April 2021 Reviews

[A summary of my movie and TV reviews from last month, posted to Attrition.org, mixed in with other reviews.]

Bad Trip (2021)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 4.5/5 fingercuffs what?!
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
If pranks aren’t your thing, move on now. If pranks are your thing, then this is your new jam. Eric André brings his physical humor to bear in a series of pranks that are hilarious and sometimes disgusting. The premise is a simple road trip for two friends from FL to NY to pursue a “love interest”, with Tiffany Haddish playing the escaped felon protagonist chasing the guys for “stealing” her car. Several of the pranks are not only Rated R, but certainly not for young ones or those easily disgusted. If dark, sick humor born out of pranking people is appealing, this movie should keep you laughing.

Barbaren / Barbarians (2020)
Medium: TV (Netflix)
Rating: 4/5 nothing like potato cakes, jalapeno poppers, and a beefy sandwich for breakfast
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix || Trailer
This six episode series plays out the battle of the Teutoburg Forest between Germanic tribes and a Roman Empire legion occupying their territory. The big point of intrigue is that an officer in the legion was German-born and taken by the Romans as a child. His allegiance is in question fairly early, setting us to wonder which side he will help. The show starts out a bit slow to introduce the players, establish each side, and eventually build up to the historic battle. The Germanic tribes end up led by Thusnelda, wonderfully played by Jeanne Goursaud, under a tenuous supposition but proves her loyalty and dedication to the tribes shortly before battle. The story is simple, acting good, and the story climax is worth the wait.

A Knight’s Tale (2001)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 5/5 the tale gets better every time you watch it
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Trailer
I started re-watching this movie again recently), and I was reminded how it is such a fun movie. I love how they ‘modernized’ it a bit with clever music integration. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” at one point in the lists while waiting for a knight and then again for David Bowie’s “Golden Years” during the banquet and dance scene. Since jousting might be a bit boring watching it over and over, the cinematography was well-done with lead-ins to the jousts and well-executed slow motion pauses. Overall this movie brings the laughs and definitely the feels, so make sure you have onions nearby to cast blame elsewhere.

March 2021 Reviews

[A summary of my movie and TV reviews from last month, posted to Attrition.org, mixed in with other reviews.]

Coming 2 America (2021)
Medium: Movie (Amazon)
Rating: 4/5 Zamunda Ministry of Propaganda approves
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
Thirty years later, a sequel that was never supposed to happen according to Arsenio Hall. I’m glad they changed their mind! While a sequel that largely follows the same plot of the first, the movie does a good job of giving equal time to the new characters while giving a very healthy dose of cameos and an incredible amount of the original cast who returned. Wesley Snipes plays the goofiest, over-the-top, African warlord and he delivers. Jermaine Fowler and KiKi Layne are the breakout stars, and Leslie Jones who I usually don’t care for at all did a great job with her character. Very light-hearted and the movie doesn’t take itself seriously one bit, the way it should be.

Cosmic Sin (2021)
Medium: Movie
Rating: 0/5 This movie is the sin
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing
Yes, the first ‘0’ review. This movie is every bad cliché you’ve seen in a war or sci-fi movie, combined with the worst dialogue, a healthy dose of continuity failure, and just total shit for the rest. Year is 2524, quantum travel, colonizing planets, aliens? Sure, I can suspend disbelief to enjoy that. Every single bit after that? Nope. It’s hard to describe just how bad it is, how every scene is a “what?” or “that makes no sense!” Add to that the most ridiculous armor, gliding through space wearing mostly normal clothes, and silly aliens. There were two big scenes that seemed like material was left on the cutting room floor, leaving me to wonder what even happened. One question asked in the movie several times is “was the encounter positive or negative for both sides?” Negative for me, thanks for asking

I Care A Lot (2020)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 4.5/5 a classic evil vs evil battle
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
This is a crime movie, from start to finish. I had a notion of what the movie was about going into it, but it had a nice escalation moving past what I thought it was. There are no good people in this movie, not a single one; and that makes it fun and interesting. Pike is the standout star for sure, and Dinklage does a pretty good job playing a character that doesn’t immediately remind you of Tyrion Lannister (a challenge to be sure). One thing I really enjoyed was trying to guess who would come out on top, how it would end, and if it would be satisfying. I guessed wrong and it was quite enjoyable. The only complaint is the movie name; it just doesn’t fit to me.

Point Blank (2019)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 2/5 What’s the point? [This space intentionally left blank]
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
An ER nurse and a career criminal are forced into an unlikely partnership in taking down a ring of corrupt cops threatening the lives of both their families. The film is a remake of the 2010 French film of the same name, originally called “Àbout portant“. I suspect this is a shitty remake of the original because it is a long series of boring clichés for the most part. The only refreshing thing is that Anthony Mackey, who is muscular, gets his ass handed to him because he is a doctor and not a fighter. I’d skip this one.

Cherry (2021)
Medium: Movie (Apple)
Rating: 5/5 definitely not cheery
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Trailer
Despite primarily covering a small part of the lives of two characters, wonderfully played by Ciara Bravo and Tom Holland, the movie has an epic feel to it. That is helped by the movie having no lulls; scenes are only as long as they need to be before advancing to the next event. We’re given the story of an unnamed character coming of age through love, war, drugs, and crime. Throughout, the one constant in his life is his love for Emily even when the relationship is perhaps the worst thing for either of them. The acting, narration, and cinematography is outstanding and this movie is worth the watch.

