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[VIDEO] Focal Lengths and Lenses used by Great Directors 

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[VIDEO] Dr. Strangelove Ending

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


Movie Mash-Up: Why So Serious?


Movie Poster: ‘The Shining’, 1980

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Stanley Kubrick Born Today, July 26

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Director Stanley Kubrick 1928 – 1999

Stanley Kubrick was born in New York, and was considered intelligent despite poor grades at school. Hoping that a change of scenery would produce better academic performance, Kubrick’s father Jack (a physician) sent him in 1940 to Pasadena, California, to stay with his uncle Martin Perveler. Returning to the Bronx in 1941 for his last year of grammar school, there seemed to be little change in his attitude or his results. Hoping to find something to interest his son, Jack introduced Stanley to chess, with the desired result. Kubrick took to the game passionately, and quickly became a skilled player. Chess would become an important device for Kubrick in later years, often as a tool for dealing with recalcitrant actors, but also as an artistic motif in his films.

Jack Kubrick’s decision to give his son a camera for his thirteenth birthday would be an even wiser move: Kubrick became an avid photographer, and would often make trips around New York taking photographs which he would develop in a friend’s darkroom. After selling an unsolicited photograph to Look Magazine, Kubrick began to associate with their staff photographers, and at the age of seventeen was offered a job as an apprentice photographer.

In the next few years, Kubrick had regular assignments for “Look”, and would become a voracious movie-goer. Together with friend Alexander Singer, Kubrick planned a move into film, and in 1950 sank his savings into making the documentary Day of the Fight (1951). This was followed by several short commissioned documentaries (Flying Padre (1951), and (The Seafarers (1953), but by attracting investors and hustling chess games in Central Park, Kubrick was able to make Fear and Desire (1953) in California.

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Filming this movie was not a happy experience; Kubrick’s marriage to high school sweetheart Toba Metz did not survive the shooting. Despite mixed reviews for the film itself, Kubrick received good notices for his obvious directorial talents. Kubrick’s next two films Killer’s Kiss (1955) and The Killing (1956) brought him to the attention of Hollywood, and in 1957 he directed Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory (1957). Douglas later called upon Kubrick to take over the production of Spartacus (1960), by some accounts hoping that Kubrick would be daunted by the scale of the project and would thus be accommodating. This was not the case, however: Kubrick took charge of the project, imposing his ideas and standards on the film. Many crew members were upset by his style: cinematographer Russell Metty complained to producers that Kubrick was taking over his job. Kubrick’s response was to tell him to sit there and do nothing. Metty complied, and ironically was awarded the Academy Award for his cinematography.

Kubrick’s next project was to direct Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks (1961), but negotiations broke down and Brando himself ended up directing the film himself. Disenchanted with Hollywood and after another failed marriage, Kubrick moved permanently to England, from where he would make all of his subsequent films. Despite having obtained a pilot’s license, Kubrick was rumored to be afraid of flying.

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Kubrick’s first UK film was Lolita (1962), which was carefully constructed and guided so as to not offend the censorship boards which at the time had the power to severely damage the commercial success of a film. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) was a big risk for Kubrick; before this, “nuclear” was not considered a subject for comedy. Originally written as a drama, Kubrick decided that too many of the ideas he had written were just too funny to be taken seriously. The film’s critical and commercial success allowed Kubrick the financial and artistic freedom to work on any project he desired. Around this time, Kubrick’s focus diversified and he would always have several projects in various stages of development: “Blue Moon” (a story about Hollywood’s first pornographic feature film), “Napoleon” (an epic historical biography, abandoned after studio losses on similar projects), “Wartime Lies” (based on the novel by Louis Begley), and “Rhapsody” (a psycho-sexual thriller).

