Fighting the tension between privacy and freedom of speech

Having just spent a week at South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin Texas, I heard a number of recurrent themes throughout many of the panels and sessions I attended. Two of the themes struck me as most paradoxical:

  • the right to privacy
  • defense of the freedom of speech (First Amendment)

Managing both ends of the spectrum

Somehow, we must fight for both, knowing that the freedom of speech may invade somebody’s privacy. The stories of Kim Dotcom (the founder of MegaUpload) and Gawker (the news media that revealed the Hulk Hogan sex tapes) are two cases in point. Both were the subject of premieres at SXSW (see below).

freedom of speech sxsw

In the case of Kim Dotcom, he set up a site (Mega Upload) to facilitate online piracy. He was first charged with copyright infringement (and a number of other charges); but in the quest to undo his empire, the NZ authorities (implicitly backed by the US) illegally tapped into his private life. And then wanted to quash him.

Kim Dotcom, Caught in a Web

The absurdities of this “fight” include the flip flop one makes about Kim Dotcom the Pirate, to Kim Dotcom the Crusader (for rights to privacy and freedom of speech…). He goes from villain to victim after the NZ government authorises a military-style operation to arrest him.

The film, Kim Dotcom, will be coming out on Amazon Film as of April 26.

Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press

In this film, the parallel with the Kim Dotcom film were evident: the use of excessive means to close down an “unwanted” element. The nominal topic in this documentary is the privacy of a public figure (Hulk Hogan). The real topic: the use of money by moguls to close down media and the freedom of speech. The funniest moment in the film, however, was the notion that an individual can — in a court of law — seamlessly speak about himself as a character (Hulk Hogan) when he is being interviewed, in order to deflect from his real-life identity (Terry Bollea). And what if Hulk (the character) were to commit a crime (in real life)? I’m sure his response would be: “Whoops, it was just my character Hulk Hogan doing that, not me Bollea!”

The film Nobody Speak will be coming out on Netflix soon enough! Watch this space.

Unbroken film review – Angelina Jolie’s tribute to a great spirit

The film, Unbroken, the epic story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, was released this Christmas Day. Based on Unbroken Film Trailerthe eponymous and gripping book by Laura Hillenbrand, Angelina Jolie’s inaugural film as a director is a worthy film to see. As stated at the beginning of the film, this is a true story … that is very hard to believe, it is so gruelling and impressive. This 136-minute film was clearly shot with the Oscars in mind, in that there are a number of “big moments” that are portrayed with intentional big screen drama. On the positive side, though, for a wartime film, Jolie did not overplay the violence. It’s a war film, written by a woman, directed by a woman, that shows a man’s war with pathos and intensity. As such, my wife and daughter, as well as my son and myself, enjoyed the film. Neither my wife nor daughter had read the book, so they had no attachment to the book version. And that’s okay, as far as I am concerned, because the purpose of the film is both entertainment and educational. The film does a good job of portraying the emotional journey of Zamperini, played by the English actor, Jack O’Connell. Zamperini’s stout resistance in the face of sadistic treatment is credible and inspiring.

“If you can take it, you can make it”

The POW experience in Japanese prison camps

Unbroken film review defianceFor someone who has read some 300 books on this part of WWII and has interviewed over 100 ex-POWs, the film, Unbroken, does a standup job of portraying just enough of the inhumane treatment. It glosses over some of the daily miseries, such as the ever-present insects, the menace of tropical disease and the paucity of food and clean water. However, between the missing finger nails, the wretched forced labor, the harrowing punishments imposed on Zamperini and the scene of the hundred punches, the execrable POW treatment is evident. The 30% to 40% death rate in certain Japanese prison camps is understated, since none of the prisoners around Zamperini ever die during their internment.

