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Take a break with quirky ‘Aloha’

Aloha” (2015) brings broken Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper) back to his Hawaiian military roots as a contractor designated to get the blessing of the king of Hawaii for a military base’s pedestrian gate, which would allow private contractors access to the launch area of the military base. Gilchrist is assigned Fighter Pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone) as his military watchdog for his time in Hawaii. There is a love triangle involving quiet man Woody (John Krasinski) and his wife Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who also happens to be Gilchrist’s ex from 13 years ago.

The real problems arise when Ng discovers that billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) has put a nuke in the payload of the rocket being sent into space. Weapons aren’t allowed in the sky, and this would violate treaties. However, because Welch is a private citizen, it falls in a gray area; he never signed a treaty. Gilchrist is faced with the choice of further disgrace and saving the sky or keeping his lucrative job and losing Ng.

Stone chews the scenery as the intense, socially awkward, quarter Hawaiian, who loves the sky and Hawaiian mythology. Krasinski provides an amazing performance as the man who doesn’t talk much. Cooper and McAdams are good in their roles as is the rest of the cast, which includes Murray, Alec Baldwin, and Danny McBride.

“Aloha” is a surprisingly good film. It’s low key nature and quirky characters provide an interesting family/friend drama. If you need to find your way back to yourself, there are worse places to do it than Hawaii. Welcome to a pleasant diversion, or as they say on the islands – Aloha!

Read more about the islands with these links on Hawaii.

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‘The Polka King’ Steals Hearts and Money in True Life Adventure

What if I told you there was a Polish immigrant in Pennsylvania, who fronted a Polka band, met Trump, George Burns and the Pope, and ran a Ponzi scheme that bilked people out of their life savings? “The Polka King” is based on the true story of Jan Lewan.

Jack Black’s portrayal of Jan Lewan is positive, upbeat, and American. Lewan does everything to make a dollar and to climb up the ladder of success, but it’s never enough. Then he hits on the idea to get investors for his career. Offering a 12% return on their investment, Lewan unknowingly embarks on a huge Ponzi scheme, and everyone is happy as long as they’re making money. He gets caught by the government and gets a warning, but the allure of easy money that can help him, his bandmates and his wife get ahead, is too much to resist. He continues with the scheme.

From the beginning of the film to the “Rappin’ Polka” ending, which might be the funniest moment of the film, “The Polka King” is baffling. It’s clear that what Jan is doing is wrong, but his heart seems to be in the right place. He’s just looking toward future success. How does something like this happen in real life? It can only happen in the movies, and sometimes in Pennsylvania – they have the pictures, newspaper articles and videos to prove it.

“The Polka King” provides plenty of fun and a little comedy. And if you don’t watch out for it, you might be hit with a dose or two of criticism of American Culture.

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5 Episodes in: Isolation within and outside of ‘The Umbrella Academy’

Isolation is one of those themes that pops up quite a bit in science fiction. From “The Twilight Zone’s” first episode ‘Where Is Everybody’ to Will Smith’s “I Am Legend,” people are fascinated by the effects that being alone for an extended period can have on a person. It’s probably in part due to the dual nature of humanity. We want to be alone, and we need companionship; every person is somewhere on the spectrum between these demands, and it changes depending on the day and inner requirements.

Spoiler Alert.

This theme should have been clearer from the start of “The Umbrella Academy.” There were so many other things to adjust to, however, that it got lost until episode five. Number Five is the most isolated. He spends decades in the future with a manikin, who is as real to him as any person. Luther spends four years on the moon, which for him was enough.

Allison has been psychologically isolated from people for most of her life. She couldn’t discern what was real and what was the result of her power. She is now isolated from her daughter ad is attempting to build a new relationship with Vanya.

Pogo, and this is important, was left alone in the house after all the children moved on with their lives. Diego constantly talks about how mom was treated, but he doesn’t pay any attention to the talking chimpanzee who also had to put up with the abuse (as Diego sees it) that father dished out. Pogo says that he owes everything he is to Mr. Hargreeves, but it’s clear he’s hiding something.

Klaus used drugs to keep the spirits at bay. These are the spirits he should have been connecting with his whole life in a “Ghost Whisperer” sort of way. Unfortunately, his father’s ill-conceived training regime did nothing but frighten a young child into a life of escapism and dulling fear through chemistry. He continues to refuse to embrace who he his and what his power represents, even if there’s nothing scary about his brother Ben, who hangs out with him.

