Film Review: The Way Back

Well…if I’m being political…there certainly is a reason this film has gone unnoticed.

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You couldn’t find a more anti-communist film in today’s Hollywood. From beginning to end the Communist system and officials are endlessly demonized—and appropriately so. While part of Russia was busy trying to beat back Hitler, Stalin was also busy rounding up hundreds of thousands and shipping them off to Siberia where many would die simply for being an intellectual or merely suspected of having an opinion outside the Communist party line.

Over and over the film hammers home the removal of individual freedom in the Russian system. Over and over you are struck with the cruelty of the Communist system and its supporters.

The film itself was directed by a top notch filmmaker in Peter Weir (Gallipoli, Year of Living Dangerously, Dead Poets Society, Witness, Truman Show, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, etc.) and it has A-list actors in Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Jim Sturgess. All do solid work in their roles as Polish and Russian escapees from a Siberian gulag. Their foot based journey over 4000 km from Siberia to India is covered in detail taking them from snowy forests in Russia to caves and deserts of Mongolia. Never leaving their side though is the horror of being returned to the Communist system…and its that fear, less than that of the harsh prison that hangs over everyone. A system that turns wife against husband, brother against brother…one that strips individuals of all free will that is the bigger horror than any environmental danger.

This one likely goes on all “young conservatives” list of films to watch from the past 10 years. Its faults, and it has a few, is its length (at over two hours you FEEL the length of their journey) and externalization of danger as almost all conflict is vs. nature itself or vs. the Communist system. There is no person or object against which the characters really struggle…they just move from one poor environmental condition to the next, which makes for some pretty scenes on film but not overly thrilling.

Worth a watch. Might want to sit Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez down for a watch as well…

December 2018 Nissan Sales

So let’s not kid ourselves…we only care about trucks or maybe SUVs…if they’re cool.

Nissan released its final number for both December and its full year 2018 results. Overall Nissan sales were up more than 7.5%but that didn’t offset earlier declines and overall ‘18 results were down some 6% from ‘17. This isn’t necessarily terrible given how strong the whole industry was in ‘17 and ‘18 truck results were what I’d call “acceptable”.

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December was another exceptionally strong month for the Frontier, moving 7500 trucks bringing ‘18’s results to about 80,000. Given this is a now 13+ year old platform that showed a 7% growth over ‘17, Nissan execs have to be wondering why they would ever bother replacing it…Hell, why not introduce a new model and continue to market a down-contented “classic” Frontier as they have with the Rogue in the past?

The Titan? Oh the Titan…as an owner of a ‘17 Titan (and Frontier, and Pathfinder) I root for this truck but despite the money Nissan spent in developing it and what a quality truck it is—strong engine, good quality, good amenities, solid towing and cargo, good gas mileage, etc. Nissan just hasn’t seemed interested in promoting it outside of the occasional small sponsorship. People just truly don’t realize the value the truck is given its 100,000 mile warranty. And so…its December sales were only 4,600+ units bringing its ‘18 total to about 50,500 which is down from ‘17’s 53,000. There is just too much competition in this segment for Nissan to let it sit without major marketing backing.

So that’s it for the month and year…we’ll see what ‘19 brings…maybe the intro of the next Frontier?

Black Mirror Bandersnatch

Black Mirror as a series is one of my favorite items on all of TV. I was an early adopter on this and it rarely lets me down. Seminal episodes like “San Junipero” and others are simply the best of what has been produced on all visual media in the past 20 years.

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The most recent episode if you can call it that is a one off “movie” of sorts released just a few days ago and if are here, I’m betting you’ve heard of it given its hype. The series pushes the envelope a bit with this one and it doesn’t completely succeed. The whole “audience chooses the outcome” movie/TV thing has been done in the past and this is probably the best effort in this direction to date but the whole format, while interesting for artists, always leaves the audience experience lacking.

The acting and story are great and hop on the retro-cool of the 1980’s thing that is popular at the moment and carry it off well. Throw in the geek-chic dialogue and mentions of Commodore computers, early stage video game industry, new wave music drops and it all seems like a home run.

The conceit here is that as you progress through the movie, you, the audience get to chime in with what you want the main character’s decisions to be. What you choose through a click of your remote determines various outcomes in the film—Will the character listen to this music or that music? Will he accept the job or not? Will he punch his dad or run out of the room and so on…

In the end there are really about (I say about because there are numerous rabbit holes you can go down and lots of easter eggs to be found) five endings to get to and I got to all five making different decisions and being looped back to redo decisions when my original ones end the film quickly. In all my experience lasted close to an hour and a half and much of it was enjoyable…but I couldn’t help feeling like there was only one true ending that the directer really wanted and every time I made a decision that branched off from that ending, it would loop me back eventually. Great…I get to see what the director thinks of my decisions but I don't get a complete narratively cohesive work. Watching a film and seeing that the story can have multiple endings takes away from the emotional impact of all of them…Its like watching the Godfather and being told—Well, Don Corleone only has to die if you choose for him to die…great…that totally ruins the weight of the work.

I applaud Netflix for attempting this and Black Mirror was certainly the right vehicle for the effort. While supremely interesting and among the best things on TV, this singular episode is both a success and a failure at the same time….much like its audience driven methodology.

Oh and in case you were wondering…”Bandersnatch” Its a silly word for an imaginary creature coming from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, the companion piece to “Alice in Wonderland” and specifically the “Jabberwocky” poem contained within it…

Too Old for Bad Books

So this is where I’ve gotten to be in life…

No longer am I willing to continue slogging through books in order to get to the end and claim that I’ve finished it, no matter how revered the book is or what status it may imbue upon me to be able to legitimately claim to have read it. Life is too short.

Up first on my “discontinue” list? Two revered books from completely different genres.

Initially I thought “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was going to be an interesting reflection and wise observation on the protagonist’s life intertwined with the focus and simple mechanics that make a motorcycle run. In reality it immediately devolves into the author’s cult like psychobabble that appeals only to those hippies who have dropped acid too many times to know the difference between good and bad material. The fact that this book has been purchased so many times only means there are a lot of brain dead people out there…Not worth my or your time…

I did get several hundred pages into the book because Pirsig weaves a thread into the work covering the protagonist’s (really Pirsig himself) travels with his son cross country on, yes, a motorcycle. This real world story is far more interesting than the metaphysical babble (author was a philosophy and journalism major and went to Zen conferences and studied “Eastern Thought”…) the author tries to impart as advice on his audience. The father-son interplay is far more interesting…but not enough to keep one reading

Second on my list? Another beloved work but here from the SciFi genre. As a youth there were always peer geeks who slavishly spoke about how great and how funny “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was. Maybe if I was an 11 year old boy I would have been able to finish this but certainly not now. Its not that I’m humorless, I find many things to be funny. It’s not that I don’t enjoy different strains of humor—Monty Python to Beavis and Butthead I find humor in. And geeky? Well I’ll have you know I think I still have some D20s rolling around my house somewhere. This work is just “silly”…and not in a good way. It is so nonsensical as to dull the wit. Words are fabricated, tangents are taken, non-sequiturs used…all to little effect. Adams (author) does not bring me in to care about Arthur Dent or Ford Prefect (the two main characters) and they remain cardboard cutouts of zero consequence in the first 100 pages where I left it off to be moronic and useless and sold on Amazon for 25 cents.

So there is my philosophy for the day…life is too short...there is too much rare good out there to spend time wasting with the popular bad…