Telling history

The film, Unbroken, does not portray the Japanese captors in a favorable light. As mentioned above, there is enough grim treatment in the film to capture the essence of the cruelty. That said, there is no gratuitous violence portrayed, whereas it is well known that there were miscellaneous bayonettings, beheadings and beatings bestowed by the Japanese captors, whose Bushido code designated prisoners as less than worthy. Unfortunately, the Japanese have never truly recognized their responsibility nor officially apologized. There is a current movement in Japan to re-write history and whitewash this chapter of the war. In point of fact, there is a movement underway to ban the film in Japan. Read this article in The Telegraph (UK). This is deeply unsatisfying. According to historian Rudolph J Rummel, in his research, “Statistics of democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900 Transaction,” about 10,700 US POWs were killed by the Japanese in captivity, including my grandfather (see the Smithsonian article by Gilbert King). An appalling total of 570,000 POWs were killed in Japanese captivity — Chinese 400,000, French Indochina 30,000, Philippines 27,300, Netherlands 25,000, France 14,000, UK 13,000, UK colonies 11,000 & Australia 8,000. (Source: Wikipedia).

If you so agree, please do sign this petition to encourage the film Unbroken not to be banned in Japan. (Via Change.org)

SIGN THE PETITION: STOP THE BAN

And read the book

Unbroken Film reviewIf you have not read the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, I most strongly recommend it. The hardcover version has been 180 consecutive weeks on the NYT best-seller list. The paperback version is now available for $9.60. It has been translated into 29 languages.

What did you think of this Unbroken film review? What did you think of the film? Please do let us know your thoughts!

Intelligence and Time – why do we exist?

Lucy IMDB - myndset I watched the film LUCY last night. The premise of the film is delightful: what if we were able to use our full intellectual capacity? What if we be able to activate 100% of our brain’s computing power? While I was lured into the idea that this was another view on the debate and merits of artificial intelligence, one of the most fascinating elements of the film, for me, was the discussion around time.

In a script written by the talented director, Luc Besson, Professor Norman (played by Morgan Freeman) suggests that the living organism (cell) has two options: to become immortal or to reproduce.

You sell it? -This is the purpose of our business.
For us to be like the only purpose seems to be to save time.
It seems that the cell also want to save time.
All the cells that make up the worm or human has only two options …
Immortality …
Or reproduction.
If its habitat is not quite favorable …
The cell chooses immortality …
That is to say, self-sufficiency, self …
But if the habitat is favorable …
This is the reproduction is selected.
And when they die the essential data is passed to the following cells …
Who in turn pass on these cells …
The knowledge, knowledge is devised through time.”

Time is thus an infinite concept or one that must operate in cycles. In Professor Norman’s lecture, he also talks about the transmission of data, of knowledge as part of the cycle of reproduction. But, as we get more intelligent, are we able to transmit, much less capture that intelligence? Is intelligence something we are destined to improve, as a part of a Darwinian evolution?

100% Intelligence versus Artificial Intelligence

As seductive as the concept of all prescient intelligence might be, it also comes with certain risks — as evidenced by the film. In whose hands (or heads) that intelligence falls is of particular concern. Whether that intelligence is “natural” or “artificial,” the issue of governance remains. Professor Stephen Hawking warned us recently of the limits and dangers of artificial intelligence, leading to the notion of singularity, when computers are able to learn and develop for themselves.

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate” (BBC)

The main character, Lucy (played convincingly by Scarlett Johansson), talks toward the end of this apocalyptic orgy of intelligence, about the importance of time as means of defining who we are. She says:

Time is the reason for its own existence, the ultimate measure.
It attributes its existence to matter …
Without time, it does not exist.
Time is unity.
{Film Script}

I wonder, though, to what extent time is unity? Can it be or is it viewed in the same way across cultures? Time and time management is certainly conceived differently by different cultures. Is Lucy’s vision, then, a predominantly western view of the world and of time, or is it a universal truth?

Your thoughts?

Interview with Jan Thompson, filmmaker: “Never the Same, The Prisoner-of-War Experience”

Jan Thompson, Never the Same, Bataan Japan POW WWIIJan Thompson, Professor of Radio-Television at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the producer of a new feature-length documentary, “Never The Same: The Prisoner of War Experience,” which is going to premiere this Saturday (April 6) in Chicago, at the Gene Siskel Film Center.  The timing of the premiere is great, as April 9 is the anniversary of the Bataan Death March and National POW Recognition Day.  I am very excited about this film, as I have been long been personally involved in this part of the WWII Asia-Pacific history.