Diego lives in the backroom of a gym and goes out nights to fight crime. He has spent his life pushing people away and doing things his way without compromise. The death of his not-girlfriend sends him further down the road to isolation. He doesn’t recognize that he needs companionship, but his actions suggest otherwise as he takes Klaus with him to stake out the donut shop.

Surprisingly, it’s the relationship between Hazel and Agnes that hammers the theme home. Hazel feels acutely alone, and it’s affecting his work. Perhaps his isolation is worse because he spends all of his time with a partner as they travel 52 weeks a year. When he opens up to Agnes, he reveals that his job is fulfilling anymore.

People need companionship. They need to be part of something bigger than themselves. They need to be loved. Religions, cults and sports teams flourish because they can provide a semblance of these things. Humans define themselves in terms of the other; we don’t know who we are without someone else to base ourselves on. It’s part of our strongest desire – that of establishing and maintaining our identity. Sometimes, that means embracing the love of family, both biological and chosen. Sometimes, it means choosing something more carnal.

When a man finally shows interest in Vanya, she falls for him. She doesn’t care if he’s nefarious. On the outside he presents a nice-guy façade, and he does things to support and help her, including, unbeknownst to her, murder. Vanya won’t take the warnings of Allison because she has been isolated for so long. She hasn’t felt worthy and no one has expressed to her that she is worthy. Her father always told her she was ordinary. Her siblings ignored her to the point that when Allison watches tapes from their childhood, she says she wouldn’t let anyone treat her daughter that way. Vanya wrote a book that further estranged her from the family. She lives alone and pushes people away. So, when she finally decides to open up and take a chance, she falls hook, line and sinker for the manipulations of Leonard.

Vanya gives Leonard her love, literally and her power, figuratively. Leonard, a creep, stalker and killer, dumps her pills and unleashes Vanya’s creative power. Not all creative power is good. Some people use their creativity to destroy. The atomic bomb, hypersonic ICBMs, new forms of torture… the list of terrible creativity is long and horrific. Vanya’s power isn’t just to build but to destroy, and when she finds out about Leonard’s manipulations, it could be apocalyptic. Allison still provides hope that someone can reach her.

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The Internet Killed My Creativity

Untitled Mosaic by Cathy Cooke

by Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC

When I was kid growing up in the ‘70s, I remember creating elaborate stories in my head about far away lands I’d only heard of in books.  I remember playing in the woods in our backyard and pretending to be a soldier in the army – more specifically, being the first woman ever drafted into the army because my skills were so imperative the Corps’ success.  I had the most amazing journeys to places like China, Africa, the deserts of Saudi Arabia, all without leaving my backyard.

Fast forward to May of 2000, and I was still enjoying adventures to exotic places.  Four years after graduating college, I was dreaming of joining the Peace Corps and imagined myself living among the villages in places like Kenya or Angola.  I could picture it in my head: the dirt floors, the thatched roofs, the smells of Injera cooking on a wood stove.  I don’t know if that’s how it really was, but it was fun to pretend.  Maybe it was demeaning or naïve, I don’t know, but my imagination was strong and the creative urge inside me was fulfilled.

Over the next few years, I found myself becoming more involved with emails and looking up information online.  If I really wanted to know what life was like in Kenya, I just put it into a search engine, and wham, there it was.  And no surprise, it wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined.  Instead of debating for hours with friends about a particular topic, exercising my mind to see different points of view, employing creativity to construct a new argument for persuasion, or trying to use my brains flexibility to understand all sides, we’d simply look it up online, and the conversation was over.  No heated debates into the wee hours of the morning that often left us with a better understanding of the other side and agreed upon points of view.

It makes me sad really.  I want my brain to engage, to work, to be flexible and creative in these conversations and daydreams.  But it doesn’t happen anymore.  I don’t have to imagine, or think, or create, because I can just Google it, and that ends the experience.

I have found the same to be true for my artistic abilities.  I have always enjoyed doing crafty and artsy things.  In the early 2000s, I took up mosaics.  I remember walking outside for inspiration, looking into street-corner shops, in backyards where children played, on the nearby trails or at the plethora of activity happening in the trees and sky.  Certain colors and combinations of shapes would send my mind off to a place of wild creativity… “what if I combined that purple color with a deep red for an intense October sunset…”  I made some really unusual but pretty cool mosaics back then.  But with the advent of Google, I found myself looking online for ideas; it was easier than going outside.  And do you know what happened?  My mosaics looked flat, lifeless, or like I was imitating someone else, mostly because I was.  I was no longer exercising my creativity, because it was just too easy to look online.

