Friday, June 23, 2017

"How Would We Respond to an Alien Invasion?"

How Would We Respond to an Alien Invasion?” from Strange Mysteries.goes like this, with some amount of prescience.

The video gives a dark future for us at first:  conscription and the imposition of martial law, under world government. Everything might go on a wartime footing, like before WWII.  The film even has a map showing which countries have conscription now. But the aliens might be here to do us good.

There is a bonus (paywall):
"“What Happens when we Find Alien Life?"
Another video
Could Human Beings Be Living on Other Planets Right Now?” (link)  looks at panspermia and examines the theories of Conway Morris, who predicts most intelligent beings capable of a modern civilization might look like us – maybe more limbs.   Convergent evolution has produced the eye many times.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Lawrence of Arabia", 1962 classic about the formation of Saudi Arabia

Remember “Lawrence of Arabia” by David Lean (1962, Columbia)?  The director’s cut is one of the longest films ever made (at 228 minutes).

The film is a spectacular biography of T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a British military officer who helped united Arab tribes in face of the Turks after World War I.  Omar Sharif plays Sherif Ali, instrumental in leading the revolt.  What seems odd now is that this film would be regard a classic.  But since 1973 (with the Arab oil embargo), the role of Saudi Arabia in the world has become controversial, especially with respect to 9/11.

I only vaguely remember seeing the film the first time in college, but I saw it again at the Uptown Theater in Washington DC in 1989, when my boss from work (at the time Lewin ICF) showed up.  That theater has an unusually curved wide screen for presentation of 70 mm.

Much of the film was shot in Spain.

Maurice Jarre's music was stereotyped but stirring in its own time.
I can remember random comments that the protagonist was homosexual because he felt stimulated by riding on  camel’s back.  That was the perception of the time.

Berthold Werner picture of location in Seville, Spain, CCSA 3.0, Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"The Towering Inferno": disaster movie comes to mind after disasters in London, Dubai

The recent tragic fire of a public housing tower. the Grenfell, in London, built in 1974, has raised questions about the fire safety of high rise living, link. The cause seems to have been electrical, and it appears there was no sprinkler system.

There was also a fire in the UAE near Dubai in March 2016 also gets similar attention, story.

So I recall the 1974 20th Century Fox disaster movie, “The Towering Inferno”, by John Guillermin. At 165 minutes, it wasn’t long for the disaster movies of the day. The fire breaks out on the opening night of a new skyscraper building in San Francisco as a party goes on.

Richard Chamberlain plays the bad guy landlord, who gets what he deserves, while Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and William Holden star.

Modern highrises are generally safer places to live than old houses, if you rule out possible acts like 9/11.

Here's a story about the "Leaning Tower of San Francisco".

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Grenfell Tower after fire, completely gutted, by Natalie Oxford, under CCSA 4.0.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"How Far Away Is Fusion? Unlocking the Power of the Sun"

Fraser Cain has a short film “How Far Away Is Fusion? Unlocking the Power of the Sun”.

Cain explains how hydrogen fusion into helium inside the Sun releases energy, and goes through various reactor designs in the world, starting with tokamak, intending to produce a reactor that produces more energy than what it required to heat and start it.

These start with the “tokamak reactor”.  The film goes through several designs, in China and then Germany, before showing the ITER experimental reactor being built in France, which may produce energy in experimental mode by 2021.

I don’t know how Taylor Wilson’s reactor (Jan. 24) fits into this scheme.

Wikipedia attribution link for ITER by Kent Ziller.

Another documentary 26 minutes is "Fusion Power: How It Works" by Aerospace Documentary.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

AOPS with Deven Ware: how to prepare for "free response" math questions on AP, finals

I’ll count his as a “short film” today just once.  Here’s a video from “The Art of Problem Solving”, where Deven Ware solves an advanced geometry problem.   I think these videos were made at UCLA; Jack Andraka (Stanford) shared some of them on Twitter about a year ago.

Math teachers, here’s an idea for your final exam this year.  I don’t sub for you in the public schools any longer, but my thoughts are still with teachers.
Students, watch the AOPS videos to prepare for finals, or for free-response questions on AP tests.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Jack Andraka's nanobots, and another short film

I thought I would pass along another short film, embedded in a medical article, about the work of Jack Andraka  “Young Inventor Achieves Childhood Dream at the INTEL ISEF”

The article discusses Jack’s interest in using biosensors and nanobots for early disease detection in everyone.  There was even a comic-book-like image of Jack in a space suit on Twitter, calling him “Nano Man” (like in “Fantastic Voyage”).

Recently AOL had some sponsored content claiming that nanobots would be the biggest technological invention ever, even surpassing the Internet. And no, Al Gore didn’t invent them.

I had mentioned an earlier short film about Jack by Morgan Spurlock here April 28. 2010.

A world where people are constantly monitored prophylactically demands a lot more social support for people so they can have down time when problems are found without losing their places.  “Caught early??”

Here’s a recent video of Jack being interviewed in Dubai.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

"Secret Life of Crows": the most intelligent of all birds have human-like social structures and ability make and use tools and pass on knowledge

Secret Life of Crows”, directed by Susan Fleming, a PBS Documentary on the AM Channel, 55 minutes, is a fascinating documentary on the intelligence of crows.

The film is shot around Seattle, New Zealand and Japan. In Seattle, biologists tag four young crows.  Only one survives six months.  But that crow demonstrates he has been taught by his parents to recognize a mask of a “bad” person.

