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Saturday, June 1, 2013

At the Movies from Argo to Zero Dark 30 -- April 20, 2013

At most penitentiaries there is an effort made to promote and facilitate recreational activities. However, at Stateville there is little to no funding or support for this. The LTS (leisure time service) supervisor is rarely ever seen and never sponsors any sporting events, games, or other play. The gymnasium and prison yards are not maintained and what exists there is falling apart. Other than basketballs, the only spending I have noticed is the rental of DVDs. Every week, four different DVDs are rented and played on the prison's cable system. For men who spend the vast majority of their time in cells, the movies can be a great source of entertainment and escape. I rarely watch any television but the last couple of weeks I have been taken in by the rented movies. A number of the films were nominated or won Academy Awards last year at the Oscars and I was pleased to finally get a chance to watch them.

Prisoners shouted out "Movie!" and I turned on my television to discover Skyfall was being set up to play. I have been looking forward to seeing the newest James Bond movie since it premiered in theaters last year. I quickly put away the newspaper I was reading and put on my headphones to block out all the cell house noise. The film began with a fast paced chase scene with Bond conducting such incredible feats no human could possibly do. The action was farfetched but I stayed riveted. I have watched all the Bond movies and particularly like the last two starring actor Daniel Craig. I do not know if a stunt double was being used or computer generated imaging, but Craig was on top of a speeding train fighting a very capable opponent. Another agent of Britain's M16 was watching from a great distance through a rifle scope. She was given the absurd order to fire and after a little hesitancy she did. The bullet missed its target and instead hit James Bond sending him falling off a high bridge and into the deep waters below where he was presumed dead.

My cellmate who had been watching the movie jumped off his bunk to make himself some instant coffee and grab some snacks like he was at the movie theater. He chose to make his "popcorn" run during the interlude when the credits are shown and the Bond theme song is played. The song appropriately called "Skyfall" I was informed by Anthony was by Adele, a famous fat English pop music singer I had never heard of. The woman had a booming voice and she could have probably been an opera singer. I was not surprised when my cellmate mentioned she won an Oscar for her performance.

Skyfall was not the best Bond movie I have ever seen, but I did like the theme. It opened with a plot similar to You Only Live Twice and Never Say Never Again. James Bond thought to be dead leaves the spy agency to live an alternative life. When he returns, he is much older and out of shape. The agency attempts to rehabilitate him but he fails their tests. What he lacks in youth, however, he is amply able to make up for in wisdom and strength of character or grit. Bond also seems out of touch with the modern age where technology has replaced the traditional field operative. Without any gizmo's, he lures the villain off the grid where any technological advantage is lost. In the Scottish Highlands, Skyfall falls back in time to a previous era.

The villain in the movie is a former British secret agent like Bond. He was captured by the enemy and no attempt was made to save him. After biting into a cyanide capsule he was left for dead. He lives, however, and his sense of betrayal causes him to have a vendetta against the spy agency particularly its leader. Bond is able to kill the villain but not before he is successful in fatally wounding the director. Judy Dench has played the role "M" for well over a decade and her death reminded me of the passing away of one of Britain's greatest prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher. Times were changing not only in the movie but the world as well. It seemed like the old conservative bulwarks of the past were being replaced by a new generation of weak, more progressive, leaders.

At the end of Skyfall, the stage is set for a new beginning. There is a new spy headquarters and a new director to the spy agency. His name was the same as the original man who held the post in the 1960s as if the Bond Franchise had went full circle. His secretary Money Penny was also back and she was the agent who nearly killed Bond in the beginning of Skyfall. The new Money Penny was a black woman radically different from the character I remembered as a child. Possibly if there is another Bond film, he will be black as well to appeal to a more diverse and liberal audience. It is apparent this will be Daniel Craig's last performance as 007. The day after watching Skyfall, I gave myself a haircut like the actor. I identified with the actor whose career was over much like my life was.

The next blockbuster film I watched on the prison's DVD system was Argo. What made this movie interesting is that it was based on a true story. During the Iranian revolution of 1979, the American embassy in Tehran was overrun. Over 60 Americans were taken hostage. The new Islamic regime headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini demanded the previous ruler who was in the U.S. to be turned over. The American government had no intention of allowing Reza Pahlavi Shaw to be tortured and executed. Although the Islamic revolutionaries thought he was a repressive dictator, the Shaw family was an ally to the U.S. The American hostages were terrorized for over a year before a deal was finally made allowing for their release.

