Male stripper ‘Magic Mike’ is back for a second bite of the cherry in ‘Magic Mike XXL’ directed Gregory Jacobs. Three years on Mike, played by Channing Tatum, owns a furniture business and is gradually lured back into strip-tease when his troupe, the Kings of Tampa, hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one… Continue reading
Thirty-one years and counting, and the Terminators keep rolling off the assembly line like new iPhones, upgraded with shape-shifting abilities, rebooted Sarah Conner assassination levels and, one presumes, better selfie cameras. “Terminator Genisys,” directed by Alan Taylor (“Thor: The Dark World”), is the fifth entry in the series begun by James Cameron and a naked money… Continue reading
Pixar’s new film Inside Out provides an interesting spin on how to understand what’s going on in the mind of an 11-year-old girl. The bulk of the action takes place inside protagonist Riley’s head, where a group of emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger) work together (or not) to direct her behavior.
The film’s primary conflict is a compelling one: it depicts Riley’s response to a major, life-changing event – a cross-country move. But from the perspective of a practicing clinical child psychologist with 30 years of experience, it’s only partly successful in accurately depicting why children react the way they do.
Most tweens would have difficulty with a cross-country move at the start of middle school, and Riley is, understandably, sad, angry, disgusted and fearful. She loses interest in things she used to like to do. The fact that her parents are also stressed, making it difficult for them to pick up on her angst until it is almost too late, also rings true.
Riley’s life appears to be run by her emotions. The character Joy is chief among them: it’s a core part of who she is, and a great deal of energy is expended to keep her feeling and acting in positive ways. Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger all have roles, and their order of appearance makes sense, developmentally.
Joy not only tries to keep the other emotions in check, but she’s also in charge of making sure that the core memories – which seem to define key areas of Riley’s functioning – are intact. A lot of time is devoted to trying to keep Sadness away, since she could taint these happy memories.
But the notion that memories can be preserved unaltered is not in line with most current research thinking. Childhood traumatic events can be remembered accurately or inaccurately, while the field of eyewitness testimony is rife with examples of memories that are moderated by perception or time.
Furthermore, the emotions and behaviors of Riley are depicted using the same framework that adults often use to interpret their emotions. This misses the mark.
Children aren’t simply little adults; as developmental psychologists like Urie Bronfenbrenner have noted, it’s important to take into account the extent to which children are embedded in systems like family and school, where parents and teachers play a huge role in teaching children Riley’s age how to mediate their feelings.
Most 11-year-olds can tell you that they have feelings – and can name a few (though most would not name Disgust) – but more often than not, these feelings can overwhelm them. Adults, then, help them understand and make sense of their feelings, which is a gradual process.
In the end, the different characters for the emotions are altogether too mechanistic. It might be a nice way to show children that they have feelings, but it’s not really the way feelings work.
The film does have some signature strengths. The most authentic aspect of the film was the portrayal of conversations among Riley and her parents. Seeing her mother’s and then her father’s “inner emotions” react (like Riley, the parents also have characters assigned to their emotions) was a wonderful mapping of the kind of patterns that we see whenever families interact.
For example, at the dinner table, Mom gives Dad a look that’s intended to signal that he needs to take her side during an argument with Riley.
Dad’s emotions frantically discuss what she might mean. (“I wasn’t paying attention.” “Did we leave the toilet seat up again?” “Wait for her to do it again.”) Meanwhile, Mom’s (annoyed) emotions decide that she would have been better off with a former suitor. The humor with which it was handled was truly refreshing.
Similarly, one of the best aspects of the film is that Joy realizes that she must work with Sadness to enrich Riley’s emotional life. This is an age-appropriate realization; increased empathy in girls, especially, occurs at around Riley’s age.
Riley has a lot of experiences coming her way, as evidenced by the installation of the new control console at the end of the film with a red button labeled “puberty.” Like most adolescents, she will experience highs and lows, as her friends become more central and she discovers romantic feelings.
And it also sounds like groundwork being laid for a sequel centered on Riley’s pubescent years.
A cortege of battletrucks tears across the desert. A muscle-bound maniac roars pretty nothings at the bleak sky. A bald boy, face painted white, scurries around like a cockroach left stranded in a post-apocalyptic world.
