Thursday, May 31, 2012



Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?Today, SpaceX recovered its Dragon spacecraft after a successful journey to the International Space Station — thus proving that a private company can transport supplies, or maybe even crew, to the ISS. Everybody's saying this is the real beginning of the era of private space travel.
But how much further could private companies like SpaceX take us? In particular, could they take us all the way to Mars? With NASA's budget constantly under fire, is there some way that a private corporation could fulfill our common dream of putting human beings on another planet? We decided to ask some experts and find out.
Top image: Painting by Ren Wicks for NASA.

Partnership with NASA

"If it wasn't for his interest in Mars, I don't think Elon Musk would do this," says Thomas Zurbuchen, Professor of Space Science and Aerospace Engineering at Michigan University. Zurbuchen asked the SpaceX founder why he wanted to launch his own space company, and Musk responded, "I want to go to Mars," without blinking. That goal informs all of the design choices behind the Dragon, including using a much bigger launch vehicle than you'd need just to get cargo to the I.S.S.
That said, when people say that SpaceX proves that NASA's work is done and private companies can take it from here, they're exaggerating somewhat, says Linda Billings, a space policy analyst George Washington University. NASA still paid for the SpaceX launch, and we don't actually know how much it really cost:
While SpaceX is working for NASA under a different sort of contractual agreement than the previous crop of launch companies, it remains to be seen whether NASA, and thus the taxpayers, will be saving any money on space flight. It is difficult to find out from NASA exactly how much money it has spent on the new crop of so-called commercial launch companies, including straight-out subsidies.
She also points out that private companies have built every NASA vehicle since the Saturn V rocket, so the notion of NASA collaborating with private companies is not exactly new.
"I have to say, I'm a skeptic as to how far private space operations can take us right now, in terms of commercializing space," says Andy Turnage, executive director of the Association of Space Explorers. Of course, the industrial capacity of the United States wasn't built overnight either, and there's no telling how commercial space operations will develop over time. Even Musk probably wouldn't say that a trip to Mars makes sense from a strict business standpoint right now, adds Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars, Inc.
Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?

The only way to do things like a trip to Mars is a private-public partnership, insists Zurbuchen. "I believe that the entrepreneurial spirit of big companies and enterprises is crucial to big ventures." On its own, government-funded science tends not to have a goal beyond pure exploration, and "all you want to do is learn, learn, learn." Meanwhile, a private company that's just out to make a quick profit won't do a big thing like going to another planet. "Whenever you reach far, it's tough to make a business case." Image from Mission to Mars.
But when you combine the drive for exploration with an entrepreneurial spirit, "this is what drives the world forward," says Zurbuchen. It would be a better world if these two strands were combined more often.
What's most likely to happen is that companies like SpaceX will "take the burden" of getting people into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) off of NASA — freeing up NASA to spend its time and resources on new missions such as getting people to Mars, saysLt. Col. Paul Damphousse, executive director of the National Space Society. We've been putting people into LEO for 50 years now, and there's no reason for NASA to keep doing it.
If private enterprise can deal with the problem of getting people into LEO, then "government can tackle the things that private industry cannot do itself or does not want to do itself," says Damphousse. "Government will help to buy down the risk and prove the technology so that at some point in the future private enterprise can step in and take over just as they're going to do with Low Earth Orbit."
But what if NASA never manages to get the funding to send people to Mars? Could a private enterprise be the one to get us there in the next couple decades instead? It may depend on finding a business rationale, and making it cheap enough.

How a Trip to Mars Could Pay

When Zurbuchen says "it's tough to make a business case" for going to Mars, he's kind of understating things. How could a private entrepreneur possibly justify such a fabulously expensive venture as a canny investment?
Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?

But there are many different ways you could possibly justify a trip to Mars from a pure business standpoint, if you're willing to make a huge outlay for a big return down the line. Here are some of the things people suggested to us as possible ways to get a return on your investment:
Bragging Rights: "How much money would you be willing to spend to have your name go down in history as the first person to step on Mars?" asks Turnage. This is a kind of immortality whose value could be incalculable. And, at least for now, Turnage believes it's the only way to justify spending money to go to Mars from a strict financial standpoint. Image by Pat Rawling/NASA.
Tourism: Mars could be the ultimate "high-end destination," says Zurbuchen. Rich people might pay tons of money to have a vacation there. "It could be that that makes sense in the future."
Mining: It's possible that Mars will turn out to have valuable minerals or radioactive elements, that are worth going there to mine, says Zurbuchen. On the other hand, Turnage points out that to make this a return on someone's investment, you have to spend the money to ship that stuff back to Earth, "to do something with it here." We don't know enough about the resources available on Mars yet, to know whether there's anything worth shipping back to Earth, but if it's valuable enough, then someone will find a way.
The real question is, could you find any resources on Mars that you couldn't also find on an asteroid?, says futurist Jamais Cascio with Open the Future. There are probably enough gold and other rare minerals on one big "iron" asteroid to crash global markets forever — but what can you find on Mars that you can't find on asteroids, which don't have their own gravity wells? At least for now, Mars isn't known to have anything particularly useful — or unique.
Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?

