Archive for April, 2018

A world-weary, hard-drinking former American diplomat tries to save his friend — and himself — amid a tangle of intrigue in ‘Beirut’

April 30, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 30, 2018

Director Brad Anderson’s new feature, Beirut, is a taut drama set in the war-torn capital of Lebanon.

The movie opens at a lavish reception for a visiting U.S. congressman hosted by American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) and his Lebanese wife, Nadia (Leïla Bekhti), at their lovely villa overlooking Beirut. The party is subject to a pair of interruptions, one minor and one life-shattering.

First, a colleague tells Skiles that intelligence officials want to question the couple’s 13-year-old ward, Karim, who turns out to be the younger brother of a Palestinian bomb-maker who helped plan the raid of the Israeli quarters at the Munich Olympic Games. Rami (Ben Affan) is eager to renew familial bonds, and naturally, he has no reservations about using force. When Rami’s confederates invade the Skiles household to reunite the siblings, Nadia is fatally shot and killed.

The story picks up a decade later, in 1982. Skiles is now an alcoholic New England labor negotiator whose two-man firm is rapidly losing men. He never thought he’d return to Lebanon, but when a former client hands him a passport and a first-class ticket for a flight to Beirut that departs in a few hours, the dissolute former diplomat answers the call.

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April 15, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 3

April 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 24, 2018

The tournament’s seventh round pitted me against N.C., the leader in B division. The game got off to a relatively tame start, with the highest-scoring play in the first four turns being my XI/XU/IT 31. I head a modest 85-73 lead in turn 5 when, playing first, I swapped out my entire rack: ACEEEGQ. (Remember that last tile — it will return to our narrative.)

I got a nasty fright in turn 6 when N.C. played ARCANEs/AE/GIs, a 74-point bingo. But it sat wrong with me: Wasn’t arcane an adjective, I wondered, and as such would it not take an -S? I challenged, and the play was negated.

That proved to be the start of a strong four-turn run by me. My seventh move was HAJ/HAIR 36; I followed up with WAILS/HAJI 50, thanks to the triple-word-score bonus at center row–far-right column, and CLANGER/CRANER*, a 70-point bingo.

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April 15, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 2

April 23, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 23, 2018

During the lunch break, I walked home, refilled my water bottle and noodled with my phone until it was nearly time to return to the tournament. I picked up and scarfed down some pizza before sitting down to start the afternoon session, which would consist of five games.

We’d be employing king of the hill format the rest of the way. Four players had perfect 3-0 records; of them, I had the best spread at plus-189, which put me in first place. I was paired with the No. 2 player in the standings, N.C., for the fourth game.

My foe was the division’s top seed, having entered with a player rating of 1013 — substantially higher than my 931. N.C. and I had played just once before, in June 2017. That encounter had gone poorly for me — a 506-288 defeat, my first after two wins in that single-day tournament. Obviously, I was hoping for a much more competitive battle this time out.

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April 15, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 1

April 22, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 22, 2018

I returned to competitive Scrabble play at Northgate Mall on a mid-April Sunday.

My first game was against my most frequent opponent, J—, whom I’d faced 17 times in official competition. We exchanged some hefty early blows: J—, playing second, put down HEXAD/EH/DE for 40 points with his first move. My reply was the phony BIBLET*/BA/ID 47, which put me ahead, 69-40, midway through the second turn.

J— tried to leapfrog me with his second move, SUlFURS/EHS*. It made for a 69-point bingo, but I correctly recalled that EH did not take any “back hooks” and challenged the play off the board.

J— actually jumped ahead, 144-111, at the conclusion of turn 4 when he played RETURNEd for 68 points. But I had a few nice plays in my pocket: KA/KEN for 33, thanks to the five-point K on a triple-letter-score bonus, and ZAG 39, which utilized the triple-word-score bonus in the board’s top-right corner.

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Thoughts on James Comey, the law-enforcement official who helped elected a corrupt president

April 21, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 21, 2018

When Donald Trump’s rampage through politics is fictionalized — assuming civilization survives the Trump administration — the figure of one James Comey will loom large. This will be especially true, I imagine, in any operas that might be written about final days of the 2016 campaign and the early months of Trump’s reign.

Once an assistant federal prosecutor who targeted New York crime families, Comey was elevated first to U.S. attorney and then to deputy attorney general by President George W. Bush. In the spring of 2004, Comey rushed to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, to block White House officials from reauthorizing a sweeping domestic surveillance program that several Justice Department officials believed featured illegal components.

Comey is widely admired in civil liberties circles for taking this stand, but not all of his decisions are as popular. Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that Comey was criticized for his defense of the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla, an American citizen whom the government classified as an “enemy combatant.” Still, when President Barack Obama nominated Comey to lead the FBI in 2013, the Senate confirmed his appointment on a 93-1 vote.

