Category Archives: Movies

‘Arrival’: Yes, It’s That Good

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You may have heard that “Arrival,” a thriller about an alien invasion based on a Ted Chiang short story, has been nominated for eight Oscars.

Yes, it’s that good.

Amy Adams, the protagonist, plays a linguist brought in by the U.S. government to try to communicate with mysterious beings, who have landed in pods around the world.

Longtime readers know how much I love sci-fi.

But this isn’t a hard-core, technologically heavy film. It’s beautifully shot, with exceptional sound, and is really more about life, time and — of course — language.

It’s not a perfect film, if you ask me, but it’s very good.

Are Uncontacted Tribes Increasingly Emerging from the Wilderness?

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I recently watched a short, thought-provoking documentary on Netflix from U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 called “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon.

It contains some captivating footage of uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, on both the Peruvian and Brazilian sides, emerging from the wilderness.

(Uncontacted people are those with no direct contact with civilization. In parts of the Amazon, laws set aside lands for such people, and forbid outsiders from interacting with them.)

The filmmaker, Angus Macqueen, has written online that the uncontacted people in the documentary have seemed motivated to change their behavior — to venture out of the wilderness — due to:

  1. A need to flee encroachment from illegal loggers and drug runners
  2. A desire to obtain materials they don’t have, like axes and clothing

In addition to raising ethical questions about governmental policies that intentionally keep such people isolated, where they lack basic medical care and often starve, I was wondering:

Are we seeing this phenomenon elsewhere? Is there something larger at play in our increasingly globalized the world? Are other uncontacted people also emerging?

I did a little research, and estimates suggest most uncontacted peoples are located in:

  1. the Amazon, and
  2. New Guinea

The film covers a pocket of the first, but as for the second, I haven’t been able to find any reports of uncontacted people in Asia increasingly venturing out of their lands.

This suggests to me that rather than a global trend, the film shows behavior that is indeed unique to the Amazon.

But maybe I’m missing something? I’ll have to keep investigating.

If you have any thoughts, drop me a line (n @ newley dot com) or leave a comment below.

Like ‘Making a Murderer’? Read This New Yorker Story

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I’ve Tweeted about this and mentioned it in this week’s Newley’s Notes, and wanted to highlight it here, as well.

The Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” has been a smash hit, setting the Internet on fire, bringing renewed fame to the subject’s defense attorneys, and inspiring amateur sleuths the world over.

I have watched it. It is highly compelling.

The most imformative story I have read on the series is this Kathryn Schulz New Yorker piece.

In short, she points out that as a documentary, “Making a Murderer” falls short because it argues, rather than investigates:

Instead, the documentary consistently leads its viewers to the conclusion that Avery was framed by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, and it contains striking elisions that bolster that theory. The filmmakers minimize or leave out many aspects of Avery’s less than savory past, including multiple alleged incidents of physical and sexual violence. They also omit important evidence against him, including the fact that Brendan Dassey confessed to helping Avery move Halbach’s S.U.V. into his junk yard, where Avery lifted the hood and removed the battery cable. Investigators subsequently found DNA from Avery’s perspiration on the hood latch—evidence that would be nearly impossible to plant.

Perhaps because they are dodging inconvenient facts, Ricciardi and Demos are never able to present a coherent account of Halbach’s death, let alone multiple competing ones. Although “Making a Murderer” is structured chronologically, it fails to provide a clear time line of events, and it never answers such basic questions as when, where, and how Halbach died. Potentially critical issues are raised and summarily dropped; we hear about suspicious calls to and messages on Halbach’s cell phone, but these are never explored or even raised again. In the end, despite ten hours of running time, the story at the heart of “Making a Murderer” remains a muddle. Granted, real life is often a muddle, too, especially where crime is involved—but good reporters delineate the facts rather than contribute to the confusion.

Worth a read.

2015 Media Picks: My Favorite Book, Album, Movie, TV Show — and Goal and Save

2016-01-04harrisjpgBook: “Waking Up”

I read a lot of really great books this year, most of which were published prior to 2015.

The one that comes closest to qualifying for this list, however, since it was published in late 2014, is Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

Harris, a neuroscientist, illustrates that our perception of the world quite literally dictates the quality of our lives. He discusses eastern and western religions, consciousness, the illusion of the self, meditation, gurus, and psychedelic  drugs.

“Our minds are all we have,” he writes early on in the book. “They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.”

Highly recommended.

Album: “Meamodern Sounds in Country Music”

2016-01-04_sturgillAgain, I’m kind of cheating here. Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” came out in mid-2014. But it’s too good to ignore. I blogged about it back in February.

Unfortunately, it’s not available on Spotify — my current pick for music streaming given Rdio’s demise and my brief but ultimaely ill-fated dalliance with Apple Music — but you can listen to it on Amazon or YouTube.

Movie: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

2016-01-04SWSerious “Star Wars” nerds may have their quibbles. But as a casual fan — as in, I like the movies, I really do, but I don’t live or die by them — I found “The Force Awakens” to be thrilling and fun.

It’s great to have the crew back again.

TV show: “Fargo”

2016-01-04fargoHoly shit, “Fargo.”

Season one was fantastic. And so was season two, which just concluded.

It seems crazy, the idea of replicating, for TV, the setting (mostly) for one of the finest films ever made. But it works. And there’s more to come!

Goal: Messi vs. Athetic Bilbao

Okay, so a goal represents the greatest achievement in the world’s greatest game (except for saving a penalty), and isn’t a piece of media, exactly. But it kind of is, when it’s reproduced. Like it is here. I don’t care.

THAT MESSI GOAL against Atheltic Bilbao, which I mentioned back in June, was outrageous:

Save: David De Gea vs. Everton

Again, we have to go back to late 2014, but it’s worth it.

As I blogged at the time, De Gea was exceptional against Everton. The save he pulls off at the one minute mark here is just…I’m speechless.

What a year.

Does Social Media Make TV a Better Entertainment Medium for Our Time than Film?

This snippet in Richard Brody’s recent New Yorker piece on the best movies of 2015 struck me:

The cinema’s self-conscious modernity arose when its makers put a virtual mirror into its lenses and revealed the filmmaking process in the films themselves. They reflected the world around the movie within the movie, the director on the screen. But television has outrun the cinema here, too, by replacing the mirror with an echo chamber; by means of social media, television has gone beyond reflexivity to become participatory. It has become its own story. “Transparent” isn’t about an elderly father who comes out as a transgender woman; it’s about the making of a show on that subject. “Mad Men” is about the making of a show about advertising people in the nineteen-sixties. Unlike movies, where reflexivity is a matter of aesthetics, TV has made it a matter of ethics, politics, and sociology.

Food for thought.