Documentary Film Review “Mountain”

In times of pain or sorrow, human beings find refuge in different things.  I have a friend, who used to own a book store, whose refuge is in the pages of a book.  Another friend, in walking or swimming in the ocean.  For me, when not creating artwork, it is hiking in the mountains.

Of course, I enjoy getting out on the trail no matter what I am feeling.  The physical act of hiking and being surrounded by nature has an ability to help me see things clearer and feel invigorated.  I have been quoted saying that the worst day on the trail is better than the best day in the office.

John Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.  Right now with the state of the world what it is…. it is a little more challenging getting out to the mountains.  So I did what anyone who dreams of mountains would do…. I watched a documentary about them.

Mountain still from film

Film Still from the documentary “Mountain”

Released in 2017 “Mountain” is an Australian documentary film directed by Jennifer Peedom.  The only word to truly describe the cinematography is spectacular.  While exploring high peaks from around the world, this film tells about the relationship between humans and mountains across time.  Parts of the film take one through the dizzying rush of ascending and descending the peaks.  Other parts of the film are soft and elegant.  For example, in one scene, the way the camera follows gently falling snow.

Besides the beautiful images, the film is Narrated by Willem Dafoe.  In my opinion, you couldn’t have a better narrator.  As part of his narration, Willem Dafoe reads passages from Robert Macfarlaine’s book Mountains of the Mind.

The musical score is performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.  The combination of the visual and musical of this documentary is exquisitely done.

Mountain documentary film

If given an opportunity to watch this documentary, do not pass it up.  I highly recommend this film.  A sensory feast for the eyes and ears, it is perfect during this time of social distancing.

Permanent Record

There are moments in ones life that cause an individual to change.  Some of those moments have a catalyst in the way of an experience, event, etc.  It’s kinda like when someone asks you where were you when you heard about the twin towers in New York City?  Really big events not only change one person but have the power to change everything.  There was before September 11 and there is after September 11.  This particular event also affected Edward Snowden the author of Permanent Record,

I remember when I watched the documentary “Citizenfour,” directed by Laura Poitras, having a serious shock and awe moment when I realized how much, how serious and how scary the amount of surveillance that my government was perpetrating on its own citizens, as well as every human being on this planet.  This isn’t a clever science fiction plot.  It is real life and it is terrifying.

documentary Citizenfour


So of course, when I heard that Edward Snowden had written a book, I had to read it.  I was not disappointed.  The following is the description from the jacket cover:

As I proceeded down the Tunnel, it struck me: this, in front of me, was my future.  I’m not saying that I made any decisions at that instant.  The most important decisions in life are never made that way.  They’re made subconsciously and only express themselves once fully formed – once you’re finally strong enough to admit to yourself that this is the course your beliefs have decreed.  That was my twenty-ninth birthday present to myself: the awareness that I had entered a tunnel that would narrow my life down toward a single, still indistinct act.”  – (Page 214) from Permanent Record

“In 2013, twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden shocked the world when he broke with the American Intelligence establishment and revealed that the United States government was secretly pursuing the means to collect every single phone call, text message and email.  The result would be an unprecedented system of mass surveillance with the ability to pry into the private lives of every person on earth.  Six years later, Snowden reveals for the first time how he helped to build this system and why he was moved to expose it.

Spanning the bucolic Beltway suburbs of his childhood and the clandestine CIA and NSA postings of his adulthood, Permanent Record is the extraordinary account of a bright young man who grew up online – a man who became a spy, a whistle blower, and in exile, the Internet’s conscience.  Written with wit, grace, passion, and unflinching candor, Permanet Record is a crucial memoir of our digital age and destined to be a classic.”  – Book cover of Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Written in a way that even the less than technical savoy can understand, I felt that I was given a view into the government’s development of its spying programs.  I also felt like Edward shared his struggle and motivation.  The words flow logically and Edward leads you through the story.  I appreciated his candor, humility and humor.