There are metal spikes, sadistic implements of torture galore, massive machine guns mounted on the top of buggies, jeeps, motorcycles, and more leather than a Judas Priest concert.
The film, of course, is Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller’s long-awaited Mad Max sequel.
The story is a melange of the second (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior – 1981) and third (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – 1985) entries, following a series of battles between a gang led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne), an obese warrior kept alive by a Marilyn Manson-esque breathing apparatus, and a group of renegades led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and the eponymous Max (Tom Hardy).
© Warner Bros. Pictures and © Roadshow Films
In the post-apocalyptic future, Immortan and his cronies control the water in the “Citadel”, with Immortan leveraging this biopower to acquire petrol and bullets. The action begins when Furiosa liberates Immortan’s “breeders”, a group of young desert nymphs, and they head “east” towards the “Green place” of Furiosa’s youth, accompanied by Max.
They are pursued by Immortan, with other gangs joining the hunt along the way.
The desert we’ve seen before
The whole thing looks striking. The supersaturated reds of daytime desert (shot in Namibia, after the intended shoot location of Broken Hill fell through) are beautifully contrasted with the sombre blues of night, recalling the desert tones of Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback (1984).
Several of the sequences have a compulsively hallucinogenic quality, though this, coupled with the hammy performances of most of the cast, seems to verge more often than not on parody.
© Warner Bros. Pictures and © Roadshow Films
This is a problem that plagues any late-coming sequel, and it is amplified when the earlier films have been so influential.
Having lived through hundreds of Mad Max homages and clones, from Italian actioner Warriors of the Wasteland (1983) to Filipino exploitation yarn Stryker (1983), from Neil Marshall’s medium-sized production Doomsday (2008) to Kevin Reynolds’ big budget extravaganza Waterworld (1995), we are so used to the tropes of the post-apocalypse film that everything in Fury Road seems like unimaginative cliché or worse, lampoon.
© Warner Bros. Pictures and © Roadshow Films
Charlize Theron is strong as the heroine of the film, much more dominant than Max.
Tom Hardy, however, is miscast as Max: Mel Gibson has a face that seems bent on revenge, rugged and Roman, with a hint of mania in the eye. Hardy, in contrast, has a face that seems bent on rowing in an Oxbridge regatta – and it is no surprise that Miller barely focuses on Hardy’s face throughout the film.
Whereas Max in the earlier films was stoic, a reluctant Messiah wandering the wasteland and imbuing the films with a sense of mythical solitude and pathos, Max in Fury Road is simply there – often barely present in his scenes.
Theron receives her fair share of lingering close-ups, though these too seem a little rushed, the camera frequently moving away from her gaze before the full solemnity of the situation can register for the viewer.
Does the shift in focus away from Max towards Furiosa reflect some kind of postmodern sensitivity to gender? Not really: the women who are featured, warriors though they may be, are mostly scantily-clad. The only “naked” body we see in the film belongs to model Megan Gale – proving her acting chops by frowning a lot.
The pace of the action
Miller and crew evidently put a great deal of time and energy into the film’s action sequences, but everything is shot and cut at such a monotonously frenetic pace that the sequences lose any meaningful impact. This is clearly post-digital cinema, and the classical style that made Miller’s earlier films so effective is sorely missed in Fury Road.
Fluctuations of rhythm and fluctuations of tempo are what endow an action sequence with potency, as demonstrated in the work of great action directors like Sam Peckinpah, John Woo and Robert Rodriguez.
The interplay between movement and stasis creates the tension that compels the viewer to engage with the image. If every sequence is developed according to one rhythm and tempo, no matter how “high octane” this may be, the whole thing becomes dull, and the visceral impact of the action sequences in Fury Road is completely undermined by their lack of rhythmic variation.
It is difficult to understand why the film of an auteur like Miller would be so lacking in sensitivity to cinematic rhythm – unless it’s a matter of the medium moving beyond the man. Has the “freedom” offered by digital cinema in fact hamstrung Miller’s ability to create a powerful action sequence?