3022 (2019)
Medium: Movie (Multiple)
Rating: 0.5/5 space junk, figuratively speaking
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
This movie is supposed to be set in the year 2190, but every single part of the technology suggests it was set in 2005. I like when Sci-Fi leans away from making everything bright and full of beeps, but this runs in the opposite direction full tilt. That means the show, with a small cast set in a small space station, needs to carry the movie. And it simply did not do that. It feels like each person was filmed giving their lines without any co-stars around for tense scenes. Very little sense of chemistry and a lot of dialogue seemed unnatural. Avoid this trash.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)
Medium: Movie (Multiple)
Rating: 2/5 It’s a sad song
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
I appreciate a good western, and I know a good one may be a little slow compared to other genres. This definitely fits the bill and revolves around a simple plot at first; Lefty vows to find the killer of his best friend. The cast is stellar, full of big names, yet none of the performances really stand out. Pullman plays Lefty well but the character just wasn’t compelling to me. Flanagan’s acting is over-the-top and he plays a boring stereotype. Caviezel’s stoic tough guy is boring and seemingly his normal go-to role. After the simple plot aspect concludes, the movie falls short on the rest of it giving the impression the writers felt they needed filler to round it out.

Unknown (2011)
Medium: Movie (Multiple)
Rating: 3.5 / 5 needs more ‘thrill’ in the ‘thriller’ designation
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Trailer
This is a tough movie to review without spoilers, so maybe an anti-spoiler? You know something is coming at the end, to resolve the entire premise and plot of the movie. It does a poor job giving hints to let you guess which direction it will go, so you are on a scenic ride with no ability to look out the side windows. The one time they do give you a hint, you only realize it in hindsight because they don’t actually give you a hint. It comes across as “wait… that is poor writing” when there is a reason for it. Liam Neeson is very Liam in this movie where he plays Liam who gets a bump on the head and wakes up with some memory loss, only to find someone pretending to be him, and he has to figure it out.

SAS: Red Notice (2021)
Medium: Movie (multiple)
Rating: 1 / 5 Throw a red card on this one
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
Ruby Rose stars in this movie with guns and badasses and shooting and fights and stuff. If that doesn’t sound exciting, neither was the movie. Rose plays for the evil side this time, not the proverbial “good guy”. The lead guy on the good side was so boring I mistook him for an extra until a few scenes in. As you might guess, the movie is full of plot holes and has quite the predictable ending. No one stands out in this movie as far as acting and there are several recognizable faces, none from notable shows either. Skip it unless you need to get sleep.

Perlroth & The First (Zero-Day) Broker

I am currently reading “This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends” by Nicole Perlroth, only on page 60 in Chapter 5, so a long ways to go before completing the 471 page tome. I hit chapter 4, titled “The First Broker” and it was of specific interest to me for sure, prompting this (second) blog on the book. A broker is defined as “a person who buys and sells goods or assets for others” so I was never a vulnerability broker by that definition. I am not trying to claim to be the actual first broker of zero-days in that context at all. Instead, I would like to share a couple of my own stories that are adjacent to the topic. This is all to the best of my recollection, but my memory isn’t the best due to being a diabetic and not having it under control for several years. If anyone involved in any of these stories has a different memory please feel free to comment or reach out directly and I will update this blog accordingly.

First, I was someone who ‘brokered’ deals in the sense of trading zero-day vulnerabilities for a few years in the mid-90s. As a member of multiple hacking groups, some an actual member and some an honorary member, one of my roles in several of those groups was not writing the zero-days because I simply wasn’t a coder and did not have that skill. Instead, it was to barter and try to gain access to specific zero-days one group or member wanted and my currency was other zero-days we had. While I couldn’t code, my social network of hackers was sizable.

Some of what I was authorized to trade for was toward the goal of obtaining e.g. “any remote zero-day in $target operating system” while in other cases it was “trade anything and everything we have for $specific-zero-day“. I acted as a go-between for the groups I was in and a liaison to the general hacker scene. Many knew me to have a well-rounded vulnerability collection and we already traded more pedestrian exploits, some of which weren’t public, but definitely more circulated in such groups.

Back then it was just hackers and groups, not companies, so we didn’t have “duffel bags stuffed full of half a million dollars in cash to buy zero-day bugs” (p.49). Instead we had other zero-day bugs which were just as valuable between groups and acted as the ideal currency. Just like Perlroth describes in her book relating the story of “Jimmy Sabien” (p.43), not his real name, the vulnerabilities had serious value back then too. Some were very closely guarded, to the point of not being shared with their group. For example, Sally may have shared 99% of her exploits and zero-days with her group but held one back because it was so valuable. That one she would use sparingly herself so as not to burn it or authorize it to be traded for a vulnerability of equal value. In those rare cases I would know just enough about the vulnerability to try to arrange a trade on her behalf, sometimes never seeing the vulnerability myself.

There were rumors at the time that some hackers had sold vulnerabilities to specific agencies in European governments. There were also rumors that some were trading zero-day exploits to a European law enforcement agency as a proffer or part of a plea to avoid being charged for hacking activity. But those were just rumors at that point. To me, that was the precursor to the more financial based zero-day market.

Later in the 90s, I was one of the two founders of a startup called Repent Security Inc. (RSI or RepSec). We were three people and started by trying to be a penetration testing shop. This was still early in the world of commercial penetration testing and we were going up against companies that either had an established business reputation like a couple of the ‘Big 5’ at the time, or companies that were pioneers in the game like The Wheel Group. We also created software for securely streaming logs over an encrypted tunnel so if a system was popped, you had the logs on a remote host with timestamps including your shell histories (which didn’t have timestamps natively). That software was partially outsourced to a renowned “InfoSec luminary” who had it developed by one of his interns on a compromised .edu machine and later essentially stole the software after RSI imploded. But that story is for another day because it isn’t part of the zero-day world, it’s part of the Charlatan and Errata world.

