Magazines – Looking way, way back

What a disappointment! Hardly any magazines attempted millenial summaries. Oh, there were the usual year in review articles, even a couple of looks back at the century (the Life collection of important images of the century, published in book form, was my favorite of these). But even People, usually not shy, didn’t attempt a Most-intriguing-100 -people-of-the-last-thousand-years article.

Fortunately, The Economist almost makes up for it single-handedly, with a special edition that I will be reading for weeks to come. Their Millennium special edition: Reporting on a thousand years is worth hunting out on your local newsstand, even if you normally avoid anything to do with economics.

The Economist It’s easy to spot the magazine on a crowded rack, since the cover stands out: a medieval woman in long blue gown, typing on a computer while a monk looks anxiously in at the window. The central image is surrounded by a garland with a snail, hare, squirrel, rooster and magpie. Knowing this magazine, I’m sure there is a subtle comment here on speed (fast and slow), conservatism, boasting, and an attraction to bright shiny objects. There’s another bird, too, but I don’t recognize it.

The magazine itself includes geographically-focused sections on Britain, Europe, the United States, the broader Americas (nothing on Canada, though) and Asia, and also general on topics like international politics, business, finance, science and technology.

The articles on science and technology are particularly intriguing. The lead essay explores the relationship between science and technology and the incredible increase in human population and wealth over the last one thousand years. The discussion isn’t at all simplistic: it is not just saying “science made technology possible, and that led to increased wealth and population growth.” Instead, it explores the development of technology in different cultures and speculates about why some empires whose science was more advanced were eventually surpassed technologically by western Europe.

There’s lots more: articles on colonization and immigration, medical history, the steam engine, religion, the first play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the founding of Hollywood… it’s an eclectic collection.

And an ambitious one, but The Economist is particularly well-positioned to bring it off. It’s a British magazine that has been published since 1834. (The Web site includes archives, but unfortunately they don’t go back that far.) Some of the most interesting quotes sprinkled through this issue come from the pages of the magazine itself: contemporary comments on the beginning of World War I were quite moving. So although there aren’t any publications that were around for the entire thousand years, at least this one was there for more than 15% of that time.

Review: “Killer Instinct” (the making of “Natural Born Killers”)

When “Natural Born Killers” came out in theaters several years ago, I had the misfortune to sit through the film twice in a row. I worked part-time in a movie theater (for the free movies, of course) and caught the movie on a slow day at work. Just as I got out of the theater (and subsequently got off work), two friends of mine showed up at the theater, begging me to watch the movie with them. And so, despite having just finished watching it, and despite the fact that I hated it (it’s in my top 5 all-time worst movies ever made), I sat through the movie – again.

And I haven’t seen it since. I never will…at least, I think I never will. Last year I bought Jane Hamsher’s “Killer Instinct”, a tell-all book about the making of this horrible movie (that’s only my opinion – don’t criticize me for speaking out against this movie). Hamsher is a film producer, responsible for such films as “Apt Pupil”, “Permanent Midnight” and, of course, “Natural Born Killers”.

Upon graduating from film school, Hamsher and her partner Don Murphy set up camp in her living room, determined to become movie moguls. They fell into possession of a script by an unknown writer named Quentin Tarantino, and bought it for $10,000. But then “Reservoir Dogs” achieved critical acclaim, and Tarantino became a hot property (and an egotistic jerk) – and Hamsher and Murphy were in danger of losing the script they so desperately wanted to make into movie gold.

After fighting for control of the script, Oliver Stone let it be known that he wanted to direct, and they quickly signed up for his vision. And from then on in this hilarious tell-all, Hamsher takes the reader on a ride that’s difficult to keep up with! Hamsher is an engaging writer – at times philosophical, at other times irreverent, she packs a wallop as she opens Pandora’s box of Hollywood best and worst goodies.

To be truthful, at times Hamsher is incredibly self-serving, promoting herself and her partner as complete innocents among devils. But at other times she freely admits to her faults, such as their (illegal) attempt to ruin someone’s reputation via fax machine.

But when she gets involved in her anecdote, it’s a fun read. Her description of the real inmate riot during their filming of the prison scenes made me feel like I was right there. And being able to read about what happened behind the scenes makes me want to rent the movie if only to think to myself, “Gee – that’s real fear on that guard’s face right now!”

