DUNKIRK

July 22, 2017


My wife and I love to go to the movies. Please note, I said GO to the movies.  We don’t really enjoy downloading a “flick” and watching at home although admittedly, sometimes it is very convenient.  Due to a serious illness our oldest son, today was our first movie in eleven (11) weeks.  We chose to see the movie DUNKIRK.  I’m a little embarrassed to tell you I had to pull up a map to see exactly where Dunkirk is.  Take a look.

The evacuation of troops trapped on Dunkirk, was called a “miracle” by Sir Winston Churchill. As the Wehrmacht swept through western Europe in the spring of 1940, using Blitzkrieg, both the French and British armies could not stop the onslaught. For the people in western Europe, World War Two (WWII) was about to start for real.

The advancing German Army trapped the British and French armies on the beaches around Dunkirk. 330,000 men were trapped in this location and they were definitely a convenient target for the Germans. Admiral Ramsey, based in Dover, formulated Operation Dynamo remove from the beaches as many men as was possible. The British troops, led by Lord John Gort, were professional soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force; trained men that British could not afford to lose. From May 26th 1940, small private ships transferred soldiers to larger ones which then brought them back to a port in southern Britain.

The beach at Dunkirk was a shallow slope so larger boats could not get close enough to rescue the men where they were. Therefore, smaller boats were needed to take on board men who would then be transferred to larger vessels based further off shore. Eight hundred (800) legendary “little ships” were used. It is thought that the smallest boat to make the journey across the Channel was the Tamzine – an eighteen (18) foot open topped fishing boat now on display at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Despite attacks from German fighters and bombers, the Wehrmacht never launched a full-scale attack on the beaches of Dunkirk. Panzer tank crews awaited the order from Hitler which never came. In his memoirs, Field Marshall Rundstadt, the German commander-in-chief in France during the 1940 campaign, called Hitler’s failure to order a full-scale attack on the troops on Dunkirk his first fatal mistake of the war. That 338,000 soldiers were evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk would seem to uphold this view.  One of the reason for his reluctance in not ordering an attack was the belief Britain had suffered from the might of the Wehrmacht once and this experience would be sufficient for the island country to come to peace with Hitler. The total destruction of the British Expeditionary Force might have created such a climate of revenge in Britain that involvement would be prolonged. We will never know the true reason.

THE MOVIE:

I definitely enjoyed the movie but if you go expecting a “shoot’em up” you may as well stay at home and watch the national news.  There is very little dialogue in this picture but, in my opinion, this does not detract from the movie itself.  It is meant to be a visual experience which it certainly is.  No blood and gore, either which I feel was intentional on the part of writer/director Christopher Nolan.

Dunkirk was filmed on large format 65mm by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and, in my opinion, is incredible.  Even more impressive, there are virtually no computer effects in this one.  Instead of opting for digital effects including real images of battleships going under and planes crashing; an image of men trying to escape from an ocean engulfed by oil and fire feels as claustrophobic and horrific as it sounds. Also on display is Nolan’s fascination with time, each story living in different chronologies — a week, a day, an hour — that eventually come together and overlap. Technically speaking, Dunkirk is as impressive by any standard.

I have no idea as to how this movie will do at the box office but I was very surprised that Carmike Cinemas chose to show it in one of their smaller theaters.  There is significant competition right now at the movies with several very good offerings.  I just hope the production team gets a fair return on their investment. I definitely can recommend it to you.

As always, I welcome your comments.

WHO IS MITCH RAPP

June 7, 2017


I have had the great opportunity to travel to several countries over my not-too-short-lifetime.  Most of that travel has been for business purposes but even though you are engaged for long periods of time you do pick up various indications relative to culture, even pop culture.  In my opinion, we here in the United States and the western world have by far the very best heroes.   Literature and certainly the entertainment professions are replete with men and women selected to “save us all”.  I’m not too sure if this is good or bad.  Maybe we are looking for that “white knight” to ride in and solve all of our problems then ride off leaving us happy and forever content.  I personally feel that white knight may be found by looking in a mirror.