“Never The Same: The Prisoner of War Experience,”

From the Chicago Tribune article

Jan’s documentary features narration by Emmy Award-winning actress Loretta Swit (“Hot Lips” of MASH fame), and the voices of an all-star cast of actors including Alec Baldwin, Ed Asner, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell, Robert Loggia, Kathleen Turner, Robert Wagner and Sam Waterston.  The film celebrates and commemorates “courageous men who used ingenuity, creativity and humor to survive one of the most notorious times in history,” said Thompson, whose late father was a POW after his capture on Corregidor (like my grandfather — see my Facebook page in his memory) in the spring of 1942.

You can sign up to the Minter Dialogue podcast here via iTunes.

 

To KNOW MORE ABOUT “NEVER THE SAME”:

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST

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Further resources for the Minter Dialogue Radio Show:

iTunes RSS Minter Dialogue Podcast - Branding Gets Personal

Meanwhile, you can find my other English-speaking interviews on the Minter Dialogue Radio Show on Buzzsprout or via iTunes. Please don’t be shying about rating this podcast on iTunes! And for the francophones reading this, if you want to get more podcasts, you can also find my radio show en français over at : MinterDial.fr, on Buzzsprout or in iTunes.

James Bond from Monaco: SkyFall or AudiAutumn?

The other day, while walking through the chic 7th arrondissement of Paris, I came across James Bond’s real life car… We all know that Bond must live in Monaco, no?  Here is a photo of it.

James Bond Skyfall Audi from Monaco, in Paris, The Myndset Brand strategy

Ok, it’s possibly not Bond’s car, because it is no Aston Martin. But, I did find the license plate sufficiently exceptional to want to post about it! [And I admit that I am an Audi man, too…]

Bond apparently has some traffic violations, I note.

Audi James Bond Monaco, The Myndset Brand strategy and Digital marketing

The Monaco 0007 would be every person’s dream, no? While we’re at it, what did you think of the Skyfall film?

Review of Hugo Cabret, the film – 3 truths from my point of view

Not the film of all time

The_Invention_of_Hugo_Cabret, from the Myndset

Part biography, part novel, part compendium, part flip book!

To ring in the new year, we went to see the new Martin Scorsese film, Hugo, based on the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. This 2 hour+ film did not seduce me on the merits of the direction, plot or acting. I thought of it more like a nostalgic film for the film industry. At best, Hugo is a film about time, rather than a film of all time.  However, the “picture” — as in the cinematography — was at times delightful. Being in Paris and having been a student of film at university, I can appreciate the desire to recover and repurpose archival film and the wonderful creativity of Georges Méliès. The film does a good job of reinserting old film into a new context, which I am going to assume was one of Scorsese’s primary motivations for making the film.

Oh yes, there was one other thing: vocabulary.  The charming young Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) spent the entire film showing off her good English vocab.  I smiled, thinking that maybe some kids would pick up some words.  Only problem, there was no clickable link through to the dictionary to verify the meaning!

The collateral messages

Meanwhile, if I may not have been overly thrilled with the writing and some of the acting, I did have a few “moments” in the film, where my internal message center lit up.  Here are the three parts to the film that did ring true for me:

  1. Find your North.  I like to use the expression, “to find your North”, because we all need a compass to guide us, especially through these turbulent times.  As the film explicits for the film industry, we sometimes yearn for the nostalgia of the “good ‘ole days,” filled with tradition and, yet, synonym of rejecting change.  I particularly liked the passage when the small boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) says to his co-adventurer, Isabelle, that in machinery every piece has a purpose.  And, Hugo and Isabelle, being a part of the world’s machine, have their purpose, too.  The point is find one’s purpose, or one’s North.
  2. Storytelling.  A common theme these days for brand marketers — because brands need to learn how to tell a story to which its customers can relate — storytelling has long been monopolized by the cellulose film industry.  As was exposed in a delightful TEDx Marin speech by Robert Tercek, we as a culture have handed over the reigns to Hollywood to do the storytelling for us and that it is time for us to take storytelling or “personal narrative” back.  Dreams and storytelling are what films can bring to us.  But, we should all be allowed to have our individual dreams in real life (IRL) and to be able to tell our stories (blogs and more…).
  3. The French smile.  The Station Inspector of the brilliantly reconstructed Quai d’Orsay train station, is played by the ever surprising Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat and Ali G.  Not the nicest of Station Inspectors, but certainly up there with the quirkiest, the French Inspector is not good at smiling.  As the film goes on, he develops a repertoire of 3 smiles with which to seduce the flower girl.  I’m not sure how intentional this was, but it certainly made me think of the French lack of propensity to smile in a happy way (as opposed to a smirk), much less to laugh.
My daughter (12) thought the film was too juvenile for adults (based on the dialogue and plot), while my wife thought the film was too “old” for children because of the rather dour, nasty and somewhat depressive nature of some of the characters.  Appropriate confusion.

I’m not going to make you go out to see the film with this review.  The film has its moments and I enjoyed Christopher Lee as the librarian, Mr Labisse, and Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies.  Kingsley, whose birth name was Krishna Bhanji, typified a rather international crew.  Hugo is a touching tribute to old film with a couple of poignant moments, but not well enough written to have more than 2.5 out of 5 rating.

Piece de Resistance – the 2011 film of “what if…”

What if the war went wrong?

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the premiere of Resistance, a new film with Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough, directed by Amit Gupta and based on the novel, Resistance by Owen Sheers.

The story is fictional and is based on the concept: what if D-Day had failed?  In late 1944, the Germans invade Britain and an English resistance movement is formed.  Without ruining the plot, the film has two wonderful points to it:

  • Despite being a war movie, Resistance shows no outright violence; and despite plenty of romance intrigue, it shows no sex.
  • The suspense and acting is carried out less through dialogue and more through silence, eyes and the unsaid.

Resistance-Review-michael-sheen-andrea-riseboroughFilled with subtlety, Resistance attacks the central question: life is filled with choices and the decisions we make will mark our lives.  The question is explicitly posed by Michael Sheen to a young boy, who ends up executing the only visible act of violence in the entire film.

What coursed through my mind during the film was what would I have done?  How would I have handled such a situation?  Moreover, the film explores the psychology of the [German] occupier in a much more sympathetic way than does the typical Hollywood movie — without ever suggesting that the Germans were necessarily all good guys.

I thought the acting was enticing.  I particularly enjoyed the polyglot, Tom Wlaschiha’s interpretation of the laconic Albrecht (the German commander). Some of the lighting and scoring could have been better, and if at times I was a little confused by the plot, I enjoyed the film for its effort to explore the thin, blurred lines that happen in war (and, most emphatically, in life as well).

I did manage to sneak in a question to Michael Sheen (who was sitting right behind me) about what made him elect to be in this film.  His answer was quite matter of factly: “just because I know Owen [the writer].”  I pursued, “so you got to know the story and that hooked you?”  To which, he answered, “Actually, I just did it because I know Owen.”

Well, it may not be a blockbuster film, but it is a film that makes you think.  What if…

The film is just out now and I’d be happy to hear of anyone else who has seen the film!

PS Kudos to my friend Isabelle Georgeaux for co-producing the film.

 

 

Film Review: Face cachée de la lune (Far Side of the Moon) by Robert Lepage

The Far Side of Moon Film JacketThe 2003 Québécois film, “La Face Cachée de la Lune,” — or “Far Side of the Moon” — by Robert Lepage (ingenuously written, directed, produced and headlined with dual lead roles) is a fabulous film that I highly recommend. Having just watched this film in the wake of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission, I thought I’d try to incite you to go out and rent it/download it…

Things I loved about this film:

  • the at-time very Gary Larson-like “far side” humour.
  • a reminder of the serendipitous nature of life and the many paths and voyages resident in one’s life.
  • how it showed the importance of your childhood in forming who you are.
  • the allegories played out by the different professions of the two brothers (Philippe and André): selling the Sun on the one hand and selling the weather on the other, all the while focused on the US-Russian race to the moon. Also notable: the links between the baby in the womb, the child in the washing machine, the goldfish in the bowl, and the astronaut floating outside in space attached by a technological umbilical chord.
  • the film within the film as Philippe, the missed Mad Scientist, records life on Earth for Extraterrestrials.
  • last, and probably least, the credits written with trompe l’oeil Russian Cyrillic characters (as in the jacket).