At one point in the chapter on encryption Edward makes the following comment.

“Breaking a 128-bit key would take 2 [to the 64th] times longer than a day, or fifty million billion years.  By that time, I might even be pardoned.”  – page 217 Permanent Record

I my humble opinion, Edward Snowden should be pardoned.  He is a hero.  He pointed out something that should be a concern to every human being on this planet.

I highly recommend the book Permanent Record.  It puts the record straight.  If you have read it, please post a comment.  Or if you would like to discuss the book with me, please contact me through my contact page.

Captive State

If you have followed my blog for any length of time you know that I am a science fiction geek.  You also know that I have a tendency to only write reviews for documentary films.  There have been a couple exceptions over the years.  It is time to add “Captive State” to this exclusive list.  This film is an underrated science fiction gem.

Captive state 5

As with any good story, a key component is the characters.  The characters in “Captive State” are intriguing and compelling.  Ashton Sanders plays Gabriel Drummond.  Gabriel was a child when the aliens invaded and took over the planet.  He grew up in Chicago, one of the cities that have a closed zone.  The closed zone is where the aliens live.  Gabriel’s brother, Rafe Drummond played by Jonathan Majors, was part of a failed rebellion by a group called phoenix.

John Goodman plays the character William Mulligan a police officer.  Mulligan believes that the not all of the rebellion group phoenix were killed and has a theory about how to find them.

There are less prominent characters that have a big impact on the story.  Vera Farminga plays the part of a prostitute.  The marine who runs an electric repair shop.  The priest that no longer has a congregation.  The medical student who never finished medical school.  The newspaper man who submits the ads for the classifieds.  And so many more like this that may have a small role in the movie but a large purpose in this story.

Speaking of the story,  this one is pretty amazing the way it all ties together.  Without saying too much and giving things away, each scene seems to flow into the next.  It is seamlessly filmed.

The movie begins with a family trying to get out of a city.  They drive through a barricade into a tunnel.  After an interaction with an alien culture, the adults in the vehicle are killed.  This dramatic start of the story leads right into the opening credits and a description of the alien invasion and how the dystopian world of the film came into existence.  After the opening credits end, the main story begins with the start of Gabriel Drummond’s day as he gets up, meets up with a friend and heads to work.

There are some amazing visuals throughout the movie.  The scene where William Mulligan unlocks a janitors closet to show that he has been tracking the phoenix group for years.  The scene showing an underground radio station.  A dog left in a field barking.  People throwing contraband out windows during a police raid.  The image of Gabriel walking past a burned out station wagon with a damaged hula doll attached to the dashboard.  Space ships taking off across Lake Michigan.  Each scene in the film “Captive State” has the feeling of being carefully chosen and adds to the overall visual richness of the story.

Captive State 2

Rupert Wyatt directed and co-wrote the screen play with Erica Beeney.  In an interview about the movie, Rupert Wyatt stated that he had been inspired by French resistance fighters from World War II when writing and directing this movie.  I had seen the interview after watching the film.  Upon a second viewing of “Captive State,” I could definitely see those influences.

Rob Simonsen composed the film’s score.  The music in this film flows perfectly with the scenes of the movie.  It captures the right feeling and sets the tone of the film.

Captive State

I felt compelled to write about this film after watching it.  There were so many things that were done really well and yet I had heard so little about it.  I hope that if you are interested in science fiction films, that you will give “Captive State” a chance.  If you have seen the movie, please let me know your thoughts on the film by leaving a comment.

37 Seconds

The movie “Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” in my humble opinion, is one of the best movies ever filmed.  It has many powerful messages about creativity, friendship, keeping child-like wonder in your life (especially if you are an adult) and believing in yourself.  The theme that I am focusing on for this post is of time and being in the moment.

If you have not seen this movie, I cannot recommend it enough.  I will try to not spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it.  But you will need a little background to set up the scene for the quote.

