Our Favorite Spy Films

Last Friday the spy movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit came out. With it’s January release date, it seemed like it wasn’t going to be an earth shattering piece of film. And the verdict on rottentomatoes seems to confirm this: “It doesn’t reinvent the action-thriller wheel, but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit offers a sleek, reasonably diverting reboot for a long-dormant franchise.” With a 60%, it’s just passable as a movie to see.

But it got us thinking about…what are the best spy films? And what does best mean? By critical consensus or by box office receipts? We decided to sort of mix the two criteria with our own subjective favorites.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Párizsi Udvar in Budapest, the setting for the opening scene that sets the plot in motion.

Some critics and viewers complained that this film is slow. The pace is better described as deliberate. Real spycraft is a gradual, steady game of either spinning a web of deception or cornering your opponent. In the case of le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it’s a superbly crafted mole hunt for the traitor inside “the Circus” a.k.a. MI6. Rather than explosive actions and personalities, this movie was about Gary Oldman’s quiet, resourceful and cunning George Smiley using deduction and reason, instead of gadgets and car chases, to defeat the enemy.  Shrouded in muted, drab colors and set in a gray early 1970s London, the film’s look evokes the moral ambiguity of espionage as personnel and assets are thrown out once their use is gone. Really a great recent spy film—and excellent book.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

The Hunt for Red October
The Red October is the name of the Soviet Typhoon-class submarine that has gone missing. Red October is an allusion to the Bolshevik Revolution that took place in October 1917.

This movie’s actually more of an action/thriller than spy film, but since its central character is Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst, we consider it an espionage movie. The plot concerns a Lithuanian naval captain, played by Sean Connery, who’s dissatisfied with the U.S.S.R. and decides to defect to the Americans. When he attempts to do so, the entire Soviet navy is sent after him while the U.S. navy—believing that this renegade Soviet commander is actually a madman about to start a nuclear war—also hunt him. Only Jack Ryan, played by Alec Baldwin before he got into comedy, believes that Captain Marko Ramius is defecting. The film has great characters, settings, military and technological aspects, and stands up well to the test of time. Nothing about it seems dated.

Body of Lies (2008)

An underrated spy thriller, Body of Lies may at times be a little hard to follow, but it’s easily one of the best movies about post-9/11 espionage and al-Qaeda.  Leonardo DiCaprio is field agent Roger Ferris who jumps between the U.S., Iraq and Jordan trying to ensnare a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem. Russell Crowe plays his boss who routinely messes up Ferris’s field operations by running his own operations without informing his subordinate. British actor Mark Strong is the head of Jordan’s intelligence group, G.I.D., in a great performance that highlights the complexities of spycraft in the Middle East. It’s a dense, but smart plot that shows the complex nature of society and culture in Arab countries.

Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger introduced the concept of the Bond car, equipped with all sorts of weapons and gadgetry.

Critics and the cast may like From Russia with Love the most out of the early Bonds, Goldfinger is, however, the quintessential 007 movie. Hardly a realistic spy film, this Connery flick laid out the formula: it had the quirky gadgets, the pre-credit action sequence, the song played over the opening credits, uniformed henchmen, and so much more that all subsequent Bonds would borrow from.

North by Northwest (1959)

Before Bond hit the big screen, Hitchcock rolled out this impressive Cold War spy thriller. In probably the worst case of mistaken identity, Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. It’s got some amazing scenes: Thornhill running through an open field as a plane tries to run him down,  a chase across Mount Rushmore, and an iconic dramatic score to underpin it all. Eva Marie Saint is also excellent as the semi-femme fatale.

North by Northwest
After Cary Grant evades a chasing plane, it crashes into an oil tanker. Just because the film’s from 1959 doesn’t mean it can’t have over-the-top explosions like modern films.

Those are our choices, but it’s by no means definitive. There were a lot that we didn’t include for reasons of time. To name a few that we also love: Casino Royale, Three Days of the Condor, Eye of the Needle, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Munich, The Quiet American. We suggest you see them all.

Suggested for dentists, dental assistants, and dental hygienists. But not for children.