I found the text brilliant (I must own up that I watched the film in v.o. which actually means the version française) in the way that it treats the challenges of life and parallel universe of our thoughts. The film dances in and out of reality, playing with gravity and gravitas, Lilliputians and hallucinations.

Robert Lepage is a man of many talents, not least of which is that he also created the Cirque de Soleil permanent production of KA at Las Vegas. Here is a fittingly positive review of the film by Culture Vulture.

My final commentary on the film regards the “thesis” that Philippe develops in the film to explain why the Russians wanted to get to the moon. Philippe’s theory posits that narcissism was the driving force. The character Philippe says, “Before Galileo turned his telescope toward the heavens, we believed that the moon was a polished mirror whose darks scars and mysterious outline were in fact the reflections of the mountains and seas on Earth” [in French: “Avant que Galilée ne tourne son télescope vers le ciel, on croyait que la Lune était un miroir poli dont les sombres cicatrices et contours mystérieux étaient en fait le reflet des montagnes et des mers de la Terre.”]. In his foiled thesis, Philippe explains how the brilliant Russian scientist Constantin Tsiolkovsky came up with the concept in 1895 of an enormous elevator building — inspired by the Eiffel Tower — which would take people up into space and where the cost would be $40/floor rather than $400 billion for each person to go into space. Tsiolkovsky was a remarkable man and, despite being closed off from the advancements outside Russia, came up with much ground breaking work including the multi-stage rocket and air cushion vehicle.

For me, however, the film sent me back to my days at Yale, when my wonderful Russian lit teacher, Professor Victor Ehrlich (1914-2007), justified that the evident jumpstart the Russians had in the race for the moon. Mr Ehrlich’s thesis was anchored in the “enlightened” thinking, promoted in the middle of the 19th century by Russia’s intelligentsia, surrounding the Philosophy of the Common Good (всеобщее благо). Initially introduced into Russia in the early 18th century, the cause of the Common Good stimulated the 19th century intelligentsia to galvanise scientific research and to dedicate themselves to finding a way to bring back to life their much respected ancestors. Ehrlich recounted how Alexander Bogdanov, the physicist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary, came up with a pioneering blood transfusion theory which, put into practice by himself, gave life to one of his own terminally sick students and subsequently caused his own death. In paralllel to this research to unlock the miracle of bringing back the dead to life, another branch of Russian thinkers considered the challenge of where to put all the resuscitated ancestors, should such a solution be found. The logical lebensraum was the moon. Consequently, a number of Russian scientists began to theorise on how to propel a man-inhabited rocket into space. Prior to the work done by Tsiolkovsky, Ehrlich refered to the pioneering work of the ill-fated Nikolai Kibalchich, who was an explosives ‘expert’ and, just before being hanged in1881 for his part in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, wrote a letter in which he described in some detail a rocket propelled aeronautical system for the transport of men. It was not until 1918, however, that Kibalchich’s letter was published. His 1881 theory predated by 10 years the “groundbreaking” research of a similar nature by the German engineer, Hermann Ganswindt. Between Kibalchich and Tsiolkovsky, to mention but two, clearly the Russian scientists were truly ahead of the times in figuring out how to get man into space. [Incidentally, Alexander Bogdanov also wrote an utopian novel, Red Star, in 1908, in which the protagonist travels to Mars.]