Mr. Magorium, the owner of a magical toy store, and Molly Mahoney, the store manager, are in a clock shop.  They are setting all of the clocks to chime at the same time.  When they have completed this task Mahoney says something like “37 seconds.  Now we wait.”  And Mr. Magorium says the following:

“37 seconds.  We breathe.  We pulse.  We regenerate.  Our hearts beat.  Our minds create.  37 seconds well lived is a lifetime.”  -Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

What Mr. Magorium is describing is being in the moment.  Experiencing your life.  Even and probably more importantly, at times when you don’t feel like you are “doing” anything.

For example, waiting in line.  I know that a lot of people don’t like to wait in line.  They take out there cell phones.  Scowl.  Complain loudly.  I don’t mind it.  I take that time to look around me.  Listen to the conversations of others or the music over the intercom system.  I notice the colors, what people are wearing, and their expressions.  I have heard and seen some pretty crazy things while waiting to check out my groceries.  Some of these things end up in my art, blog, creativity classes and writing.

In yoga, one of my favorite instructors, is always talking about the importance of breath.  She tells her students to focus on their breathing.  With each breath, she says become aware of your body, calm your mind, and enter into awareness.  My yoga instructor is not only teaching yoga; but, how to be in the moment.

So often, I hear people talk about how fast time flies.  This is usually said as a regret.  How things have been missed because they didn’t have enough time.  We cannot control time.  But we can control how we experience it, by being in the moment, and how we use it, by living your life to the fullest.

Breathe!  Pulse!  Regenerate!  You are alive.  Your heart beats and your mind creates.  Live every moment experiencing your life.

Annihilation, the Movie

As my faithful followers already know, I loved the book Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.  (You can read my review of the novel here, Annihilation.) I loved the entire Southern Reach trilogy.  (You can read my review of the series here,  Annihilation – Authority – Acceptance.)  I was so excited to go to the movie based on the first book of the series when it was released.  The screenplay adapting the book for the movie was written by Alex Garland.  Sadly, the movie wasn’t released to my local cinema and I had to wait to get it from Netflix.  Having watched it a couple of times, I feel that I am finally ready review the film.

all 3 books

The movie is not the book.  That said, I like the movie.  I like it separately and for different reasons than I love the book.  It was because of these differences and the fact that I like both versions I decided to compare the movie and the book.

SERIOUS MOVIE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!  If you have not seen the movie and are planning to…… STOP READING RIGHT NOW!!  Please finish reading after you have watched the film.  Seriously, do not read beyond this point if you haven’t watched the film.  Okay.  You have been warned.


Directed by Alex Garland, this movie is beautifully filmed.  It begs for a large screen.  I can’t begin to imagine how amazing it must have been to watch it on the big screen of the movie theater.  The special effects are gorgeous.  There is a scene where the characters are walking up to an abandoned structure near water and there is a riot of flowers growing.  Josie makes the comment, “It looks like someone is about to have a wedding.”  In another scene, Lena the biologist is looking for Cassie and comes across a pair of deer that mirror each other.  They do not resemble the deer we see in the woods but are quite beautiful.  Towards the end of the movie, just before the lighthouse, Lena walks through a landscape of crystal looking trees that are visually stunning.

Music for the film was done by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.  The musical score adds to the effects and overall atmosphere of the film.  I think the songs that highlighted flashbacks were also well-chosen and add depth to separation of the different places,  Shimmer (more on the name to follow) versus the world we live in.

In the book Annihilation the participants of the expedition that goes into Area X were simply called by their professions: biologist, anthropologist, surveyor, and psychologist.  This stripping of identity was, in my opinion, necessary to add to the strangeness of the experiences of the expedition members and the place.  Of course, in a movie, where people are talking about themselves, there are flashbacks, and descriptions are more than job titles, you need to have names for the characters to communicate with each other.

