranks of such actors with the 2014 film, The Water Diviner, in which he both stars and directs this Australian historical fictional war drama.
In The Water Diviner, Crowe stars as Australian farmer Joshua Connor, who lives in Australia on a working farm with his wife and their three sons. After the unexpected death of his wife, Connor heads to Turkey in 1919 after the Battle of Gallipoli in order to find his three missing and presumed dead sons in order to bring their bodies home to be buried next to their mother. Connor repeatedly finds obstacles thrown in his way that bar his ability to, at first, make it to Gallipoli and then to get the officials there to even help him find his son. Facing tension from the military and different governmental agencies while abroad, as well as discrimination in Turkey from the locals who see him as the reason why their family and friends didn’t come home from the war, Connor soon realizes that everyone and everything around him has drastically changed from the war and that he must find a way to survive.. Finding his sons becomes Connor’s driving force through life, leading him to discover things that he is not quite ready to know.
This movie is loosely based on the book The Water Diviner by Andrew Anastasios and Dr. Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios. Check out the following books to learn more about the Battle of Gallipoli.
I admit, after watching this movie, I do not know if anyone that was born after 1985 would enjoy this movie. Maybe they would if they like to play old arcade games when they come across one. But playing an arcade version of Pac Man at Happy Joes is nothing like going to an actual arcade and being surrounded by various games and players. But I digress.
If you do remember going to the arcade and playing games such as Donkey Kong you will find the movie Pixels enjoyable. No, it will not win any Oscars but it is a fun movie to watch. Starring Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Kevin James and Josh Gad, this fearless foursome were the some of the top arcade game players back in the day. The movie opens in 1982 with Brenner and Eddie facing off for the championship. At the time, a time capsule is launched into space containing various things including video games.
Fast forward to the present year. Aliens attack a U.S. military base in Guam. The attack came from creatures that looked similarly to the old video game Galaga. Cooper is the current President of the United States and he calls his old friend Brenner for help. The aliens have sent messages to Earth. They received the time capusle from 1982 and they viewed it as a declaration of war. The aliens have sent video games in the form of pixels to attack Earth. In order to survive, Earth has to win three rounds of classic video game attacks. A second attack happens at the Taj Mahal in India before the U.S. is able to react.
Brenner and Ludlow train a group of soldiers to fight the video games. The key to defeating the game is knowing the pattern. When a third attack happens in London, the soldiers, Brenner and Ludlow fight off the alien video game version of Centipede. Even the soldiers tried, it is Brenner and Ludlow that save the day. The fourth game is in New York City and the game is Pac Man. In order to defeat this game, they are going to need four ghosts. This is where Peter Dinklage comes into the movie. The fourth ghost is played by Pac Man creator Toru Iwatani. Watching a giant Pac Man chomp down the streets of New York is a visual experience I never expected to see. Eventually Pac Man is defeated until the aliens send a message that one of the ghosts cheated.
The next attack is in Washington, D.C. And this time, it is not just one game. It is ALL the video game characters attacking Earth. For Earth to win, the game Donkey Kong has to be defeated. Even President Cooper joins the action and fights the aliens.
Before you watch Pixels, you should watch the documentary, The King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters. Unemployed school teacher Steve Wiebe has a Donkey Kong, Jr arcade game. He spends a lot of time playing it. He looks up the high score for Donkey Kong, and thinks to himself that he can beat that score. So Steve Wiebe goes after Billy Mitchell’s high score for Donkey Kong. You may think that no movie about a Donkey Kong score could be interesting to watch. But you would be wrong. Apparently, those high scores still matter to a lot of people. It is an intense experience watching Wiebe go after the high score. I mention this documentary because you will quickly notice the similarities between these characters and the main characters in Pixels.
Disney never seems to disappoint when it comes to instilling a set of values and convictions into any movie and Tomorrowland, a film starring George Clooney as disheartened former boy genius Frank and Britt Robertson as optimistic reckless science-geek Casey, lives up to the Disney promise of hope by showing viewers that anything is possible as long as you can dream it.
In Tomorrowland, we’re introduced to Frank Walker, a young genius who brings his idea for a jet pack to the New York World’s Fair in the 1960s where he bumps into the mysterious Athena, a child seemingly monitoring the inventions table in the hall, who slips him a pin with the letter “T” on it that ends up changing Frank’s life forever. Flash forward to present day and we see Casey Newton, a teenage girl with a quick mind and a NASA engineer father who will be put out of a job if NASA succeeds in the demolition of the rocket launch platform in Cape Canaveral. Discovering a “T” pin of her own, Casey finds herself on a journey to figure out where exactly this pin is taking her and why she was given one. Join Casey and Frank as they rocket through space and are transported to a place called Tomorrowland, where letting your imagination loose is encouraged and where adventure awaits as long as you believe anything can happen.
A couple of months ago I heard on the radio that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were going to collaborate yet again on what will most definitely be another blockbuster hit. The two have previously collaborated on The Aviator, Shutter Island, Gangs of New York, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Each film was nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures for Arts and Sciences (aka the best award in film you can attain) for Best Film and Directing with DiCaprio getting the Best Actor nomination for 3 out of the 5 films. Scorsese won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Film of the Year for The Departed. When these two get together, everyone turns out to see what they have created, especially me! This film is 2 years away from its release, and I am already gearing up for it.
This time they are bringing you a film based on the 2003 book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Erik Larson’s work is the story of the true events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He tells this story in interweaving fashion, focusing on Architect Daniel Burnham and serial killer H.H. Holmes during the years leading up to the World’s Fair. Both men shaped Chicago’s history in very different ways.
When I first heard about this novel, I wasn’t too excited to pick it up. My fear was that it would be too much about gruesome murders for me to enjoy. But it wasn’t. The book is about paramount history that happened just a few hours away from where we live. In fact, one of Holmes’ lovers and later victim was from Davenport, IA.
While there are a few murderous details, Holmes’ part of the book is more about how he was able to carry on his killings undetected for so long. Multiple accounts describe Holmes as an ideal individual that exuded charm and warmth. While I am eager to finish and read about Holmes’ inevitable demise, I have truly adored page after page of historical firsts. The World’s Fair was such a monumental occassion that everyone wanted to be part of it. Great inventions were first unveiled, historical figures rubbed elbows, heroes we have only read about preformed, and so..much..more.
I have no doubt that Scorsese will capture the essence of this time period and the innumerable historical particles sprinkled throughout the book. As for my all time favorite actor, Leonardo Dicaprio, I know he will deliver. It was a bit disheartening to learn that DiCaprio would encompass H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, but then I realized one cannot always play the hero. And in fact, many actors do their best work when playing the villain. I wouldn’t be surprised if DiCaprio gives his best performance ever with this new film.
Photos from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
More about the World’s Columbian Exposition.