The next film he completed was a collaboration with sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is hailed by many as the best ever made; an instant cult favorite, it has set the standard and tone for many science fiction films that followed. Kubrick followed this with A Clockwork Orange (1971), which rivaled Lolita (1962) for the controversy it generated – this time not only for its portrayal of sex, but also of violence. Barry Lyndon (1975) would prove a turning point in both his professional and private lives. His unrelenting demands of commitment and perfection of cast and crew had by now become legendary. Actors would be required to perform dozens of takes with no breaks. Filming a story in Ireland involving military, Kubrick received reports that the IRA had declared him a possible target. Production was promptly moved out of the country, and Kubrick’s desire for privacy and security resulted in him being considered a recluse ever since.

Having turned down directing a sequel to The Exorcist (1973), Kubrick made his own horror film: The Shining (1980). Again, rumors circulated of demands made upon actors and crew. Stephen King (whose novel the film was based upon) reportedly didn’t like Kubrick’s adaptation (indeed, he would later write his own screenplay which was filmed as The Shining (1997).)

Kubrick’s subsequent work has been well spaced: it was seven years before Full Metal Jacket (1987) was released. By this time, Kubrick was married with children and had extensively remodeled his house. Seen by one critic as the dark side to the humanist story of Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987) continued Kubrick’s legacy of solid critical acclaim, and profit at the box office. Read the rest of this entry »


AI: Will the Machines Ever Rise Up?

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From Ex Machina to Terminator Genisys, ‘synths’ and robots have invaded our popular culture. But how real is the reel depiction of artificial intelligence?

 writes: The harried parents in one family in the Channel 4 drama Humans are divided about having a robot called Anita.

The father is delighted with the extra help; the mother unnerved and threatened. The teenage daughter, bright and hardworking, gives up at school after wondering why she would spend seven years to become a doctor, when a “Synth” could upload the skills in as many seconds. The teenage son, of course, is preoccupied with the sexual possibilities.

The thriller has become the biggest home-made drama on Channel 4 for more than two decades, according to viewing figures published this week, and is the latest to explore what has been described as perhaps the greatest existential threat the human race has ever faced, artificial intelligence: the idea that computers will start thinking for themselves and not much like what they see when they cast their eyes on their creators.

The humanoid robots in Humans are not portrayed as good or evil but are dropped into suburbia, where the crises they cause are domestic: disrupting relationships, employment aspirations, and feelings of freedom.

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

It is a theme that has increasingly attracted screenwriters. In the 2013 film, Her, Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his computer’s intelligent operating system. In Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, a young coder must administer the Turing test to an AI robot called Ava with deadly results. There is also the release of Terminator Genisys the fifth instalment of the series, in which humans are forever trying to prevent a future world destroyed by the machines.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

“We didn’t want to make a judgement on this world, but offer up the pros and cons in a world where synths exist and let our audience decide: is it good or bad?” Jonathan Brackley, one of the writers of Humans, told the Guardian. Co-writer, Sam Vincent, who worked with Brackley on Spooks, adds: “At the heart of the show is the question, does something have to be human for someone to have human feelings about it? The answer to us is no.”

The fictional Persona Synthetics shop selling ‘synths’. Channel 4 drama, Humans, creates a future where families buy human-like robots - synths, that help them with a variety of tasks from household chores to doing homework. Photograph: Persona Synthetics/Channel 4

The fictional Persona Synthetics shop selling ‘synths’. Channel 4 drama, Humans, creates a future where families buy human-like robots – synths, that help them with a variety of tasks from household chores to doing homework. Photograph: Persona Synthetics/Channel 4

The series plays out the consequences of human-like artificial intelligence in the humdrum reality of modern life, but Vincent and Brackley see parallels with our increasing attachment to electronic devices. “Technology used to be just for work. But we use it more than ever now to conduct every aspect of our lives. We are more intimate with it, and it understands us more, even as we understand it less,” says Vincent.

“There’s this very speculative human-like AI side to the series, and a completely real side of what our technology is doing to our emotional lives, our relationships, and society at large,” he adds.

