The Imitation Game – Thoughts

[caption id="attachment_16600" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game Photograph: Allstar/Black Bear Pictures/Sportsphoto Ltd. (Photograph: Allstar/Black Bear Pictures/Sportsphoto Ltd.)[/caption]

Since this time I don’t think I’ll be getting the call from the folks at Screen Junkies to talk about this one, I’ll do a quick post on my thoughts while they are still fresh. (There are no real spoilers in what follows, but if like me you like to know as little as possible about a film before going to see it, forming your own opinion before having to see the film filtered through those of others, do wait until you’ve seen it before reading beyond the second paragraph.)

I enjoyed the film very much. As a piece of human drama, it was a great story to tell, and frankly it does fill me with dismay that few people seem to know the story, so I am glad it is getting mainstream attention. It was done extremely well, in terms of standard things like all the acting performances (more or less), photography, and the overall tone of judge direction. Given the subject matter – its social and historical importance – this was a beyond the ordinary human drama well told. I enjoyed it.

But. BUT

But it missed an opportunity to not just be “beyond the ordinary” but truly exceptional and ground breaking. All we needed was about 5 or so minutes of extra screen time to achieve this. I’m talking about the ironic fact that Interstellar, which is I remind you a science fiction film (which many scientists […] Click to continue reading this post

Interstellar Science at Screen Junkies!

screen_junkies_interstellarAs promised on Tuesday, below you will find my Screen Junkies interview where I chat with Hal Rudnick about some of the science in Interstellar. We covered a lot of topics and went into a lot of detail, but a lot of that is on the cutting room floor in order to make a svelte (but relatively generous) ten minute cut. I hope you enjoy it. (See my earlier thoughts on why I think scientists need […] Click to continue reading this post

Hanging out at Screen Junkies!

hal_rudnick_clifford_johnsonJust finished another enjoyable hour of chatting about movies and science with the Screen Junkies guys! You’ll recall the fun results of the last two (see here on Time Travel and here on Guardians of the Galaxy). We were talking about… wait for it… Interstellar! Their legions of fans have been shouting at them to do something about the science in Interstellar for weeks now, and they heard them, and called me in to chat. In the course of an hour we talked about a lot of fun things, but remember – they’ll cut it all down to 5 minutes or so, and so we won’t get to a lot of things. I do not know what bits will be used… (It will be different from my spoiler-free recent Interstellar discussion.)

In my previous visits there I’d never got to see the famous Screen Junkies wall in front of which they have conducted so many fun interviews (see their site […] Click to continue reading this post

Interstellar Thoughts

After emerging from a spectacular 70mm viewing of Interstellar at the Arclight Dome last night, I was grinning from ear to ear, which is unusual these days after seeing a film in this subject area (science fiction, space travel, the future of humanity, etc). (And by science fiction here I mean proper science fiction, not space opera or space adventure. There’s a lot of that and some of it is fun and makes me grin too, like this Summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. But that’s not at all the same sort of thing.)

I’m not going to go into any details, since I am very tired of the practice of talking about films to the extent that you say so much of what happens that it is impossible for someone to enjoy watching the film unfold in front of them without knowing what comes next, the way I like my films best. So I’m not going to ruin things for you.

Everybody keeps asking me “what did you think of the science?” since they know that there’s a lot of stuff in there that relates to my subject area and interests. Many seem to want me to pronounce on what’s “good” and whats “bad” about the science, as though I’ve (like many scientists in the public sphere seem to have done) elected myself some sort of guardian of scientific ideas. Let me say two things. The first is that this is a science fiction film, not a science documentary. I’m already hearing all sort of humourless declarations about this and that and the other being wrong and how shameful it is, as happened with Gravity last year. Done right, such discussions can be an opportunity to teach a bit about science ideas, but most often it just comes across as being a smartass, which is a bit tedious, and leads me to my second point.

The second point is something I say a lot and needs to be said a lot more: Scientists don’t own science and its concepts and ideas. We should be careful […] Click to continue reading this post

Interstellar Discoveries

I’m a fan of Chris Nolan’s work so I’ve been looking forward to Interstellar. I’ve also been fascinated by the McConaussance – the transformation of Matthew McConaughey into an actor of considerable stature in a series of excellent films (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, etc…), so I’ve been doubly interested in seeing how he works in a film under Nolan’s direction. Same for the always amazing Casey Affleck. All quite exciting to see.