This also makes me very sad.  It makes me sad for myself that I turn to the easy way too often, and thus, miss out on all the amazing things the natural world has to offer.  And it makes me sad for all the youth that never got the chance to imagine, create, or dream about what life is like in the Amazon or the South Pole.  They’ve never had a chance because the answers have been in front of them the whole time.  What kind of art will these kids create?  What kind of stories will they make up?  Where will they get their inspiration?

I have been known to say “If I could snap my fingers and the Internet would have never existed I would do it without flinching.”  I mean that with complete conviction.  Not only do I have an issue with the health impacts (EMF exposure, blue light, bad posture, poor social development), but also because it killed my creativity.  I know I have the power to remedy this.  You’re right, I could just get off the computer and go outside and find my inspiration again.  The problem is that in today’s high-tech world, we have come to rely on the Internet for the large majority of our communication, personal and business transactions.  I run a small business, and if I want that business to be successful, I have to be online a good portion of the day.  I don’t want it to be that way, but it’s the unfortunate reality of living in 2019.

Of course, I do admit to the benefits of the web, increased access to education and information, entertainment, social connections, etc.  But, is that worth what we have lost?  Not a chance.  I am a human being with needs that go beyond food and shelter.  I don’t need to see pictures of what Angola looks like.  I don’t need to connect with all ten of my friends from the 1st grade again.  I don’t need to be able to watch a marathon of “Mad Men” on Netflix this weekend.  But what I do need is my sanity, feeling fulfilled, and nourished.  The Internet does not provide this for me.  My daydreams, imagination, friendly debates, walks in nature and exercising my brain’s creativity, that’s what fulfills me and nourishes me.

So yes, if I could, I would snap my fingers and the Internet would disappear. And then I would have my exotic trips to far away lands, conversations until the wee hours of the morning, and some fantastic mosaics that are full of unique imagination.  It would give me back my creativity!  And that would be worth it.

Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC
Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC

Cathy Cooke BCHN, BBEC, is the owner of Whole Home and Body Health where she helps people to realize their potential through health interventions related to diet, lifestyle, and environmental concerns including air quality and EMF mitigation.  You can find out more about her services at wholehomeandbodyhealth.com, or by contacting her at cathy@wholehomeandobdyhealth.com

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One Episode in: The Umbrella Academy devalues creativity

The only child, Number Seven, or Vanya as she likes to be called, without powers is perhaps slated to be the most powerful of all the superhero children gathered at the Umbrella Academy. In the first episode we’ve already seen Vanya, played by Ellen Page, practicing violin on a stage. She’s written a book, and her dream patterns were beeping off the chart and compared to the relatively normal brain patterns of the other children. She is clearly the most creative of the group, and that’s what makes her dangerous.

Diego and Luther are the tanks. Time and space travel boy is a freak! His fight scene against what appears to be an elite military group was incredible. Suggestive woman is dangerous, but says she has stopped using her power. And Klaus, a drug addict and cliché, speaks with the dead – that’s a different kind of freaky. That leaves Vanya, who is undervalued and underappreciated.

Creativity and the resulting innovations are what set the humans of today, homo sapiens sapiens, apart from other humans and animals. Being able to make something and then turn that to other uses is how people became the dominant species on Earth. People aren’t the fastest or strongest. They aren’t even the smartest necessarily, but people adapt the situation to their needs. Too cold? Build a fireplace and house. To hot create an air conditioner. To wet? Open an umbrella.

Vanya also trained with her father though she may not see it that way. She knows what the people in the group can do and how to use their powers, and as soon as she adapts her thinking to solving the problems at hand, she will be the one to guide the members of the Umbrella Academy to greatness with better chances for success.

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Four episodes in: ‘Salvation’ and the MVP

Now at over 7.5 billion people the world’s population is staggering large. It’s an incomprehensible number; as people, we aren’t equipped to understand what that number means. Now, imagine having to whittle that number down to 160 people who would carry on the human race on Mars or elsewhere in space. That is one of the premises of the series “Salvation.” According to the show, 160 people is the minimum viable population to ensure that the species can continue.

In order for this small number to work, the chosen travelers would need to be genetically diverse, fertile, and heterosexual. The population would need to include 80 men and 80 women. There’s a good chance that marriages would need to be arranged and monitored as time went on in order to prevent in-breeding.