Drug discovery: If Mars turns out to have life on it, then all bets are off, says Cascio. "There's good reason to suspect that Martian life will actually resemble Earth life (in short, pretty good likelihood that early Earth life got blasted off-world by a big asteroid strike, with some of it potentially getting to Mars — or, even better, Mars getting developing life first (smaller planet=cools faster), and having Martian life blasted off to hit Earth, kick-starting life here!), or could at least be similar enough to prompt new lines of bio research. Being able to patent the genes of a non-Earth species would be worth some big money."
Reality TV: Given how long a trip to and from Mars would be likely to take, and the immense potential for personal drama, you might be able to get people back on Earth to watch a TV show about the first humans going to Mars. Although eventually, viewer interest might drop off — leading to cancellation, which could leave these first Martian visitors stranded forever.

How to Make it Cheap Enough

Proponents of privately funded space exploration say that ventures like SpaceX are going to bring down the costs of space travel through innovation, and that in turn will lead to huge advances in space travel without any need for government involvement. But when it comes to a trip to Mars, the costs are still likely to be enormous.
Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?

According to Carberry with Explore Mars, estimates of the costs of a NASA trip to Mars have ranged from $150 billion to $1 trillion. X-Prize founder Robert Zubrin has estimated a private venture to go to Mars might only cost $4 to $6 billion. And Elon Musk himself told Carberry that he thinks it can be done for just $2 billion, although Carberry says that estimate is probably not built on any detailed numbers.Image via Mars Society.
There are two huge reasons a trip to Mars is so expensive, says Damphousse: escaping Earth's gravity, and then keeping people alive on the long trip to Mars. How do you go about making both of those things cheaper, and how could private companies make a difference in those areas?
Getting into space:
There's no getting away from it, just getting off our planet is a huge, massive expense. Carberry says the launch vehicles for NASA's Space Shuttles cost $10,000 per pound of cargo. But the good news is, SpaceX's first launch to the I.S.S. already "cost a fraction of what it would have cost through the traditional NASA process," says Carberry. If SpaceX can make getting into LEO both cheap and reliable, and increase the frequency of flights into LEO, then we'll have helped to solve one big piece of the "getting to Mars" problem, says Damphousse.
Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?

Carberry says there are two big questions: whether SpaceX can get its Dragon capsule rated for human crews, while still keeping costs low. And whether SpaceX can grow without its currently low overhead ballooning.
But bear in mind that getting into LEO, as SpaceX did, is not the same thing as getting out of Earth's gravity well entirely, Cascio points out:
Getting out of Earth's gravity well entirely (to go to the Moon or Mars) would take considerably more launch power. It's said that we no longer have the capacity to build a Saturn V (the only rocket ever built able to get a human out of the Earth's gravity well), and while that's really just a matter of tooling up the right kinds of factories, it still suggests that the costs of building a comparable vehicle now would be ridiculously high, especially compared to the relatively cheap low-Earth orbit launch vehicles.
Any private company that is serious about going to Mars is probably going to want to invest in creating a space elevator first, says Cascio. That way, you can use the space elevator to launch satellites and other things into orbit, thus helping to pay off the costs. And you've already massively reduced the costs of launching your Mars vehicle.
Getting to Mars:
The good news is, once you've gotten out of Earth's gravity well, the costs of travel drop considerably, says Cascio:
You retain all of your momentum, can use gravity-assist "slingshots," and only need rockets for maneuvering. That's why getting to the asteroids will be much easier than getting to the Martian surface, at least if you plan to return from Mars — the asteroids are essentially a zero-G environment. And that, incidentally, is why some of the realistic plans for a Mars mission describe it as a one-way trip, sending a group of astronauts there to become colonists.
Another piece of good news is, your hypothetical Martian exploration vessel might not need to carry supplies for the crew to survive on Mars, or for the return trip, says Carberry. We may be able to make oxygen and methane fuel using the water on Mars, or else by converting Mars' CO2 atmosphere using our own hydrogen. "One of the key ways to keep costs down is to keep the mass of the mission down," says Carberry. "If you can manufacture your supplies on the surface of the planet, you can cut down the mass of the mission."
Adds Cascio, "many of the more realistic plans for Mars exploration, such as [Robert] Zubrin's, involve sending automated vehicles there first to gather materials to produce fuel in situ for the return flight."
Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?