One thing RSI had of real value was the vulnerability database that I had been maintaining since 1993. It was first maintained for the hacker group I was part of (TNo) where it was originated by other members. When I took over maintaining it I worked on further organizing it, adding several points of metadata, and expanding it. After that group drifted apart I kept maintaining it while a member of w00w00 and honorary member of ADM, where I brokered some trades. I did not maintain the databases for either of those groups which were separate from mine, but I was privy to some of their exploits and shared some of what I had. Members from both groups would frequently ask me to check my database for exploits specific to an operating system or service they were targeting, as this was before Google and Yahoo! didn’t aggregate much in the big picture. Even though a majority of vulnerabilities were posted to Bugtraq, you couldn’t just skim it quickly to determine what was there that you could use for your purpose. Someone that had them all sorted in a database with metadata was fairly valuable. To this day, many friends and colleagues still ask me to do vulnerability lookups, now with VulnDB.

Throughout my hacker days I maintained that database, and then continued to as I transitioned into a career doing penetration testing. Like Perlroth documents in her book about the early days of iDefense and the outfit that “Sabien” worked for, we all scoured Bugtraq for our information primarily. I had the benefit of several circles of hackers and hackers-turned-legit that still traded vulnerability intelligence (vuln intel). Essentially the grey market back when the currency was still vuln intel not those duffels of cash. By that point, the database that RSI had was unparalleled in the commercial world. This was initially created before and maintained during Fyodor’s Exploit World and Ken Williams’ Packetstorm. The RSI database came before the ISS XForce database, before BID, before NIST’s ICAT Metabase, and before MITRE’s CVE. More importantly, it was heavy on exploit code but light on proper descriptions or solutions, so it was geared toward penetration testing and compromising machines rather than mature vulnerability intelligence.

As RSI struggled to get penetration testing gigs and opted to work on the “Secure Remote Streaming” (SRS) product, we had taken a trip to Atlanta to talk to ISS about selling a copy of our database to their relatively new X-Force penetration testing team (I forgot who we met there other than Klaus, but I would love to remember!). That deal did not happen and we soon found ourselves in talks with George Kurtz at Ernst & Young, one of the ‘Big 5’. While most or all of the ‘Big 5’ had penetration testing teams, their reputation wasn’t the best at the time. That was primarily due to their testers frequently being traditional auditors turned penetration testers, rather than being a ‘real’ tester; someone that came up through the hacking ranks.

It is also important to remind everyone that back then these companies “did not hire hackers“. Some literally printed it in advertisements as a selling point that they did not hire and would not consort with so-called black hats. This was almost always an outright lie. Either the company knew the background of their team and lied, or they did not know the background and conveniently overlooked that their employees had zero experience on their resume around that skillset, yet magically were badass testers. Years of companies claiming this also led to what we see now, where many security professionals from that time still refuse to admit they used to hack illegally even 25 years later.

Anyway, back to George and E&Y. It made sense that a shop like that would want to get their hands on RSI’s database. If their testers were primarily from the auditor / bean-counter side of things they would not have had their own solid database. Even if they had hackers it didn’t mean they came with the same vuln intel we had. As best I recall, the negotiations went back and forth for a couple weeks and we settled on a one-time sale of the RSI database for $75,000 with the option to revisit selling ‘updates’ to it as we continued to maintain it. This would have become the first commercial vulnerability intelligence feed at the time I believe, in early 1999. Then, disaster.

The FBI raided the offices of RSI, which was my apartment. At the time that was a death sentence to a penetration tester’s career. Regardless of guilt, the optics were one of black hat / criminal hacking, and finding someone to trust you to break into their systems was not happening. RSI dissolved and I found myself struggling to find work of any kind. So I reached back out to George about the deal we had on the table that we were close to signing and said I was fine with the price, let’s do it. Suddenly, Kurtz had a change of heart.

He didn’t have a change of heart as far as doing the deal, his change was in the price. Instead of $75,000 he came back and said we could do the deal for $25,000 instead, just a third of what we had agreed to. He knew I was in a tight spot and needed the money and he took full advantage of that. This is someone who had a reputation of being a friend to hackers, someone that had bridged the gap between the business world and hackers to put together a reputable team at E&Y. He even had his name on a book about penetration testing, co-authored with names other hackers recognized. He was also very explicit that he knew I had no real power at that point and refused to budge on his one-third offer.

So when he had a chance to honor the deal we originally worked on, a chance to be a friend to a hacker, at no expense of his own? He opted to screw me. Since I was out of options and my limited savings were dwindling I had to accept the offer. That takes me full circle, via a meandering path I know, to likely making one of the largest vulnerability sales at the time. While it wasn’t a single exploit, a $25k deal that was originally set to be $75k is pretty impressive for the time. If RSI had made it, odds are we would have become a software (SRS) and vulnerability intelligence shop rather than a penetration testing shop.

Many aspects of how Perlroth describes the early days of iDefense and “Sabien’s” shop, we were already doing. With a lot fewer people than they claimed, but we were aggregating information from Bugtraq and other sources, writing exploits for some of the vulnerabilities, and then we began to try to sell that information. I guess it isn’t a big surprise I ended up in the vulnerability intelligence business eventually.

February 2021 Reviews

[A summary of my movie and TV reviews from last month, posted to Attrition.org, mixed in with other reviews.]

Outside the Wire (2021)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 1 / 5 Keep it outside your watch list
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. But it just starts out absurd at so many levels. It feels like someone wrote the script, a second person made serious edits, a third, and so on. Until you get a cohesive plot, but missing logic throughout. An unsupervised AI in a sci-fi body, contrasted by robot “Gumps” that are idiots and can’t shoot too well, a command structure that of course sends the new guy on a crazy mission, a drone operator that knows the streets of every city apparently, and that AI who is never wrong … of course is wrong? This had potential but it was squandered.