Crows have family units and extended families and seem to pass on detailed knowledge to offspring.  Crows also teach each other in a flock who is an enemy and who is a friend. They are a kind of biological social media.    Only chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins (including orcas) can pass along as much information socially (besides man).

The film makes the point that ominivores (animals who eat everything) have more need for brain power, which may be one reason the crow evolved a relatively large and complex brain.

The film showed the crows making tools with other tools.  They can learn to drop walnuts from the right height and watch traffic lights.

On the day of Hurricane Sandy, before the strongest winds came through, a particular crow drove me back inside the garage twice, as if to warn me of the storm.  The crow, whom I call Timo, still seems to recognize me.  I have been chosen by a wild animal out of his own free will.  He may learn to respond to his name.  Yet I don’t have to take care of him.  He can fly without going through the TSA.  He thinks he has a better life than I do.

Crows have different sounds and “words” among family members than in the flock as a whole. They have different warnings for different enemies, and cats can sometimes kill them.

I once had an experience with a mockingbird who always recognized me.  There is also a red fox in the area who acts like he remembers me.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

"If You Think We Are Not Alone in the Universe": short film with many first-kind encounters

If You Think We Are Not Alone in the Universe” by the God Particle, is a 16-minute 2016 short film that shows a lot of “close encounters of the first kind” footages, of unusual lights reported to be UFO’s.

One of the sequences seems to be the lights over Phoenix in 1997.  Other sequences are over Florida and England (2015).  In one sequence over a beach, lights appear in pairs and triplets.

The film invokes the usual probabilistic argument for extraterrestrial life.

Strange Mysteries offers “What If You Downloaded Someone Else’s Memories?”  This is an idea implicit in my “Angel’s Brother” manuscript.  The general answer is that the other person’s memories tend to become more like your own fantasies.  Not good enough.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"The Secret Life of Cats"

The Secret Life of Cats” from Superb Documentaries, by Allison Argo, is a 52-minute documentary, 4;3 aspect, showing how cats domesticated themselves and looking at the problem of proliferating feral cats killing off mammals and birds at various places around the world.  

The film explains how the cat domesticated himself, and then explains how people’s dumping unwanted kittens only raises the birth rate.  Feral cats can survive by hunting birds and small mammals.  People are amazed how they snatch birds feeding. The film also traced the life if pet cats in several homes.  In northern Virginia, a cat has a curfew.  In Adelaide, Australia, an owner has built a contained play space that allows the cat to roam without threatening birds.

There is a sequence where aborigines on the Australian outback hunt cats, who have in turn killed many of their game animals.  There is a long electric cat fence being built in the outback  (remember the 2002 film "Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Phillip Noyce). 

Cats that have bonded to their owners will return to their homes, through cat doors, and can find homes from long distances.  When I lived in a garden apartment in Dallas, I was “adopted” by a stray who recognized the sound of my car when I drove home and could remember where my apartment was and claw the door to be let in.  Yes, he would bring birds.  He would sometimes lie on the bed before I went to bed and want to knead.  He definitely recognized me as an individual (a biped who wears clothes and 7 times his size) the way a dog would and knew who he was.  

Picture: Princess, a family cat who found us in 1965.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Octopus: Most Intelligent Animal on Earth": stunning problem solving ability

Octopus:  Most Intelligent Animal on Earth” is a documentary from Germany in the AMChannel series on YouTube about animal capabilities. The German title (the film is narrated in English) is “Master of the Deep”.

The film shows progressive experiments, in Italy and California, to test the ability of the octopus to solve problems getting food, learn and remember mazes, and learn from comrades.  The life span is very short , about 4 years, and the female starves herself to death after laying her eggs as she incubates them.

There is some evidence that the octopus can accumulate knowledge from peers, although they are not taught by their mothers.  Octopuses can also move on land between bodies of water for short periods of time.

The octopus has a central brain, and then each arm has a sub-brain (although humans and mammals have something comparable with the automatic nervous system and reflexes – the octopus nervous system is still decentralized).  It sounds plausible that the octopus has a structure comparable to a vertebrate pineal gland, supposedly responsible for sentience.

The film shows the “learning” in the skin’s chromatophores – comparable to growing tattoos, or shedding and immediately replacing hair.

Cephalopods went their own way about 600 million years ago when vertebrates develop. They present the idea of convergent evolution.  Consciousness has more than one way to develop or be mapped onto different kinds of nervous systems.  The octopus is thought to have about the intelligence of a dog or cat, and will learn to recognize humans, understanding we are sentient like them even if our bodies are very different.

Theoretically, because the octopus can move on land, it could evolve into a civilizing animal – but it would need to develop a “family” structure to raise and train the young.  Maybe alien planets do have civilizations developed from invertebrates like these.

Atlantic story on octopuses.

New York Times story.

Wikipedia attribution link for Octopus solving problem, by Kabel, CCSA 3.0

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Galleon Andalucia": the ship built for a movie about 16th Century Spanish explorers

The exhibit of El Galeon (now in Alexandria VA for Memorial Day weekend) accompanies the development of a new film “Galleon” (there is one “L” in Spanish).  This is apparently a film (“Galleon”, from Bleecker Street) about the 16th century Spanish explorer ship which was reconstructed in St. Augustine, FL.

Mark Moorer, screenwriter, presents the ship in this video. I wonder what it would be like to be hired to write this kind of script.

The exhibit in Alexandria showed a 20-minute short film (from “NOA”)  on the construction of the replica ship, mostly with basic carpentry skills and tools, called “Galleon Andalucia”.  The film was shown in the lowest level f the ship.  You learn how rope is made from the sisal plant.