At any rate, the list below is just a partial list of “heroes” we look for to write all wrongs, deliver us from alien invaders, purge our country from evil—you get the picture.

  • James Bond
  • Jason Bourne
  • John Wick
  • Neo and Morpheus
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Philip Marlowe
  • Ripley
  • Wonder Woman
  • Captain America
  • Iron Man
  • Han Solo
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Rocky Balboa
  • Harry Potter
  • The Terminator
  • Jimmy Lee Swagger
  • Jack Reacher
  • Mitch Rapp

I would like to concentrate on the last one—Mitch Rapp.  Mr. Vince Flynn created Mitch Rapp and penned the following action-packed novels with him as the main character.

  • American Assassin (Mitch Rapp #1) (2010) ​ ISBN 9781416595182
  • Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp #2) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595205
  • Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp #3) (1999) ​ ISBN 0671023195
  • The Third Option (Mitch Rapp #4) (2000) ​ ISBN 0671047310
  • Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp #5) (2001) ISBN 0671047337
  • Executive Power (Mitch Rapp #6) (2002) ​ ISBN 0743453956
  • Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp #7) (2004) ​ ISBN 0743453972
  • Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp #8) (2005) ​ ISBN 0743270363
  • Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp #9) (2006) ​ ISBN 0743270371
  • Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp #10) (2007) ​ ISBN 9780743270410
  • Extreme Measures (Mitch Rapp #11) (2008) ​ ISBN 9781416599395
  • Pursuit of Honor (Mitch Rapp #12) (2009) ​ ISBN 978141659516
  • The Last Man (Mitch Rapp #13) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595212
  • The Survivor (Mitch Rapp #14) (2015) ​ ISBN 9781476783451
  • Order To Kill (Mitch Rapp #15) (2016) ​ ISBN 9781476783482
  • Enemy Of The State (Mitch Rapp #16) (2017) ​ ISBN 9781476783512
  • Term Limits (not part of Mitch Rapp series) (1997) ​ ISBN 0671023179

I have read most of Mr. Flynn’s novels involving Rapp and I can tell you he is a most interesting man.

Mitch Rapp attended Syracuse University, where he majored in international business and minored in French. He attended Syracuse on a lacrosse scholarship and became an All-American due to his amazing speed and aggressive style of play. Rapp was also offered a scholarship by the University of North Carolina, but turned that down because his high school sweetheart Maureen was attending Syracuse.  Rapp had known Maureen since he was sixteen years old.  She was tragically killed in the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  One of thirty-five (35) Syracuse students died that day while returning from a semester overseas.

Nearly a year after Maureen’s death, Rapp was recruited into the CIA by Irene Kennedy. He began training the week after graduating from Syracuse. Only twenty-three years old at the time, Rapp did not go through the standard CIA training program at “The Farm,” outside Williamsburg, Virginia. Instead, for a year straight he was shuttled from one location to the next, sometimes spending a week, sometimes a month. The bulk of the training was handled by Stan Hurley, a former CIA operative, who taught him “how to shoot, stab, blow things up, and even kill with his bare hands.” In other words, he was schooled in firearms and marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and explosives. Endurance was stressed. There were long swims and even longer runs. Between all the heavy lifting, they worked on his foreign language skills. Since he had minored in French at Syracuse, within a month at the CIA he was fluent in the language. He was then taught Arabic and Persian and could passably speak Urdu and Pashto. He also spoke German and Italian. He is ambidextrous, but naturally left-handed.

Rapp then became an operative of the Orion Team, a highly secretive organization supported by the CIA but definitely outside the Agency. It is funded by money diverted from congressionally funded programs. The job of the Orion Team in a nutshell is to take the war to the terrorists. It was formed in response to the Lockerbie disaster by the then CIA director of operations Thomas Stansfield. The unit operates in secret, independent, national security apparatus and circumvents the leviathan of politics that bypasses impediments like the executive order banning assassinations. The team is headed by Rapp’s recruiter, Irene Kennedy, whose official role is as director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

Rapp has been the Orion Team’s star operative almost from the day he started and has been honed into the most effective counterterrorism operative in America’s arsenal. He’s spent significant amounts of time in Europe, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia collecting intelligence and when the situation called for it, dealing with threats in a more final manner.