Coyote Season 1
Medium: TV (CBS All Access)
Rating: 4/5 No moleste por favor
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
If you are wondering what happened to Michael Chiklis, he’s back! This time as a just-retired Border & Customs agent that finds himself on the other side of the border trying to do right by his former partner’s family. This quickly leads him down a path where he finds himself involved in the cartel and that is just the first messy part of his new life. No car chases, no shoot-outs, just a good slow build drama worth the watch.

Underwater (2020)
Medium: Movie (Multiple)
Rating: 0.5/5 drown yourself in booze before watching
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
Another disaster porn meets horror movie of sorts! And like most (all?), it’s a perfect string of coincidences and a boring recipe that advances the ‘plot’ forward. Just the right amount of suits! They are all magically the right size, even for people that have never used them! Science and physics take a backseat! T.J. Miller, the bad writer’s comic crutch, who literally has to say a ‘funny’ line every single time! Ending? Predictable, stupid, and a bad attempt to get philosophical (?) making it that much worse. Skip this trash.

The Next Three Days (2010)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 4.5/5 … are pretty dramatic
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Aisha Hinds, Jason Beghe, Lennie James, and a cameo by Liam Neeson… and I missed this movie? Maybe bad previews originally? I’m glad this popped up on Netflix’ recommendations; this as a well-done movie. Simple plot, but great casting, and fed you enough morsels to string you along to make you anticipate how it would end. This movie delivered all around with flawed but real characters at every turn and the willingness to leave some threads unpulled, where other movies might have wasted time on it.

Seungriho / Space Sweepers (2021)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 4.5/5 Modern space cyberpunk
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
Set in 2092, with Earth on its last legs, we start out following a rag-tag crew of a ship that tries to collect space debris, which they can sell for cash. Barely scraping by, each living the life for their own reason and varied past, the money to get them out of poverty is always out of reach. When they find a surprise in junk they collect, it starts a crazy adventure that promises money they could only dream of. This South Korean movie has excellent production value, good acting, an aggressive plot, and brings the feel of a future that is part dystopia, part cyberpunk. The only challenge was keeping up with the subtitles during the fast-pace scenes. This is a fun ride with a good dose of the feels.

Silk Road (2021)
Medium: Movie (Apple)
Rating: 2/5 Long and meandering like its namesake
Reviewer: jericho
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Apple TV
This is the 2021 movie, not the 2017 movie, about the Silk Road marketplace and the person behind it. The actual story is fascinating and full of suspense and drama. The impact the Silk Road marketplace had on part of the world for a while was incredible. This movie adaptation was probably fairly accurate, but also fairly dull for anyone already familiar with the subject matter. If you don’t know about the marketplace and saga around it, you will probably enjoy this movie a bit more.

January 2021 Reviews

[A summary of my movie and TV reviews from last month, posted to Attrition.org, mixed in with other reviews.]

Soul (2020)
Medium: Movie (Disney)
Rating: 5/5 movie and music magic
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Disney
Disney knows how to do modern cartoons and this is no exception. The story follows Joe, a school band teacher who seems to have lost his way. As he sees a spark of passion in one student’s musical ability and then lands the gig of his life, he has a mishap and finds himself at the pearly gates but refuses to accept that fate. In limbo Joe runs into an odd one known as “22” and finds himself on an adventure to help 22 find a spark so that they can live a life on earth. The movie has a great stride and flows very well with an amazing cast of vocal talent as well as some incredible music by an unlikely trio, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the original score and John Batiste with original jazz songs. The movie brings the laughs and the feels and is perfect for all ages.

Kajillionaire (2020)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 4.5/5 stick with it
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
This quirky movie is billed as a Crime/Drama but as far as modern movies go, that is about the farthest thing from what it really is. It’s more of a slow-play dry commentary on the nature of humans and how odd we can be, with a splash of low-end grifting, wrapped into a family-dynamic sleeper hit that also moonlights as a love-story. For me, it started out slow and confused as I couldn’t figure out what type of movie it was. About half-way through I was hooked as I realized it wasn’t trying to be any specific genre; it just did its thing with Evan Rachel Wood stealing the show. If you dig on off-the-beaten-path flicks, this one is worth a go.

Greenland (2020)
Medium: Movie (Multiple)
Rating: 2/5 the title is the most redeeming quality
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
It must have been a few years since the last earth-snuffing porn, as we tend to get one movie like that every so often, although more recently in the form of plagues and zombies. Gerard Butler and end of the world, pretty much tells you what you need to know about this movie. All the stereotypical things from this genre of movie too; poorly manufactured explosions to tide you over before the real city-snuffing comes, impromptu gangs that make no sense, cell service outages for plot advancement, and really bad dialogue snippets. I definitely like I watched this so you wouldn’t have to.

Lupin, Part 1 (2020)
Medium: TV (Netflix)
Rating: 3.9/5 pas une série de braquages
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
This 10 episode series is described as “inspired by the adventures of Arsène Lupin, gentleman thief Assane Diop sets out to avenge his father for an injustice inflicted by a wealthy family”. The first episode of five in part one sets the stage of a master thief and the heist of a 20-million dollar piece of jewelry. Unfortunately, we quickly learn that the main character is not really a master thief. While he has skill in makeup, blending in, and pickpocketing, there are no other grand heists involved. Instead, it becomes more of a drama around avenging his father’s death with the thief / con man / grifter components as a side piece to facilitate the main story. Overall it is fairly entertaining but entirely too predictable and not very thought-provoking. Great for falling asleep to.

