a hacker trilogy

Unsurprisingly I’m into SF movies, and tech oriented stuff generally. I’ve long had an interest in hacking, have read many a book on the subject, watched films and occasionally dabbled though never broken into anything. The worst I got was writing password traps at uni to catch the unwary. There was a great book many years ago, that I devoured at uni and keep a print version on the shelf: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. A book full of anecdotes of the early days of computers and the early hackers, people who created new code and established the frontiers of computing.

I’ve long had an idea in my head of what I like to call a cinematic hacker trilogy; three films that portray hacking and engage with its history. There’s been lots of films around hacking and some are good and some not so good but three seem to have stood out in my head:

I love all three though I think the third is my favourite for capturing the sense of history, spicing it with the thrill of the game and a decent soundtrack. I’ve just rewatched WarGames and it holds up well though the acting and dialogue are clearly artifacts of the 80s. However the basic idea of stealing passwords written down remains true enough today, the weakest link is always people. Sneakers features Robert Redford and Ben Kingsley and is very smooth with a hacking group working semi legit but built by an old school hacker. There are other movies in the genre, good and bad, but this trio sits best in my head.

filmfest 2016 round-up

Filmfest is over for another year, this year I managed 27 films over 11 days, my partner 28 and Ms15 a massive 15 in her first festival. I think that’s about 10 less than when I had a sub but it feels just as exhausting, not to mention running between venues. Trying to escape the Dendy Quays to see anything else at night involves a horribly crowded passage through the Vivid crowds and I would seriously consider avoiding the venue in future years. We started with one 30 film flexipass, then bought a second, then a 10 movie flexipass to finish off. Once again it was fun going though the programme in advance, not to mention having to choose between films either due to overlaps or sellouts. On one of the saturdays I had 5 competing films to choose from! No regrets.

All up of the 27 films, there were a couple of duds, the occasional surprise and plenty of good cinema. Here’s a rough list of the ones I enjoyed, in order of screening:

 

Not a bad list of interesting things.

sff 2016 day 11

Day 11 and final day, rounding out with 3 movies, dinner and still home by 9. The day started with a pair of gangsta flicks: Psycho Raman from India and Suburra from Italy. The first was about a cop and a vicious serial killer circling each other and the hunter and hunted swaps back and forth. The killer is violent and will casually kill with a tyre iron while the cop also has no problem killing and is drug addicted with violent tendencies himself. There wasn’t a lot to like in this film and its cycle of violence and little difference in behaviour the “good” guy and the “bad” guy.

Suburra was much, much better though you could argue that it’s the same sort of violence dressed up in a slicker package. Lushly shot in Rome with intrigue spread across multiple levels of society including the mafia, politicians, drug addicts and the vatican. The audience was aware of the bigger picture and weavings beyond that of the characters involved. The overarching theme was a long term project coming to an accelerated conclusion, with other local parts triggering larger events, all playing off each other. This was violent and intelligent, playing in the corridors of power and corruption.

Final film of the day, and filmfest for me, was the new one from Pedro Almodóvar, Julieta. As is often the case with Almodóvar’s films, women dominate throughout with various perspectives coming into play. Swapping back and forth in time, the movie traces the life of a woman and her daughter who ceased contact at 18. Almodóvar’s handling of the story is deft without being overindulgent. Also present is an intertwining of multiple stories but not overly so with the story kept tight. Both the younger and older versions of the women are well played with a sense of depth and engagement. At the same time, the movie feels fresh and takes you along for the ride.

sff 2016 day 10

Yay, it’s the weekend and I managed an extra hour’s sleep, a couple more would have been nice. Oh well, second last day of filmfest so the sleep in can wait til next weekend. A big day with 4 films some good, some not so good. First cab off the ranks was a fabulous movie from Adelaide, Girl Asleep. The basic tale is a 14 year old girl trying to fit into a new school, set in the 70s not to mention her parents insisting on throwing a 15th birthday party. This film comfortably, casually, easily mixed real and fantastical scenes together in a way that flowed. At the same time, it had depth in its dealing with adolescence and social mores. This was an engaging, fun, surreal and generally fab flick.

I was really dreading the second movie of the day, Oyster Factory, an observational documentary set in an oyster factory in Japan. “observational documentary” running for 2 and a half hours late in the festival was enough to strike fear in my weary body. It probably fits well into the “cinéma vérité” approach to film making. Filmerd over 3 weeks with no preparation this wasn’t bad, though it could’ve done with some cutting…yet there was no part I didn’t enjoy. I did feel a little awkward at times in that sense of middle class white privilege watching a film about workers at the lower end, and their primary jobs of shucking oysters. At the same time, it’s an important film about the decline in oyster farming in that part of Japan, going from 20 businesses to 6, and the difficulty in finding staff to the extent of importing labour from China. It ended up having a political element of sorts, along with the insight into the day to day.