But then to my surprise it turns out there’s another reason to be interested. Kip Thorne. Some years ago, at a party when I last saw him, Kip told me that he had been working on some film or other with a major studio, but I did not know of the details. Then I ran into a mutual friend a couple of months ago who said something a long the lines of “Kip’s movie is coming out soon…”, and I learned that it was something to do with Interstellar! But I did not know any details.

Then I got sent* this Wired story, and then** this story, and I finally got around to looking. The Wired story has a lot of interesting detail, including a special film (that I ought to look at at) with interviews and behind the scenes material (the still to the right is a screen shot from it). still_from_interstellar_wiredThe film will apparently feature a black hole and a wormhole in some way (I don’t want to know more – I like films to unfold in front of me in the theatre). Kip has been working with the visual effects people to get right exactly how such objects really look, an issue that has not really been fully addressed, it seems. He, like a number of us interested in science and film, is keen to help filmmakers really do a good job of representing some of these fascinating objects as accurately as possible. (Not, in my view, in order to stifle filmmakers’ imagination, as it so often seems when you hear scientists out there pontificating about what’s wrong in one film or another, but because the actual science is so very often far more interesting and full of delights and possibility than a visual effects kluge can be…) So apparently he wrote down […] Click to continue reading this post

Screen Junkies Chat: Guardians of the Galaxy

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 3.13.03 PMYou may recall that back in June I had a chat with Hal Rudnick over at Screen Junkies about science and time travel in various movies (including the recent “X-Men: Days of Future Past”). It was a lot of fun, and people seemed to like it a lot. Well, some good news: On Tuesday we recorded (along with my Biophysicist colleague Moh El-Naggar) another chat for Screen Junkies, this time talking a bit about the fun movie “Guardians of the Galaxy”! Again, a lot of fun was had… I wish you could hear all of the science (and more) that we went into, but rest assured that they* did a great job of capturing some of it in this eight-minute episode. Have a look. (Embed below the more-click):
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Honest Time Travel?

On Tuesday I hung out with some of the Screen Junkies folks who you may know from the hilarious “Honest Movie Trailers” web series (seriously, if you’ve not seen any of them, please go right now and have a look). We had a fun chat about time travel in movies, and presenter Hal Rudnick and I bonded over various movies old and new. The final version of the show is up on YouTube (embed below), and I’m bummed that I did not get to meet the other guest, Christina Heinlein (JPL), who seems fun – and is a descendant of, yes, that Heinlein. I love the idea that she works at JPL, helping make possible the space exploration that Robert Heinlein helped inspire us all about in his writing. Anyway, enjoy the short piece (I wish you could see a bunch of the other material too… we really had a great chat about the ins and outs of time travel, but a lot of it inevitably ended up not making the cut…)

I could not resist talking about my view of this (perhaps growing) trend of using time travel as a means of resetting movie franchises (see Star Trek, X-Men…). It’s a great way of repairing writing and other filmmaking wrong turns. Feel free to imagine your own version of this – Star Wars anyone? Another pass at […] Click to continue reading this post

Heaven Help Us

Well it is 6:30pm. It was my plan to take a nap this late afternoon (maybe early evening) but I’m not going to do that anymore. Why? Well turns out I’m appearing in a show this evening. It starts at midnight so I’m a little afraid that I might just sleep all the way through, wake up tomorrow morning and so miss my spot. So while the sleep would do me some good in order to be up so late, and functioning, I think I’ll skip it.

What’s the show? Well it’s a show on stage put on by some of the Upright Citizens Brigade. They asked me to appear as a guest – not as a character, but actually as myself, a scientist. It’ll be in front of a live audience, although they will be taping it later possible broadcast. You know how it goes with me – I especially like an opportunity to put some science out there here it is not expected so this is right up my alley. My understanding is that it’s a comedy […] Click to continue reading this post

New Tool

magnify_toolActually, this new tool is pretty old school, and I love it! There are times when I want to have a change of venue while doing rather detailed work for The Project… perhaps go sit in a cafe for a change, instead of at the drawing desk. But when not at the drawing desk, I could not use the lovely large illuminated magnifying glass […] Click to continue reading this post