Officially, Rapp has nothing to do with the U.S. government; rather, he is referred to in the business as a private contractor. Rapp lives a life completely separate from the Agency. His cover is that of a successful entrepreneur. With the help of the CIA, he runs a small computer consulting business on the side that just happens to do a fair amount of international business, which gives him the cover to travel frequently. To keep things legitimate, Rapp often does indeed conduct business while abroad.

One of Rapp’s aliases is Mitch Kruse. In the special ops community, he is often known only by his call sign, “Iron Man” after the annual Ironman Triathlon in which he has participated on several occasions and has twice won. His only remaining family is his brother, Steven Rapp, a millionaire financial genius. Mitch and Steven grew up in McLean, Virginia.

Throughout the books, Rapp works with several special operations units including Navy SEALs and DEVGRUDelta ForceAir Force Special Operations Command, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). He also has close ties with “SEAL Demolition and Salvage Corporation”, a private military company specializing in underwater salvage such as getting rid of debris for ports and shipyards and training law enforcement divers, but whose employees also work from time to time as freelance operatives for the CIA. The company is owned and operated by Scott Coleman, former commanding officer of SEAL Team Six and friend of Rapp.

Flynn has crafted a remarkably complex character and has the ability to put that character in situations you would expect a “normal individual” to die from.  He has the uncanny ability to weave a story line that has one surprise after another.  This is truly a remarkable feat.  I love his books for this reason and one more—he is a master craftsman with words.  Truly gifted.

One caution—read “The American Assassin” first.  This book gives you the background or Rapp beginning with his days at Syracuse.  It takes you through all of the training used to produce a lethal weapon.  I strongly recommend the Mitch Rapp series for your summer reading.

THE ACCOUNTANT

October 23, 2016


My wife and I love to go to the movies.  When I say go, I mean GO.  We don’t download movies at home; we don’t subscribe to Netflix, Starz, HBO, HULU, etc.   We like to make our movie watching an event.  (OK, we are weird.)  I can barely remember one bad movie in my lifetime—something like David Letterman meets Godzilla.  We love movies.  You get the picture.

I generally do not write about movies because everyone has his or her own taste. I am the furthest thing from an experienced movie critic.   My thought is—if you like it, it’s good.  There is one movie we have seen lately I definitely can recommend—THE ACCOUNTANT.  Let’s look at several specifics to start with.

CAST: 

WRITER:  Bill Dubuque

DIRECTOR:  Gavin O’Conner

STUDIO:  Warner Brothers

RUNNING TIME: 128 Minutes

Christian Wolff is a mathematical genius who works as a forensic accountant at ZZZ Accounting in Plainfield, Illinois.  His primary responsibility is tracking insider financial deceptions for numerous criminal enterprises brokered to him by a mysterious figure known as “The Voice”.  The “Voice” contacts him by phone which is really spooky when initially encountered in the movie. As a child, Christian was diagnosed with autism and offered an opportunity to live at Harbor Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire. Although Christian had bonded with Justine, the mute daughter of the institute’s director, his father, a decorated military officer, declined, believing that Christian should overcome the hardships inherent in his condition rather than expect the world to accommodate to them. The pressure of raising a special needs child drove Christian’s mother to abandon him and his younger brother, Braxton, who were left in their father’s care.  The movie indicates the family moved thirty-four (34) times in seventeen (17) years.  Each move was to introduce new experiences to Christian and his older brother Braxton with hopes of preparing both for adult life.

I don’t know if you are familiar with autism but several symptoms are as follows:

  1. Not speak as well as his or her peers?
  2. Have poor eye contact?
  3. Not respond selectively to his or her name?
  4. Act as if he or she is in his or her own world?
  5. Seem to “tune others out?”
  6. Not have a social smile?
  7. Seem unable to tell you what he or she wants, preferring to lead you by the hand or get desired objects on his or her own, even at risk of danger?
  8. Have difficulty following simple commands?
  9. Show you things without bringing them to you?
  10. Not point to interesting objects to direct your attention to objects or events of interest?
  11. Have unusually long and severe temper tantrums?
  12. Have repetitive, odd, or stereotypic behaviors?
  13. Show an unusual attachment to inanimate objects, especially hard ones (e.g., flashlight or a chain vs. teddy bear or blanket)?
  14. Prefer to play alone?
  15. Demonstrate an inability to play with toys in the typical way?
  16. Not engage in pretend play (if older than age 2)?