When the embassy was taken over by angry mobs, 6 Americans were able to escape in the chaos. They fled and hid out at the Canadian consulate. Hostile crowds of Iranians protested daily in the streets and sought out enemies of the Islamic revolution. Suspects were sometimes beaten to death or lynched on the spot without trial. All Caucasians were looked at with suspicion, but Americans in particular were hated due to the U.S. government's connection with the toppled secular dictatorship of the Shaw. Police of the new Islamic Republic also aggressively sought out enemies of the state and had a pervasive presence. With so much scrutiny and anger, the Americans who escaped capture were trapped inside Iran and even feared just to go outside.

A CIA operative played by Ben Affleck comes up with a wild plan to rescue the Americans. He contacts a Hollywood movie producer and convinces him to pretend to be behind the filming of a movie in Iran. A science fiction screen play is found called Argo, and thus the name of the operation and 2012 movie. After creating the facade in the U.S., the CIA operative asks permission to enter Iran under the pretense of being a movie producer. He meets up with the 6 Americans and gives them all new identities as employees in the film's production. This fools police, but the film Argo creates a lot of suspense making viewers believe they are just steps away from discovering the fraud and arresting or killing the Americans. In the final scene, police cars chase their airplane down the runway. However, this is all fiction to make for a better movie which was rather boring.

Although the film certainly did not deserve to be nominated for an Oscar, I did like the historical backdrop and how it reminded me of current events. The revolutions across N. Africa and stirring in the Middle East are similar to the 1979 revolution in Iran. However, the U.S. supported most of the insurrections even against Egypt's ruler, Hosni Mubarak, who was an ally in the region. Currently, a civil war rages in Syria with Barack Obama inching closer to supporting the rebels despite how the new government may be worse than the current. All the new governments which came to power after the Arab Spring are being led by radical Islamic groups hostile to the West. Before Obama, George Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq to form peaceful democracies, but without American power they will slip back to control unfavorable to the U.S. The weakness by which the Obama administration displays towards Iran's development of nuclear weapons is rather emblematic of his foreign policy.

History is said to repeat itself and the overrunning of the U.S. embassy in Tehran is eerily similar to the destruction of the Benghazi embassy in Libya leaving several Americans dead. It is shocking the Obama administration was negligent in keeping the embassy safe and failing to respond to the attack. The Libyan embassy repeatedly asked for additional security and was denied. During the attack, which lasted hours, pleas for Special Forces or fighter jets to be scrambled were also rejected. Watching Argo, one cannot help but be angry. The White House even had the gall to cover up the dereliction by making the public believe the incident in Benghazi was a violent protest movement in response to a U-Tube video and not a premeditated terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9-11.

In the following evenings after watching Argo, I watched Equilibrium and Breaking Dawn, Part 2. Equilibrium is a movie I saw before and is about a Big Brother type government which seeks to remove human emotions. Christian Bale plays the hero of the resistance movement killing "father" and bringing down the regime. It is not a great film and tries to mimic the action in the Matrix. I only watched it until a new NBC show called Hannibal came on. I am not a fan of the Twilight series. The goofiness of vampires and werewolves combined with a soft romance meant for teenage girls is not appealing. However, it was a Friday night and there was nothing else to watch. My cellmate did not watch Breaking Dawn and I made fun of the irony he thought it was stupid when he will never miss an episode of silly shows like Supernatural, Grimm, or Once Upon a Time.

This week on Tuesday, Basic Instinct was played. Not long ago I had watched this movie on network television, but I wanted to see the uncut version. I doubted my cellmate's claim that actress Sharon Stone is seen without any panties on when she crosses her legs during an interrogation. I should have known not to question him. My cellmate has an obsession with celebrity women. Occasionally, I will jokingly call him "Giggity, Giggity" after the perverted cartoon character Quagmire in the show Family Guy. The movie was very popular in the cell house for its nudity and sex scenes. I imagine there are a lot of Quagmire-type prisoners at Stateville. While numerous TVs were turned on to the movie, a guard jokingly yelled out for the sexually deprived men to turn the porno off. I made some jokes of my own comparing certain scenes to Jodi Arias who is on trial for stabbing to death her boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Although not as attractive, she reminded me of the actress Sharon Stone who plays a black widow killing men she has had sex with. A better actress and movie to compare her with is Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, but unlike Alexander, the character played by Michael Douglas is able to escape being butchered.