There was also drone video of the ship, taken from across the Potomac over Fort Washington, MD.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Gatlinburg Reopens After Wildfires": Transplant from the North tours Gatlinburg the morning it reopens in an impressive short film

“Yankee in the South” gives us a 25-minute short film where the filmmaker walks through downtown Gatlinburg TN around 7 AM as it reopens to the public on December 9. 2016 after the great wildfire in the Smokies Nov. 28-29.  The film is titled simply “Gatlinburg Reopens After Wildfires 12/9/2016”.

 Most of the town appears to be intact. The author shows many shops.  There are attractions like Ripley’s Moving Theater.  There is a pancake house.  Some businesses are still closed because of smoke. At the end, he shows houses at the edge of town burnt to the ground, but the Mystery House was saved by hosing water constantly.

There is mention of the “Tennessee state anthem” as he passes the Gatlinburg hotel.

The film seems to be HD and has a curved effect sometimes, like a GoPro camera imparts.

The fire had spread from the Chimney Tops 2 along US 441 (Wiki ) which I last drove myself in July 2013.  I visited the town with my parents as a boy in the 1950s.

Two juveniles were charged with arson for dropping lit matches near the mountain.  But the fires would not have spread were it not for extreme drought, which could be related to climate change.  Tennessee law does not allow for release of their names or much information before conviction, news story.  But any blame for the juveniles would be mitigated by the slow response of authorities to the fire in the first couple of days when it was still small. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

"They Call Us Monsters": juveniles charged as adults for violent crimes learn screenwriting in a California prison

On Monday, May 22, 2017, PBS aired “They Call Us Monsters”, directed by Ben Lear, a documentary about the growing trend to try juveniles with violent offenses as adults.
The film starts with a depiction of a juvenile case in 1976, and moves to the 1990s when Newt Gingrich says that if you commit an adult crime, you’re an adult.

Then it moves to a high security facility in a desert area in California where an English and screenwriting teacher, Gabe, himself about 30, comes to the jail and shows them how to write a 10-minute screenplay which he will fund and shoot for a festival.  These are all kids facing life sentences for murder.

Gabe starts by creating hooks, by asking the kids to write down five fears.

Gradually, scenes from the developing screenplay mix with real videotape of the teens being arrested.

The cases for some of the kids, especially Jarad, progress in court. Curiously, the subject of tattoos, in conjunction with gangs, comes up. 

Then the documentary moves to state legislatures where the debate gets into the area of the teen brain, as immature and not able to see around corners, as Dr. Phil has explained.  But “evil” is possible, and it’s clear that parenting (and many other factors) cause some teen boys to develop “moral” maturity much earlier in life than others. There is a tremendous variation in the rate of brain maturity achievement. Some specialists say that too much screen time or lack of social interaction in the real world will delay brain growth.

One of the legislators weighs recognizing the victims against the biological immaturity of the teen perpetrators.

In the final scene, Jarad (a teen father) is sentenced to 160 years to life. 
The official site is here

PBS followed with a short film "Facing Life" by Dan Birman, depicting a convict named Cyntoia, a model prisoner, now 28, with 39 years more to serve. The film says there is "no endgame".  I thought the feature could have mentioned chess in prison. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Google announces technology to analyze gender (and probably race) bias in Hollywood films

Google has a strange article today on the use of technology in detecting “gender bias” in films.

The system analyzes action and spoken time of different characters in a film to see how much prominence various characters are given.  It could be used for other markers, like race.

There has been some attention in Hollywood to racism (and sexism) in casting.

My own take is that this concern makes sense in highly commercial and obvious mass-market films. For example, this could include films based on comic books, science fiction franchises (the article mentions “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), or animated features, especially those for children.  “Boss Baby” comes to mind (I haven’t bothered to see it, though it make the only children’s animated film showing vomiting in the previews, as if to be directed by Roman Polanski).

The concern would not be appropriate in literary adaptations, or in independent films that explore personality with respect to specific gender and/or race matters (such as a film that explores a characters own preferences or fetishes).  Likewise, in independent film, many things just will be race or gender dependent.

Still, I could imagine someone making a movie about a transgender “closer” relief pitcher in Major League Baseball.  That will probably become reality some day.

You could wonder, furthermore, if a film like “Judas Kiss” would work the same way if one of the three major characters (Danny – two actors, Shane, or Chris) was black.  The movie would work in a heterosexual world – that idea has been tried.

No question, “The Great Wall” should have cast oriental leads, because the story is set in China.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Is Death Like Being Asleep?"; I joined "Patreon" for Strange Mysteries

Is Death Like Being Asleep?” is another Strange Mysteries video that caught my attention.

The 10-minute short makes the point that in most deaths, after the heart and lungs stop working and so do all other organs, the brain cells can function for about 10 minutes.

The person may experience a “Core”,a dark nothingness, or some dream like material. Furthermore the brain secrets a chemical that makes time seem to slow-down  In a space-time sense, the person’s life-track make take on a certain kind of cosmic permanence.

Perhaps fragments of his “life review” persist forever with others through some kind of quantum entanglement with others in his family group, as a “ghost”.

An earlier part of the video explains the natural states of normal sleep by comparison, including REM sleep.

