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Certain mysteries revealed
21 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know how I got to thinking about this movie when I was washing the dishes tonight. Took me five iterations to find the title but when I saw the poster of Ms Collins on I knew I'd hit pay dirt.

What struck me about it is that I only saw it once, and it would have been the year it came out, in 1955. I would have been eight years old, which is why I recall (1) seeing it with my older sister and (2) that I could not, for the life of me, figure out the plot. I do know that, as an eight-year-old male, I thought it was way cool that the slaves all had their tongues cut out so they couldn't reveal the secrets, and that all those stone blocks cut off all hope of escape at the end. And even at eight years of age I could appreciate Ms Collins' futile struggle when she tried to push back one of the stones that entrapped her in the heart of the pyramid. Yummy.

But I was also something of an embryo engineer--little did I know that I'd have to learn about the flow characteristics of dry sand for my doctoral dissertation some forty years later--and I liked the sand and the clay pots. I wondered for years how they would have joined those pots to the stone blocks, or drilled holes in the blocks, and all the other technical details that the writers must have wondered about themselves.

And then there was that final speech, where the guy yells at poor Joan. I mean, here she's gonna be trapped with these guys forever, and he wants her to consider the wages of her evil plot, whatever it was. It seemed unnecessary, under the circumstances, though I went to a school system where it wouldn't have been out of place: they were always yelling at us for something.

I think I was reading a book about ancient engineering not that many years ago when I came to a section where they discussed the inner structure of the Great Pyramid. And for a moment I wondered if they'd found the skeletons of the Queen and all those guys, including the ones without tongues.
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Y2K (1999 TV Movie)
Excellent comments, anyway.
24 October 2007
I haven't seen this movie, so I suppose I shouldn't comment. But the rest of the comments on it are excellent, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to thank those who did see it. The couple of comments from 1999 are particularly interesting and of some historic significance.

I became an involuntary Y2K expert when in 1999 I started hearing bogus experts discuss how the world was going to end without understanding anything about how it worked in the first place. The more I tried to calm people down by assuring them that people and not computers were in ultimate control of most systems, the more furious they became. It got to the point where I started a radio show to discuss the matter.

I do hope that someone writes a good book or at least a comprehensive magazine article on the Y2K phenomenon. It was fun while it lasted, and the domain has been for sale for years now.

Little did we know that we in the USA had lots more to worry about less than two years later.
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Grease (1978)
It's improved with age...
2 September 2007
The movie has proved more durable than anyone would have thought. It took substantial critical hits for being a Califoria-ized, Olivia-Newton-John-ized adaptation of a beloved, long-running New York show. At least, we mused at the time, they changed the story so they wouldn't have to make Ms Newton-John affect any sort of American accent: certainly not a New York one.

And yet it seems to stand up well on its own. The New Yorker observed at the time that nobody involved with this movie was alive during the era it was supposed to depict, but they clearly had a fine time with the music. Yes, the scenes were clearly from sunny 1970's California, but this didn't bother the kids who saw this in 1978, and enough time has passed that it shouldn't bother us who remember that it was supposed to be in Brooklyn, in the '50's.

Have fun, kids.
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What's It For (1957–1958)
Perhaps a bit too intellectual
15 July 2007
This was sort of a "To Tell The Truth" for mechanical devices. The show began with the whole panel sitting at a desk that was rolled out on a track through a pair of horizontally-hinged doors.

The inventions I recall included: (1) A lighted sign to be placed in the back of a car. There were three letters: "NOK." Turns out that this was for the two-lane roads that everyone drove in those pre-Interstate days. The guy behind you wanted to pass, but was it safe for him to do so? To communicate your assessment of the situation, you could illuminate the two letters "NO" or the other two "OK" to let him know.

(2) A dimple maker. It was a pair of big calipers that would sink a pair of rounded probes into your cheeks. I have not a clue what the utility would have been, but one of the panelists had fun trying it.

