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Update August, 2019

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Film Review: ‘The Great Hack’ explores the dark side of big data

This image released shows Brittany Kaiser, former Director of Business Development for Cambridge Analytica, in a scene from “The Great Hack.” (Netflix via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - Thinking about finally getting off of Facebook? “The Great Hack,” a new documentary on Netflix, might just be the push you were looking for. At the very least, you’ll probably never take another online personality test. It’s meant to scare and influence you, and probably even for good reason — although it is a little ironic that the entire film is about how our personal data is being manipulated and turned into fear-mongering tactics.

Directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, “The Great Hack” dives into the Cambridge Analytica scandal and why it matters. By relying mostly on news reports, many by journalist Carole Cadwalladr, and public testimony, the film might not be all that revelatory for anyone who followed the story and watched Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony.

But you do get to spend a significant time with the former Cambridge Analytica insider-turned-whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, a young woman who was central in drawing up contracts with the Trump campaign and the right hand to the charismatic CEO Alexander Nix. She has since decided that she wants to regain a moral compass and speak to authorities — and this documentary crew — about what she knows and how her old colleagues are lying about their involvement in Brexit and other elections and what they’ve done with all the data they claimed to have deleted.

“The Great Hack” starts out with so much promise as David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons, starts to question where all this data that we all very willingly share is going. The narration is a little sentimental and dreamy.

“It began with a dream of a connected world,” Carroll says in voiceover. “Matchmaker, instant fact checker, guardian of our memories...but no one bothered to read the terms and conditions.”

Anyone with a pulse and an internet connection knows that of course every click, every search and every purchase is being stored, saved, sold and commoditized for companies who want to sell you more, and better. But he is the one who wondered how a U.K. data company had somehow gained enough information to brag that it had 5,000 data points on every U.S. voter and could “predict the personality of every person in the United States” and then actually did something about it. He asked if he could see his voter profile. When Cambridge Analytica declined, it became a red alarm.

“The Great Hack” will help connect the dots between these names that many may only be passively aware of. It’s meant to alarm the public about how our data, our purchases, our likes and the “fun personality quizzes” we take are part of a digital footprint that tech companies are profiting off of and using to manipulate us.

But the film devolves into a referendum on the rise of Donald Trump and authoritarian governments around the world, while failing to examine the agency of the individual at the voting booth, or the idea that anything else might have been going on in the psyche of the country to lead to where we are now. No, according to “The Great Hack,” the “crooked Hillary” memes get most of the credit for pushing those Facebook users that Cambridge Analytica deemed to be “persuadable” to vote for the candidate who was paying them.

In this, it seems wholly targeted toward one segment of the population, the ones whose minds are made up about why Trump won, and alienating to the other. It’s also an oddly confusing watch. Many of the talking heads start to blur together and the filmmakers don’t help in reminding the viewer who they’re listening to. Thankfully, on Netflix you’re able to rewind.

These are interesting and fraught times that deserve an unflinching look at the perils of data rights and online privacy, but “The Great Hack” is a reminder that documentaries are not always journalism. But perhaps this may just inspire someone to go read more from the outlets who broke and continue to follow the story, and maybe, eventually, make a great documentary about it.

“The Great Hack,” a Netflix release, is rated TV-MA. Running time: 114 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Film Review: A spinoff happily spins its wheels in ‘Hobbs & Shaw’

This image shows Dwayne Johnson (left) and Jason Statham in a scene from “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” (Frank Masi/Universal Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

New York (AP) — Add an “e’’ and “Hobbs & Shaw” might have been a time-traveling thriller about playwright George Bernard Shaw and 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

Tantalizing as such a pairing may have been to the makers of “Fast & Furious,” they have instead opted to, in the franchise’s first spinoff, combine two of the series’ supporting standouts, Dwayne Johnson’s U.S. government agent Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s former British agent Deckard Shaw, for another ballet of Buicks and bullets. Probably a wise choice. It’s difficult to imagine the writer of “Pygmalion” careening down the side of a skyscraper in hot pursuit of Idris Elba.

And when it comes to high-octane action spectacles, few are better suited to the task than The Rock and Statham, who both make up with brawn and charisma what they lack in hair. In the “Fast & Furious” franchise, which now numbers eight films and more than $5 billion in box office, they’ve found a comfortable home — aside any headaches for Johnson caused by co-star Vin Diesel.

That friction between Johnson and Diesel was reportedly part of the benefit of this pit stop, without the whole gang, in between continuing “Fast & Furious” adventures. But those off-camera tiffs are also perfect for the speedy but soapy “Fast & Furious” world, where family squabbles and questions of loyalty play out in between death-defying automotive stunts.

If “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” has a hard road to travel, it’s because the franchise has consistently ratcheted up its stunt game. One of the real pleasures of the last decade’s blockbuster parade has been to watch the “Fast & Furious” movies morph from a more simple L.A. street-racing tale into an increasingly absurd and over-the-top action extravaganza of muscle cars and muscle, where hot rods don’t just go fast but occasionally leap between buildings and parachute from the sky. “Hobbs & Shaw” seeks to answer that age-old question: What do you do for your next act after you’ve blown up a submarine with a Dodge?