Sputnik Space ProgrammeThus, Ehrlich’s thesis was that Sputnik and Soyuz were merely the logical conclusion to the century long obsession of how to get man (albeit in the form of resuscitated ancestors) onto the moon. Without doubt, we owe much of our knowledge of the Moon to the Russians. So, even if La Face Cachée de la Lune (Far Side of the Moon) did not refer to Kibalchich and Bogdanov, it is a very worthy film, especially for those of you who enjoy astronomy and astrophysics.

A weekend in Sunny, Windy, Rainy Dorset

We spent last weekend in sunny, windy, & rainy Dorset, around the wedding of my dear old friend, Tom. Using our Tom-Tom to find Tom was something of a leitmotif for the weekend as we drove around endless country roads hidden from cows’ views by huge parallel hedges. Having not had the opportunity to stay up to date with the progress in GPS (“satnav” in the UK), I found out that this Tom-Tom also told us off when we sped (note to Audi: this functionality is not available in my Audi GPS).  

For historic value, you will not find this type of photo opportunity too frequently any longer: driving a London double decker through the country roads of Dorset. This bus shuttled the wedding guests to and fro the church. The major benefit was that, riding on top, you could finally look over the ever present hedges. The downside was that the overhanging trees were not used to the more-than-average vehicular height.

Red Double Decker Bus Driving Down Dorset Lanes



A couple of highlight addresses from our visit:
We stayed at the Old Manor, Kingston Maurwood, near Dorchester, run by the charming Andrew and Mulu Thomson, whom we thoroughly enjoyed. The rooms are large and comfortable. Plenty of charm in this manor house whose roots date back to the late 16th century, but which needed a major rebuild (basically up from scratch) in the 1990s. 

Down the road from the Old Manor is Athelhampton House & Gardens (Entry £8.75/adult). This is a charming 15th century house (built 1485, the year of the Reformation) that is owned and lived in by Patrick & Andrea Cooke (in the North wing). To be visited is the King’s Bedroom which was never slept in by a King; and the double bed is at best Queen size. The top floor of the House has an exposition of the Russian artist, Marevna. We had a lovely walk the the garden (dating back to 1891), featuring splendid topiary pyramids (picture below). Athelhampton is a prized wedding location (although you only have the ceremony in the House, because it does not have any large rooms in the house itself). The House was used recently in the about-to-appear film “From Time to Time” by Julian Fellowes with Dame Maggie Smith.


Athelhampton House Dorset

Despite the blustery winds, it was a grand weekend and a lovely wedding.

No Country for Old Men – Film review

No Country for Old Men – Film Review: 4.7/5.0 stars

“No Country for Old Men” was one of two films that I saw on the plane from Dubai to Paris, both of which featured Vietnam veterans. And, I was totally surprised by the strength of this film since I hadn’t read up about the film ahead of time.

The New York-based Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) have created a powerful film noir style that is masterfully applied to No Country for Old Men. Having just been on safari in Kenya, observing the ouster of the “older males” among various animal species, one is reminded of the pitiless nature of Nature.

Directors of Raising Arizona (whacked out comedy), The Man Who Wasn’t There (film noir) and the whimsical Barton Fink, the Coen brothers are returning to American cinema what generic Hollywood is taking away: superior plots, unpredictability and thought provocation.

No Country for Old Men
, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy (which I never read), was released in November 2007. Among the clever parts to this film is the ability to express extreme violence without necessarily showing it. And, among the finer surprises, evil is not vanquished…if anything, it is insidiously starified. And, with all three main characters’ lives intertwined yet rarely overlapping (physically), you never really know who the “hero” is. And the ending is designed to make you reflect. There is no gratuitous happy ending in NCFOM.

Featuring non-standard actors for Coen films, NCFOM has, all the same, a strong cast:

  • Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (for Whom the Bell Tolls?);
  • Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss (the man who never quite makes it);
  • Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh (pronounced so close to sugar you can taste it);
  • Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn’s wife, Carla Jean Moss;
  • and, finally, a somewhat unbelievable Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells (the supposedly toughest SOB bounty hunter).

Amply recognized, No Country for Old Men was honored with numerous awards: three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See here for a slew of other “official” reviews of the film (4.6/5 on average). Definitely a film to see when you are not feeling down, though.