The actors in the film do an excellent job of portraying their characters.  Lena (the biologist) was played by Natalie Portman.  Jennifer Jason Leigh led the all woman expedition as the psychologist, Dr. Ventress.  Gina Rodrigruez portrayed Anya Thorensen a para-medic from Chicago.  Tessa Thompson played Josie Radek, a physicist from Cambridge.  Cassie “Cass” Sheppard, a geo-morphologist, was played by Tuva Novotny.  Oscar Isaac played Kane, a soldier and Lena’s husband, who went into the Shimmer in the mission before hers.  Benedict Wong played Lomax, the man questioning Lena.

All of the characters are battling their own demons.  At one point, Cassie says to Lena, “Volunteering for this is not exactly something you do if your life is in perfect harmony.”  Cassie went on to say “We are all damaged goods here.”

There are screen shots separating the film into sections.  Area X.  The Shimmer.  The Lighthouse.  Setting the stage for the viewer, preparing them for what comes next.

The books call the anomaly “Area X,” which I think gives it an ominous sound.  This sets the reader up for anything to happen.  In the movie, the anomaly is called “the shimmer.”  The word is descriptive of the effect for the type of force field that surrounds the area.  To me, this descriptive word seems to diminish the seriousness of the anomaly.  It sounds like a name for a techno club in Ibiza.

Another difference between the book and movie is the amount of time that the anomaly has existed.  The time span of Area X is decades and it had been very slowly expanding exponentially.  The time and depth of what that means by lost resources and lives is felt by the finding of the notebooks in the lighthouse.  In the movie, the Shimmer has only been around for three years but is rapidly radiating out from the lighthouse.  This is illustrated by Dr. Ventress and Cassie recognizing the old military base that was the headquarters of the Southern Reach before the Shimmer overtook it and later Dr. Ventress telling the others that the town they came to was evacuated two years ago.

I’m not going to lie, the book was scary in a couple of parts.  Not sleep with the lights on scary, but turning on the lights before going into a dark room kind of scare.  That didn’t stop me from imagining myself on an expedition to Area X with a group of people I could trust.  The movie didn’t scare me.  Yes, there were some very uncomfortable scenes: video tape left for those who follow, the bear through the fence, when the women were tied to chairs, and the scene in the lighthouse (more on that to follow).  Maybe it was because what I imagined in my mind from the book was so much scarier than CGI could ever produce, that the movie didn’t scare me.

In the book there was a Creature that lived in the marsh grasses between the Tower and the Lighthouse.  You never actually see the creature.  It makes noises that are unnerving.  There is one scene where the biologist is leaving the lighthouse and heading back to go to the Tower.  The creature chases her along the path through the marsh grasses.  The description of the chase is very well written and quite creepy.  However, there is no marsh grass Creature in the movie.

Also in the book. there is a creature that the biologist calls the Crawler.  The Crawler is in the Tower when expedition members come across it but you learn in the book that it makes a trip between the Tower and the Lighthouse.  The biologists interactions with the crawler are unnerving and a bit terrifying to say the least.  The Crawler is also not included in the movie.

The movie has a mutating alligator with teeth like a shark and a bear that seems to be decaying, absorbing bits of its prey and blending into its surroundings all at the same time.  Inside the lighthouse there is the alien entity but more about that when we get to the lighthouse.


In the book, the Lighthouse is important.  But the reason it is important is for the events that happened inside and around it and the history it holds as the reliquary of the notebooks.  The Tower is far more important in its significance of the Creature and what the Tower produces.

Both the book and the movie have the lighthouse being the center of an alien event that caused Area X/the Shimmer.  However in the movie, the Lighthouse is of much greater importance.  First of all because there isn’t a Tower in the movie and it is where you discover what happened to Kane.  It is also where the alien entity resides.  Lena has an interaction with the entity and the entity creates a double of Lena from a drop of her blood.  Lena kills this double and escapes.  In her killing of her double, Lena kills the alien entity and destroys the Shimmer.