One piece of bad news, though: the biggest expense of going to Mars could be just finding ways to keep "monkeys alive in aluminum cans, while in a high-radiation environment," says Cascio. Compared to just three days each way for a Moon trip, the weeks or months required to go to Mars mean massively more radiation shielding — which means more weight, which means more cost. Image: Paul Hudson for NASA
Both NASA and several private companies are working on "in-space technologies" that could make the flight to Mars cheaper and easier, says Damphousse: "Things like advanced robotics, cryogenic propellant storage and transfer, and solar electric propulsion are just a few examples of very low cost things that we could do, that enable what I call mission multiplers, that allow us to do things better in space."
Also, people are working on advanced propulsion systems that could get people to Mars much faster, thus reducing the amount of fuel you need to use — and also cutting down on radiation exposure and bone loss. Companies like Franklin Chang-Díaz's Ad Astra Rocket Company are trying to develop much faster propulsion systems, says Carberry, but it's not clear if these will ever be useable for human exploration.
If we actually manage to get people to Mars and they survive the trip, that means we'll have solved "a heck of a lot of problems" that could make the world a better place in general, says Zurbuchen. We'll have figured out the answers to a lot of major questions, and probably increased the living standards of people on Earth in the process.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012


What is Movie News After Dark? Well, it ain’t like dusting crops, boy.
Our fearless leader, Neil Miller is taking the night off and has left you in my very incapable hands. And thus we spring forth to the internet to see what new bounty of cinematic gifts that unfaithful mistress doth offer up to we lowly cinephiles. Or something like that. We begin, boys and girls, with Paul Thomas Anderson.
For my money, he’s easily one of it not the very finest directors working today with apologies to Christopher Nolan. There Will Be Blood was quite frankly a masterpiece and my expectations are high for his next film, The Master. The folks over at Cigarettes and Red Vines got a nice exclusive today from the man himself, revealing a few behind the scenes photos of old fashioned negative cutting going on. Not only is this new PT Anderson film shooting on glorious celluloid but this particular negative was of the much higher quality 65mm variety. Word has it that the film will be comprised of both 35mm and 65mm elements, though the question remaining is will the distributor be willing to strike a 70mm print. Exhibition options for 70mm are scarce, but Oscilloscope Labs appears to be striking a 70mm print for Baraka follow-up Samsara. It appears the Weinstein’s are in charge of theatrical distro for The Master, hopefully they’ll have the courage to pony up for a 70mm print
We stop quickly at a brief tweet from Katy Perry. I have no opinion on the lady herself, but I have to admit her tweet to the official film Twitter account for The Dictator was pretty damn funny. I won’t spoil it, but check back after you’ve seen The Dictator. Or just Google it, I’m sure someone is willing to spoil it for those of you who hate going to see funny movies.
Moving on, our good friend Scott Weinberg at alerts us to the presence of a Cannes teaser trailer for the upcoming remake of ManiacElijah Wood steps into the Joe Spinell role and the film is told entirely from his point of view. The teaser promises a dark, gritty film and I sincerely hope that’s what Wood and company deliver.
Speaking of, another one of our favorite editors over there recently did a spectacular interview with Alamo head honcho Tim League.Head over there now to read up on the tough questions posed by Peter Hall and what Tim had to say about the current Summer of ’82 and how he responds to concerns on over-expansion possibly diluting the brand.
While I adore my beloved Alamo Drafthouse with all my heart and more, were I ever to find myself in LA, I would have to make time to visit the New Beverly Cinema. In many ways a kindred spirit of the Drafthouse, the New Bev makes its name with cheap double features, special guests and special events and fantastic programming. One of its many intrepid employees, Julia Marchese, has taken it upon herself to create a documentary about the New Bev and the transition from 35mm to digital. It’s an ambitious project and as such Julia has set up a Kickstarter to crowd source some funds. She’s a little over a third of the way there with only 7 days to go, so head over to Kickstarter and back a kick ass project that could use your help.
Apparently some new PC video game came out? Something about the devil cubed, I don’t know, best of luck to you if you’ve fallen down that rabbit hole.
Our own Nathan Adams talks about what might be next for Wes Anderson, whose latest film Moonrise Kingdom debuted to Cannes audiences and US film critics alike today. Garnering mostly positive reviews, it does, however, seem like his signature style is fully on display. I missed the screening today, but you can bet I’ll be there ticket in hand on opening day.
If you’re wondering where you favorite film critic is this week…well…we gave Landon Palmer they week off. But if you’re looking for most of the rest of them, they’re probably getting all sweaty and sunburned in Cannes
Sadly it’s a bit of a slow night and so I’ll close with this: if you haven’t bought tickets for the Alamo Drafthouse’s epic Rolling Roadshow screening of The Road Warrior this Friday then let me ask you…what the hell are you doing with your life?! Co-sponsored by your good friends here at FSR, this Friday’s screeninng will include such shenanigans as a THERMONUCLEAR FLAMING DEATH RACE, music by a post-apocalyptic punk band and more beer than you can shake a stick at (I’m supposing). Tickets are still available here for $15 apiece so what are you waiting for? The Lord Humungous wills it so!