In the 1964 essay Camus’ Stranger Retried , French literary theorist René Girard writes that every artist revisits and critiques his or her earlier works in his or her new work.
How, then, does Fury Road fit into the continuum of Miller’s earlier films, and what is Miller saying about his oeuvre in this new film?
© Warner Bros. Pictures and © Roadshow Films
Mad Max then and now
Mad Max identified the desolate qualities of the Australian landscape and used the landscape as a springboard for an interrogation of Australian cultural mythologies of mateship, masculinity, the bush, and so on. There’s a hauntingly off-beat quality about it that is probably as much a product of budgetary limitations as intentionality on the part of Miller.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior tapped into the anarcho-right tendencies of the time, both affirming and laying bare the advent of neoliberal capitalism in the US and UK, whilst at the same time inspiring a generation of rock bands and filmmakers. Thatcher’s infamous comment that “there’s no such thing as society” certainly resonates in the second film.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome continued in this tradition, amplifying the mythical tendencies of both scene and character and reflecting, in the process, on the earlier films in the series.
Whence emerges Mad Max: Fury Road? Is it, even if, in Macbeth’s words, “full of sound and fury,” a “tale told by an idiot … signifying nothing”?
How Mad Max wrote the script for the action blockbuster
Mad Max: Fury Road opens internationally today.
Disney/Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, tells the story of 11-year-old Riley and her difficulty dealing with a family move to San Francisco. The film is getting a lot of attention for its depiction of emotion and memory.
The filmmakers consulted with neuroscientists and psychologists to help make sure they got the science right. As a cognitive psychologist who studies memory, I was excited to see how the film showed the relationship between memory and emotion.
The action primarily takes place within Riley’s mind, with anthropomorphic emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – as the main characters. Riley’s mind is shown to be vast, comprising many individual units (Imagination Land and Abstract Thought, for instance). The central location of the story is Headquarters, which corresponds to the current contents of Riley’s consciousness – what she is perceiving from the world around her and what the emotions and other “mind workers” choose to show her in the form of memories or ideas.
In some respects, the movie captures the science behind memory and emotion really well, such as how remembering past events can regulate emotion. Memories allow us to mentally time travel and to relive the past in the present. The character of Joy frequently recalls past memories of pleasant events in order to make Riley happy in the moment.
One recurring plot point is how memories can be changed when they are remembered. In the movie, memories are shown as translucent globes encapsulating events. Each globe takes on a different hue depending on the primary emotion of the event. A golden-hued joyful memory starts to turn blue when held by Sadness, showing the transformation of a previously happy memory to one that becomes bittersweet with the acknowledgment of loss. It’s well-established that the emotional character of events is sometimes altered as we recall them. Although certainly some events become more negative over time (which is depicted in the film), more often memories become more positive in retrospect. This positivity bias in remembering the past has been called the Pollyanna Principle, and it is a normal, healthy aspect of remembering.
The relationship between sleep and memory is also portrayed well. Sleep is presented as a time for moving the day’s memories into long-term storage. We know that sleep is an active part of the consolidation process which makes memories of all types more durable. And, dreams are shown to comprise components of the days’ events, only distorted and with the addition of fantastical and absurd elements. This seems to reflect how our minds consolidate memories and make sense of what we learn.
Inside Out does well when it comes to the interplay of memory and emotion, but the memory basics are a bit misleading.
Puzzle via www.shutterstock.com.
We reconstruct memories when we retrieve them
The film shows memories as stable and complete representations of actual events – something we know is not the case. The events of Riley’s day are automatically “encoded” into a single globe. Each memory globe is “stored” somewhere on a shelf in a vast long-term storage library. Memories are “retrieved” and sent intact and exact, back to Headquarters and, therefore, to consciousness.
That might be a handy visual metaphor for memory, but it’s not actually how memory works. We do encode events from our daily life without a deliberate intention to learn or remember them. For instance, you remember what you had for breakfast today even though you did not have to try to remember that information. But, our brain doesn’t store each memory as an individual whole unit.