Both the movie and the book have the Psychologist using the word annihilation.  In the book, the psychologist has fallen from the Lighthouse in an attempt to get away from the biologist.  When the biologist finds her, she shouts the word annihilation at her.  We find out later that the word annihilation was a verbal cue through hypnotism for the biologist to kill herself.  In the movie, Dr. Ventress talks about the entity taking over everything and everyone.  That it would fracture bodies and minds into their smallest parts until nothing remains.  Dr. Ventress calls it annihilation.

At one point, during Lena’s questioning by Lomax, he asks her for her motivation for going into the Shimmer.  Lena states that she owed it to her husband to find out what had happened to him.  And I think part of it was her guilt over having an affair.  The biologist in the book did not have an affair but was emotionally distant from her husband and felt that she had driven to going onto an expedidion in Area X.  Also he wasn’t a soldier, he was a medic.  Later in the movie, Lomax asks Lena why she was the only one to survive.  Her response ties in to her reason for going in, in the first place.  “I had to come back.  I’m not sure any of them did.”

Something perplexing that was not in the book and was never explained in the movie was the appearance of the infinity symbol tattoo on those who went into the Shimmer.  The only real acknowledgment of it is in a scene where Lena comments that she seems to be getting a bruise on her arm and thinks it is from the encounter with the alligator.  I feel like I am missing something.  Was something cut out?  Was there going to be some profound statement about the tattoo at some point?  If anyone knows or has a theory about it, I would be interested in hearing it.

Kane killed himself with flash grenade.  When Lena returns to the headquarters of the Southern Reach and sees her “husband” again, she asks him if he is Kane.  He answers, “I don’t think so.”  Is the Shimmer still alive in Lena and the copy of Kane?

A couple of things I noticed in the film that I thought were interesting.  First were the camera shots through glass or plastic, obscuring the images.  Reminded me of the way in which the shimmer refracted light.  Then there was the visual balance of the glasses of water.  Towards the beginning of the film when Kane drinks out of his glass after coming back from the shimmer and towards the end when Lena drinks out of hers at the end of being questioned.  One last thing, Lena and Kane’s house outside the shimmer resembles the over-grown house that Lena, Josie, Anya and Dr. Ventress stay in, in the evacuated city.

In closing, I found the film to be interesting and enjoyable.  Very thought provoking and definitely worth watching.  But again, I remind you, dear readers, it is not the book.


I know that I usually only write reviews about documentary films.  However, I was so surprised by this film that I felt compelled to write a review.  The previews for this movie looked interesting.  But so do previews for a lot of really awful movies.  I hadn’t read any reviews and I decided to watch the movie and decide for myself.  I am so glad that I did.


The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, and Bryce Dallas Howard.  There are many other great actors and a lot of talent throughout the film.  Directed by Stephen Gaghan, the film is described as an American Crime Adventure.  It was released in December 2016 and is based on a true story.

This is not a typical Matthew McConaughey film.  He is gritty, real and as un-Hollywood as a Hollywood actor can get.  His character is flawed, crass, despicable at times and you still root for him.  Edgar Ramirez is brilliant as the geologist.  They are perfect foils for each other.  As flawed as McConaughey’s character was, Ramirez’s was pulled together and precise.  Both performances were beautiful to watch.  And that is all I want to tell you about this film.  There is a mystery to this film and a beauty in the filming and unfolding of the story that can be ruined by telling to much of it.

This movie is worth watching.  When it finished, I felt like the time had flown by.  And the mystery….. I am still thinking about it.

Honesty Parameters

I watched the movie “Interstellar” a couple of weeks ago.  I really enjoyed the film on a lot of different levels.  The story was interesting.  The relationships between the different characters is complex and multi-faceted.  The film was based on scientific theory that I am interested in.  The special effects were well done and the score was enchanting.  Overall it was a really enjoyable film.  The film also tackled some questions about what it means to be human.  The one that piqued my interest was about honesty.