Dining

lunch_timeWell, since yesterday was all about eating here in the USA (Thanksgiving, in case you missed that), I thought I’d share a partially inked panel from The Project, of a meal in progress. I got a bit of quiet time to work on it this evening, while listening to Jimi Hendrix and then Freddie Hubbard. They helped a lot. It is at times like this I wonder what insanity has come over me […] Click to continue reading this post

Seminar Done

seminar_over Managed to find a little time over the last few days to lay out, draw, and ink a page in The Project. It has been insanely busy for me, so this is a little bit of a triumph in stealing some time back. It’s actually the same seminar that you saw in earlier posts (here and here). Now it is over. It remains a tradition in our field to give a little round of applause after a talk, which I find rather nice and quaint. It was a pleasure to depict that.

It is a wider view of the room, which meant (aaaargh!) drawing even more faces and bodies than before. Then there’s the challenge of doing them in different states of attention, applauding, with different faces, bodies, states of dress, etc. When I come to paint it I’ll be wanting to pick colors that together communicate the right mood for the panel and for the whole page it is part of, and so forth. It can be daunting to do all those faces, bodies, shirts, feet, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Copenhagen Address

copenhagen_address_aLast night’s event was wonderful. The actors had such passion, and it was all done with great pacing and flow. This was a most marvellous play reading – the cast’s performances felt so fully inhabited by the text of the play that it hardly felt like a reading at all.

They (Nike Doukas as Margrethe Bohr, Arye Gross as Neils Bohr, and Leo Marks as Werner Heisenberg) and director Jack Rowe, should be very proud. They did very little rehearsal for this, which is makes it all the more impressive.

I gave an opening address* (and also introduced the evening**, as usual forgetting to introduce myself…) and the text of my address follows:

Good evening and welcome!

Yesterday, the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced. You might recall that it was for the discovery of the mechanism that gives all elementary particles their masses. A profound mystery about the universe was solved. While that’s a wonderful thing, and many people acknowledge that, many people don’t connect anything about that quest to understand the universe to themselves.

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Copenhagen Tonight

I’ve been thinking about the early 20th Century recently, and the development of quantum mechanics, as a result of re-reading Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen. There’s going to be a staged reading of it tonight at USC, put on by the School of Dramatic Arts, and I’ll be giving an opening address. I sat in a bar late last night over a fine oatmeal stout, thinking a little bit about what I might say in the address, and I expect I’ll put the finishing touches on the brief sketch of ideas while sitting on the subway to work this morning. We shall see. I’ll try to remember to post the text of it here if it turns out to be not entirely dreadful.

I’ve very clear memories of this play, and my first encounter with it. I was lucky to get to go to a special pre-opening performance of it when it debuted in New York (in the year 2000) I and got to meet and talk to Michael Frayn (and if I recall correctly, Claire Tomalin) about the writing of the play at the after-party at Sardi’s – a very interesting conversation it was too. I also (by a happy coincidence) got to sit next to Freeman Dyson during the performance, and was able to glance over occasionally to see the delight on his face at seeing old acquaintances of his brought back to life. (Well, I learned afterwards that this was the reason for the delight…)

-cvj

(Image from Playbill.com) Click to continue reading this post

Interview about Science and Film

cuatusc_interviewI did an interview last week Tuesday with the channel CU@USC. It is a chat show, and so I did the sitting on the couch thing and so forth. All very amusing…

…And hopefully useful. I am spending many hours each day building awareness for this year’s USC Science Film Competition, an annual project you might remember me starting back in 2011, and stressing over a lot. And then again in 2012. It continues to survive for another year. This is year three, and although it has given me many grey hairs, I fight on, because I think it is of value to get students from all fields, whether scientist or engineer, writer or filmmaker, journalist or artist, to learn to collaborate in the art of telling a story that has science content. (Actually, learning to collaborate to tell a story about any issue of even moderate nuance is an important skill, science or not.) Anyway, the interview material is now up online and so you can have a look here. (The site uses flash, so might not work on some devices.)

