I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?
In celebration of Jurassic World which is out and I’m sure heating up the multiplexes and will make somewhere around $241,549,387,320,148,824 this weekend before you even account for the overseas box office totals, I offer you this early stop motion dinosaur adventure.
The Lost World was produced in 1925 by First National Pictures and directed by Harry Hoyt. It is,, of course, based on the book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and features stop-motion animation by the wondrous Willis O’Brien who would go on to create the effects for King Kong.
Fortunately, since the movie is now in the public domain, it’s easy to find for download if you wish, or you can just watch it right here.
Not too long ago on my main Facebook page, I linked to this io9 article detailing just how author John Bohannon was able to not only get a fake study that “proved” that adding dark chocolate to one’s diet aids in weight loss, but also to get it picked up and carried by and into mainstream media and reported as scientifically valid.
Actually, that’s not quite a fair assessment. The study was valid, it’s just the resulting analysis and paper that were bogus. But anyway…
Here are a couple of quotes from the article:
These publications, though many command large audiences, are not exactly paragons of journalistic virtue. So it’s not surprising that they would simply grab a bit of digital chum for the headline, harvest the pageviews, and move on. But even the supposedly rigorous outlets that picked the study up failed to spot the holes.
Shape magazine’s reporting on our study—turn to page 128 in the June issue—employed the services of a fact-checker, but it was just as lackadaisical. All the checker did was run a couple of sentences by me for accuracy and check the spelling of my name. The coverage went so far as to specify the appropriate cocoa content for weight-loss-inducing chocolate (81 percent) and even mentioned two specific brands (“available in grocery stores and at amazon.com”).
So why should you care? People who are desperate for reliable information face a bewildering array of diet guidance—salt is bad, salt is good, protein is good, protein is bad, fat is bad, fat is good—that changes like the weather. But science will figure it out, right? Now that we’re calling obesity an epidemic, funding will flow to the best scientists and all of this noise will die down, leaving us with clear answers to the causes and treatments.
Or maybe not. Even the well-funded, serious research into weight-loss science is confusing and inconclusive, laments Peter Attia, a surgeon who cofounded a nonprofit called the Nutrition Science Initiative. For example, the Women’s Health Initiative—one of the largest of its kind—yielded few clear insights about diet and health. “The results were just confusing,” says Attia. “They spent $1 billion and couldn’t even prove that a low-fat diet is better or worse.” Attia’s nonprofit is trying to raise $190 million to answer these fundamental questions. But it’s hard to focus attention on the science of obesity, he says. “There’s just so much noise.”
You can thank people like me for that. We journalists have to feed the daily news beast, and diet science is our horn of plenty. Readers just can’t get enough stories about the benefits of red wine or the dangers of fructose. Not only is it universally relevant—it pertains to decisions we all make at least three times a day—but it’s science! We don’t even have to leave home to do any reporting. We just dip our cups into the daily stream of scientific press releases flowing through our inboxes. Tack on a snappy stock photo and you’re done.
I was reminded of this while watching the trailer for the 2014 documentary Merchants of Doubt. The film, directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Here’s a description of the book, subtitled How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, courtesy of Wikipedia:
It identifies parallels between the global warming controversy and earlier controversies over tobacco smoking, acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. Oreskes and Conway write that in each case “keeping the controversy alive” by spreading doubt and confusion after a scientific consensus had been reached, was the basic strategy of those opposing action. In particular, they say that Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, and a few other contrarian scientists joined forces with conservative think tanks and private corporations to challenge the scientific consensus on many contemporary issues.
And here’s the trailer:
Of course, we all should have our doubts whenever we see or read about one of these scientific studies or whenever we hear the phrase “teach the controversy”, but to have these things brought into such stark focus and brought so sharply out into the open is something that really should remind us all that all of these should be taken not just with a pinch, but more like a bucketful of salt.
What’s this? A new Bill Murray comedy that I’m actually looking forward to? It’s been awhile, old friend. Now let’s just hope that the movie lives up to the trailer.