I joined “Patreon”, a video community, for $2 a month, which allows the viewer to see bonus videos and to submit videos in a certain thematic format appropriate for the YouTube channel, which says it has had trouble because some of its material is not “advertiser friendly”. I watched “What Happens If You Can’t Die” as a bonus.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"4 Rights We Will Lose in Future" from Strange Mysteries

4 Rights WE  Will Lose in Future” from Strange Mysteries (a series) starts out by preaching that we should be grateful for living in a modern, free country, a privilege proportionally few people have had throughout history.

But we have willingly surrendered our privacy already (not just to Facebook), to the extent that the idea of “consenting adults in private” would no longer work as a legal argument (Ii depended on this so much on my first DADT book in 1997 on gays in the military).  We’ve given up on equality already, especially in genetics, which insurance companies are likely to want to read as “pre-existing conditions”.  We give up our rights to receive and even post information as Trump dismantles network neutrality – this film seems to think that the big telecom companies will block publishers who don’t pay them off. (We'll lose "The Right to YouTube" as a corollary.) And we’ll give up the right to drive to Uber’s driverless cars, to avoid human error.  Will there be “positive car control” like “positive train control”

There is a collateral film that enumerates four rights we will gain, for another time.  But are these all part of "Our Fundamental Rights" (my 1998 booklet)?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"How Would You Envision a Space Colony?"

How Would You Envision a Space Colony?”, short film from National Geographic with Rick Tumlinson,  It’s in the “FreeThink” series called “A New Space Age”.

It’s inspired by Gerard K. O’Neil’s  book“The High Frontier”.
Tumlinson compares today's kids to those living in the 1500s about the time that the explorers went across the Atlantic looking for the New World.

Tunlinson has kids and young adults designing a Rama-like space colony, even with artificial gravity, that he thinks people could be living on in twenty years. He says people will go to live on these colonies, the Moon, or Mars, or maybe further (like near Europa or Titan?)

One girl used Minecraft do design a 3-D hologram of her conceived habitat. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

"The Prison in Twelve Landscapes": documentary on communities surrounding incarceration turns attention to Black Lives Matter

Monday, May 8, 2017, PBS Independent Lens showed a reduced version of Brett Story’s “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes”.  The PBS site is here.   The production company is Of Ratface.  The official site is here  and the film was produced with Canadian resources, and aired in a few festivals like Doxa.

This was billed as a film about the effect of incarceration on surrounding communities, but it turns out to be bigger.  It is a stunning indictment of the hidden racism festering during Obama’s presidency, glossed over by political correctness.

The opening section shows a man, himself a former inmate, in the Bronx packing food and sundries for prisoners in upstate New York, explaining the arbitrary rules for what prisoners are allowed.

The next section shows firefighters in Marin County, CA fighting a wildfire.  Some firefighters are volunteers from a local inmate program but relatively few will become firefighters on release.

The next section showed how prison had replaced coal mining for an eastern Kentucky community, as a source of jobs. One man considered mountaintop removal as a boon, as a flat land is at a premium in Appalachia; an airfield and prison had been built on an area that had been leveled by 200 feet. There was an interesting rail viaduct that I don’t recall seeing even though I have driven in the area.

The next location was Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village in New York City, about six blocks from where I used to live in the 1970s (in the Cast Iron Building).  An elderly black man was teaching a girl chess.  Many spend games were shown. The man explained how chess is an important past time in prison and some inmates get very good at the game.  I don’t recall that United States Chess Federation has discussed this publicly, even though I have been a life member since 1965 (USCF used to be in the antique district across the street from the Cast Iron Building).  The Marshall Chess Club is nearby in Chelsea.

The film then moved to the locations of the protests.  It covered started out with a St. Louis County judge explaining that the media is not allowed to film at trials, showing a lack of transparency. Then the film dissects how the many little jurisdictions use harassment of African Americans to intimidate them into paying fines.  One woman went to "garbage jail" protesting a fine for leaving a trash can open.  (I’ve never heard of such a thing.)  Another black girl was arrested for no ID when she wasn’t even driving the car. The film shows the location on Canfield Ave in Ferguson where Michael Brown was shot by Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.  Despite the prevalence of the Democratic party in the county, the government is said to be quite racist.  This section of the film presented an outrage with which I was not familiar.

The film then shifts to Baltimore, showing the demonstrations after Freddie Gray in Sandtown, with the CVS store that as torched but is now re-opened.  (A former gay bar, the Hippo, became another CVS store in Baltimore on Charles St. in the Mt. Vernon area.)  Familiar faces (from the gay community) appeared in the film, since I have been to many events in the area, being in te DC area myself.

Then the film shifts to 34th and 7th Ave in New York to deal with shoplifting.

Finally, the shortened film showed a prison (I think in upstate New York) with a Bach French Suite playing on a harpsichord, an ironic effect.

What a film!  It makes a good pairing with "Whose Streets?" soon coming from Magnolia Pictures.

Wikipedia attribution link for Loaves of Bread picture of Ferguson MO protests, Aug. 14, 2014.

Monday, May 01, 2017

"National Bird": three whistleblowers deal with the aftermath of a US drone strike in Afghanistan that killed civilians

President Barack Obama’s military strategy relied heavily on the use of overseas drones, operates from secret but comfortable military silos within the United States.  It would be reasonable to expect this to continue under Donald Trump (and Mattis), even if Trump doesn’t trust computers.

The documentary “National Bird”, directed by Sonia Kennebeck, from FilmRise (for theaters) was shown on PBS Independent Lens Monday, May 1, 2017.  The film was slightly compressed from the original 92 minutes, and I see that it showed at the AMC Hoffman in late 2016 in the DC area.