Engineers skilled in spaceship repairs, survivalists with skills in establishing camps and places to live, and doctors skilled in combat medicine would be some of the people the program could consider. Creative types may be desirable for their ability to solve problems in unique ways, but they would need to have more than just their artistic skills.

With this set of criteria, old people and children wouldn’t make the cut. Poorly educated people wouldn’t get on the ship. People who claim a sexual identity, other than hetero, would be left behind. Those with genetic diseases or genetic disease history in their families wouldn’t be able to take the trip. If it would be a true choosing of the best of the best, every person would face a battery of tests that would eliminate him or her or allow that person to move on to the next level.

The question that this type of plan demands is how would the influential people who don’t meet the criteria be kept off the ship. Would the inventor be allowed to travel, regardless of any other quality? Would the president of the U.S. or the ruler of the country be allowed to go? If this ark were a last-ditch effort to save the human race and Earth was facing destruction, would the billion-dollar investor have a spot on the ark with no further testing? Would a country like the U.S. reach out to other countries to find the best people to put on the ark, or would it only save Americans?

Another thing to consider is that genetic diversity would entail finding people that don’t resemble each other. This would make everyone uncomfortable since human beings like to hang with people who resemble themselves. It would also make it possible for people on the ark to form groups of like with like, which could sabotage the genetic diversity of the group. “Salvation” has a group of number crunchers on a committee with an unknown science fiction writer to provide the heart; It’ll be interesting to see how they decide who lives and who dies.

So, how would you go about selecting 160 people to board a space ark? If you were able to save 1600 people in ten arks, how would you divvy them up? Assuming there were a clear 160 best and 160 second best would you mix them or would you keep the best with the best and the second best with the second best and so on?

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Three Episodes in: ‘Salvation’ Decreases Faith in Humanity

Three episodes into “Salvation” and I can’t believe how stupid the characters are. The premise of the show is there is a planet killing asteroid on a collision course with the Earth. It has a 97 percent chance of colliding with our planet creating and extinction level event. The U.S. government has known about it for three months, and ordered a rocket from the Tanz company to send up a gravity tractor. The rocket has to retrofitted to work for what the government wants, and in testing, the retrofits don’t work right and the rocket blows up. The gravity tractor is out as far as the government is concerned.

In the meantime, a college student’s algorithm found the asteroid. The student informs his professor, who disappears. The student gets close to Darius Tanz, head of the Tanz company, and tells him what’s going on. Tanz contacts the Department of Defense. Both the student and Tanz get added to the secret group that is trying to find ways to deal with the asteroid. With the gravity tractor out, one of the men has proposed running the IO satellite into the asteroid to knock it off course.

The student and Tanz point out that doing so won’t move the asteroid. It would instead create a lot of meteorites that would rain down on Earth with no telling where they would land. The man, who proposed the idea, concedes the point and asks if Tanz has a better idea. Tanz proposes the invention of an electromagnetic engine which doesn’t exist. They agree on that solution for the moment.

Flash forward to the next meeting because the president is getting nervous and wants an update. The man, who proposed the ramming of the asteroid, comes back with the same proposal, but this time, he’s done the calculations: the created meteors would rain down on Russia, China and Korea killing an estimated 1.4 billion people. They have two windows. The first is in seven days, the next is in 60 days. Rather than give Tanz and his team 60 days to build and perfect their EM engine, they decide to go with the first window because it gives them two chances to get it right.

What? The false logic here is that they have two chances. Unless they have two satellites in orbit around IO, they have only one chance. Waiting for the second window wouldn’t change anything. If they didn’t get it right the first time, there is no second chance. The IO satellite would be careening into space, and there’s no backup. You have one satellite and one chance. Wait for the second window.

However, there’s a larger problem. Russia and China have active space programs. Chances are they’re going to find out about this asteroid and what the U.S. did. If they do, there’s a good chance, they’ll see the destruction of the asteroid as an act of war and decide to use their missiles to blow the U.S. up. The political wonks and military people should understand that’s the natural reaction of any person in power and that this secret asteroid information is going to get out. At the very least, some spy is going to find out. More likely someone’s going to let something slip.

If colliding with the asteroid is the only choice, this group needs to make sure it has a plan to evacuate the countries that are going to be affected before it decides on this plan of action. That means the information about the asteroid needs to be brought before the United Nations and nations need to know what’s coming. Even more importantly, the U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on “smart” people or space. In fact, with the defunding of NASA, the U.S. isn’t the leader in space exploration any more. The asteroid could be used to bring countries together; instead of as a way to fill the American ego.