Apocalyptic pronouncements from scientists and entrepreneurs have driven the surge in interest. It was the inventor Elon Musk who last year said artificial intelligence might be the greatest existential threat that humans faced. Stephen Hawking joined in the chorus, warning that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. The same year, the Oxford scientist Nick Bostrom, published the thoughtful book Superintelligence, in which he made similarly gloomy predictions.

Concerns about the consequences of creating an intelligence that matches, or far exceeds, our own are not entirely new. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] ‘Hello, Dimitri’ Dr. Strangelove 1964


Mad Men’s Don Draper: Woe to Those Who Deviate from ‘Pessimist Chic’

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Image Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

For PopWatch writes: The Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most cryptic icons in all of pop culture. Back in the heat of the cultural conversation about the film, moviegoers wanting to crack the secrets of those sleek alien obelisks concerned themselves with many questions about their motive and influence. Do they mean to harm humanity or improve us? Do those who dare engage them flourish and prosper? Or do they digress and regress? To rephrase in the lexicon of Mad Men: Are these catalysts for evolutionary change subversive manipulators like Lou, advancing Peggy with responsibility and money just to trigger Don’s implosion, or are they benevolent fixers like Freddy, rescuing Don from self-destruction and nudging him forward with helpful life coaching?

“…optimism is a tough sell these days.”

Of course, Don Draper is something of a Monolith himself. The questions people once asked of those mercurial monuments are similar to the questions that the partners and employees of Sterling Cooper & Partners (and the audience) are currently asking of their former fearless leader during the final season of Mad Men, which last week fielded an episode entitled “The Monolith” rich with allusions to Stanley Kubrick’s future-fretting sci-fi stunner. Don, that one-time font of creative genius, is now a mystery of motives and meaning to his peeps following last season’s apocalyptic meltdown during the Hershey pitch. (For Don, Hershey Bars are Monoliths, dark rectangular totems with magical character-changing properties.)

From Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey"

From Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Watching them wring their hands over Don evokes the way the ape-men of 2001 frantically tizzied over The Monolith when it suddenly appeared outside their cavern homes. Can Don be trusted? Do they dare let him work? What does he really want? “Why are you here?” quizzed Bert during a shoeless interrogation in his man-cave. Gloomy Lou made like Chicken Little: “He’s gonna implode!” (His pessimism wasn’t without bias: He did take Don’s old job.)

There are knowing, deeper ironies here. Read the rest of this entry »


US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document

The bomb that nearly exploded over North Carolina was 260 times more powerful than the device which devasted Hiroshima in 1945. Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images

The bomb that nearly exploded over North Carolina was 260 times more powerful than the device which devasted Hiroshima in 1945. Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images

A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.

The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage. Read the rest of this entry »


Remembering Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor

Cinematographer on the first Star Wars film who worked with Hitchcock and Polanski

A scene from Repulsion, directed by Roman Polanski with cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. 'He mostly used reflected light bounced off the ceiling or walls,' recalled Polanski. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Rex Features

A scene from Repulsion, directed by Roman Polanski with cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Rex Features

A scene from Repulsion, directed by Roman Polanski with cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. ‘He mostly used reflected light bounced off the ceiling or walls,’ recalled Polanski.

The British cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who has died aged 99, was best known for his camerawork on the first Star Wars movie (1977). Though its special effects and set designs somewhat stole his thunder, it was Taylor who set the visual tone of George Lucas’s six-part space opera.

“I wanted to give it a unique visual style that would distinguish it from other films in the science-fiction genre,” Taylor declared. “I wanted Star Wars to have clarity because I don’t think space is out of focus … I thought the look of the film should be absolutely clean … But George [Lucas] saw it differently … For example, he asked to set up one shot on the robots with a 300mm camera lens and the sand and sky of the Tunisian desert just meshed together. I told him it wouldn’t work, but he said that was the way he wanted to do the entire film, all diffused.” Fortunately for everyone, this creative difference was resolved by 20th Century Fox executives, who backed Taylor’s approach.

Read the rest of this entry »