The film tells the stories of three US Air Force drone operators who wound up becoming whistleblowers. Most of the overseas activity in the film involves a drone strike in Afghanistan that resulted in many civilian deaths and maimings in February 2010.  The film shows graphic shots of men with stubs for legs after above-the-knee amputations.  A New York Times account of the incident is here.

The most chilling and upsetting narrative (among the three: Lisa, Heather, and Daniel), is that of Daniel, who had worked at the NSA,  who returned home to get a sudden knock on the door and an FBI raid, taking out all the contents of his apartment.  He waits the possibility of indictment for espionage charges that could lead to decades in prison.  His NYC apartment looks goofy, with a banner that attacks capitalism, and his own appearance is a curious mixture of slender wholesomeness and body art.  His cat dearly loves him and is beyond comprehending what could be wrong in her “pride” of humans.   Daniel says he naturally had come under suspicion because he was politically active in public.  His attorney apparently is Jesselyn Radack, who has also represented Edward Snowden.

The filmmaker was somewhat constrained by the National Espionage Act of 2017 in what it could show.

The official site for PBS is here.

The Wikipedia article for the Afghanistan War Documents Leak is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for family park in Kabul, p.d.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs" introduced Hannibal Lecter

In remembering Johnathan Demme, let us not forget “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991, based on the novel by Thomas Harris), simply billed at the time as “a major motion picture”, from Orion Pictures.  The Director’s Cut ran 138 minutes.  I saw it at an old AMC complex at Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia, long since torn down.

Jodie Foster, as Clarice Starling, had to keep her own head above water as Anthony Hopkins, as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. played the renegade psychiatrist, his jaws kept in traction in jail, who has to help her solve a case.

Hannibal would return to “public life” in 2000 in Italy, eating the brains of a man who remained conscious as his scalp was removed.
Demme has to deal with a gay backlash in 1991, as Slate explains

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Johnathan Demme ("Philadelphia") passes away from cancer

Director and screenwriter Johathan Demme, who gave us “Philadelphia” (1993) and “Silence of the Lambs” (1991) has passed away at age 73 of esophageal cancer. The New York Times obituary is here.

He was about five months younger than me.

The film “Philadelphia”(written by Ron Nsywaner, from Sony TriStar Pictures) stars Tom Hanks as a gay lawyer Andrew Beckett who sues a law firm that employed him for discrimination for having HIV.  He will go on to succumb to HIV.  The film did have a shocking scene involving Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

I remember seeing the film on a bitterly cold Saturday in early 1994 at the old Pentagon City complex in Arlington.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"The Ten Most Dangerous and Extreme Railways in the World"

Here’s a nice 10-minute short from Facts Factory, “The Ten Most Dangerous and Extreme Railways in the World”.

One of these is a railroad in Thailand, where housing obstacles in a poor neighborhood are removed so that a train can pass.  There are three trains through the Andes, one in Peru used to be the highest in the world.  There are a couple of funiculars or cog railways to go up steep grades (Mount Washington NH didn’t make the list).  There are a couple in Bangladesh and India where people ride on the roof and fall off.
Or try this one.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lucille Ball's long trailer fetish

I used to like situation comedy (like “My Little Margie” even more than “I Love Lucy” on old black and white television), but I remember at about age 10 my mother took me to see the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz comedy “The Long, Long Trailer” (1954, MGM, directed by Vincente Minelli) downtown Washington at the old Columbia theater. (Remember, in those days, the theaters were the Capitol, the Palace, and the Columbia).  (There are just two "Long's", not three.)

Nicky (Desi Arnaz) and Tacy (Lucille Ball) start their honeymoon in the trailer than Tacy wants to live in so that life can be a perpetual honeymoon.  (My own parents had done Shenandoah National Park in 1940.) Nicky wants a traditional single family home (and these were the days of suburbanization and tract homes).  But the honeymoon in the trailer becomes harrowing indeed.  I remember laughing out of my seat when Lucy fell in the mud.

The honeymoon disasters will challenge their marriage (as will rumors of other women), but not necessarily more than in the “I Love Lucy” sitcom.  It seems now that the 1950s attitude about marriage was rather condescending.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"The Official 11-Year Time-Lapse Movie of One World Trade Center"

Here’s an uplifting short film for today, fitting as I spent the last two days in NYC.

The Official 11-Year Time-Lapse Movie of One World Trade Center” by EarthCam (which has other similar videos).

Note how the crane is placed on top of what has already been completed, in a repetitive process.  It must have started in 2004.

It rather reminds me of playing with toys.

An early screenplay attempt by me, “American Epic” (2002), was centered around the plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center site. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

OK, here's a short film made out of a chess game

I’ll let this chess game count as a “movie” once: “Magnus Carlsen vs. 2027 Player: 6 Things to Learn”.

Carlsen is the World Champion Chess Player right now, ay age 26.  Here he is playing an expert in a speed game or simultaneous.

It’s an English opening, and Carlsen leaves the books quickly with a bizarre wing move, and proceeds to completely outplay his opponent with “pawn shredding” and developing wing pieces without moving them.

Here’s another game against a B Player (link).

It's a Pirc defense, and neither side wanted to stay in the books.

Carlsen sees chess as sports or athletics.  Imagine him playing shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. Oh, Europeans don't play baseball, they play soccer. Look up his images on Google.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

"The Student Prince", based on the Romberg operetta, was the first film I saw "alone" as a child

The first movie that I ever saw alone was the musical “The Student Prince” (1954, MGM) directed by Richard Thorpe.  I saw it on a Saturday afternoon in the old Glebe Theater in Arlington in the summer of that year, just before I turned 11.  An attendant got after me for running down the stairs from the balcony.  The film is in "AnscoColor" and Cinemascope, an early film from a company other than Fox in the process.