The Coroner's Report - Large
It’s fairly rare that a film can come along and generate a lot of attention just based on the premise. The Human Centipede was one such film. It claimed to be “100% Medically Accurate,” was viewed at Fantastic Fest, and took the world by storm by asking the question “What would it be like to sew a bunch of people ass to mouth?”
At the time, I was hard on the claim that the flick was medically accurate, despite writer/director Tom Six‘s insistence. I’ve since changed my mind: sure, it’s entirely possible to sew a bunch of people together like that as long as you expect them to choke on feces and die relatively quickly. There is no shared digestion, but hey, he never said it was 100% a good idea!
Unfortunately, that flick wasn’t 100% good. For me, I found it to be 52% good, which, as it turns out, is at least 30% better than the follow-up. Hey hey hey hey, listen to me. Spoilers ahead.
If there’s one thing this film does, it’s squander a lot of potential. There are a couple of other things the film does better than killing as well, but I was pleasantly surprised that the body count was massively upped from the first installment. At least 17 people die in this movie.
The vast majority of the ills revolve around our pudgy protagonist (wait – if the film follows a bad guy is he still the protagonist?) shooting someone non-fatally and then delicately swinging a crow-bar in their direction. Through the magic of film we’re supposed to believe that he’s hitting them rather hard, but many of the shots look tepid. There are a few good gore gags, namely when a woman has her head crushed in by said crow-bar, and later when the centipede gets going. There’s plenty of poo-poo, gun shots, stabbings, barbed wire raping, and the anal insertion of insects. If that all sounds awesome, temper yourself – most of it is reserved the finale and what leads up to it is boring as shit.
It turns out that The Human Centipede was a movie, and we see a clip of it that involves some breasts. Later we see some of the victims stripped nude, so there are plenty of butts, some dirty boobs, and a slightly smaller than average prosthetic penis. There’s also a blow-job scene and some masturbation. Oh and the barbed wire rape. Hey, depends what you’re into.
If you’re going to make a fucked up film, make a 100% fucked up film. Don’t make an 80% boring film followed by a fucked up sequence. Go hard, get hard, go home.
You’re a smart kid, you’ve probably picked up by now that I didn’t really enjoy the film. Most of it feels like a student film. There is piss-poor CGI rain that I am 97% certain is just the “rain” filter on iMovie. It looks bad.
I previously mentioned how effeminate the crow-bar attacks are – scratch that, that’s offensive to women. It’s beyond effeminate. Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) is such a little nancy, one should feel shame most of all if you died at his stubby little hands.
For as sick and twisted as this film is supposed to be, it’s mostly tame until the last fifteen or so minutes. There’s one good gore gag in the middle, but there is wasted opportunity everywhere. Martin is a fucked up dude, it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to kill a crying baby, but the film backs off and he doesn’t. Instead Martin just weakly taps a few people with the crow bar again and fires off a few gun shots.
Luckily this film advertises itself as “100% Medically INAccurate,” otherwise I’d have to point out that you don’t inject a laxative into someone’s butt cheeks to get them to shit into another person’s mouth. Although, beyond that, the film is potentially more accurate than the first, since the centipede is held together with duct tape and staples.
During the majority of the film, I was beyond bored. I was angry and upset. Where was the fucking movie that was supposed to disturb me? Even when it comes time for the gore, a lot of the effect is lost because the movie is just poorly made. The climactic shitting diarrhea scene is full ofHarold and Kumar level fart noises. It’s like Blazing Saddles is playing in the background. Which is sad, because the climax is actually pretty messed up and violent. There are a few bits that are stupid, but man, some of it is spot on awesomely messed up. But there’s no way to ignore the preceding 80 minutes of shit.
Now, at the very end of the movie, we see our boy Martin sitting in his booth watching the film. It appears that this entire movie may have been a dream. If that’s the case, I’m very disappointed that the majority of it was boring. It could have gone so far above and beyond depraved. This could have been the sick film I was promised. Instead, it’s a boring, poorly made, and uninteresting journey that has a sickly entertaining but ultimately flawed centipede sequence.
There was a great, fucked up movie somewhere in the last ten minutes, if only Tom Six had remembered the importance of the other 80% of the film.