News of the World (2020)
Medium: Movie (Multiple)
Rating: 3.5/5 bit of a slow read
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
We follow Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) as he travels from town to town reading the “news of the world”. Along the way he encounters a young girl, Johanna, played by Helena Zengel, who has grown up in an Indian tribe that was decimated by whites and speaks no English. Kidd decides to take her to the family she was going to before becoming stranded, and the story progresses. Given the movie stars Hanks and is a period piece, I expected an amazing movie. Unfortunately it just didn’t come together and became disjointed the farther it went. At almost two hours it still felt like parts ended up on the cutting room floor that might have tied some of the beginning to the end better. Worth a watch, wait for it to hit Netflix.

Freaks (2018)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 4/5 every single character is a freak
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
This Canadian-made super-(anti)-hero movie is a different style than many movies of the genre. It starts out a bit slow and leaves you wondering what is happening and some of those questions go unanswered until very late in the movie. But it has a good slow buildup, good casting, a simple premise, and a solid conclusion. Slightly dystopian where anyone with any power is labeled a ‘freak’ and hunted by the government. This movie doesn’t spoon feed you a simple person with powers like most mainstream films of the sort. Worth a watch.

Joker (2019)
Medium: Movie (HBO Max)
Rating: 5/5 he’ll laugh, you’ll laugh
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
I saw this in theaters, you know, just before the society-crippling pandemic robbed us of basic joys. I left the theater confused, not sure if I really liked the movie or really didn’t. By that night, after a discussion with Lyger, I realized that I really liked it. I re-watched it recently and still really enjoy it. The biggest factor is that it is a complete break from the DC universe as far as style goes. While we have seen Batman’s origin story, in one form or another, many times over, the villain’s origin stories are often relegated to fairly quick scenes (Suicide Squad) or not explored (The Dark Knight). Having an entire movie to see how Todd Phillips’ envisioned this iconic villain’s origin was worth the adventure. This movie leans a bit toward Nolan’s Batman trilogy as far as feel and is the polar opposite of other DC offerings like Superman, Wonder Woman, or Aquaman. Forget the DC universe when you go into this, just focus on this movie and Phoenix’s incredible portrayal of Joker.

Aquaman (2018)
Medium: Movie (Multiple)
Rating: 0.5/5 this movie s(t)inks
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
For some reason, DC Comics has a problem making good movies with few exceptions, and this isn’t Nolan’s Batman or Wonder Woman. Instead, Aquaman had the feel of a franchise desperate to create the feel of a Marvel Universe movie. Every single thing was predictable, cliché, and boring. “There’s too many casualties!” But let’s stop for a sloppy wet kiss of course. Seriously, we need a new word for “overdone movie cliché”. They tried to make this by loading it with big names but as we often see, put that many big names together and they still can’t save a movie. Skip this, take a bath instead.

Prospect (2018)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 4.5/5 I dig it
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
A sci-fi movie I hadn’t heard of that turned out pretty damn good, what gives? Oh, Pedro Pascal is in it and he has enjoyed a little attention recently. This movie has a small cast set on some distant world where brave adventurers go to prospect a part of an alien life form that requires some skill and finesse rather than brute strength. When a father / daughter duo touch down chasing the ultimate score, things go sideways. The movie is more of a thriller and sci-fi a vehicle to deliver the underlying story, which is compelling and well-done. If you can look past a few simple plot holes, you may find this movie really enjoyable like I did.

Rememory (2017)
Medium: Movie (Netflix)
Rating: 3.5/5 A bit forgettable
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
Sam, the main character played by Peter Dinklage, injects himself into the life of a brilliant scientist who is brilliant, and the movie makes sure you know he is brilliant. The science is being able to record and playback memories, ala Strange Days. But for some reason Sam plays back mostly on a tiny screen in a briefcase that is the device. Anyway, he ends up in the middle of the life and murder of this scientist and decides to find out who did it, with this new technology being the central piece of the story. Ultimately, the movie has some neat ideas, good acting, but just falls short as it all doesn’t fully come together. It’s the kind where you can’t quite put your finger on it but just know something was lacking.

December 2020 Reviews

[A summary of my movie and TV reviews from last month, posted to Attrition.org, mixed in with other reviews.]

The Queen’s Gambit (2020)
Rating: 5/5 check it out mate
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
This miniseries, based on a 1983 book with the same name, is a fictional story about a chess prodigy turned master. It has the feeling of a real story and the producing, sets, and acting strongly lend to this. The main character, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, does an epic job playing a character who has personality quirks and addiction issues. The story is set many decades ago and gives a good reminder of the expectations about women in society. While chess may not seem to be a good basis for a fast-pace drama, the series does a wonderful job maintaining a good pace. I highly recommend this series for everyone.

Tenet (2020)
Rating: 5/5 – Action-packed mind-fuck
Reference(s): IMDB Listing
OK, you have to see Tenet. I think i liked it a lot? But I won’t be sure until I see it a second time. At least. Maybe a third time? It is a very cerebral movie and it makes Inception look like a cartoon in some ways. There are several layers and I think on a second watch I will probably notice a lot of things that would have helped keep up / understand along the way the first time through. Things that are better revealed toward the end as the movie progresses and evolves that will potentially make it more enjoyable the second time around. Very neat movie; great casting, great acting, and it really draws you in.

Ted Lasso (2020) [Apple TV]
Rating: 5/5 better than a biscuit, which is a cookie
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Apple
This comedy from Apple TV stars Jason Sudeikis as “Ted Lasso”, an American football coach recruited to coach a British football (soccer) team. It’s basically Gomer Pyle (Lasso) meets Major League (plot) to start and it delivers. Sudeikis does a wonderful job playing the always upbeat transplant assisted by coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) as they are immersed in a new culture and new sport at the same time. It’s not a sports show at all, it’s just about the people and interactions with goofy analogies and quick wit. Very light and well-done comedy, worth the watch.