Instead scholars believe that the components of events are processed by individual neural modules. Our brain has separate systems for basic cognitive functions: vision, hearing, language, emotion and so on. Visual components are processed by the visual system, auditory components by the auditory system, emotional components by the limbic system. Memories are stored in bits and pieces all over your brain. There is no globe sitting on a shelf that can be retrieved and used to reproduce the event exactly as it happened.
When we retrieve a memory, we reconstruct it from those component pieces. We use the same neural systems that encoded the components to see the event in our mind’s eye, hear it in our mind’s ear and re-experience the emotions associated with the event. That reconstructive process is influenced by what we know about the world around us, our current thoughts and beliefs, and our ongoing goals. So our memories can change over time, just as we do through the years.
In fact, each time we remember an event, we are simultaneously re-encoding that event, making it less likely to be forgotten.
The brain doesn’t discard old memories
Forgetting is another area where the movie represents a common but unsupported theory. The memory globes are shown as becoming less colorful and more dim as they grow older and are not retrieved. They eventually turn dark and gray and are sent to the “memory dump” where they turn to dust and disappear forever. This corresponds to a decay theory of forgetting, which suggests that time leads to permanent loss of information.
But psychologists tend to think of forgetting more as a temporary lapse in memory. There is much research to show that although some information cannot be recalled at will, there is still evidence of prior learning. The information may come to mind with the right reminder, or it may be more quickly recognized, or it may take less time to re-learn that information. Full-fledged memories may fade, but they leave some trace behind.
Books via www.shutterstock.com.
Memories connect to one another
In the film, memories are stored on shelves, each in a single space like books in a library. This doesn’t capture how interconnected our memories are. Memories are stored in component parts. Each individual memory shares features with many other memories – such as the processing components that encode each element, the content details like who was there, where the event took place, or when the event occurred, and the abstract themes like spiritual experiences, romantic moments, or professional accomplishments.
The movie tries to capture our ability to identify overarching themes and causal chains among our memories by showing how “core memories” fuel aspects of Riley’s personality, but this serves to emphasize individual memories rather than constellations of interrelated memories. Although we may have specific self-defining memories, these are typically quintessential examples of larger patterns in our lives. Our memory is less like the public library with many books on the shelves and more like Wikipedia with its many linked pages of information.
Overall, the movie does a great job of showing the complexity of the human mind. Even if not all of the details are completely accurate, the metaphors are grounded in a real understanding of psychological science. Yes, it perpetuates some myths about memory, but to be fair, the focus is on feelings, and it conveys the relationship between memory and emotion well. Plus, it’s a fun adventure story with a terrific message that is well worth watching.
Phyllis Smith is delighted to be sad. Make that Sadness, the character the Missouri-born actress voices in Pixar’s new animated adventure Inside Out. The movie opens in theatres June 19, following its world premiere last month at the Cannes Film Festival. Smith is one of five emotions inside the complicated mind of an 11-year-old girl named… Continue reading
Jurassic World is shaping up to be a monster success, to say the least. The fourth instalment of the Jurassic Park series has become the first film to take more than $500m (£330m) in its first weekend (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows set the previous record with $487m in 2011). And there seems a good chance this will continue: audience and critics’ ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are north of 70%, good numbers at a time when ever-more-cynical moviegoers have endless summer blockbuster CGI-spectacles to choose from.
Yet one group seems resolutely determined not to catch Jurassic fever. Step forward, my fellow palaeontologists. Of those who have been asked their opinions on Jurassic World, some have been positive, others lukewarm, but the vast majority have spawned articles along the lines of “palaeontologists slam Jurassic World”.
I suppose it’s a headline that gets people clicking. But they make palaeontologists look like grouchy whiners, disparaging a film because of nitpicky inaccuracies in the dinosaurs. The raptors hold their hands wrong, the mosasaur is too big, the T.rex moves too fast, the colours of the dinosaurs look too much like crocodiles and not enough like birds. And that’s just a taster.
The contradiction is that palaeontologists are usually some of the giddiest, happiest, most enthusiastic people I know. We study the most fantastic, stupendous creatures that ever lived in the 4.5bn-year history of our planet, so cynics need not apply for our jobs. We love our dinosaurs, love talking about them, and love it when we can share our passion with others.