The movie is based on the operetta by Sigmund Romberg, and there was a legal battle over the use of Mario Lanza’s voice for the songs in the film (check Wikipedia).

But the story is about love vs. family duty, and about introversion.  In 19th Century Germany, still broken into duchies,  long before “The Great War” (PBS recently) Prince Karl (Edmund Purdom) hasn’t done well in courting a princess Johanna (Betty St. John) despite a rigorous life in the military (warning of what could be to come). His grandfather (Louis Calhern) sends him away to university in Heidelberg to learn social graces.  Wouldn’t he need those in the military?  I found out that I did when I went through Army Basic in 1968.  He falls in true love with Kathie (Ann Blyth)  But when his grandfather dies, he must face the idea of marriage (to Johnanna) for political survival as a king.

An old idea, indeed.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Rhine by Felix Koenig, CCSA 3.0.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

"The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) didn't envision the end of the Circus today

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus will close down at the end of May 2017, and the company even says that the change in the family unit is one of the reasons.  It’s not supposed to be a victory for animal rights, as in this ABC story. You could compare this to the Cirque du Soleil, which I saw in Minneapolis in 2002.

But there is a classic film about the circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952), by Cecile B. De Mille

The film has a massive train wreck scene where a motorist drives into it trying to “stop the train” and is killed instantly; many animals escape.

The plot is a little contrived, as the circus director Brad (Charlton Heston) engages “Sebastian” (Cornel Wilde) creating personal conflicts among the staff.  And then there is the mob outside.

I saw the film at about age 9 with my parents in a “neighborhood” theater

Monday, April 03, 2017

Rialto and StudioCanal will re-issue "The Graduate" in a new digital format

Rialto Pictures and StudioCanal will re-release a 4K print of the 1967 classic comedy “The Graduate

The comedy presents Dustin Hoffman as a recent college graduate who falls in love with both “Mrs. Robinson” (Anne Bancroft) and her daughter (Katharine Ross).

The original film came from MGM  and Embassy Pictures and was directed by Nike Nichols.  Much of the filming took place in Beverly Hills.  I believe I saw it when I was home from graduate school for Christmas in 1967, just a month before finishing my MA at KU and then entering the Army as a draftee at age 24.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Susan Slept Here": 1954 comedy shows when a screenwriter needs to have his own skin in the game

The 1954 romantic comedy “Susan Slept Here”, directed by Frank Tashlin and based on the play by Steven Fisher and Alex Gottlieb, might just barely fit into today’s controversy over hosting people.

Dick Powell plays Mark Christopher, a struggling screenwriter, who lets the authorities leave him in charge of a female juvenile delinquent in his apartment, with his motivation to use her story as subject matter for a movie script.  Is that a good reason to support someone, to have your own skin in the game?

He winds up marrying her in Las Vegas (imagine this in today’s gay context, maybe with immigration or asylum seekers) and the movie winds up in the Sierras.

It was a garish Technicolor production that I barely remember seeing with my parents at age 10 (in the days when movies had short subjects first, and had to come to the neighborhoods).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

OAN's Trey Yingst interviews Sean Spicer, and it's like a short film

I’m going to treat this as a short film, "OAN Sits Down with Sean Spicer", link here .  OAN is a “moderately conservative”, center-Right news site in San Diego.

The ten minute video shows the young White House correspondent, Trey Yingst, 23, interviewing Sean about the job of press secretary.  Working for Donald Trump to spew his message must be the worst job in the world.

But Sean says he was honored to get the position on Dec. 21 when Trump called him in to his office in Trump Tower, after Trump had worked for the campaign.

Trey Yingst had helped start “News2Share” at American University in Washington DC as an undergraduate and reportedly skipped classes to do conflict journalism. Has reported from overseas locations like Gaza, Rwanda and Ukraine.

Yingst nearly always gets called on by Spicer in conferences and asks blunt questions.
I still wonder, will Donald Trump some day invite Troy McClain into the administration?  Troy “took one for the team” on The Apprentice during its first season.

I can name some people who would get through all of Donald Trump's "boardrooms" on "The Apprentice" and get "hired".  How about Richard Harmon, Timo Descamps, Jack Andraka, Taylor Wilson, and Trey Yingst.  Seriously, Trump really did attract good people to "The Apprentice".  (Not so much celebrity appearance -- although all the people I listed are celebrities now, but weren't always.)  I wish he could do that as well as president as he did when hosting his own show.   If I were president. I would peer vet all my cabinet appointments and judicial nominees -- against universities, law schools, professors, tech or engineering companies, military commanders, and the like.  I'd have the best staff ever.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Nuclear Power Play" trio of films at DC Environmental Film Festival at Carnegie Science Center

The program “Nuclear Power Play” at the DC Environmental Film Festival tonight (March 22) at the Carnegie Science Center on 16th St NW opened with two important shorts:
Nuclear Winter” (12 minutes),produced by the Pulitzer Center grant winner Kit Roane and produced by Retro Report, traces the debate on extreme global cooling that could result from the dust cloud after a nuclear war.  The debate started in 1983 (about the time Ronald Reagan proposed Star Wars), and was spurred by Carl Sagan.  Now there are proposals to reverse climate change with a “nuclear winter” idea by clouding the atmosphere with sulphite particles. The short film has a couple excerpts from “Dr. Strangelove”.  Even a limited nuclear war, like in the Middle East, would have a huge effect in contaminating the rest of the world.   The New York Times also offers the film on YouTube.