Devs (2020) [Hulu]
Rating: 4.9/5 I have seen what perfection has wrought
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
You think you have seen interesting or compelling tech company drama? You haven’t until you watch this, and you will. You will understand the concept of quantum computing before you start the show and you will embrace the many-worlds theory. You find this review confusing now but it will become clear, until it doesn’t again. And then you will find yourself the god in the machine while you ponder the implications of when computing power goes too far. You will then enjoy your new state of enlightenment and make better choices.

Described as a drama/thriller when mindfuck is more apt. This show does a great job of making you think about serious implications that quantum computing could bring. While it is certainly sci-fi in the level of computing power suggested, it creates a nice vehicle to let us have a glimpse into what “quantum supremacy” might mean.

Marauders (2016)
Rating: 4.5/5 But i’m a sucker for heist flicks
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
Bruce Willis, Christopher Meloni, and Dave Bautista in a cops and robbers movie and somehow I completely missed this movie existed until I saw it on a Netflix scroll?! As a fan of the genre and generally not too critical of such movies, this one was surprisingly good. None of the acting stood out particularly but none of it was bad. A couple extra decent actors and the movie came together pretty well. Until halfway through I was wondering which way it would go as far as the “who done it” goes. The ending? Not how I would have played it out. If you like the genre, it’s worth a watch.

Fatman (2020)
Rating: 4/5 who let him make movies again?
This movie is a light-hearted take on Christmas and the failures of Santa, at least through the eyes of Walter Goggins’ character. This is kind of a comeback movie for Mel Gibson after his numerous personal failures, some that make it ironic with him playing a very Christian character while personally being a drunk and hating Jews / black people. Gibson’s last bit makes it all the more surprising that the amazing Marianne Jean-Baptiste would sign on to play his wife giving a modern interracial Claus family. Really surprising that despite his history that his career freeze has “thawed” as they say in the industry and that he is being given a second chance. While he can be a great actor, essentially bringing the same character “Porter” from Payback (1999) to play Santa, I have to wonder is Hollywood so hurting for actors that they would accept him back after his sordid history?

Oh sorry, enough of that shitbag that can act well. Fun movie, two great actors as main characters, fun and simple story, it really brings the true spirit of Christmas in my eyes. Think [generic assassin movie] + Toys + [cynical Christmas movie] and you know what are you in for. Worth a watch, but don’t pay for it which shows support for Gibson. Find another way to watch it for free and then find a way to support Baptiste and Goggins directly instead. Did I mention fuck Gibson?

The Midnight Sky (2020)
Rating: 2.5/5 The movie belongs on a fiery earth
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Netflix
Based on a book I didn’t read, this movie adaptation brings some star power with Felicity Jones and George Clooney. Without spoiling, the movie screamed “this is not what it seems” from the beginning so the ending was not as impactful as it could have been. Earth on fire and nearly uninhabitable? Sure! A two (?!) year voyage to the nearest habitable planet outside the solar system? OK! Man losing supplies then falling into arctic water and surviving? Prepare to suspend disbelief in the worst way. Overall, I suspect this is a case where the movie just didn’t do the book justice and fell short.

[Update: @_pronto_ pointed out they traveled to a moon of Jupiter, not outside the solar system. But still, a new moon of Jupiter that we didn’t know about is a viable alternative to Earth and Mars apparently isn’t?]

2067 (2020)
Rating: 2.5 / 5 – Science friction is more like it
Reference(s): IMDB Listing
For fans of the sci-fi genre, I don’t know if I should recommend 2067 or not. On one hand I like near-term sci-fi and I like dystopian films, which this offers both of. On the other, there are quite a few annoying bits about this, primarily the cast. I didn’t give two shits about anyone and most were annoying enough that I wanted them to die. Throw in a couple completely illogical things to advance the plot, a sign of bad writing in my opinion, and it just didn’t mesh well. It was good enough that, a ways in, I was willing to stick with it just to see how it ended. Recommend for watching while working, doing a puzzle, or falling asleep to.

The Jesus Rolls (2019)
Rating: 2/5 between 7-10p split, don’t watch
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
Did you know there was a spin-off to The Big Lebowski? Neither did I until recently. It follows a brief part of Jesus’ life, but not really his life bowling unfortunately. This is basically the story of two hapless and idiot guys on the lowest-end crime spree you can imagine. The humor is also some of the lowest-end too; there wasn’t that much to laugh about as the bit comedy was lacking overall. I’d pass on this and re-watch the dude. On the upside, we do learn the story behind the sex offender registry.

War Inc (2008)
Rating: 1/5 Disown the “spiritual cousin”
Reference(s): IMDB Listing || Amazon
John Cusack plays an assassin in this movie co-starring Joan Cusack and Dan Aykroyd … no, he does in this movie too. According to Wikipedia, Joan Cusack said, “.. in a way, it was a Grosse Pointe Blank 2” while John Cusack said it was a “spiritual cousin to Grosse Pointe Blank”. Sure, I can see that but it isn’t nearly as amusing. Intended to be political comedy & commentary (comedary?) it comes across as a cliché to other cliché films while borrowing from characters from the prior film. Rather than go with more subdued humor around a military presence in a fictional Middle Eastern country, they opted to go over-the-top and it really detracted from the potential. Skip this, (re)watch GPB instead.

Review Player Two


Ready Player Two is an enjoyable read that keeps the spirit and overall feel of the first book, with a few chapters in the middle that are a bit difficult to slog through. Worth a read though.