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‘Io’s’ Infuriating Ending Defies Character and Logic

Netflix’ “Io” is a minimalistic, quasi-science fiction movie about the end of the world. The CGI and backgrounds are questionable, and the two main characters have a hard time holding viewers’ attention, which is too bad because I like Anthony Mackie. However, what drives me to write this review is the anger I felt at the main character Sam, played by Margaret Qualley, at the end of the film. (Spoilers ahead.)

The Earth is contaminated by ammonia vapors and the entire population has fled to Io, Jupiter’s moon, to find a new planet and build a new life. The entire movie takes place on Earth, so the movie name is a bit of a misnomer, but not so much that it creates cognitive dissonance. Sam, the daughter of a scientist who has claimed that people can adapt to the new atmosphere and urged people not to leave the planet, is the only one left alive as far as she knows. She self-administers some sort of inoculation against the toxic atmosphere.

Her human connection is a man who is already at the Io station. She meets Mackie’s Micah when he lands at her place in a helium balloon. Micah is looking for Sam’s father and headed for the last shuttle off the planet.

In no particular order, she dumps the man on Io, there’s a flashback of her father telling her that the human connection is more important than science, and Micah reinforces that idea when he says people aren’t meant to be alone. Sam acknowledges all of this and agrees to go with Micah to the shuttle. Before that happens though, she seduces Micah overcoming his objections with “we have to.”

And here’s where I get angry. Sam goes to a museum and then tells Micah, she’s not going with him. She sees life on Earth where everyone else sees death. She rips off her mask and survives the toxic atmosphere. Micah leaves the planet. She gives birth to a child, and they go visit the sea. What? Seriously? She’s a scientist working in biology. She should know that women don’t necessarily get pregnant after one session of intercourse. But it can happen, so let’s go ahead and give that to the movie.

Here’s where the movie doesn’t make any sense. When Micah tells Sam that she’s coming with him, she has already gone through the process of convincing herself that’s the only logical plan. She’s lost the bees. She needed help with the windmill. Most importantly, she knows she needs the human connection. She’s accepted that. She says, “Okay,” and that should be that. There is no indication that she has changed her mind about human connection in the rest of the film or that she understands she is pregnant.

There is no sense to her decision, and if she knows she’s pregnant, she makes the most selfish decision available. First, the treatments didn’t work for her father, and administering them to a child would be different. She doesn’t have the expertise or data necessary to insure the survival of the child.

Second, that child is going to grow up, she’s going to die, and the child is going to be alone with no chance for human connection. She is basically sentencing her child to solitary confinement for much of its life – at best, and she’s doing it for no other reason than because she still believes the human species can adapt. Except, the child will not be able to reproduce. He or she (according to the credits, the child is a boy) will be the last person on Earth with no chance to find the human connection beyond the mother-child one. Which brings us to the last point, she cannot on her own establish a new species or a human adaptation to the ammonia with just her child, which begs the question of incest and menopause, if they both survive to his sexual maturity.

I was willing to deal with the long, slow parts of the movie, but to have it conclude so illogically and against the character of the only real characters in the film, was more than disappointing. It was disturbing and enraging.

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Netflix’ ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is a masterpiece

Normally, I would write a review about the brilliantly conceived, written and executed Netflix series “Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.” I would describe how Patrick Warburton’s deadpan and world-weary delivery sets the stage as he narrates the unfortunate events. I would espouse how Neil Patrick Harris cements his legacy as one of the most versatile and amazing actors of his generation with his portrayal of the nefarious Count Olaf, who inspires fear, loathing and dread while also creating an absurd and funny villain. I would wonder how Lucy Punch, portraying the evil Esme Squalor, gets all of these roles that downplay how beautiful she actually is. I would talk about the big-name guest stars, like Joan Cusack, Sara Rue, Nathan Fillion and Cobie Smulders. I might even say something about the social commentary, incompetent adults, wise children and more…

But, dear reader, a review of Netflix’ “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” would inevitably be spoiler-filled or unfinishable. Instead of writing about this amazing adaptation filled with laughs and tragedies, I will only say – The song’s lyrics tell you to look away, but you won’t be able to. Binge watch this masterpiece of story-telling and enjoy. (You can read a review of the first episode here.)