What Does the Film Gravity Get Wrong?

Dennis Overbye, writing in The New York Times, sat down with astronaut Michael Massimino, who flew missions in 2002 and 2009 to service the Hubble Space Telescope — to discuss the upcoming film Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

The movie gets a lot of detail right:

There is also some inventive and very realistic use of the kickback from a fire extinguisher. The outboard scenery of the sunsets and auroras below comes straight from NASA images taken from the International Space Station.

Mr. Clooney, as a veteran spacewalker, with his resonant voice and folksy yarns, seems to be channeling every imperturbable astronaut you ever heard speaking from on high. And that opening scene, a long shot that begins with a majestic view of Earth and ends with Ms. Bullock’s tumble, has earned the director, Alfonso Cuarón, comparisons to masters like Robert Altman and Michelangelo Antonioni.

But there is a HUGE gaping hole in the plot:

You knew there was a “but” coming, right? Unfortunately, with all this verisimilitude, there is a hole in the plot: a gaping orbital impossibility big enough to drive the Starship Enterprise through.

After they stop tumbling and find the shuttle destroyed and their colleagues all dead, Mr. Clooney tells Ms. Bullock that their only hope for rescue is to use his jetpack to travel to the space station, seen as a glowing light over the horizon. “It’s a long hike, but we can make it,” he says.

At this point, space fans will groan.

As we recall from bitter memory, the Hubble and the space station are in vastly different orbits. Getting from one to the other requires so much energy that not even space shuttles had enough fuel to do it. The telescope is 353 miles high, in an orbit that keeps it near the Equator; the space station is about 100 miles lower, in an orbit that takes it far north, over Russia.

To have the movie astronauts Matt Kowalski (Mr. Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Ms. Bullock) zip over to the space station would be like having a pirate tossed overboard in the Caribbean swim to London.

I still want to see this film, but I won’t be pretentious about what it gets wrong. Just good to know.

Iron Man 3 in China

An interesting bit on the importance of China for the Hollywood industry, via some Iron Man 3 and Robert Downey Jr. trivia:

And it’s not just records: Marvel and its Chinese partner, DMG, are setting new standards for foreign movies looking to earn government clearance in China. To curry favor, the company added four minutes of footage just for the mainland, including throwaway parts for Chinese A-list actors Fan Bingbing and Wang Xueqi, and a ham-handed milk drink product placement.

Also new is the aggressive outreach to Chinese audiences by Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. Not only did he visit China for the first time in his life to talk up the film, but Downey also set up a personal account on Sina Weibo

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to. I enjoyed Iron Man 2.

The Life and Times of The MGM Lions

Mental Floss has an interesting history of the famous lion that appears in the beginning of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) films. Actually, it’s not just one lion, but five:

Jackie was the first MGM lion to make his voice heard, thanks to the gramophone. He introduced MGM’s first sound production, White Shadows in the South Seas, with a roar. The lion came from something of an acting animal dynasty. His mother, Stubby, was part of a performance troupe, and his grandmother, Mamie, was one of the first animals to ever appear on film in the U.S. Jackie’s own resume went beyond roaring in a studio logo—he also appeared in 100+ movies.

Jackie had another claim to fame. He survived two train wrecks, an earthquake, a boat sinking, an explosion at the studio, and a plane crash that left him stranded in the Arizona wilderness for several days (pilot Martin Jenson left the cat with some snacks while he went in search of help). After all that, he earned the nickname “Leo the Lucky.”

Leo the Lion is the current iteration seen in MGM films, present since 1957:

Leo is MGM’s longest-serving lion and was also the youngest at the time his roar was filmed. In addition to his appearance in the logo, he appeared in several Tarzan movies, the Tarzan television adaptation, and other films. Leo may or may not have been the lion’s actual name, but after he was purchased from animal dealer Henry Treffich, the name was used by someone at the studio and stuck both there and in the public consciousness.

Read the rest here.

How Movies Are Censored in Iran

Max Fisher writes a column in The Atlantic on the technology used to censor films in Iran:

Censoring foreign movies used to mean simply pulling out the scissors, cutting away inappropriate scenes and shots until the film was a good deal shorter and made a lot less sense. But, in 2010, Iranian authorities acquired new technology allowing them to manipulate images and dialogues into Islamic inappropriateness. 
 
“Romantic dialogue is often changed. For example, it isn’t proper for a woman to say to her partner, ‘I love you,'” Iranian journalist Reza Valizadeh explained to Radio Free Europe’s Golnaz Esfandiari in a 2010 interview. “It’s clear how dialogue about sexual proposals is dealt with — they are changed to marriage proposals. Also we see that beer becomes lemonade on state television and whiskey becomes orange juice. Also dialogue about politics is often changed.”
 
Censors will sometimes edit immodest images — whether it’s a man and woman sitting too closely, someone drinking a cocktail, or even an open neckline — by cutting the offending person or object or by simply placing some visual obstacle. The Iranian film fan site CaffeCinema.com put together a series of side-by-side comparisons showing the before-and-after of this new censorship technique. 
Click through to see startling examples of censorship in the post.

A Bandit to Hollywood but a Hero to Soldiers

Hyman Strachman, nicknamed Big Hy, is a 92-year-old, 5-foot-5 World War II veteran trying to stay busy after the death of his wife.. He’s doing so by making bootleg copies of Hollywood movies and sending them to the U.S. troops abroad. He started out by using his desktop computer to copy the movies one tedious disc at a time (“It was moyda,” he explained) but has since moved on to a professional $400 duplicator. While Mr. Strachman admits that what he’s been doing isn’t right (and controversial), I think it’s a wonderful story:

In February, Mr. Strachman duplicated and shipped 1,100 movies. (“A slow month,” he said.) He has not kept an official count but estimates that he topped 80,000 discs a year during his heyday in 2007 and 2008, making his total more than 300,000 since he began in 2004. Postage of about $11 a box, and the blank discs themselves, would suggest a personal outlay of over $30,000.