As Pentagon Overhauls Nuclear Triad, Critics Advise Caution” is a PBS report on the Pentagon’s upgrade of the three components of its nuclear capacity:  submarines, long range bombers, and ICBM’s.  It is also produced by a Pulitzer Center grantee, James McIntyre (in the QA afterward).  There is a general impression that continuing upgrade of all three tiers increases tensions because it increases the expectation that the US really could (as under Trump) use these weapons – but Obama was quite vigorous in supporting the weapons system.

The program also included the 73-minute documentary “City 40”, Samira Goetschel, about the hidden city Ozersk, Russia, which provided nuclear weapons during the Cold War and still has political vestiges of secrecy under Putin today.  I have a review on Wordpress from having watched it on Netflix here

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book self-publishing services connecting to pitch-fest for film development

iUniverse (arm of Author solutions) recently announced it was offering a service to help authors develop their books into screenplays and enter them into “PitchFest” events, link.

While this is interesting, I have already developed a screenplay, called “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany”, along with Hauge analysis (link).  My material is so eclectic that it doesn’t lend itself to cookie-cutter techniques.

I recommend people interested in movie development also look at Project Greenlight (Feb. 10), as well as try to find screenwriting clubs in their cities (Minneapolis-St Paul was excellent when I lived there).  Try also to get to know IFP chapters (in Minneapolis it is IFPMN).  In some cities, clubs can arrange table readings and stage readings (they were done in the Jungle Theater near Lake Street when I lived in Minneapolis).  Try to get to know the production facilities (in Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, as well as Vancouver and Toronto).
There is a certain culture in the indie film world as to what kinds of  "domestic comedy" or "dramedy" scripts get somewhere.  The Duplass Brothers seem to get this right.

Some of the younger actors and producers and directors seem quite approachable on Facebook and Twitter – even given Hollywood’s “Third Party Rule”.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Fast Five" (aka "Fast and Furious II") airs on NBC, pure action genre

Back to stereotyped commercial crowd pleasers tonight. Or maybe Nielsen-ratings pleasers.
NBC aired Universal’s 2011 spring genre action film “Fast Five” (previously “Fast and Furious II”), directed by Justin Lin, tonight from 8 to 11.

This seems to be about bad guys chasing each other.  The story concerns ex-cop Brian O’Oconnor (the late and handsome Paul Walker) teaming with ex-con Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) to regain their own freedom and that of street racers, against a rogue businessman (Trump?) and federal agent (Dwayne Johnson), with most of the action in the streets of Rio, Brazil.

But the film starts with a spectacular bus crash on the Arizona interstate, and then there is a scene where an Amtrak train is destroyed at a bridge that appears to cross Lake Powell.  The tag team jumps into the lake and we don’t see what happens to the train. The bridge would fall, just like in “Cassandra Crossing”.

The action scenes are well staged in both the slums and beaches of Rio.

The film has a long epilogue and preview of future sequels.

Wikipedia attribution link for Rio picture by Chelsyyuan, under CCSA 3.0. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unusual video short film exhibit at Smithsonian Hirshhorn in Washington DC; non-profit documentary or art film will need more private support under Trump's budget "manifesto"

On the way to a screening of “Voices of Chernobyl” (to be reviewed soon on my Wordpress blog) at the Ring Theater downstairs in the Hisrhhorn Museum of the Smithsonian in Washington DC tonight.

 I found another video exhibit downstairs of unusual experimental short film.

Here's the inventory:

Agniezska Polska: “I Am the Mouth”; Helen Marten: “Orchids: Or a Hemispherical Bottom”; Ed Atkins:”Warm Spring Mouths”; Josh Kline: “Patriot Acts”; Ian Cheng: “Emissary in the Squat of Gods”.  Kline’s video included an animation of a speech by Barack Obama.

The Smithsonian could certainly come under pressure in Donald Trump's budget (as will PBS), and need more private sources of sponsorship, funding and investment.

Vox called the president's budget proposal a "Manifesto".  Is that an allusion to me, since my first book (DADT-1) was always called "The Manifesto". 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Stranger Fruit" at SXSW will provide a controversial video of Michael Brown's barter before his death in Ferguson in 2014 n

Since I moved most of my movie reviews to Wordpress, I don’t usually “preview” films that I expect to see later, but I do think this is appropriate for “Stranger Fruit”, directed by Jason Pollock, showing at SXSW in Austin TX, shows new footage of Michael Brown in a convenience store in Ferguson MO before he was shot by Darren Wilson in August 2014 ,leading to the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement.  (This video seems to refer to activity hours before the shooting.)

The claim is made that barter of small amounts of marijuana in exchange for tobacco products is common in convenience stores in poorer neighborhoods and is not usually of concern to police.

However, local prosecutors have disputed the film’s claims.

The Washington Post has a story on the controversy by Kattie Mettler here.

SXSW site is here.  I can't find the film's own site or Facebook page yet.

The fact pattern certainly suggests that Brown did charge Wilson’s car and that Brown’s own behavior when first approached by Wilson (which sounds hard to explain) contributes to what happened later. However, here is a recent article on Wilson’s remarks.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Ferguson protesrts Aug. 14, 2014 by Loaves of Bread, CCSA 4.0.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"Voyage of the Damned": the journey of Jewish refugees in the MS St. Louis in 1939

Given the reinstitution of Donald Trump’s “Travel Ban 2”, this might be a good time to recall the 1976 film “Voyage of the Damned”, directed by Stuart Rosenberg based on the book by Gordon Thomas.