Unfortunately the 3rd film of the day, Thithi, from India. Set in a small village, and starting with the death of an elderly man at the age of 101. The story is about the money troubles of his grandson, and bits of love with the great grandson. It’s mostly a comedy and the audience had a strong Indian presence who seemed to be getting a lot more out of it than I did. I didn’t mind it, though drifted off a little, and overall wasn’t particularly fussed. However it was clear from the opening scenes that the audience, who understood the language, were laughing loudly at things I was only vaguely amused by.

Following the movie, we made a mad dash out at the start of the credits, to get from Dendy Quays to the State Theatre. We just made it to Circular Quay station to get a train to St James and were in our seats at the State Theatre 15 minutes after leaving the previous cinema, just in time for the next film. That was the tightest film-to-film dash I think I’ve ever done. And that film was the Irish, Sing Street, full of the better music of the 80s. Once again a film dealing with teenagers growing up and trying to find a space. This one is about music and building a band to impress a girl. the music is fab including Duran Duran and The Cure. While a simple tale, it had a good groove and avoided being painful. Fun, easy with excellent musical taste.

 

sff 2016 day 9

One film tonight, followed by dinner and a bit of Vivid. Alas utter train chaos trying to get home from Circular Quay so it ended up being a late night again. Tonight’s film was a doco written and directed by an Oz bloke set in Rio de Janeiro’s largest slum, In the Shadow of the Hill. It revolved a family who had lost a family member who had been taken away by the BOPE (or military police) on suspicion of drug trafficking and had never returned. The family believed he had been tortured and killed by the cops but they were denying everything. Set largely in the slums of Rocinha, with lots of encounters with daily life and the people trying to live and create communities. The police are spending a lot of time in the area in the large numbers “keeping the peace” and there are fears that once the world’s attention moves away after the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup that they will be forgotten about. This was an excellent doco, atimes grim and intense, at others full of joy and in all cases much heart.

sff 2016 day 8

11pm finish on a work night is not that fab, but thankfully it’s been a rarity this festival. 2 flicks tonight starting with an Iranian film, Wednesday May 9. This explores through three stories, different sorts of pain and loss for which there is never any easy path to relief. It was a simple movie presenting a society in which women have few rights. The film centered around someone advertising that they’re prepared to give away around US$15,000 and of course their office is mobbed. Beyond the 3 key stories, there are clearly many other stories of suffering and hardship. It’s not the sort of movie that can really have a closed ending as grief is something to endure, that needs to find its own way. It didn’t blow me away but it wasn’t bad either.

Captain Fantastic from the US closed out the evening, with a tale around a dad raising several kids in the wilderness. His wife went to hospital a few months earlier but they had home schooled the kids in all the trappings of a hippyish, anti-capitalist lifestyle with an emphasis on self sufficiency. Then the mum dies in hospital which brings them back in touch with the real world and their mother’s wealthy family. This was at times fun, with a good sense of wry amusement though some of the sentiment seems more at home in a movie made in the 1970s. While I mostly enjoyed the flow, ultimately I found the characters hackneyed and 2 dimensional and it seemed to try too hard to tack on a happy ending.

sff 2016 day 7

Only one movie tonight as it didn’t start til after 8, there was time to go home and have dinner at a reasonable time at the actual dinner table, luxury :-) Tonight’s film, National Bird, was a doco focusing on the American military’s drone programme told through 3 Americans formerly involved in the programme and interviews with Afghani survivors. With Wim Wenders and Errol Morris on board as executive producers, I figured this had the hallmarks of a good documentary and I wasn’t disappointed. While there were no surprises, the doco brought together the military side of drone technology, tied it with death of civilians, and raised yet more failures of the American military to deal with post traumatic stress in its combatants. One of the American analysts recounted arguing with the people responsible for shooting the missiles, and having to talk them out of killing as they were so trigger happy. Unsurprisingly, using autonomous drones as weapons turned a war zone into little more than a video game but with lower resolution.

A key episode in the film revolved around the “accidental” killing of 23 Afghani family members including children. One of the film’s strengths was going to Afghanistan and interviewing the survivors of that attack, and see some of them deal with amputated limbs and the memories of what happened and their failed attempts to signal to the drones to stop. While listening to the pain of the parents, it was sad to watch their young son remove his prosthetic leg and expose the remaining stump. The US military “promised” this wouldn’t happen again but of course it did. The American analysts are in a tricky position and unable to see regular therapists and have to seek out counsellors with sufficient security clearance. Another analyst has had their house raided on suspicion of espionage and expects to be charged any day simply for criticising the programme. A strong, powerful film about the human effects of modern warfare.