The show lasted only one season. I don't know why it was not a success, but because I happen to remember it in some detail, I've used it over the years to make people think I know more about old TV than I actually do.
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Glory Road (2006)
a surprising technical detail
28 December 2006
Full disclosure: I have not seen this movie, though from the splendid reviews I would like to. But I watched them filming this just off Bourbon Street in New Orleans in the summer of 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of the city. We were staying at a hotel on Bourbon, and one fine evening I looked out the window of our room to see a white globe floating over the buildings across the street.

Hokay, it's a UFO. Or something. But it didn't fly around or drop off aliens, so I went out to investigate. The fellow sitting on a folding chair guarding some cables said that indeed, they were shooting a movie named 'Glory Road.' The great globe turned out to be a helium-filled balloon worthy of space exploration. They had it tethered in the parking lot of a tire store with dozens of helium tanks and a generator to run the lights inside. It was, said the fellow, an artificial moon. So if you see a scene with the moon on the horizon in this movie, that's what it was. The balloon undulated slightly in the wind, but I suppose it's okay to have rubbery-looking astronomical objects in a basketball movie.
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boat stuck in ice on mountain
26 December 2006
What I read at the time is that there is indeed a great boat-like thing up on that mountain. Apparently someone built something that they thought the Ark must have looked like up there, presumably hauling it up the mountain in pieces. Must have been a swell job. Apparently it's still up there, causing confusion.

The article I read (maybe in Newsweek) said that the bogus ark wasn't built there to deceive anyone, but was done as an act of religious devotion. It makes a good deal of sense. As for the original Flood, the Mesopotamian region has flooded now and again with sufficient ferocity to support any sort of a Deluge story you'd care to write about.

The movie wasn't distributed through regular channels. The promoters simply chose a theater in each town and rented it out for a few nights. They ran the advertisements themselves.
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Target Earth (1954)
Scared the frijoles out of me
8 August 2006
Well then again, I was seven when I saw it. It has stayed with me, though; I may have seen it twice because I remember running home in utter terror the first time. My sister, age 9, was no help: she told me that 'science fiction' meant that it _could_ happen, and that was not the flat denial I was looking for.

I did like the technical part of it. The beam that came out of the faceplate was not definitely not a laser beam, because lasers hadn't been invented yet. It was instead a form of deadly radiation of the sort we were just starting to learn about: the atomic bomb had been invented nine years before, the hydrogen bomb perhaps four years before, and we were scared. There _were_ heartless invaders back then: just look at the war we were having in Korea against the inscrutable Communists of North Korea. (N.B. Things have not changed very much in that regard as of August 2006.)

The early attempts to defeat the robots were interesting and, as films back then did, it treated scientists and laboratories with great respect. (Compare this with, say, The China Syndrome, in which technology was totally evil instead of the savior of the human race.)

I appreciate the other reviews here: they alluded to the essentially spooky nature of the movie, and I feel at least partially vindicated in being terrified. But it is important that younger reviewers try to take the mood of the times into account: in 1954 we were convinced that a nuclear war or a Communist takeover was imminent. These were very real threats, somewhat comparable to Al Qaeda now.
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29 March 2006
This is an excellent movie. I saw it once, and I never wish to see it again. I grew up in a household like this, only there was never a solution to my father's mania, depression, and incredible anger.

About all I can say about Mr Mason's performance, and that of Ms Rush, is that they could have been my parents, and I could have been that kid. It never got to the point where I was offered up like Isaac, but the rest of it was right, right down to the speech where the father condemns all children because they're ignorant. I'd heard that one. His wife was helpless; they all are.

I do not know where the screenwriters got their dialog, but I hope they didn't learn it the way I did. As it happened, I was terrified and transfixed while watching it, only calming down after the father realized that something was wrong, and vowed to correct it, and there was a means of correcting it.

When the movie was over--I don't know if I watched it in the theater or on TV--I had to go home, where there was still rage, and no solution to it. I would have been nine years old.

There was a time that I wanted my parents to see that movie, in the hope that they'd realize that this was how they acted, and stop it.

It never happened. They were divorced years later. My father was angry and crazy right up to the day he died three years ago. My mother, in her nursing home in Cleveland, maintains that I must be making it all up.

M Kinsler
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