On the following evening, I made beef burritos for my cellmate and I while we watched the remake of the movie Red Dawn. The original movie made in the 1980s was one of my favorite childhood films. In it, the Soviets along with their Communist Cuban allies invade the U.S. The motion picture takes place in a traditional small rural American town where a group of high school students are able to escape capture or slaughter. The students include a couple of actors who later became famous including Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen. The teenagers were not content to merely hide out in the Rocky Mountains, but took it upon themselves to attack the communist invaders. They named their group "The Wolverines" after their high school football team and used guerrilla warfare tactics to successfully inflict significant casualties on the enemy. In the end, nearly everyone was killed, but they inspired other resistance groups and the U.S. military was able to turn the tide. Ultimately, the Soviet and Cuban forces were defeated and America was once again a free nation. I knew the remake would not be as good as the original, but I did not expect to be so disappointed.

In the new Red Dawn it was an odd coalition of North Koreans and Russians who invaded the U.S. This was a ridiculous scenario in the 21st century with Russia no longer America's nemesis. The new cold war and most dangerous threat today is Red China and their North Korean allies who regularly threaten nuclear war. After mentioning this to my cellmate, he informed me the movie originally did have the Chinese and North Koreans invading the U.S., but it was redone so movie producers could make money selling the film in China. Not only was the plot bad, but the acting was as well. Tom Cruise's black adopted son who played a role could have been abandoned by the Wolverines a lot earlier in the movie. Furthermore, the small rural town and great outdoors where much of the original movie was filmed was replaced by a mainly urban setting. The new movie also ended with the group breaking into North Korean headquarters to steal a technological device which absurdly holds the key to winning the war. The plot, acting, background, and drama of the remake of Red Dawn were all a big let down.

Zero Dark 30 was the DVD I was most looking forward to seeing out of all the movies rented in the past couple of weeks. From what I read and heard, the film was a factual inside look at the search for Osama bin Laden and the covert operation to assassinate him. Even more so than James Bond, I was interested in how the CIA and Special Forces worked without the fiction or dramatization of Hollywood. Most spy and movies depicting the military have little basis in reality. They are meant to entertain the public and make money rather than be a documentary. Zero Dark 30 did not have to be distorted, however, to be interesting to viewers, particularly myself.

The beginning of the film was mainly about the mild torture of enemy combatants to procure information about the Islamic terrorist network. Last year a lot of controversy surrounded the depiction of interrogation techniques used by intelligence operatives. The White House categorically denied any torture was used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and politicians like Senator John McCain repudiated the movie. The former P.O.W. strongly believes any type of physical or mental coercion is wrong. Personally, I think this is absurd and neither the CIA nor military should be restrained by any lofty code of ethics. It is a necessary part of war and it is foolish to think the enemies of the U.S. will treat Americans nicely. Terrorists are ruthless and abide by no laws.

While watching Zero Dark 30, I was reminded of the bombing of the Boston marathon. On Monday, two brothers from Chechnya used crude bombs to kill three people and injure over a hundred with shrapnel. Yesterday, when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured by police, the media made a fuss about how the FBI planned to question him without being given a Miranda warning. Neither foreign combatants nor terrorists have any rights under the Geneva Convention or the U.S. Constitution. I find it particularly ironic U.S. citizens' rights are routinely violated by police while jihadist Islamic terrorists from the Middle East or Africa are defended. The police did not allow me to have a lawyer and cared less about my right to remain silent. Rather, I was held incommunicado for two days where I was regularly threatened, intimidated and physically abused. The Tsarnaev brothers were legal U.S. residents and Dzhokhar was last year given U.S. citizenship demonstrating the folly of U.S. immigration policy. While I think all U.S. citizens should have full constitutional rights, Dzhokhar should never have been given this honor. Furthermore, I have no problem with the FBI questioning him without a Miranda warning particularly when his statements were solely for Intel purposes and not to be used in his criminal prosecution. The interrogation methods in Zero Dark 30 were not very abusive in my opinion and had U.S. citizenship policy not been so dysfunctional, they should have been applied to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev despite how I think he has little valuable information to provide.