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100 Years since the Great War

In a little under seven months from now, we will witness the centennial of the First World War. It’s a war that Americans have failed to connect with, for a number of reasons. One, we entered the conflict in its second-to-last year, and even then, our soldiers didn’t engage in significant action until 1918. Two, after the war, we disengaged from the outside world and became focused on domestic affairs, further distancing ourselves from the war’s effects. And three, it happened so long ago that no one involved is alive.

It’s true that the First World War is no longer part of memory, only history. Still, it should be noted that, for all belligerents, the last surviving veterans passed away only a few years ago. In the U.K., the “Last Fighting Tommy,” Harry Patch died in 2009 and still vividly recalled his experience at the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. For the US., Frank Buckles had served in the Army and drove ambulances. He died just three years ago.

First World War
Where would feminism be if the First World War hadn’t put women into the workforce on a national scale?

Therefore, on an individual level, we aren’t that far removed from the conflict. In terms of the war’s larger consequences—its effects on politics, international relations, governments, diplomacy, cultures—we aren’t removed at all. We exist in the world created by the First World War, in a way that people don’t fully appreciate.

The national borders of today’s Middle East were drawn up by the Allied powers with little regard for local considerations. Both British and French diplomats had promised various Arab leaders support and independence as long as they fought with them against the Ottoman Empire. But the Allies were playing a cynical game. As they made these promises, they secretly concluded their own aims in the Sykes-Picot Treaty. This agreement split the entire Middle East between the British and French Empires. Some places would be directly controlled; others would fall under their respective “spheres of influence.” In 1917, the Bolsheviks—another direct product of the war—published this treaty for the whole world to see. Ever since, Arab nations have, rightfully so, looked upon the West with extreme caution and suspicion.

The Cold War, though it’s now been over for more than two decades, was born out of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Traditionally, Americans think of the Cold War as starting after World War II, but an argument can be easily made that it really began in 1917. The war gave birth to the world’s first communist state. Ever since, every communist movement couldn’t help but compare itself to the Soviets. Today’s generation doesn’t appreciate how much, on a day-to-day basis, the Cold War shaped our country’s actions. It’s legacy still casts shadows over regions that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Just look at Belarus and Ukraine’s continuing struggle with authoritarianism. They may not be communist, but they’re hardly democratic. Another area of former Soviet republics embroiled in conflict is the Caucasus, notably Chechnya, whose push for independence in 1991 was denied.

The Second World War saw greater total numbers of casualties, yet many forget that countries like Britain, France and, too often, forgotten Italy lost far more in the First.

Those people who do know a little about the First World War tend to see it as a struggle in futility. They take the view that popular post-war works like All Quiet on the Western Front put forth, that it was a pointless conflict with little meaning besides mass death. This is view shaped by hindsight. Unlike those in the immediate aftermath, we know about the rise of Nazism, of the Second World War, and of the Cold War. The fact that it wasn’t “the war to end all wars” has made us see the leaders at the time as naive and has left us with profound cynicism.

Yet that was not the feeling at the time. When the war ended, there was dancing in the streets as would be seen on V-E and V-J day in 1945. Those who fought truly believed that it was a war that had to be fought (especially among the French) and that the war did have a deep meaning. For the ideologues, the war was seen as liberal democracy versus authoritarian militarism. For non-ideologues, it was a war to liberate their land and fellow countrymen: France, Belgium, Serbia, as well as all those countries of Eastern Europe that would come into eventually come into existence like Poland.

One could go on for much longer about the war’s both broad and deep effects still felt today. Many nowadays still look fondly to the pre-1914 years as a lost paradise, much like people in the interwar years did. It was a time of unprecedented globalization, a level of which we wouldn’t see again until long after World War II. Europe was the center of a world that people assumed could only get better. Like many today, people of that era dismissed the idea of a war between Great Powers as impossible: they were too integrated with each other, they had too much in common, and too much to lose if a conflict came. Besides, they reasoned, it had been nearly 100 years since the last ‘Great War’ (Napoleon’s defeat in 1815). They were proved horribly wrong. We’ve made it 69 years. Let’s hope we can surpass their record.