I speak about the competition and also my own take on bringing science to film both fact and fiction (which for the latter especially is probably different from many others in that I don’t think it is always productive for a scientist in a film project to be […] Click to continue reading this post

Completed Seminar

institute_seminar__finished_smallWell, it is still in progress, as you can see from the picture, but my work on rendering it is completed, more or less. (One never stops tinkering at these things, but I’m going to move on.) This is the more refined version of the rough I showed you a couple of posts ago here. This panel is part of the opening splash page for this particular story of the graphic book project and so what you’re actually seeing is one of three tiny inserts on top of a larger establishing-shot kind of splash/bleed page. So the truth is that it’ll be so small on the page that almost nobody is likely to […] Click to continue reading this post

Seminar in Progress

institute_seminar_smallI recently spent a bit of time (quite a bit of time) carefully reconstructing details of a certain Institute in Europe from memory (I visited some years ago) and some photos in order to set the opening scenes of one of the stories for the book project. (What sort of details? Things like what the layout of the rooms are, the style of the building, the number of radiators along the walls, types of windows and black boards, chairs, and so forth. I’m a tiny bit detail-oriented at times, you may have noticed.) I’ve been laying out the opening splash page and the inset panels have a seminar in progress. This was fun to draw. I started out with this view partially roughly constructed with pencil and then since it was small and fiddly, decided to pop it onto the ipad (legacy model) and finish and refine aspects of the drawing digitally.

I remain in two minds about sketching digitally like this. One the one hand, it does […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXX – Comedy Moments and More

crystal_D_and_cvjWhat happened here? Who is that, and what exactly made her so annoyed? Read on!

There are a number of new things coming out on screens near you (or may have already aired) that might interest you. For fans of the History Channel’s The Universe (thanks so much for all the emails with kind remarks, and so forth, by the way) there’s a new show in the works that’ll mix science and history (and other disciplines) in an interesting way. I’ve no idea when it is set to air though, and frankly I’m very confused as to what is on History and what is on H2, the companion channel, so I’ll just say watch out for that. We shot a lot of material for that earlier this year, and I hope you enjoy the show overall, despite my mumbling mug appearing on your screen a bit!

Apparently the many of the Weather Channel’s science-y segments were shown, in a series called “Deadly Space Weather”, which imagines what would happen on earth if you brought various prevailing conditions on other planets back here. Yeah, I know… but actually it’s a good opportunity to think about science ideas, at least in principle. You’ll recall that I did some demos for that which were rather fun – and hopefully interesting too. I saw a piece of one of them online (10:44 or so), and got rather annoyed at one point. There’s a segment where I demonstrate – with real sulphuric acid – the effect it has on organic compounds, using sugar. It is quite spectacular. And of course quite dangerous, so I’m actually wearing a lab coat (yes, there are occasions where real […] Click to continue reading this post

Science Slams!

One of the things that came up in conversation in my meeting at the APS on Tuesday was Science Slams. These are a lot of fun, and are growing in popularity and frequency. Maybe you might want to take part in one, or organize one. There’s a lot of great theater to be had, and its fun for wider audience, just as poetry slams when done well can be fun for an audience that might not have chosen to study or listen to poetry. (See earlier posts on the local Dead Poets’ Slam, for example.)

My friend Herbi Dreiner, at the University of Bonn in Germany, (he’s in the photo at the right, used with permission) is one of the most active and experienced people I know of in the area of successfully combining physics, theatre, and (if you like) performance art. If you don’t know about his herbi_dreiner_slamminphysics show, that has even gone on tour internationally, have a look at an article he wrote about it (with links to video and photos) for the journal The Physics Teacher here (arxiv version here).

Herbi’s been getting involved in physics slams too, and he wrote a very nice piece about his own participation in the Guardian. Have a look here. He went into some nice detail about how (with the help of the audience) he illustrated the issues [..] Click to continue reading this post

Science on Screen – Primer

Well, that was a hugely fun evening! The Cinefamily screening of Primer was sold out to a packed and enthusiastic audience. (That alone was worth it…) I met Shane Carruth back stage for a few minutes and immediately was impressed. I like people who take the time to think carefully about what they are going to say before saying it, visibly carefully weighing what was just said in the conversation and then adding to it in an interesting way. He’s one of those people. So I knew that the panel discussion was going to be great.