It’s a wild career Peter Berg has created for himself. The kid from Shocker and Aspen Extreme grew up to have an eclectic mix of directorial offerings. Everything from wicked, black comedies like Very Bad Things and damn solid action flicks like The Rundown. He’s even dabbled in the Summer blockbuster like Hancock and this Friday’s Battleship. I think that movie made Cole angry. Berg’s most important work of art came in the form of Friday Night Lights, arguably the best show in the past decade. You be the judge which side of that fence I fall on. Clear eyes. Full heart. Can’t Lose.
But we can’t exactly run a Commentary Commentary on the full series run of that show. That would take too long, and there’s not enough Monster in the world to keep the writing juices flowing. So we’ll do one on The Kingdom, Berg’s 2007 film about an FBI investigation of a suicide bombing in Riyadh. That’s in Saudi Arabia, something you’d know if you’ve seen this film’s opening credits. Or watched The Daily Show more often.
Enough about TV. On with the Commentary Commentary for The Kingdom.

The Kingdom (2007)

commentators: Peter Berg (director)
  • Berg spent 10 days in Saudi Arabia a year before filming began on The Kingdom. He toured the compounds where American civilians live there, and this, along with his discovery of just how little was known about them, is what spurred the design of the film’s opening credits.
  • Berg points out Minka Kelly, who played Lyla Garrity on Friday Night Lights. He also notes Kyle Chandler, who played Coach Eric Taylor on the show. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. I promise no more FNL references.
  • The director took great care in cutting between two events that were taking place thousands of miles away from each other. The show-and-tell scene with Jamie Foxx being intercut with the violent act that’s taking place in the Western housing compound in Saudi Arabia is Berg’s way of using our comforts against us. Thanks, man. That really helps.
  • As intense as the opening action sequence is in The Kingdom, Berg mentions an even more visceral cut of the scene. He mentions the suicide bomber in this opening scene is the first filmed depiction of a suicide bomber, at least that he or his crew could find. Four Lions missed it by that much.
  • “FBI agents aren’t soldiers. They’re not military-trained, although they are trained in weapons,” says Berg, noting his clear admiration for agents of the bureau. “They’re basically college-educated scientists who like to collect evidence and like to go after bad guys.” Berg wanted to use the FBI as a way into the story, to cut the act of terror in the opening scene away from religious or political ties. He also mentions the first thing they were looking for when casting the leads was “intelligence.”
  • Berg asked Brad Pitt – We can assume they’re friends. Everyone in Hollywood is friends with everyone, right? – if he would do a cameo for the film. Pitt reluctantly agreed, and he appears as one of the FBI agent extras in the debriefing scene. He’s not easy to spot. Berg points out, “There he is,” on a shot that is just Berg and a large, bald, black man. Pitt must have been the large, bald, black man. Nice makeup.
  • The “shaky cam issue” is raised, as Berg mentions people who comment on his shooting style. “I can never really explain why I like it so much, other than it feels more like what the human eye sees,” he explains. “I do try to stabilize it as I can.”
  • Berg mentions he met Jennifer Garner when he did a short stint on Alias. He brags that he “thinks” he was the first actor to ever get to kiss Garner on the show.
  • The director also points out The Kingdom was the first American film to shoot in Abu Dhabi. Now we know what Abu Dhabi, suicide bombers, and kissing Jennifer Garner have in common.
  • “It’s interesting. I have no idea whether people understand what Jamie Foxx is doing in this chunk of the film,” Berg says a mere 20 minutes into the film when Foxx is trying to get his team into Saudi Arabia. The director brings up accusations of charity donations by Saudis to fund terrorism in recent years. The FBI is who investigates these illegal transactions. I think I learned this on Homeland.
  • The scene of the flight to Riyadh was almost entirely unscripted. The game of Scrabble was improvised on set, as well, and the dialogue they needed to fit in was worked around the game. Berg does point out that “whelp” is a word. They checked.
  • Berg is quick to note Ashraf Barhom‘s character is not insulting Garner’s character when he offers to move her into the bathroom to sleep there. In Saudi culture, women don’t sleep near men unless they are married to them. Barhom’s character is trying to do her a favor. “They’re a very foreign culture,” says the director. More things we learned on this week’s episode of “Peter Berg’s Culture Shock.” Fridays on Discovery.
  • The blast site the team investigates was modeled after an attack in the early 1990s at the Khobar Towers in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
  • Berg notes a moment after a scene with an old woman and a cat. A few minutes after filming a take, the cat attacked the woman, clawing at her arms. Berg says the woman “toughened up” and they were able to finish shooting, but that sounds like a prime set-up for Very Bad Things 2.
  • The music in The Kingdom was written and composed by Danny Elfman, though some claim it sounds too similar to the band Explosions in the Sky. Berg admits he used an Explosions in the Sky piece as a temp track for the film, and, when it came time for Elfman to write the music, the director pushed him in the direction to make it sound closer to the band.
  • In Matthew Michael Carnahan‘s original screenplay, Haytham, played by Ali Suliman, was written more as a character torn between two sides. His father was extremely religious, and his brother was killed by American soldiers in Iraq. Carnahan originally had him written as someone split between helping and fighting the Americans. Berg mentions Carnahan’s original ending was “much tougher.” In that ending, everyone died. Yeah, that’s quite a bit tougher.