Ready Player Two is the aptly named sequel to Ready Player One. It picks up shortly after the end of the first book with four heroes ‘enjoying’ their lives to varying degrees, now as owners of the corporation that controls the OASIS. Similar to the first book, the sequel takes us on a new journey through an epic quest with even higher stakes. Instead of three gates now we’re faced with finding seven shards, each tied to a planet within the OASIS.

The main character and hero of the first book, Wade Watts, can’t find the first of seven shards and ends up paying someone a billion dollars for instructions to find it. The second comes after playing the ‘Sega Ninja’ arcade game in a specific place and completing the entire game. That takes us to the planet Shermer, a tribute to all things John Hughes. For this shard, rather than feeling like I was reading a well-written book, it felt more like reading a Wikipedia page with a vague plot instead. Factoid after factoid about John Hughes, his movies, characters in the movies, alternate scripts to the movies, and a lot of other pedantic details was poorly conceived.

The third shard takes us to Halcydonia, a planet designed to provide free education to any child in the world. After a lot of words for perhaps the easiest quest, the fourth shard bears the symbol of Prince and leads us to a planet ‘named’ in the same fashion. This becomes yet another Wikipedia page thinly disguised as a book chapter and bogs down the flow of the book. Even worse, the Prince quest drags on for several chapters. After an interesting battle with seven iterations of Prince, the next quest takes us into the world of Tolkien but not the more mainstream literature like the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. With six shards in hand, Wade uses them to create the seventh shard and the actual plot continues. From here the rest of the story unfolds rapidly and is considerably more enjoyable.


The books are set in the year 2045 and focused heavily on ‘retro’ culture, meaning us readers are well versed on many of the cultural aspects of the story like John Hughes, arcade games, Prince, and Tolkein. Since the story is set more than 20 years in the future, we’re given a good description of the technology that makes it possible and the state of the world. What is completely missing is any notion of anything cultural between the death of Prince and the time of the story. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to get distracted with a shard quest centered on a fictional piece of culture, I think the author has the writing chops to do exactly that and make it interesting, but does not.

Cline has been praised for his depiction of gender and sexuality in the book, and he deserves some credit for sure. During that bit, Wade tells us that with the new technology he had experienced sex as and with different genders and orientations. Cline should have made Wade decide to realize he is pansexual after his admitted experiences having sex with and as different genders. But that little bit about the technology’s ability to let one experience sex differently is mostly relegated to one page of one chapter and ultimately, the book falls on some common stereotypes in my eyes. The white girls knows all about John Hughes movies. The black girl knows all about Prince. The white boy and white girl know all about Tolkien. The Japanese boy knows the Japanese video game. Every main character has a hetero orientation except Aech, a lesbian. The only other character that suggests a different orientation, L0hengrin, is quickly glossed over. Even worse, she is potentially the most interesting new character of the entire book but is quickly put out of mind and used as a plot advancement point later with little fanfare.

Finally, while I really enjoy most of Cline’s writing style, there are small parts of the book that seem to break from the style of the first book and instead, are written as if they are lines from a movie script. In the board room when the four heroes meet the Low Five, they “run over to” greet them. In a board room with 10 people in it, there isn’t room to ‘run’. The main characters are treated as gods in the OASIS essentially, yet act like starry-eyed fans of someone that has already been written as a starry-eyed fan of them. This single scene had so many disconnects in my mind it stood out and made me wonder if Cline got distracted with notions of what the movie will look like.

Reference: Ready Player Two on Wikipedia.

Review: Kusters Yakuza

I don’t review books that often, especially not recently. While I read my share, they usually end up as side discussions with friends or a quick comment on Facebook. One topic that has always fascinated me is the Yakuza. I’ve read a variety of books on the subject over the years, including Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan’s Underworld, Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan, Yakuza Diary: Doing Time in the Japanese Underworld, and Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan among others. One thing these books don’t come with is pictures. No surprise there, while the Yakuza is hardly a secret, their circles are of course closed.

A couple years ago I saw a post about a new coffee table photography book coming out, depicting the Yakuza. Reading the photographer/author description made it sound incredible:

YAKUZA is a personal visual account of the life inside an inaccessible subculture: a traditional Japanese crime family that controls the streets of Kabukicho, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan.

Through 10 months of negotiations with the Shinseikai, my brother Malik and I became one of the only westerners ever to be granted this kind of access to the closed world of Japanese organized crime.

With a mix of photography, film, writing and graphic design, I try to share not only their complex relationship to Japanese society, but also to show the personal struggle of being forced to live in two different worlds at the same time; worlds that often have conflicting morals and values. It turns out not to be a simple ‘black’ versus ‘white’ relationship, but most definitely one with many, many, many shades of grey.

A visual account” – “10 months of negotiations to be able to take the pictures” – “One of the only westerners to be granted this access” .. How could that be bad?! Of course I purchased the book, for something close to $50. I figure a unique look into Yakuza life was well worth that price. Disclaimer: I appreciate artistic photographs. That includes questionable focus, perspective shots, and more. I get that each picture has more meaning to the photographer, and that it doesn’t always translate. Five minutes leading up to the picture may carry a world of context lost to the subsequent viewer, but captured entirely in the eyes of the shooter.

However, when I finally received the book and flipped through it, I was disappointed. 197 pages of pictures (several being one picture across two pages), but almost no feeling that Kusters had more than casual access to the family he was with. Below is a list of my description of the pictures in the first half of the book. To emphasize the lack of content, I will italicize where a picture is blurry, and underline where there is any hint that the Yakuza are involved.