Comey appears to be a devout Christian. He studied chemistry and religion at William & Mary, where, according to CNN, he “wrote a thesis comparing the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to the televangelist Jerry Falwell.” Comey wed to his college girlfriend in 1987, two years after earning a law degree from the University of Chicago; they remain married and have had six children together.

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Alex Garland’s enigmatic ‘Annihilation’ tracks five women as they travel into a bizarre region

April 13, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2018

Writer-director Alex Garland’s new movie, Annihilation, is a suspenseful science-fiction feature about a team of women investigating a mysterious extraterrestrial phenomenon that’s taken hold of a remote coastal region.

Natalie Portman (Black SwanJackie and the Star Wars prequel trilogy) stars as a Johns Hopkins biology professor whose husband disappeared a year ago after departing on a classified military mission. When a tight-lipped Kane (Oscar Isaac of the new Star Wars trilogy and the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis) suddenly returns, Lena has far more questions than her spouse has answers — questions that only multiply when Kane suffers a strange physical meltdown.

While traveling to the hospital, Kane’s ambulance is intercepted by heavily armed government agents driving black SUVs. One of them sedates Lena, who awakens as a detainee in a government facility in a never-identified part of the United States.

The facility’s staff is studying an unearthly phenomenon called “the shimmer,” a translucent field that has been expanding ever since a meteor struck a lighthouse at a state park three years ago. The government has sent people and probes into the shimmer, but until Kane’s quixotic return, no message, machine or person had ever emerged from it.

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T-shirts and crossed paths: A short (and yet somehow rambling) anecdote

April 9, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 9, 2018

Author’s note: In the course of a rather prolific month of blogging in February, I put up 14 posts. Unfortunately, my output in March fell to just six posts. In an effort to compensate, I’m going to try to do a few shorter items in April. MEM

One sunny, warm weekday afternoon in 2017, I took a long walk.

I don’t remember if this was in March or June or September. I only generally remember the course I took; it involved heading north from my residence, crossing Interstate 85 and meandering in what I sort of jokingly think of as boreal territory.

What really matters is my return home. When I’d put in about five miles, I came back south on Broad and took the shortcut that I use to get to my residence that bypasses the busy intersection of Broad and Guess Road and minimizes my exposure to the heavily trafficked Guess.

But! Before I get to the actual story in my story, it’s important to note what I was wearing. As friends, relatives and close readers of the blog know:

• I have family in Colorado; and

• when my Parental Unit visits said family, I often will dog-sit for said parent; and

• said parent will thank/reward me by bringing me at least one T-shirt from Colorado.

There are two varieties of these T-shirts. The first variety, of which I currently possess two, marks a visit to a specific attraction in the state. The second variety always says Colorado; for some reason, they’re never labeled Denver or Boulder or any specific community in the state. (That said, my Colorado-residing residents have given me a grey T-shirt labeled Durango.)

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Spielberg’s action-packed adaptation ‘Ready Player One’ verges on making a digital silk purse out of primarily 1980s pop culture

April 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 2, 2018

There are moments during Steven Spielberg’s entertaining new feature, Ready Player One, when I marveled that the man who is arguably cinema’s greatest living director had the audacity to make a movie that was entirely computer-generated.

That’s not actually the case, of course: Only about two-thirds of the film takes place in the Oasis, an expansive virtual-reality realm that allows the populace of an overcrowded, under-resourced Earth to escape from the dismal reality around them. But it’s the virtual-reality sequences of the movie, based on the 2011 best-seller by Ernest Cline, where Spielberg and his team unleash their creativity. During the set pieces — a no-holds-barred road race through a simulated New York City, a paramilitary raid in a digital nightclub with a zero-gravity dance area and a battle royale outside a fantasy castle on “Planet Doom” — Spielberg packs every square inch with dynamic digital creations and pop-culture references. A team of experts in science fiction, comic books, anime, television and other pop-culture subgenres might need to work around the clock for a year to identify and annotate all the references that have been stuffed into the movie, often for just a fraction of a second.

It’s to the credit of Spielberg and his screenwriters, Cline and Zak Penn (The Last Action Hero, The Avengers and other comic-book movies) that the characters and story don’t get lost amid all the visual turmoil. The protagonist is 20-something Ohio native Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, who played Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse), whose Oasis “avatar” is an anime-style loner named Parzival. Watts is a devotee of the late James Halliday, an introverted computer scientist. The nerdy Halliday (Mark Rylance) made his fortune and fame by creating and launching the immersive, addictive Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation (Oasis for short) in the 2020s, right as the real world was beginning to fall apart.

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