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Wonders of CES 2014

The CES—Consumer Electronics Show—held every January, always promises to amaze. This year is no exception.

Held annually in Las Vegas at the LV Convention Center, the CES dazzles viewers by day with previews of technology to come. Then at night, the convention devolves into a multitude of parties. Electronics companies rent out spots at casinos, bring in musical acts, and just unleash. Indeed the nightlife can resemble a college scene, like when T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere crashed rival AT&T’s party.

But it’s not about the personalities. It’s about the tech. While not open to the public, the CES and the products promoted there can be viewed online. The show began just yesterday, yet already there are fantastic and fascinating gadgets and machines to be seen.


It’s no longer just about high definition. It’s about ultra high definition. We’re talking 4K resolution. The previous generation of hi-def TVs topped out at 1080 vertical resolution. The new frontier is horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels, hence 4K.

4K resolution, though, is not the only advancement. The truly incredible sight when it came to TVs at the CES were the fact that two of them…were curved.

LG tackled this feat with its  105-inch 105UC9. It’s 4K, curved, and built with LCD technology rather than the flexible OLED display. Top it off with  a cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio and this TV is fit to blow minds—and do some damage to your wallet. It’s absurdly priced at $69,999, at the moment.

The other television wonder of the world is the Samsung Bendable TV. Curved screens are an amazement in themselves. Bendable takes the TV truly to the next level. With the press of a button on the remote and the 85-inch TV quite literally bends to your will. This control over the curve of the TV allows you to supposedly achieve a better picture. It is, of course, only a prototype. We’ll have to wait and see if it ever makes it to the market.

Mobile Tech

The mobile phone—or really, mobile device, as it can do so much more—is seeing both super convenient advances as well as serious hardware upgrades.

Mophie, which created the Juice Pack for extended battery life, have taken another step in the right direction. They’ve developed the Space Pack. With the Space Pack, the pair of battery packs promise to not only double the battery life of your iPhone 5 or 5S, but also double your device’s storage capacity at the same time.

In terms of hardware, Nvidia is completely changing the landscape of mobile gaming. No more simple Angry Birds games. Nvidia’s Tegra K1 mobile CPU intends to bring mobile graphics up to par with “next gen” platforms. That means PS4 and Xbox One’s  level of visual quality on your tablet or mobile device.

3D Printing

It’s all the rage these days. They’re no doubt incredible machines, but so far they seem to be making small to medium size objects. When are we going to jump to the next level?

Enter the Makerbot Z18 3-dimensional printer. We’re no longer talking about replicating simple things like tools or cool looking shapes. The huge Makerbot was built to make large objects. By large objects we mean bowls, lamps, and even small pieces of furniture. Not only that, the Makerbot has a cloud-based sharing space called Thingiverse. Here you can share your designs across multiple platforms. And on top of that, this 3D printer has introduced a digital store (think iTunes) in which designs can be bought and then fabricated.

These are just a few of the incredible technologies that have been unveiled at the CES so far. The show began on Tuesday and continues through Friday so there’s still more time for us to be wowed by technological previews. It truly is a brave new world.

This blog is sponsored by America’s Dental Bookstore.

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A Clear Choice complaint

I get regular e-mail complaints about Clear Choice Dental Implants Centers through one of my websites. Clear Choice operates a chain of dental implants centers around the country. I thought I would share this one that came through yesterday, about an experience someone had at the Las Vegas Clear Choice:

“After my initial visit to this place all they seem concerned about is the damn money. Well we’ll need so much before we can do this or that is always their answer. I was to go in for my second consultation and exam prior to surgery today. I cancelled the appointment. I spoke with the sales person last night and after our talk I started having reservations about this company. Still the emphasis on their damn money prior to me coming in. Then in our discussion it came out that these people have only been around for a little more than 5 years and only have a little over 10,000 customers. That is nationwide. After I hung up I thought hard and long about the conversation. The fact that concerns me the most is they are nationwide and only have 10,000 patients to account for. The second concern is only a little over 5 years in the business. Putting implants in people’s mouths needs highly skilled and trained people. The person I work with is starting to sound like a used car salesman and doesn’t give a damn about you or your health. Even the brief talk with the actual doctor at this site seemed cold and uncaring. I have cancelled today’s appointment and am now back to searching for a solution for my problem.”