The power of Jurassic Park
Personally I think Jurassic World is a great thing for my discipline. I saw the film this weekend and loved it. It was a good monster movie. I was able to suspend my paleontologist’s brain for a few hours, forget about the scientific flaws, and have fun.
I kept thinking back to 22 years earlier, when I saw the original Jurassic Park in cinemas in 1993. I was a nine-year-old kid, frittering away a humid summer in the mid-western US, spending long days playing baseball with my neighborhood friends. I didn’t care much for science. It was my least favorite class in school. But I remember being awed by the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. I didn’t become obsessed with them right away – that came about five years later – but the film brought science to life in a way that no book, museum or classroom lesson ever did.
For youngsters of this generation, Jurassic World will be a cultural milestone – just like in 1993. It will get people talking about dinosaurs, thinking, reading, doing web searches about them, asking their teachers, going to see them in museums. In my eyes, anything that gets people thinking about the world around them, the deep history of our planet, and the relationship between man and nature is a good thing.
Jurassic Park and science
Movies like Jurassic World can also have a great influence on science and scientists. The first Jurassic Park was probably the single most important thing that happened to palaeontology over the past half century. It inspired a huge number of people to study dinosaurs. Many palaeontologists of my vintage (aged 25-35) will say that it set them on their career path. This will undoubtedly be the case with Jurassic World as well, and it may even boost the take-up of other sciences. Maybe the person who eventually cures AIDS, discovers a new type of renewable energy or solves world hunger will have been hooked into science by Jurassic World.
The first Jurassic Park also led many museums and universities to hire dinosaur experts, and catalysed a burst of funding for palaeontological research. Some of the proceeds from Jurassic Park even went to fund original science, through the Dinosaur Society and the Jurassic Foundation. The latter is still active and bankrolled two of my projects as a student: a trip to China to describe the wacky meat-eater Monolophosaurus and fieldwork in Portugal discovering and excavating the “super salamander” Metoposaurus. My career may have never gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for these grants. If any of the executives from Universal or Amblin happen to be reading, I really hope that some of the staggering box office haul from Jurassic World can be pumped into research this time around.
Movies and scientific accuracy
Yes, some of the scientific inaccuracies in Jurassic World are a little annoying. I wish the dinosaurs were feathered, for instance, as we know many would have been from spectacularly preserved fossils. But Jurassic World is not a science documentary, and we shouldn’t expect it to be (unlike the recent T.rex autopsy that I was involved in).
This is entertainment. They make it very clear that the dinosaurs they feature are movie monsters quite unlike anything that actually lived during the Jurassic period. The film’s villain, Indominus rex, is a genetic mash-up of tyrannosaur and raptor and all kinds of other stuff. To even begin talking about this creature’s scientific accuracy would be like a bat specialist discussing the fine points of Batman’s anatomy and biomechanics.
To colleagues who have been bugged by all the inaccuracies, I ask: does it really matter that many people will think dinosaurs were a little bigger or toothier or scalier than they were in real life? Does it matter that the original Jurassic Park incorrectly showed T.rex sprinting at highway speeds or Velociraptors that were larger than the real thing? To those of us who study dinosaurs for a living, these matters may seem important, even existential. In the grand scheme, they’re noise. When a film has the potential to both inspire and entertain people, to the point of changing lives, I say, bring on the sequel.
Like many moviegoers this summer, I plan to watch Jurassic World. And because I’m a paleontologist, I’ll cheer for the movie’s protagonists (the dinosaurs) and jeer at the villains (the humans).
But no matter how thrilling this movie may be, one question will plague me throughout: where are the dung beetles?
Dung beetles – which are beetles that eat and breed in dung – would be only one of many ecological necessities for an actual Jurassic World-style theme park.
Yes, cloning long-extinct dinosaurs is impossible. But even if dinosaur genomes were available, the animals couldn’t simply be plopped anywhere.
So for the sake of argument, let’s say an extremely wealthy corporation did manage to create a diverse bunch of dinosaurs in a laboratory.
The next step in building a Mesozoic version of Busch Gardens would be figuring out how to recreate – and maintain – the dinosaurs’ ecosystems. Accomplishing this goal would require a huge team of scientists, consisting (at minimum) of paleontologists, geologists, ecologists, botanists, zoologists, soil scientists, biochemists and microbiologists.