After the bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and later his younger brother captured, there were jubilant and patriotic public demonstrations. However, it again made me think of how weak and soft Americans are. Across the Middle East bombings occur regularly and people carry on as usual. In America one incident leads to national hysterics, Marshall Law, and a lockdown of an entire city. Lockdowns are for maximum security prisons, not a free republic. The people of Boston should be ashamed of themselves for allowing police to take over their lives and suspend their constitutional liberties. It was ludicrous to see signs of "Boston Strong" when the people of the city showed such cowardice and hid in their homes. A true testament of strength and courage would have been if the citizens of Boston on the anniversary of the Revolutionary War armed themselves and went about their business shooting the bomber if encountered. Unfortunately, in Massachusetts the 2nd Amendment largely does not exist and legally carrying a firearm is prohibited. Foreigners and enemies of the state have more and more rights while Americans have fewer and fewer. Welcome to the U.S. where Guantanamo Bay causes great public controversy but not the incarceration of millions of Americans, many who live in much worse captive environments.

The mid part of the movie Zero Dark 30 continued to focus on a female intelligence agent's pursuit of the leader of al-Qaida who was behind the 9-11 attacks. The interrogations led her to a courier of the terrorist network who frequented a compound in Pakistan. The building was surrounded by a wall hiding the inhabitants. From spy satellites, the CIA was able to see down into the place and even through walls or roofs with body heat sensors. I am sure the spy agency also used technology to hear conversations inside the compound, but this was not disclosed in the movie. Instead, days and months go by with superiors demanding more proof that Osama bin Laden was inside. The woman was absolutely certain, however, there seemed to be no hurry to act. I tend to believe high level Pentagon officials saw no pressing need to kill bin Laden. The al-Qaida leader was no longer a strategic threat and was no longer giving any orders. He was a figure head and a bogey man more than anything. President Barack Obama is a very careful and calculating person. Bin Laden's assassination probably was mainly a political trophy to put in his pocket for his reelection campaign.

Finally, the order was given to take out Osama bin Laden. A Navy Seal team was assembled and from a base in Afghanistan they flew in eluding Pakistani radar using undetectable helicopters in the night. I tend to have a very high regard for special operation forces in the U.S. military. They are known to be the most elite military forces in the world. The movie, however, to my surprise portrayed them as clumsy, slow and very average-like men. Before the mission, they were shown playing horse shoes in what looked like a camping outing. Going into the compound, one helicopter went down and the men came barreling out befuddled. They did not seem like an elite strike force and spent an incredibly long time going through the building which was mainly housing hysterical women and children. The Navy Seals depend on all types of gear including night vision goggles to kill a few defenders and finally a pathetic weak old man. I was so disappointed at the chow table amongst other prisoners talking about the movie that I had to boast I could have been parachuted to land on the top of the building and killed Osama bin Laden all by myself. Big John who was sitting with us played along and said, "But 'the Machine' is a ruthless cyborg. He could have went through the entire compound killing everyone in three minutes flat while listening to Drowning Pool's "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" on his iPod." He went on saying, "Just look what you did at the Brown's Chicken restaurant and they just gave you the wrong chicken order." I suppose I will always get a razzing about my suspicion in the Palatine Massacre despite how the crime was solved years ago.

Nearly from sun up to sun down, I am busy reading, writing, or exercising. I study stocks, law, and various other subjects sometimes while listening to music or news radio. Occasionally, I will leave my cell to go to the chow hall, yard, gym, or other places, but I attempt to isolate myself as much as possible. Life in a maximum security penitentiary is very unpleasant and the less I am a part of it the better. However, even in the confines of my cage it is difficult escaping the misery. As the date marking the 20th year of my incarceration approaches, I grow even more frustrated and despondent about my continued captivity. I am innocent and yet I continue to be punished, and freedom remains only a dream. At the end of a long day, watching movies can help me unwind. They can also be an escape from this wretched existence, if only temporarily.