  • The Abu Dhabi government allowed the production the use of one of the helicopters for a scene. The caravan scene with the helicopter was shot with the military vehicle flying just thirty feet overhead. Berg points out how supportive Abu Dhabi was in the making of The Kingdom. He also points out how open they were to closing down neighborhoods so the production could shoot chase sequences.
  • Barhom had never played golf before signing on to be in The Kingdom. Berg took him on his first golf outing – add that to suicide bombers and kissing Jennifer Garner – and the director asked him why he wanted to be an actor. The “green beast” conversation Al Ghazi has with Foxx’s character was taken from Barhom’s response.
  • Berg’s first experience in Saudi Arabia was going to an Internet cafe at 4 AM. He remembers seeing dozens of teenagers wearing Eminem t-shirts, smoking, and playing video games. “As soon as I saw that, I realized certainly the country has come a long way and is really on the verge of a complete, cultural revolution,” he recollects.
  • “This is another thing we got from the FBI, that it’s very common for bomb makers to be missing fingers,” Berg says, “and other things.” He just drops that last bit in like it means nothing. Come on, Berg. We love you and all, but name names. Or body parts. Or whatever.
  • Berg brings up Ashraf Barhom on several, different occasions, and for good reason. The guy is an extremely talented actor. Berg goes so far as to compare him to a young Robert De Niro, particularly his performance in Raging Bull. Not Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.
  • Berg mentions Nick Papac, a prop master who died while filming the large chase sequence on the freeway. The director dedicates the film to him and his family.
  • “I think Jen Garner says ‘Fucking’ real cool,” the director of this fine film.
  • Berg gets a lot of criticism about none of the good guys getting shot in the film’s climactic shoot-out sequence. He mentions he screened the film for a group of Navy SEALS, and afterwards he asked them about the fact that no Americans are killed. The SEALS responded that it’s completely accurate. The bad guys they’re fighting are the “worst shots” they’ve ever seen. They have no training, and they’re firing old, Russian guns. The basic strategy they take in a gunfight is throw as many bullets in one direction as possible. Kind of like Halo multi-player. “If it’s okay for the SEALS, it’s okay for me,” says Berg. Us, too.
  • The shot in the final shoot-out where a grenade blows the wall out behind Jennifer Garner was an improvised stunt Berg came up with on the day of shooting. He credits his amazing stunt coordinating team and special effects crew for pulling the stunt off on such short notice.
  • Berg remembers screening the film for the first time in Sacramento, California. At the moment Garner’s character appears to shoot all the bad guys in the head – There might have been some body shots – the audience erupted in cheers. Berg was concerned it was a form of blood-lust, that the audience was only reacting with joy to the sight of Americans killing Arabs. They screened the film in London a month later where the audience was roughly 25% Arab, and the moment received the exact, same eruption of cheers. “It made me feel as though it was not a political or religious reaction,” Berg says. “It’s frustration with religious extremism, and people united in their desire to see it dealt with.” Well said, sir.
  • Late in the commentary, Berg mentions one of the main reasons he wanted to make The Kingdom, and he feels he speaks for many of the people who worked on it, was so that it would show audiences generations from now the cultural complexities we faced in our time, particularly in how we handled violence. “We understand why it’s there, but I think we also understand that it certainly is not helping solve the problem,” he says.
  • Berg brings up the original ending again, going into more detail about how Haytham was conflicted in what side he stood on. When the lead characters are boarding the plane, Jamie Foxx’s character hugs him. In the original draft he realizes too late Haytham has a bomb strapped to him. The bomb detonates, and everyone dies. It was changed because, well obviously.

Best in Commentary

“I think that everyone would like to believe that somewhere in Middle Eastern countries exists moderates, people who are proud Muslims but are not interested in extremism and killing in the name of any religion, and that was certainly a core theme of this film.”

Final Thoughts

Peter Berg provides all-in-all a decent commentary for The Kingdom. It’s become all too evident in recent editions of this that a single director speaking alone about his film is prime time for dead air. Berg, like a number of directors before him, leave long pauses on this commentary, some more than a minute long. It helps bounce back and forth between two or three people, but Berg does the best that’s expected from someone flying solo.
While providing anecdotes from set, theories about the film, and reasons for why he wanted to do it, he’s also very good at pointing out what’s happening in the film. It’s not in a play-by-play manner, as many directors do on theirs, but more of a catch-up every 20 minutes or so. It doesn’t take anything away from the rest of the commentary, and it ends up helping the casual listener.
There is a lot of pointing out what shots were done in Arizona and what was shot in Abu Dhabi. We can’t tell the difference, man. We get it. It’s understandable that Berg doesn’t go through the ending action scene on a more detailed level, as the DVD/Blu has a feature on the making of some of those action pieces. Overall a fine commentary that goes with a fine package for a solid action film. Recommends all around for The Kingdom.