Born in Brooklyn in 1920 to immigrants from Poland, Mr. Strachman left high school during the Depression to work for his family’s window and shade store in Manhattan. He became a stockbroker on Wall Street — “When there were no computers, you had to use your noodle” — before retiring in the early 1990s.

After Mr. Strachman’s wife of more than half a century, Harriet, died in 2003, he discovered a Web site that collected soldiers’ requests for care packages. He noted a consistent plea for movie DVDs and wound up passing his sleepless nights replicating not only the films, but also a feeling of military comradeship that he had not experienced since his own service in the Pacific during World War II.

My favorite comment from The New York Times story comes via Martin in New York:

My 82yo mother doesn’t know what email is, and here we have a 92yo, 5’5″ Long Islander cranking out DVDs on his professional duplicator. Hilarious! 

The story, of course, is not piracy.

This man has discovered a way to make himself valuable again at 92yo and re-connect with an important part of his life; more importantly he’s made himself part of the war effort, something most of us have abdicated.

Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Read the full story here.

David Simon on Building Things

David Simon, the creator of the TV show The Wire, has some thoughts on critics in a New York Times interview. The quote I bolded below is especially relevant, not just for the media, but for life in general:

Q. Are you surprised that “The Wire” has had the afterlife that it has?

A. Of course. We were making something that might have a shelf life, we hoped. But whether it did or it didn’t, we didn’t want to make anything else. So we were willing to go down in flames, and it was very delicate trying to get the last two seasons made at HBO. And it starts over again with “Treme,” and everybody watched the first two episodes of “Generation Kill” and says, “Oh it’s not ‘The Wire’” or “It doesn’t know where it’s going.” Nobody knows what anyone’s building until it’s built.
 
Q. Of course now we’re in the era of instant episode recaps.
A. The number of people blogging television online — it’s ridiculous. They don’t know what we’re building. And by the way, that’s true for the people who say we’re great. They don’t know. It doesn’t matter whether they love it or they hate it. It doesn’t mean anything until there’s a beginning, middle and an end. If you want television to be a serious storytelling medium, you’re up against a lot of human dynamic that is arrayed against you. Not the least of which are people who arrived to “The Wire” late, planted their feet, and want to explain to everybody why it’s so cool. Glad to hear it. But you weren’t paying attention. You got led there at the end and generally speaking, you’re asserting for the wrong things.
###

The Cult and Culture of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

This is an interesting New York Times piece exploring the cult and culture of Stanley Kubrick’s film, The Shining:

Three decades on, scholars and fans are still trying to decipher this puzzle of a film directed by Stanley Kubrick. To them it’s only ostensibly about an alcoholic father, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) going more than stir crazy while his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny, try to cope in an isolated hotel, the Overlook. Mr. Kubrick was famously averse to offering explanations of his films — “I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself,” he once wrote — which has led to a mind-boggling array of theories about just what he was up to.

The hotel’s hedge maze, many Kubrick authorities agree, is a reference to the myth of the Minotaur; others have drawn convincing connections between the Overlook’s well-stocked pantry and the confectionery cottage in Hansel and Gretel. The more one views the film — and many of these scholars admit to viewing it hundreds of times — the more symbols and connections appear. 

“Room 237,” the first full-length documentary by the director Rodney Ascher, examines several of the most intriguing of these theories. It’s really about the Holocaust, one interviewee says, and Mr. Kubrick’s inability to address the horrors of the Final Solution on film. No, it’s about a different genocide, that of American Indians, another says, pointing to all the tribal-theme items adorning the Overlook Hotel’s walls. A third claims it’s really Kubrick’s veiled confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings.

When Mr. Ascher first began discussing the project with his friend Tim Kirk, who would later become the film’s producer, the two were simply hoping to find enough fans and theories to flesh out a series of short films, maybe something to post on YouTube. “On paper it seems like a very specific niche,” Mr. Ascher said, speaking at the oldest standing Bob’s Big Boy, in Burbank, not far from a campus of the New York Film Academy, where he teaches a class in editing. “The Secret Meanings of ‘The Shining’ — we should be able to wrap that up pretty quick. But the thing kept growing and growing.” By the time the two were done, “Room 237,” which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, was nearly two hours long.

What they had stumbled upon was a subculture of Kubrick fans that has been expanding over the last several years. The group includes professors and historians, fanboys and artists, many of whom have posted their theories online accompanied by maps, videos, and pages-long explications pleading their cases. The Liverpudlian filmmaker Rob Ager’s video analyses of “The Shining” have garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits; the voluminous online essays of Kevin McLeod, a k a “mstrmnd,” range from the film’s marketing materials to its many uses of artificial light.

This is rather peculiar:

The documentary’s biggest leap of faith comes with Jay Weidner, who posits that Mr. Kubrick helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings, then used “The Shining” to both confess his involvement — and brag about it. Mr. Weidner is at work on a DVD about the Kubrick-Apollo connection, his second, and cites as evidence a sweater worn by Danny with “Apollo 11” on it, and the hexagonal design on the hotel hallway carpet pattern, which he argues is a dead ringer for the aerial view of the Apollo launching pad. “The entire substory of ‘The Shining,’ ” Mr. Weidner said in an interview, “is the story of Kubrick making the Apollo footage and then trying to hide it from his wife, and then her finding out about it.”

In case you are wondering, Room 237 is a reference to a haunted room in the hotel, though the NYT piece attests that we still won’t learn what The Shining is after watching the film.

###

Related: Wikipedia has an extensive section of The Shining in popular culture.