“Hobbs & Shaw” has some nifty moves (in one scene, a Chevy flies a helicopter like a kite), but it’s slightly disappointing in terms of sheer ridiculousness. It earns some points for a centerpiece showdown, seemingly designed for “Chernobyl” fans, set among reactors at a Russian nuclear power plant. But at this point, we expect — no, demand — to see Lamborghinis on the moon.

Instead, the entertainment of “Hobbs & Shaw,” directed by stunt coordinator-turned-director David Leitch (“Deadpool 2,” ‘’Atomic Blonde”), rests more with its cast, including its two leads. But just as significant are two major new additions: Elba’s villain, a cyborg mercenary named Brixton, and Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent whose theft of a super virus from Brixton sets the globe-trotting plot in motion.

Hobbs and Shaw are called in to the save the world, a job they are both eager for. (Hobbs says, seriously, that he had been “tracking some dark web chatter” on the virus.) But it’s a partnership they loath. If “Hobbs & Shaw” lacks in memorable stunt work, it tries to make it up with bickering and put-downs between the two, a shtick that vacillates between funny and tiresome. But it’s the kind of stuff Johnson excels at.

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language. Running time: 136 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Film Review: HBO chief: Sorry, fans, no 'Game of Thrones' do-over


This image shows Kit Harington in a scene from "Game of Thrones." (HBO via AP)

Lynn Elber

Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP) — The clamor from "Game of Thrones" fans for a do-over of the drama's final season has been in vain.

HBO programming chief Casey Bloys said there was no serious consideration to remaking the story that some viewers and critics called disappointing.

There are few downsides to having a hugely popular show like "Game of Thrones," Bloys said, but one is that fans have strong opinions on what would be a satisfying conclusion.

Bloys said during a TV critics' meeting that it comes with the territory, adding that he appreciates fans' passion for the saga based on George R.R. Martin's novels.

Emmy voters proved unswayed by petitioners demanding a remake: They gave "Game of Thrones" a record-breaking 32 nominations last month. The series also hit record highs for HBO.

HBO will want to keep the fan fervor alive for the prequel to "Game of Thrones" that's in the works. The first episode completed taping in Ireland and the dailies look "really good," Bloys said. The planned series stars Naomi Watts and is set thousands of years before the original.

Asked whether negative reaction to the "Game of Thrones" conclusion will shape the prequel, Bloys replied, "Not at all."

National Geographic aims to solve Amelia Earhart mystery

In this Jan. 13, 1935, file photo, American aviatrix Amelia Earhart climbs from the cockpit of her plane at Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo)

Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP) — The deep-sea explorer who discovered the wrecked Titanic is tackling an aviation mystery: Amelia Earhart's disappearance.

Robert Ballard and a National Geographic expedition will search for her plane this month near a Pacific Ocean atoll that's part of the Phoenix Islands.

Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were attempting an around-the-world flight when their aircraft disappeared in July 1937, spawning years of searches and speculation.

Ballard and his team will use remotely operated underwater vehicles in their search, the National Geographic channel said. An archaeological team will investigate a potential Earhart campsite with search dogs and DNA sampling.

The channel will air a two-hour special on Oct. 20. "Expedition Amelia" will include clues gathered by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery that led Ballard to the atoll, named Nikumaroro.

Actor Rutger Hauer, of 'Blade Runner' fame, dies at 75


This Jan. 19, 2013 file photo shows actor Rutger Hauer at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Mark Kennedy

New York (AP) — Dutch film actor Rutger Hauer, who specialized in menacing roles, including a memorable turn as a murderous android in "Blade Runner" opposite Harrison Ford, died last week. He was 75.

Hauer's agent, Steve Kenis, said the actor died July 19 at his home in the Netherlands.

Hauer's roles included a terrorist in "Nighthawks" with Sylvester Stallone, Cardinal Roark in "Sin City" and playing an evil corporate executive in "Batman Begins." He was in the big-budget 1985 fantasy "Ladyhawke," portrayed a menacing hitchhiker who's picked up by a murderer in the Mojave Desert in "The Hitcher" and won a supporting-actor Golden Globe award in 1988 for "Escape from Sobibor."

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro in a tweet called Hauer "an intense, deep, genuine and magnetic actor that brought truth, power and beauty to his films." Gene Simmons, the KISS bassist who starred opposite Hauer in "Wanted: Dead or Alive," described his former co-star as "always a gentleman, kind and compassionate."

In "Blade Runner," Hauer played the murderous replicant Roy Batty on a desperate quest to prolong his artificially shortened life in post-apocalyptic, 21st-century Los Angeles.

In his dying, rain-soaked soliloquy, he looked back at his extraordinary existence. "All those moments will be lost in time. Like tears in rain. Time to die," he said.

Hauer is survived by his wife of 50 years, Ineke ten Cate, and a daughter, actress Aysha Hauer, from a previous marriage.


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘The Great Hack’ explores the dark side of big data

A spinoff happily spins its wheels in ‘Hobbs & Shaw’

HBO chief: Sorry, fans, no 'Game of Thrones' do-over

National Geographic aims to solve Amelia Earhart mystery

Actor Rutger Hauer, of 'Blade Runner' fame, dies at 75

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