16: Blank (small text describing next page)
17: Full page picture of calligraphy “jump”
18-19: Distant shot of city/neighborhood
20-21: Random Tokyo block
22-23: Blurry shot of rain on window
24-25: Slightly blurry picture of 3 men in suits
26-27: Paper lantern
28-29: Cabinet in abandoned? building
30-31: Close-up through window of man driving car
32: Blank (small text describing next page)
33: Full page picture of calligraphy “learn”
34: Leather jacket clad shoulder/back of a man
35: Back of man in suit at security-laden door
36: Picture of security monitor, with leather jacket clad man on it
37: Japanese writing on wood wall
38-39: Intricate sealed letter in offered hand
40-41: Three men in restaurant, looking serious
42-43: Drinks and cigarette pack on restaurant table
44-45: Three men in suits waiting outside building (click for actual picture)
46-47: Slightly blurry picture of ~ 8 men walking down street, odd angle doesn’t show much of them
48: Blank (small text describing next page)
49: Full page picture of calligraphy “boss”
50-51: Slightly blurry picture of random highway (click for actual picture)
52-53: Close-up of chest and face of man in suit, sitting in car (click for actual picture)
54-55: Picture of highway signs
56-57: Nice park, tiny silhouette of man
58-59: Outdoor shot, slightly blurry man in lower corner on phone
60-61: Paper with Japanese writing and picture of a Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate ID of Yoshimura Mitsuo
62-63: Random city block, group of men walking away
64: Blank (small text describing next page)
65: Full page picture of calligraphy “belong”
66-67: One blurry man, one more clear man, waiting by car
68-69: Close-up of heavily tattooed hands, one pinkie missing
70-71: Several paper lanterns
72-73: Blurry shot of three figures in a car
74-75: Blurry shot of landscape, perhaps out of moving car
76-77: Three cars outside of a residence?
78-79: Eight men seated around table
80: Blank (small text describing next page)
81: Full page picture of calligraphy “training”
82-83: Two men sparring in Karate, several sitting on floor around them
84-85: Four silhouettes sitting under beach umbrellas
86-87: Two men on beach swinging baseball bats
88-89: Man sitting on floor of residence (no ink on arms or visible chest)
90-91: Close-up of man practicing knife fighting
92-93: Four men drinking
94-95: Blurry shot of man walking into building at night
96: Blank (small text describing next page)
97: Full page picture of calligraphy “the way of the cherry blossom”
98-99: Lace window coverings
100-101: Blurry shot of building in distance
102-103: Close-up of two men, possibly in gym locker room
104-105: Very blurry shot of 3 men bathing, post gym?
106-107: Picture of dozens of men sitting on beach facing water (click for actual picture)
108-109: Blurry shot outside back of train window
110-111: Man with raised shirt, showing 1 tattoo on chest

In the first half of the book, there are only 44 total pictures. Of those, 12 are blurry and only 14 (some of them blurry) could be argued to be Yakuza-related pictures. That is not what was advertised by any means, and the rest of the book does not take a sudden turn for the better. In short, steer clear of this book.

Concert Review: Citizen Cope

Tonight I saw Citizen Cope for his first of two shows at the Ogden Theatre here in Denver. I’ve become a fan of theirs over the last two or so years. Something about the songs appeal to me on several levels, leading me to believe that the singer (Clarence Greenwood) was passionate about his music.

In person, it certainly seems as if he is as into his music as the crowd is. Most of the songs are performed with his eyes closed (or mostly so), hand gestures and dancing around that show his passion. At times, he is almost awkward with his movements, giving me the impression that he is desperate to share his music while also keeping pieces close to him. Incredibly thankful, he clearly appreciates his audience and performs for them. Watching Greenwood compared to more mainstream acts and you really see the distinction between a musician and an industry generated puppet singing as a business.

The show started a bit late, but ran a full two hours and then some. With one encore, Citizen Cope played more than 15 songs with some extended versions of the songs that you’d only hear in concert. For about $30, this was exactly the kind of concert I love; great music, small venue, long set and a crowd that was as into it as the band. Even the older lady behind me who had never heard one of their songs until this concert couldn’t help but dance to the music.

No opening band, so people were inside early and not waiting in a line outside. The music playing before Citizen Cope took the stage was good. A lot of songs I don’t think I’ve heard, including a few that had half the audience singing along. Heard one really good song with a female vocalist. While I heard some of the lyrics, it is extremely difficult to remember them through a two hour concert of a different band. Doh!

The Ogden is a pretty small venue. I try to get a railing spot on the first level above the pit, as you are eye level with the performer’s knees, but only 25 feet away at most. It gives the feeling of a very personal and up-close concert.

While waiting, a few drunk girls in front of me in the pit were amusing. One made me and the two guys next to me all promise not to ‘roofie her’. Apparently she had a bad experience with being slipped a roofie at a Wu-tang concert ten years ago. I promised, and kept my word.

The amount of pot being smoked at the concert was humorous. The three or four girls waving their bras all concert was silly.

Dancing for almost two hours was great, but my feet will regret it tomorrow no doubt.

Book Review: Photomosaics

Many years ago I grabbed books on various alternative art styles. One of the books, new and exciting at the time (think 10 years ago) was on photomosaics. In short, art made by computer that creates a montage of other images. One thousand images of donkeys can be used to make a picture of George Bush for example. One key point here is that they are computer generated. Some fancy algorithm determines the color of the image and makes it fit into a larger picture.

So I finally ended up reading “Photomosaics” by Robert Silvers and Michael Hawley (Silvers invented the concept/art style). Interesting enough read but very shallow, not really diving into the technical aspects of how it’s done. I was ready to pass the book on and mostly forget about it until the last page which included a small plastic magnifying glass so you could examine each small picture that makes up the larger image.

Uh, why? Looking at half centimeter images of stock photography is going to somehow give me insight into the artist or the picture? Please, don’t flatter yourself. Call me petty, call me weird, but that is the silliest thing I have seen in a while.