Reel Sex
If you’re like me and have slumped into a mind-numbing semi-sleep for the past five Sundays thanks entirely to the comings and goings of Westeros, then you have probably woken up with a jolt halfway through your Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) dreams to discover yourself staring down the barrel of a gun. And that gun is HBO’s freshman series Girls, a show so fraught with first world problems and entitlement it’s nearly impossible not to experience polarizing feelings.
On the one hand, Girls is an engaging slice of life dramedy revolving around the personal and (maybe) professional lives of three recent college graduate lady friends (and one still-in-school cousin). Setting Girls apart from most shows currently broadcasting is creator and head writer Lena Dunham’s dedication to exposing the warts and imperfections of her four post-Sex and the City women while they each navigate the troubling landscape of sex, love, feelings, and career in New York. It’s just that her women, like their HBO godmothers, are living in a New York that doesn’t exist for most city dwellers.
In fact, these “real” women are still living in a fantasy world despite Dunham’s promise of financial struggle and hardship. What’s interesting is that after the first episode where money (or lack thereof) is discussed at length, the topic has yet to come up again with such fervor. Rather, the focus has turned to relationships and sex, which is fine with me. Who doesn’t like watching pretty young things make like rabbits?
On the other hand, Girls is both uncomfortably relatable and completely far-fetched. In a way it is The Office for Millennials, something we laugh at because it’s truthful, but also because it hits close to home.
Let’s start with Hannah (Dunham), whose parents have demanded she finally get her shit together, and have financially cut her off as their way of kicking her out of the nest. She’s twenty-four, unsure of what it takes to be a writer when she grows up, and easily susceptible to the influence of her best friends Marnie (Allison Williams) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke). She is also spending her time refusing to grow up by bedding an actor-carpenter named Adam (Adam Sackler) who has very little interest in her emotional well-being. It’s incredibly brave for Dunham to not only expose herself on screen in such heart wrenching, troubling, and intimate sex scenes, but to also write these moments for Hannah.
After five weeks I’m still constantly puzzled by how much heartbreak Hannah will put up with, but I’ve also started to realize Dunham is not interested in giving her protagonist any leeway when it comes to her poor decisions. As a writer, Hannah wants to learn and experience “stories,” and in a sick and masochistic way, Dunham holds up a mirror to all the Hannahs of the world through each pitfall. For example, it’s unclear if Hannah is aware of Adam’s manipulation, or if she likes to play the victim so that she has something to whine about later. She seems more interested in hurting than anything else, and I think many viewers have felt or still feel that way themselves. I’ve been a Hannah, and maybe that’s why I feel physically ill when she doesn’t stop Adam in bed the moment she feels uncomfortable. Or when she feels confused after she tries to break up with him and then he kisses her. Despite how caricatured Hannah is, she represents the sensitive soul of a lazy creative who distracts herself with sex, but doesn’t want to realize that someone who is sexing you may not love you.
Dunham is not concerned with having perfect characters, rather she seems to relish in providing her audience with what she views as accurate depictions of women just trying to make it through the day. Through the character Marnie, Dunham is able to expose someone who looks like she’s got everything together but under the surface is completely floundering. Unlike Hannah’s disheveled outward appearance, Marnie is straight up Duchess of Catherine put-together. She never has a hair out of place, an unmade face, or wrinkle in her best party dress. She works the job any art-loving New Yorker would die for and an adorable boyfriend who worships the ground she walks on. All these things make Marnie a perfect role model for the Connecticut set, except she is internally spiraling just as badly as her best friend.
I could sit her all day talking about how dissatisfied she is with her relationship, or how self-centered she is to think Charlie (Christopher Abbott) would never be a “real man,” but it just pisses me off. Marnie pisses me off. For someone who wants to talk so damn much, she has very little to say to anyone. And when she does, it’s all just negative chatter about how no one can live up to her standards. Marnie could die in a fire, and I’m not sure anyone would miss her. Well, the stick up her butt might.
However, my animosity aside, Marnie’s recent break-up with Charlie was both the most selfish and selfless move she’s made all season. It was the first time all season we saw Marnie both vulnerable and determined to change something about herself. Yes, maybe when you have a man in between your legs isn’t the best moment to rip off the Bandaid, but it’s a clean break. She needed something different (like maybe an Adam), and Charlie needed to run away from the crazy. Now she’s free to stumble her way through a multitude of one night stands that I’m sure will span the rest of the season.
Our last two ladies, Jessa and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) couldn’t be more sexually divergent; however their mutual potential for character growth is fascinating. One is a proud promiscuous lady and the other is a virgin, but they both learn something from the other. Jessa likes to use sex as her only weapon against men, yet she envies Shoshanna’s desire to be loved. She doesn’t want to admit that she has a heart and Dunham writes her in such a revealing way that after five weeks we’re routing for her to find self-assuredness through something other than sex. Jessa is intriguing and captivating, and her tougher outer shell will hurt like hell when she finally lets someone break it. She may think she can’t be “smotted” but if the series is really trying to be “real” then she is dead wrong.
Each week I promise myself I’m not going to aid my rising blood-pressure by watching Girls but then each week I get sucked back in. These four women infuriate me just as much as they enslave me, yet I don’t think I’ll ever be able to quit them. I’m hooked in for now, but to turn one of Hannah’s phrases: I think I’m at the point where I’m just hate-watching them. Or it could be I’m worried I’ll miss out on another one of Adam’s sexual kinks. Let’s be honest, those are fun to watch.