– Dennis from Nevada

My comment:
While I do believe that Clear Choice tries to recruit dentists with strong expertise in both dental surgery and implant prosthodontics, their sales tactics are what come under repeated criticism. They conduct aggressive marketing campaigns that draw in a lot of prospective patients to their presentations. They offer them a free CT scan. Then they present an exorbitantly high fee for a one-day procedure – in the neighborhood of $40 to $50,000. And what I hear from people is that they will offer a significant discount if the patient signs today, a high pressure sales tactic that people aren’t used to seeing in the health care industry. All of these dealings happen before they see the dentist, so that the time is spent by sales personnel and clerks who are at a lower pay rate. So while there is only a small percentage of those who come who sign on to their program, there is a handsome profit on those who do, enabling them to pay their dentists salaries and bonuses in the high six figures to seven figure area.
– Dr. Hall

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A Few Great History Books

When it comes to books, all we sell are dental books. That said, books are very dear to us, books of all shapes, sizes, subjects, and genre.

Recently a friend asked for advice when it came to finding an engrossing and scholarly but accessible general history book. This question really got me thinking and as a result, a list of suggestions was drawn up.

  • William McNeill’s The Pursuit of PowerDense, yes, but important, truly. Spanning roughly a 1000 years (actually more because the first chapter summarizes ancient societies), McNeill traces the path by which the West—namely Europe and then the U.S.—became the dominant military power on the globe. Though Eastern powers, notably China, have nearly caught up, McNeill shows in his book that Western societies possessed unique qualities that contributed to their precocious military developments since the Middle Ages. His main argument: commercial transformation in society forced militaries to respond to market forces in ways previously unseen. This may make the book sound like a purely military history book, but it’s not. McNeill covers vast amounts territory including the technological, social, cultural, economic, and psychological causes and effects of Europe’s military development. Really an incredible synthesis of history, with plenty of footnotes.

    William H. McNeill
    Professor William H. McNeill with a number of his books. All his books are great, but another especially fantastic one is Plagues and People.
  • Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and SteelWe’re not biased towards Western history, but this volume on why/how the West came to dominate the world is too fascinating to be left out of this list. Diamond has an interesting background for writing a history book. He has degrees in physiology and biophysics. This, however, makes his approach in this title most interesting. Rather than arguing the old view that the West’s superior intelligence led to their dominance, Diamond starts at the beginning of civilization. He outlines how geography, diet, climate, linguistics, human biology, and animal domestication all profoundly shaped the development of society. Of course, it doesn’t answer all questions and critics have said that much of it is derivative (sometimes compared to McNeill’s book above). Still, it is more than worth your time to read.

    Guns, Germs, and Steel
    Without the domestication of animals during the Neolithic Revolution, there’s little chance humans would’ve invented the wheel. Without an obedient draught animal, how would carts be pulled?
  • Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: a World History: It’s rather courageous to write a world history book based around one commodity. Some charge that this book is gimmicky or overly emphatic, but it’s still a riveting read nonetheless. Kurlansky begins his whirlwind global journey in China, and then moves to Egypt then Greece, Rome, and beyond. We take for granted that around a century ago modern chemistry and geology revealed how prevalent salt was on the earth. Until then it was one of the most sought-after commodities. It has played a significant role in human survival—most notably as a way to preserve meat. It has led to wars and political upheaval—e.g.  Gandhi’s salt march. Indeed without a correct balance of salt in our blood, we would die.
  • Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s MenWhile not a general history, this is suggested because Americans really need to understand why Iran “dislikes” us. In 1953, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was removed by an American C.I.A. orchestrated coup d’etat in an operation called Ajax. The reason: Mosaddegh nationalized Iran’s oil to the detriment of Britain’s, and our, interests. Since the early 20th century, Britain had controlled the oil fields of Iran through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (where BP, British Petroleum comes from). Without this company, Britain’s supply of oil would be severely reduced. Hence the coup, the reign of the shah, and the dissatisfaction that would eventually cause the 1979 Revolution, a hostage crisis, and subsequent poor relations with the West.