Any film buff would enjoy this book immensely. Any small time filmmaker who thinks it’s easy to get a film made in Hollywood needs to read this book. You’ll learn all about pitch meetings, star egos, the horrors of location shooting, the trouble with creating the perfect soundtrack, and fistfights with prima donna writers. Hamsher takes great pains to explain why their success was a fluke – how two grad students had no business becoming huge movers and shakers.

As I said, I’ll probably never watch the movie again, but if I do, I’ll have “Killer Instinct” at my side so I can read along with it. Hamsher makes no excuses – She knows she got lucky. So did we.

By the way, in case you were wondering, my five all-time worst movies ever made (in order) are:

1. Fight Club 2. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me 3. Natural Born Killers 4. Criminal Law 5. The Thirteenth Floor

You may disagree with my choices, but that’s my top five. I’m all for artistic license, but please – these movies are lousy. You know it, I know it.

But read the book! You won’t be disappointed!

George Stevens: Film Director

Known for inspiring actors such as Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, Stevens has amassed an impressive filmography.

George Stevens was born in Oakland, California in 1904. When he was a child, his parents (both stage actors), moved to Los Angeles to find work, and it was in Hollywood that Stevens later began his career as a cameraman working on Laurel and Hardy comedy shorts. He directed his first screen success in 1935, the romantic comedy Alice Adams, starring Katherine Hepburn.

Stevens was known for his compassion and ability to instill confidence in actors. Creating a film required collaborative team effort, and he treated actors with respect and dignity to achieve this goal. He worked with many famous Hollywood stars: Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, and he directed Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in their first film together, Woman of the Year (1942).

“I love the adventure of doing things I haven’t done before” Stevens once said. This desire for innovation combined with a love of storytelling helped Stevens create some of his greatest films. In the early 1950’s, during the height of the “Shoot Em’ Up” cowboy craze, Stevens made a film that portrayed the West in a grittier, more realistic light. Paramount Studios, concerned with high production cost and believing the film would be a box office failure, offered to sell it to Howard Hughes. But Stevens finished the picture and Shane became a popular success, nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in 1953. Today Shane is considered a classic, not only within the Western genre, but also as a work of art.

When the Second World War began, Stevens joined the army, and was assigned a team of cameramen. They recorded the British invasion of Normandy and liberation of Paris; however, it was the Nazi extermination camp Dachau that caused Stevens to look inward and reflect on the human condition. His films A Place in the Sun (1951), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) are a film trilogy which reflect his inner questioning and exploration of life’s fragile nature and the human need for faith.

George Stevens said: “Life is a journey and it’s always most interesting when you’re not sure where you’re going”. This belief guided Stevens throughout his life and film career. He worked with a clear vision and belief that film has the power to touch the human heart. There is much to learn from George Stevens. His films still deserve our attention today.

A short George Stevens Filmography:

Alice Adams (1935)

Swing Time (1935)

Penny Serenade (1941)

Woman of the Year (1942)

Nazi Concentration Camps (1945)

I Remember Mama (1948)

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Shane (1953)

Giant (1956)

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

Doctor Who: Second Series

” … more playful and coy than its First Series, Doctor Who’s Second Series is filled with comedy, action and enough scares to keep everyone entertained for hours.”
On-air: April 4, 2006 – July 8, 2006
Current Status 3rd Series starting Mar 17/07
Country of Production: UK
Original Network: BBC 1
Release Date: Feb 6, 2007
Distribution: BBC Video
No. of Discs: 6
Episodes: 14
Language: English

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) are on another set of adventures in the Second Series of Doctor Who. Perhaps more playful and coy than its First Series, Doctor Who’s Second Series is filled with comedy, action and enough scares to keep everyone entertained for hours.

Without giving too much away, former enemies of the Doctor turn up with the resurrection of the Cybermen and old friend Sara Jane drops by a school when her curiosity gets the best of her.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Second Series better than the First. I only hope that its Third Season (starting March 17/07 on BBC) is able to raise the bar yet again.

Special Features:

Episode Commentaries: There are commentaries on all 14 episodes, ranging from the regular audio commentary during the episodes, to an In-Vision Commentary that shows a small box at the bottom of the screen.

Doctor Who: Confidential: Behind the Scenes featurettes accompanying each episode.

Video Diaries by David Tennant (85 mins) and Billie Piper (20 mins)

Deleted Scenes

Outtakes: featuring Cybermen frolicking and playing in the park amongst humans (very cute!)

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