At one point in the film, Anne Hathaway’s character says to Matthew McConaughey’s character, “I’m just being honest.”  McConaughey’s character then asked the robot, TARS, if he had an honesty setting.  The robot’s response was it is set at 90%.

“Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor safest form of communication with emotional beings.” -TARS

That got me thinking…….as an emotional being dealing with other emotional beings………How honest is too honest?  What do the people around me view as being honest?  Is it okay to lie?  When?  I brought up this subject with a few of my friends and the resulting conversations were enlightening and interesting.

When I asked the first friend her thoughts on honesty her instant response was too much honesty can get you hurt.  She said that when you tell someone feelings and they aren’t ready to hear what you are saying they lash out.  The honesty is too much for them.  You have to be careful how much you share, even with those you are closest to.

This same friend also said that you have to be careful who you share things with.  There are some people who you are really superficial with.  You don’t lie to them.  You just don’t necessarily tell them anything of any importance.  And there are other people in your life that you know on a deeper level.  You tend to be more open or honest, sharing more with them.

The next friend that I spoke to said that there are levels of honesty especially when it comes to self preservation.  For example, he said, if you are in a job with a boss that is micro-managing, wanting you to work all the time and calls you in to work on your days off, you may not be forth coming about your days off.  My friend continued to say that if his boss thinks he is at home on his days off, the boss would call him back in to work.  But if his boss thinks he is out of town, he wouldn’t get the call.  For self preservation, you may not tell this person where you intend to spend your time when you are not at your job.  So I asked my friend, why don’t you just say no, I’m not available.  He said that in his company people who don’t come in to cover shifts don’t last long.  It’s a sad statement about the company he works for because everyone needs a break to recharge.  But I understood what he was saying.  I worked for someone that was exactly like that.  She would call or text you on your days off or when you were on vacation.  If you didn’t respond she would write you up or berate you in front of other staff members.  You learned to do what you had to do to protect yourself.  Is this dishonest or self preservation?

The third friend I spoke with about honesty said that there are people who say they are honest but are really just cruel.  I instantly understood what she was talking about.  You may know a person like this.  This person says things and claims they are “truth” when it is their opinion and often what they say is mean and hurtful.  This person can be disparaging about themselves but the “truth” is often aimed at others.  This person wields their “honesty” with the skill of a samurai swordsman, cutting down everything and everyone that they come into contact with.  This kind honesty is hurtful and harmful.

My next friend said that she tells the truth because then she doesn’t have to remember the lie.  If she has to deviate from the truth, she tries to keep it as close to the truth as possible.  Like one of the other people I spoke to, she said that she doesn’t share everything with everyone.  Instead of lying, she stated that she would just not tell a particular person something.  Not everyone gets full disclosure.

The last friend that I asked about honesty quoted, “Honesty is the best policy.”  And then he said, “but that doesn’t mean you can always tell someone everything.”  As he works in they type of job that requires security clearance, I think what he meant was that you can’t and shouldn’t always share things.  In his case if he talked about his job, it could get him fired.  Not everyone works where they are required to sign nondisclosure forms.  However, there are things about all of us that no other human being on the planet needs to know.  And I don’t believe that it is being dishonest if one doesn’t share every detail about oneself.

Here is what I learned:

  • Yes, there is such a thing as too much honesty and not everyone can handle hearing the truth;
  • We choose who we feel comfortable sharing and being honest with;
  • A white lie may be “dishonest” but it can also be self preservation;
  • Honesty can be used as a weapon;
  • If you don’t lie you don’t have to try and remember it; and
  • You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.

I also learned that I have really cool friends that will tackle complex topics with me.

As an emotional being dealing with other emotional beings, I am going to continue forward doing the best that I can to be safe, diplomatic and at least 90% honest in all areas of my life.