Don’t become a cosmetic dentistry horror story

Here’s an ad that I spotted over the holidays in our Mesa Tribune:

North Scottsdale Family & Cosmetic Dentistry
A cheap smile makeover offer from Steven Poulos DDS and Sid Stevens DDS of North Scottsdale Family & Cosmetic Dentistry

I would skip this smile makeover offer – there are a couple of serious red flags here that, as an accredited cosmetic dentist, I can help you with.

The first problem is the fee of $695. This is a cheap porcelain veneer. You can easily pay triple that here in the Phoenix valley. It’s way below the minimum for which you can get a quality smile makeover. You need to pay at least $1000 or $1100 per tooth for a smile makeover.

Don’t try to cut corners here. Once the dentist grinds on your teeth and replaces your natural tooth enamel with porcelain, there is no going back. But if you get a cheap smile makeover, there is no going back, even though you may wish to. And I have corresponded with many patients who have wished they could have their natural teeth back after getting a mediocre smile makeover.

If money is an issue, try this cheaper alternative: do nothing. But if you want a smile makeover, go for beautiful and be willing to pay for it.

Wondering what your smile would look like with one of these cheap smile makeovers, I decided to check out their website.  When I did, I found this smile gallery:

bogus smile gallery
Bogus smile gallery from North Scottsdale Family & Cosmetic Dentistry

I was immediately suspicious, because nowhere on the page did it claim that this was the work of Dr. Steven Poulos or Dr. Sid Stevens, the two dentists at this office. So I decided to call. And I was fortunate to get Dr. Poulos himself on the phone. I mentioned the smile portfolio and asked, “Who did this work? Is this by one of your dentists, or is this just an illustration of the procedures?” He confessed that these were what he called “canned” photos. He said that they do good work but they’re not very good photographers.


My advice: Skip this smile makeover offer. Go ahead and take them up on their teeth whitening, but if you want a beautiful smile of porcelain veneers, you need to be willing to pay in the neighborhood of $1000 to $2000 per tooth. Avoid cheap smile makeovers as you would avoid cheap parachutes.

This blog is sponsored by America’s Dental Bookstore.

We thank our advertisers who help fund this site.

You don’t need to change your toothbrush after being sick

I was in a Walmart yesterday after work, and ran into this display:

Change your toothbrush after a cold or flu

Give me a break, Colgate! I’m disappointed in you for this marketing gimmick. There is absolutely no need to change your toothbrush after a cold. The idea that invisible nasties are lurking in your toothbrush sounds gross, but have you ever heard of anyone re-infecting themselves after a cold or flu? No. Neither have I. Basic biology teaches us that we fight off disease by creating antibodies to the disease. Once you’ve built up the antibodies and cleared the disease from your system, you’re not going to be able to re-infect yourself. And research shows that there is no need for a new toothbrush after being sick.

Even if it were possible to catch the same virus twice, you have an excellent household method for sterilizing any toothbrush – simply dip it in Clorox or any similar household bleach for about a minute. That will kill everything.

Bleach is so good at sterilizing, you could take your friend’s toothbrush, and even if he has tuberculosis, pneumonia, or hepatitis, a one-minute soak in bleach straight from the bottle will kill all the nasties. We would have used Clorox to sterilize our dental instruments, but it is extremely corrosive to metals. For plastics, however, it works great.

Change your toothbrush when it wears out. When the bristles start to splay out, change it. If the bristles look good, keep using it. It’s as simple as that.

When to replace a toothbrush
There is no need to replace a toothbrush until it is worn out. The bottom toothbrush should have been replaced long ago. The top toothbrush is fine, no matter how long it has been used.

This blog is sponsored by America’s Dental Bookstore, where you can buy all of your dental books.

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