Ben Affleck absolutely nails many of the traits and characteristics of an autistic adult although due to his father’s persistence with training Christian on how to overcome his difficulties, he is highly functional as a mathematician.  Affleck, in my opinion, will be nominated for an Oscar for this one.  His work is just that good.

The plot is anything but cookbook.  There are many twists and turns and the ending is really surprising.  You cannot guess as to how this one turns out. Many movies today are more of the same but The Accountant is quite the exception.  I’m not going to spoil it for you by divulging more of the plot but the entire movie is action-filled with a cast that certainly works very well together. It’s one of those movies complicated enough to see twice or even three times, each time discovering something you have missed previously.

I can definitely recommend this one to you.  Take a look.

EYE IN THE SKY

April 14, 2016


I usually don’t do movie reviews but this is an exception due to the technology displayed in “Eye in the Sky”.  This movie has been rated as a 4.5 to 5.0 by three movie reviewers and deserves the rating.  It is a marvelous movie and one I can certainly recommend to you.  Let me set the cast.

  • Hellen  Mirren as Colonel  Katherine Powel
  • Alan Rickman Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (This was Mr. Rickman’s last movie before his passing this year.
  • Aaron Paul as Lt. Steve Watts, United States Air Force
  • Barkhad Abdi as Jama Farah, MI6 operative
  • Phoebe Fox as Carrie Gershon—Weapons Officer, United States Air Force
  • Lian Glen—British Foreign Affairs Officer

The film, directed by Gavin Hood based on a screenplay by Guy Hibbert, and details military personnel facing the legal and ethical dilemmas presented by drone warfare against those using terrorist tactics. The overriding issue is the civilian population endangered by the military activity. The movie was filmed in South Africa in late 2014.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) commands from Northwood Headquarters (Britain) a mission to capture high-level Al-Shabaab extremists meeting in a safehouse in Nairobi, Kenya. A Reaper drone controlled from Nevada by USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) provides aerial surveillance, while undercover Kenyan field agents, including Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), use short-range video bugs for ground intelligence. Kenyan ground troops are positioned nearby to execute the arrest, but are called off when Farah discovers the terrorists have explosives, and are preparing two suicide bombers for what is presumed to be an attack on a civilian target.  Time is of the essence and as the movie progresses there seems to be many more political roadblocks than might seem necessary.  If those individuals in the safehouse are allowed to leave, killing them will be out of the question.

Colonel Powell decides that the imminent bombing changes the mission objective from “capture” to “kill” and informs drone pilot Watts to prepare a missile attack on the building.  As protocol would dictate, she solicits the opinion of her legal counsel about doing so. To her frustration, her counsel advises her to seek approval from her superiors. Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is supervising the mission from London with members of the UK government as witnesses, and asks for their authorization. Citing conflicting legal and political views—such as contrasting the tactical value of the assassination with the negative publicity of killing civilians and the status of some of the targets as US or UK nationals—they fail to reach a decision and refer the question up to the Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen).  Impaired by a bout of food poisoning on a trade mission to Singapore, he does not offer a definite answer, first attempting to defer to the US Secretary of State (contacted on a cultural exchange in Beijing), then insisting only that due diligence be performed in seeking a way to minimize “collateral damage”.

Meanwhile, the situation at the house has become more difficult to assess.  Alia Mo’Allim (Aisha Takow), a pre-teen girl who lives in the adjacent home, is visibly in grave danger if the building—and the explosives inside—are struck by a missile. Watts and his USAF colleague Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) can see Alia selling bread just outside the targeted building, and seek to delay firing until she moves. Farah attempts to buy all of her bread so she will leave, but in the process, his cover is blown and he is forced to flee. The suicide bombers are finishing their preparations when surveillance video of them is lost, raising the level of urgency.