Oh, and I guess it would have been just a bit too spot on for them to use the original song in the trailer. But that’s not going to keep me from posting it here for a) those who are my age who remember it fondly, and b) those who are too young to remember the song and have no idea what the title (of the movie and of this post) is in reference to:
(I say it’s fondly remembered, though at the time, it was considered by fans of the group a sign of their selling out for radio play, and unless I’m mistaken, one of their last releases before they broke up. Yeah, I know I could Google that to make sure, but let’s just go with that this morning, shall we?)
Obviously, The Martian is the alternate universe take on Matt Damon’s character from last year’s Interstellar. At the same time, I can also see it being a kind of back door audition for him to star in an updated version of MacGyver… which, thinking about it, kind of works for me. At least it would keep Tom Cruise from doing it.
Here’s how one recent trip down the hole went for me:
1) I was looking at recent movie news and noticed that Hulk Hogan said he wanted to be in the upcoming Expendables 4, alongside Sylvester Stallone who gave him his first big movie break as “Thunderlips” (yes, Thunderlips) in Rocky 3. (If you follow DMM on Facebook, you might remember that I posted a clip of them fighting there just a few days ago.)
2) Watching the clip of that fight from the movie reminded me how much I miss the wonderful character actor Ray Walston, who played Rocky’s manager/trainer in the early Rocky movies.
3) Thinking of Walstone immediately made me think of other roles that he had played, such as Uncle Martin in the classic TV show My Favorite Martian.
4) Thinking about that show of course reminded me how much I also miss Walston’s co-star in it, Bill Bixby.
5) Again, thinking of Bixby made me think of other roles that he had been in. Of course, he is probably best known to most people today for his portrayal of David Banner (yes, in the TV show, the character’s name was changed from Bruce to David, and no, I’m not going to go into that right now), in the television version of The Hulk, but he also starred in another TV show that I have fond memories of: The Magician.
Which, finally brings us to today’s post.
For those of you who may not remember or have ever even heard of the show (meaning, I suspect, most of you out there reading this), in The Magician, Mr. Bixby starred as stage magician/playboy Tony Blake (though as you’ll see in the pilot below, his name was originally Anthony Dorian) who used his skills as an illusionist to help solve mysteries and crimes. Unfortunately, the series ran for only one season on NBC from 1973-1974, and even during that limited run, it seemed like the producers couldn’t really figure out how best to sustain the premise which actually saw a major shift about half-way through when Blake’s base of operations changed form his specially outfitted personal Boeing 737 to the real-life Magic Castle located in L.A.
Oh, and just for the record, though it’s not true of the pilot, during the rest of the show’s run, Bixby actually performed all of the illusions seen on the show himself, without the aid of any camera trickery.
With all of that said, here’s that pilot episode. And you can thank Hulk Hogan for getting to see it.
Let’s get this part out of the way quickly: Yes, somewhere in the past I have watched all three of the earlier Mad Max movies, but I do not consider myself a huge fan of them. They’ve always just kind of been in that crop of movies about which I’ve just kind of felt indifferent. So my decision to go see the latest installment, Mad Max: Fury Road, this past Friday was not one, like some people I know, built on months of anticipation and a feeling of “I can’t wait to watch this!” but more “Well, I’ve got some time this afternoon before I have to do anything else, so why not?”
Which is why I’m rather surprised to be sitting here writing this and telling you not only to go see the movie, but to see it in theaters, on the big screen, and in the highest quality possible – yes, I’m even suggesting you spring extra for the 3D version.
Let’s get this out of the way part 2: I’m inclined to say there is absolutely no plot whatsoever to this movie, but that’s not quite true. There is a plot, or at least a very rudimentary one, but it really doesn’t matter what it is, because it really only exists as a reason for the characters to be going from point A to point B. Actually, Fury Road is, in it’s way quite reminiscent of the road movies of the 70s such as Vanishing Point or even Smokey and the Bandit – odd comparisons, I’ll admit where the entire point of the exercise is to see how far down the road one can get the protagonist either gets caught by pursuing forces or is simply so lost in the mayhem of the road that they can go no further.
“Mayhem.” Yeah, that really is the word to describe what occurs in this movie. Except that we’re not Just talking mayhem. We’re not even talking what some people might call “capital ‘M’ Mayhem. No, we’re actually talking more along the lines of “capital ‘MAY’ capital ‘HEM’ followed by about a half dozen exclamation points. MAYHEM!!!!!!