 Continue Reading Reel Sex


The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published



The best scenes from the most demented German children’s book ever published

If you possess any sort of fluency in the German language, there's a good chance you've encountered children's author Heinrich Hoffman's 1845 bedtime classicStruwwelpeter. In this collection of morality tales, children are — with gleeful abandon — immolated, humiliated, and mutilated by men with giant scissors. Pleasant dreams, everyone!
Unlike, say, Aesop's Fables, in which chatty animals steer the reader toward the path of moral rectitude, Struwwelpeter is more interested in teaching children that A.) there are a litany of ways to die painfully; and B.) that their own stupidity and lack of 19th century Teutonic manners are almost always the cause.
As George Mason University explains, the origins of Struwwelpeter echo the origins of Festivus, as delineated by George Constanza's father on Seinfeld:
Hoffman, a Frankfurt physician and father, wrote the book after realizing that there were none he wanted to buy for his 3-year-old son for Christmas [...] While many German parents today find the tales disturbing, those who raised their children during the early decades of the 20th century found them useful for childrearing. Parents' mention of a specific character in Der Struwwelpeter kids knew well served as short-hand criticism of objectionable behavior.
Indeed, Struwwelpeter opens with a promise that good children on Christmas will receive this tome of terror as a present, whereas bad kids will receive bupkis. (Hoffman clearly didn't think out this incentive structure.)
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

The first tale, Shock-headed Peter, warns die kinder that poor hygiene will transform you into the lovechild of David Lee Roth and Lady Deathstrike from X-Men 2:

Just look at him! there he stands,
With his nasty hair and hands.
See! his nails are never cut;
They are grimed as black as soot;
And the sloven, I declare,
Never once has combed his hair;
Anything to me is sweeter
Than to see Shock-headed Peter.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

Strange stuff, but nothing fatal. Let's jump ahead to the end of "The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches," which really should be adapted into a Smokey the Bear campaign:

So [Harriet] was burnt, with all her clothes,
And arms, and hands, and eyes, and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose
Except her little scarlet shoes;
And nothing else but these was found
Among her ashes on the ground.
And when the good cats sat beside
The smoking ashes, how they cried!
"Me-ow, me-oo, me-ow, me-oo,
What will Mamma and Nursey do?"
Their tears ran down their cheeks so fast,
They made a little pond at last.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

"The Story Of The Man That Went Out Shooting" teaches us the paramount lesson of firearm safety. Namely, that sentient rabbits will steal your guns if you're negligent...
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

...whereas "The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb" informs tots that A.) a vengeful tailor will lop off your appendages with hedge trimmers; and B.) your parents will shrug nonchalantly when it happens.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

And finally there's "The Story of Augustus, Who Would Not Have Any Soup." This story imparts the subtle lesson, "If you don't eat, you will die immediately."
You can read the entirety of Struwwelpeterhere. Hoffman's nightmare tales were also adapted for Walter Hayn's 1911 American children's book Slovenly Betsy (full text here). Behold some complex-inducing illustrations from that.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

Proud Phoebe, whose perpetual nose in the air mutated her vertebrae.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

The little girl who "cried her eyes out."
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

Romping Polly, who made the mistake of rough-housing with little boys and broke her leg.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

See how her brother bursts in tears,
When told the dreadful story;
And see how carefully he bears
The limb all wet and gory.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

Romping Polly dies, of course.
The best scenes from the most demented German children's book ever published

And finally, "The Little Glutton" who tried to eat honey straight from the beehive.