Such a team then would have to take into account countless interacting factors for the dinosaurs’ recreated habitats. And perhaps they could take a page from rewilding efforts that are currently taking place throughout the world.
The issue of food
In a memorable scene from the original Jurassic Park, paleobotanist Dr Ellie Sattler examines an impressive heap of an ill Triceratops’s feces to look for digested remains of a toxic plant.
Here, the filmmakers touched on a key challenge for recreating an environment from a different geologic period. Many modern plants have evolved defenses against herbivores, which include toxins that can swiftly impair any animal that hasn’t adapted to them.
Consequently, a time-traveling Triceratops would be taking a big risk with every visit to its local salad bar. Paleobotanists could try to solve this problem by cataloging fossil plants that lived at the same time as plant-eating dinosaurs, before picking out descendants of those plants that are still around today. Still, plant lists will never be good enough to say whether or not a Triceratops, Stegosaurus or Brachiosaurus ate those plants or if they could eat their descendants.
The same might hold true for carnivorous dinosaurs, which – for all we know – may have been picky eaters. For instance, although some Triceratops bones hold tooth traces of Tyrannosaurus, there’s no way to be sure a genetically engineered Tyrannosaurus would eat an equally inauthentic Triceratops (even if it were organic and free-range).
So despite a century of dinosaur flicks portraying tyrannosaurs and other predatory dinosaurs gratuitously munching humans, one bite of our species – or other sizable mammals – might make them sick. In other words, there’s no accounting for taste.
Animals that do the dirty work
The lack of dung beetles in that same scene with Dr Sattler also may have explained why the Triceratops’s feces were piled so high. We know from fossil burrows in dinosaur coprolites (fossil feces) that dung beetles fed on dinosaur droppings at least 75 million years ago. Similarly, Late Jurassic dinosaur bones from nearly 150 million years ago hold the traces of carcass-eating insects.
Kay-africa/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
This makes sense: wastes, bodies and other forms of stored matter and energy must be recycled in functioning modern ecosystems. Accordingly, to maintain the productivity of these dinosaurs’ ecosystems, animals that perform essential services to the ecosystem would need to be introduced.
These include pollinators, such as bees, beetles and butterflies, as well as seed dispersers, like birds and small tree- and ground-dwelling mammals. Thus Masrani Global – the imaginary corporation tasked with creating Jurassic World – should have added entomologists (insect scientists), ornithologists and mammalogists to the career opportunities page on its mock website.
‘Pleistocene Parks’ a realistic possibility?
Can we learn anything useful from such fanciful reconstructing of long-gone ecosystems, where large animals once roamed? Sure.
In so-called “rewilding” projects, imagination meets real science. These projects, which attempt to restore ecosystems by closely mimicking their previous iterations, often include reintroducing locally extinct animals.
Perhaps the most famous and successful of such rewilding projects began just after the release of the original Jurassic Park.
In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. Although admittedly not as exciting as releasing a pack of velociraptors into the woods, the reintroduction of wolves – which had been extirpated from the area earlier in the 20th century – had a dramatic restorative effect.
After the wolves gorged on elk – which, without predators, had overpopulated the region – riverine foliage grew more lushly. This prevented erosion and expanded floodplains, which gave beavers a better habitat to get to work damming rivers.
A similar experiment is taking place in Europe, where increased numbers of large carnivores, such as wolves, bears and lynxes, are reshaping their ecosystems closer to their original states.
Bolstered by these successes, rewilding proponents have even proposed reintroducing elephants, lions, cheetahs and other animals to parts of North America as ecological proxies to mammoths, American lions and American “cheetahs” that lived only a little more than 10,000 years ago in those areas.
Public Library of Science/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY
Given the much shorter elapsed time since their extinction, enough similar species today and no need for genetic engineering, a “Pleistocene Park” – Pleistocene being the geological epoch that was about 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago – would be far easier to achieve than a Jurassic World (while also being more alliterative).
So to any corporations out there that are thinking of making such a park, do us a big favor: whatever you do, don’t forget to include dung beetles.