That’s what this movie is really all about.
Yet despite that fact, this is not a movie that winds up descending into chaos. What do I mean by that? Simple. Though Fury Road is full of all kinds of insane stunts and explosions and car crashes and people killing each other and being killed in more and more violent ways, due to the sure and steady guiding hand of director George Miller and his careful planning and vision – along with some amazing work by editor Margaret Sixel, there are very few times when one is unable to very clearly follow every bit of what is happening on the screen or when the focus is lost and the action simply becomes a blur.
Simply put, Fury Road is truly an action film masterpiece, and that is not a word that I am inclined to use lightly.
There are a few other positive notes that I’d like to point out about the film. Much has – and deservedly so – been made of Charlize Theron‘s role in the movie, and it’s true, she does dominate a lot of what happens onscreen to the point that yes, it can very well be called her movie as much as titular star Tom Hardy. But there are also secondary female characters that in almost any other film of this sort would be included purely as “eye candy” or as “damsels in distress” who exist only to be rescued. and when they are first introduced, that is exactly the role they seem to be intended to take. However it is not long before they prove themselves to be if not perhaps as capable as the main stars, at least integral parts of the ensuing action and just a willing to participate in and do their best to hold their own in everything that is going on around them.
Also, I made note above that this is a movie that has a decidedly old-school feel to it, and a huge part of the reason for that is the incredible number of stunts that are either purely practical and done in camera or that involve very little in the way of CGI. That’s not to say that Miller doesn’t take advantage of every trick and technology advance that is available to him – he certainly does – but there is never that point where one gets the feeling that he is simply saying “let’s show ’em how we can do this now!” or “let’s leave that one to be done in post”. No, this movie is all about getting the shot at the time and that results in a visceral feel to the movie that serves to raise the stakes even further because while watching it one does get the feeling that at any moment someone really could get injured or killed or that the entire production could come crashing down or descend into that state of chaos that I described above.
Which brings me to another positive point about this movie. When I mentioned “raised stakes” above, I didn’t just mean in terms of the stunt work involved, but also with the characters. Fury Road is one of those rare movies where it really feels as though characters that we have come to care about are in danger, and not everyone that one might otherwise expect to is going to make it out the other end of the film alive, and that proves to be true. There are even a couple of deaths that are shocking not just because they occur, but in the way that they take place.
All in all, I have to say that for a movie that I really just went to see on a “why not” whim, I’m surprised at how impressed I was by it, and the enthusiastic support that I find myself giving it. If you are at all an action movie fan, and you want to see a prime example of what can be made when a film maker clearly has his sights set simply on giving his audience what they want and delivering exactly the movie that he wants, then you owe it to yourself to go see Fury Road, because you are not likely to have an opportunity like this again for a long time.
I’ve said it here many times before, and I’ll say it again: short films are not easy. Not only do you have to set up the story that you want to tell and establish your characters, but then you also have to carry that premise through to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. Of course, from a personal perspective it makes it even harder for me to really enjoy a short film that is simply trying to “depict a moment”, rather than actually tell a narrative story, but that’s simply my own bias. Since I am a story-teller, I prefer films that have an actual narrative to share.
As an added obstacle, the short film maker then has to try to do something to really set his film apart in a way that often times those making longer movies don’t. Because so many beginning film makers think of short films as a gateway to bigger things, and especially with the cost of entry into creating your own film being so much lower today than it ever has been in the past, the number of short movies being made today is exponentially larger than ever before.
That’s why I’m always thrilled to run across a short film like All Your Favorite Shows. Created by Ornana Films, this short is a triumph not only of story telling, but especially of editing as during its 5 minute running time it uses clips from roughly 160 movies to move its story along at an extremely wild pace and yet never gets lost, and it really is a showcase of just how much can be done working with so little. I highly recommend giving this one a look, and if you like what you see, you can check out some of their other shorts at Ornana.com.
- The Best Short Film Festivals You Should Send Your Short To! (jamuura.com)
- Students show off film making skills (kimt.com)