Seeking a way to get the authorization she needs to execute the strike, Powell orders her risk-assessment officer to find strike parameters that will allow him to quote a lower risk of civilian deaths. He re-evaluates a strike point and places the probability of Alia’s death at forty-five (45) to sixty-five (65) percent; she coerces him to report only the lower figure up the chain of command. The strike is subsequently authorized, and Watts reluctantly fires a missile. The building is leveled, with casualties in and around it. Alia has moved far enough away to survive the strike, but is injured and unconscious. However, one of the terrorist leaders has also survived, requiring Watts to fire a second missile, which strikes the site just as Alia’s parents reach her. They suffer minor injuries and rush Alia to a hospital, where the medical personnel are unable to revive her and she is pronounced dead. This is a tragic ending to a great movie.  Collateral damage ending the life of an innocent little girl.

The script is fascinating but the scenes depicting the capabilities of drone activity is truly engaging.  The field operative is unable to get close enough to determine the identities of everyone in the safehouse and a definite “make” is necessary before firing the Hellfire missile. The story line is more complicated because one terrorist is British and one American.  Both must be identified before action can be taken.  The drone sent to capture video of those inside is a “bug”—a flying bug with a camera.  The drone is directed by a controller no bigger than a smartphone with directional buttons guiding its flight path.  The people are identified but the little girl selling bread is within the “kill zone”.  Delays occur until the proper clearances and permissions are granted.  The Reaper drone is flying at twenty thousand feet and circles the area waiting on permission to engage.  All the time, video is given of the girl selling bread.  Lt. Watts knows an airstrike incorrectly placed will kill the girl and others within a certain radius of the bomb blast.  He repeatedly asks for probabilities of destruction relative to collateral damage.

I suspect the drone activity in the movie is at least somewhat accurate and if this is the case the technology is stunning.  To control a drone over the horn of Africa from Nevada is truly amazing.  To do so in “real time” is even more impressive.  The personal toll on the pilot and the weapons officer is pronounced.  They will never forget the experience and I’m sure PTSD will be a factor in their future.  Killing innocent children is a huge burden but the individual wearing the bomb vest would have killed scores of innocents had he been able to carry out his attack.

I can definitely recommend this movie to you.  It truly demonstrated American capabilities as well as the strain in fighting terrorism in today’s world.

THE BEST ENGINEERING MOVIES

December 22, 2011


THE BEST ENGINEERING MOVIES

My wife and I love a good movie although we have some differences when defining the word “good”.  She generally leans towards spy vs. spy thrillers and light-hearted movies involving interpersonal relationships; i.e. “chick-flicks”.  I like more Si-Fi and action-filled yarns involving mechanical equipment and battlefield scenes.  I will purchase a ticket to a grade “B” movie just to see the animation and computer graphics.  I am absolutely amazed at the processes that must be involved in making a movie such as “Transformers”.  Hour upon hour of computer work necessary to bring about this type of movie to the “big screen”.  How the actors interact with the animation is truly fascinating to me.  With this being the case, what do you think are the very best “engineering” movies?  The ones that demonstrate equipment designs having come about due to significant engineering effort and program management planning.  Given below is my list.

  • “Minority Report”
  • “The Right Stuff”
  • “October Sky”
  • “Apollo 13”
  • “Transformers”
  • “Iron Man”
  • “Terminator”
  • “Star Wars”
  • “Flight of the Phoenix”
  • “Alien”
  • “Mission Impossible”
  • “2001-A Space Odyssey”
  • “James Bond”
  • “District 9”
  • “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”
  • “Back to the Future”
  • “ET”
  • “The Day the Earth Stood Still”
  • “The Matrix”
  • “Blade Runner”
  • “Cowboys and Aliens”

I’m sure you can add several I have forgotten or probably not seen.  Having five grandchildren, I also get a generous “dose” of kid-type animated movies that are just as impressive as the ones listed above.   The hardware and software needed to provide content is tremendously impressive.  If you have the time, make your own list.

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