[caption id="attachment_13780" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13782" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)[/caption]

We started off with an introduction from the executive director of Cinefamily, Hadrian Belove, who introduced us and asked me to say a few words before the film began. I kept it brief, and started by congratulating Cinefamily on doing the Science on Screen series, saying that it is an important thing to do (which it is -it is part of a Sloan funded national program; more here) and then went on to say […] Click to continue reading this post

Primer, and More…

I learned last week that there’s a new regular item in the New York Times’ science section where Jascha Hoffman does a round up of a few notable Science events, books, etc., around the nation. It is noted this week that Cinefamily starts up its new Science on Screen series (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) starting starting Wednesday night with the excellent film “Primer”. (Photo is from the website.) If you don’t know it, and if you’re in the area, go and see it! As a bonus, you’ll have the writer/director of the film, Shane Carruth, present for introductions and Q&A. He’ll be accompanied by some scientist dude called Clifford V. Johnson who, according to the website, will […] Click to continue reading this post

The Fifth Feeling – All Episodes!

Recall the mock science doc I pointed you to earlier, the Fifth Feeling? Well, all the episodes are now online in HD, on Funny Or Die. You can see the remaining episodes (3, 4, and 5 since I posted) now, or watch them all, since they look great in HD. (Or maybe because you’re simply a huge Ray Wise fan from the good ol’ Twin Peaks days..?) Here’s episode 1 again to get you started if you’ve not seen the setup, and from there you can jump to the others*:

Ok, ok. I can’t resist posting episode 4 as well, because that doorstep conversation cracks me up every time… […] Click to continue reading this post

100 Registered!

So one of the things that has been taking up my time is the USC Science Film Competition. Well, last week, an important (slightly nail-biting) deadline passed, and that was the date by which interdisciplinary teams should have formed (finding each other due to the awareness campaign I’ve been running around doing since August – with the help of faculty who kindly spread the word in their classes, the blog I set up, an article by Pam Johnson in the Dornsife News, and ads in the Daily Trojan), come up with a film idea, and registered it.

So the day came, and (of course) within 20 minutes of the appointed cut-off hour […] Click to continue reading this post

USC Science Film Competition – A New Year!

…And here we are again! I’m launching the second year of the USC Science Film Competition as of, well, a few seconds ago. Please go to the website to learn more. You’ll find a collection of links at the very end of the main page, along with a slide show, talking a bit about last year’s successful inaugural competition. I’m hoping for a competition at least as exciting and interesting (er, in all the good ways!) as last year.

If at USC, spread the word, please! I especially need faculty to help encourage […] Click to continue reading this post

Becoming Engaged…

It turns out that a really great way of passing the time when listening to someone give a talk is to do some sketch practice. [… wait, what? The post title? Oh! No, no, don’t be silly. Ok., let me continue …] If the subject matter is right, it’s a good thing to do while you focus on what’s being said. This last couple of days I’ve been in Aspen, Colorado, and I’m starting out my visit here with a three day conference entitled “Becoming Engaged: Initiatives That Can Change Science Education”. You can see more about it on a dedicated website hosted by ICAM. One of the people behind it is David Pines, and we’ve had many conversations about science outreach and science education over the years, and so he invited me to participate. I’m supposed to be here at Aspen for my visit to the Aspen Center for Physics, and so I’m only partially attending, opting to to listen to some talks, and take part in some discussions… then going back over to the center to hear some LHC and Higgs chatter on the LHC workshop that is starting up this week.

There are a lot of interesting people talking about science education, and science outreach, many describing their various approaches and projects in short talks and presentations. (I will tell you about some of them in future posts.) It is great to meet several people who are passionate about outreach too, and see what others are up to and share ideas… so this is a valuable time. Hopefully, some action ideas will come of this meeting that […] Click to continue reading this post

Speaking of Time…

Just finished a complete redo of a nine (plus one) panel page of the Arena story that was the prototype outing for the graphic novel project. (See some earlier posts, e.g. here, about this redo process.)

I shudder at the horrible drawings on the page it replaced.

To the left are some parts of the new page… Click for a larger view.

In other news, I met our new Dean (of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences) today, during a short session where a few of us had a conversation with him while someone filmed us. I think it is some film they are doing about the new Dean taking up the reigns, or something similar. He seemed a nice enough fellow, and he seems to be coming with definite ideas for interesting changes… I’m looking forward […] Click to continue reading this post