The long film (155 minutes in theaters, 182 in video reissue) traced the voyage of the MS St. Louis, which departed Hamburg in May 1939 with about 937 passengers, mostly Jewish refugees, on what turned out to be fraudulent papers issued in Cuba.  The ship, when turned away from Cuba (after joyous passage) after allowing only 29 passengers to disembark, tried to head for Florida (where FDR, not yet fully appreciative of the Nazi threat, turned them away) and then Canada and then the UK (which took over 200 passengers) before returning to Antwerp.  It’s estimated that over 200 refugees would die in Nazi concentration camps, many in Poland.

Stars included Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner and Lee Grant.

I remember seeing the film around Times Square (I was living in Manhattan) a few days after Christmas 1976.

The film was distributed by Avco Embassy in the US (a quasi indie company then) and J. Arthur Rank in the UK (well established in European films in earlier times).

Wikipedia attribution link to P.d. picture of boarding in Hambrug taken in 1939.  I have visited Hamburg once, in 1972.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

"Quantum Theory" and the movement of consciousness among dimensions (and "The Paradox of Procreation")

Quantum Theory Proves Consciousness Moves to Another Dimension at Death” (9 Min) is a mouthful or words for a title from this little film strip from UFOMania.

It’s based on a book “Biocentrism” by Robert Lanza.

Does consciousness create the physical universe, or is it the other way around?

Well, practically all religion will accept the idea that God created the universe, perhaps at the Big Bang, and made all the physics constants just right for life.  Or we may be living inside a statistically improbable occurrence.

Procreation would seem to imply creating new conscious beings by conscious choices (of mates).  That implies that living beings have some discretion in how they change the Universe and reverse its entropy.

Nevertheless, some kind of consciousness had to pre-exist (God).  Is it reasonable that a filament of consciousness of sentient being continues after death, maybe in the unused dimensions of string theory, maybe bound to dark energy  Maybe the information from each life layers a black hole..

So then maybe that consciousness re-assembles and attaches itself to the microtubules inside the neurons of another newborn baby, for reincarnation.  But then the parents are no longer practicing procreation.  Instead, they are facilitating life for a “being” who already exists and needs another chance.  Childlessness (and homosexuality) seemingly denies these beings future incarnations.

There seems to be a reconciliation in the idea of distributed consciousness – bees and ants have it, but so do orcas and dolphins, to some extent.  Humans experience it maybe as eusociality, or maybe something like the “wisdom of the people” which authoritarian politicians want to exploit.  Somehow to learn what this is, you need walk in someone else’s shoes.  If you’re a gay man, you want to sit in your lover’s lap (like a particular scene in “The Dark Place”, Dec. 2, 2014 here). Or maybe you can be a young filmmaker who meets his older self (like Danny in “Judas Kiss”) and has sex with him, never to mention it again.  Or maybe, as Reid Ewing once said, you can counsel your younger self.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Moonlight" wins best picture after amazing last-second fumble at the Oscars 2017; "O.J.: Made in America" is an unusual Oscar winner in documentary

Jimmy Kimmel acts presidential enough tonight at Oscars 2017 in the Dolby Theater, it all its wonderful balconies and geometries.   He tweeted the real Donald Trump, and he didn’t have his running mate, Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.   Jimmy Kimmel would be competent to serve as president of the United States.  How about James Franco?

The most important award tonight in my parlance was to “The White Helmets”, for best documentary short, a riveting documentary of volunteer rescuers in Aleppo.  For short live action, the Academy preferred the student solidarity in the Hungarian film “Sing” to either of the two films dealing with refugees (like "Silent Nights"). .

For best documentary feature, the Academy took the unusual step of awarding to what is essentially a TV series,  Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America”, for ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series (over 5 hours).  But a reduced version is supposed to be available for theaters soon.  I’ve seen only portions of it, having remembered living through the radio talk shows (like Vicky Jones) in my car in the 1990s.

Mahershali Ali has won best supporting actor for the dramatic “Moonlight”, coming of age of a gay black man in a difficult neighborhood of south Florida.

The Salesman” is the only foreign language film I have seen so far this year.  Ashgar Farhadi could not be present to accept the award.   A statement was read in absentia, a strong protest of Donald Trump’s recent immigration 7-country ban, and the award was accepted by Iranian astronaut Anousheh Ansari.

Babyfaced Damien Chazelle’s “Lala Land” was mistakenly announced best picture.  But some sort of pro-football fumble of the cards, and "Moonlight" actually won (Washington Post story).   I would have picked “Arrival” (Qz analysis).

The Chicago Tribune’s  list of the winners is here.

I remember the 1998 awards (“Titanic”) when I dispatched my crutches for the first time and spent the evening at a party at the Oprheus in downtown Minneapolis.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"5 Things that Will Happen when Aliens Arrive": short

Strange Mysteries has a 14-mnute short film “5 Things that Will Happen When Aliens Arrive”.

This isn’t one of those cheesy web sites that make you load a new page and ad to see the next “thing”.

Stephen Hawking is mentioned.  The upshot is that an advanced alien civilization might make a brief, non-aggressive visit, depart, and leave us alone.

Hawking's own views are much more guarded.  European conquests of the New World did not work out well for native populations.

One obvious problem could be the introduction of alien pathogens.

The conclusion of my screenplay script “Titanium” poses such a situation, as would the sequence “Prescience”.