What Dr Bennet Omalu and Will Smith have in common?

What Dr Bennet Omalu and Will Smith have in common?

Biotechnology, September 2016 – The opening keynote for Biotechnology conference in San Francisco this past June was a brilliant pairing of two speakers – Forensic pathologist Dr Bennet Omalu and famous actor Will Smith.

What brought them together? The answer is – cinema.

Both of them are the characters of the movie “Concussion” that was released at the end of 2015 and many claimed that it deserved an Oscar nomination. It is the story of Dr Bennet Omalu (portrayed by Will Smith in the movie) who discovered and described a disease called CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy after a few dramatic accidents resulted in the early deaths of football players in Pittsburgh. For those who haven’t seen the movie I save writing a review, because it is worth going to see.

Dr Bennet Omalu talked on the stage about science for the sake of knowledge and the interrelationship of pure science and its faith. Will Smith talked about his reaction to the film. How he suddenly got concern about his son that likes to play football. Both men are very colorful characters. Omalu’s sense of humor and unstoppable laugh was dominating on the stage. Will Smith was talking about challenges in that role including Omalu’s accent and the laugh.

The film opened the public eyes at the challenges that players facing and shake the NFL world. Omalu who is dedicated to the science as investigating how the world works, and to this end, used his own money to investigate why the admired Steeler team football player Mike Webster, ended up his life alone, homeless and in unbearable pain. Omalu kept asking why that happened and why at so early an age. The road to acceptance of the discovery wasn’t easy but Omala believed and searched for truth no matter what.

As many attendees came being attracted by Will Smith presence they were taken by surprise and found  Dr Bennet Omalu very interesting and compiling person.

25th anniversary of “Thelma & Louise”

25th anniversary of “Thelma & Louise”

Fathom events, August 2016 – On Wednesday, August 24, 2016, Fathom events offered a one-night only screening of the classic American film, “Thelma & Louise,”  featuring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon respectively in the title roles. This showing was in celebration of the films 25th anniversary.

Film critic Roger Ebert in his syndicated column of January 1, 1991 praised the film as being a classic in the expansive, visionary tradition of the American road picture. “It celebrates the myth of two carefree souls piling into a 1956 T-Bird and driving out of town to have some fun and raise some hell. We know the road better than that, however, and we know the toll it exacts:  Before their journey is done, these characters will have undergone a rite of passage, and will have discovered themselves.

What sets “Thelma & Louise” apart from other great classics of traditional road movie like “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Easy Rider,” and “Rain Man,” and iconic buddy movies such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” is the fact that the heroes are both women.

They are initially presented as two very ordinary working-class girlfriends, Louise, a waitress at a small Arkansas town who lives with an Elvis look-alike musician, and Thelma, a housewife married to a verbally abusive buffoon who’s a self-important rug salesman. To escape their hum-drum lives, the girls decide to hit the road for a weekend of fun, but through successive, unanticipated events, often hilarious, yet equally as often, toxic and life-changing, the weekend is extended into a microcosm of an almost cosmic release of these two women’s inner, repressed selves. It’s as if we’re witnessing the free-flowing liberation of their inner-most psyches. They bare progressively their souls in the name of freedom throughout their journey and ultimately pay the price. They seem to take on a universal every-woman identity, one which few have the courage or the means to explore.

The film has two additional characters, understandably not included in the credits: the first is the harsh, barren, and unforgiving Bad Lands through which they journey seeking “a good time;” the second equally as harsh and brutal is the overwhelmingly male-dominated milieu in which they live, visually engulfed by big-rigs, 18-wheelers, oil tankers, predatory truck stops and run-down gas stations, all symbolizing the threatening and palpably dangerous environment in which they must survive. It’s all hard-edge and steel and one can almost smell the oil and stench of burning rubber.

But like a couple of unexpected, fragile daisies growing through a pile of concrete rubble, Thelma and Louise grow and mature spiritually in unanticipated ways, precariously pinched between a New Life of self-awareness and utter destruction.

This is not a “chick flick” or “women’s lib” gesture, but rather a ground-breaking cinematic milestone, in what may be viewed as the emergence on the popular screen of the female archetype in which the essence of womankind is given full and very moving expression.

Produced by Ridley Scott & Mimi Polk

Genre:  Drama, Road Movie, Thriller

Rated: R

128 minutes

Cast:  Susan Sarandon as Louise, Geena Davis as Thelma, Harvey Keitel as Hal and Brad Pitt as J.D. (debut)


Review by Hugh McMahon and Lidia Paulinska

Production details of Captain America: Civil War reveal at Siggraph

Production details of Captain America: Civil War reveal at Siggraph

Siggraph, July 2016 – Due to the complexities of scheduling a large cast of actors and crew it is difficult to move the production to locations around the world. Due to tax rebates and incentives many movies are often shot in just a few locations. What is the solution for a production that is supposed to span the world? That was the situation that was presented to the production of Captain America Civil War which was primarily shot in Atlanta Georgia.

At the Siggraph this year the lead production session was dedicated to “The Making of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War” movie. Victoria Alonso, Executive Vice President of Physical Production from Marvel Studios, Dan Delleeuw, VFX Supervisor and Swen Gillberg, Associate VFX Supervisor from Marvel Studios, Jean Lapointe, Compositing Supervisor from ILM, and Greg Steele, VFX Supervisor from Method Studios were discussing the production process of the movie.

As we already know the film was primarily shot in Atlanta Georgia and filmmakers utilize VFX to bring locations from around the world to Atlanta digitally. The presenters were detailing the stats for this film. The numbers for the 135 minutes film Captain America: Civil War were as follow: 2,782 finals were created; 2,745 finals were used in the movie, 415 shared shots between multiple VFX teams, 194,608 frames. The production team created description of total 12 characters that play in the movie including: Captain America, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Ant Man, Iron Man, Black Widow, War Machine, Vision, Black Panther and Spider Man. Every character was evaluated under the criteria such as: Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Intuition or Psyche. For example the Winter Soldier: Fighting – Incredible, Agility, Strength and Endurance – Remarkable, Intuition – Excellent, Psyche – Typical.

For those who think that the developing story of the film like Captain America is a linear process: Script > Look Development > Story Boards > Previs, they are mistaken. The panelists showed that is more like a matrix of those elements and multiple teams working and a lot of material needed to be shot. Many times short post schedules sometimes required that they started on the assets before the foreground was shot or the sequence was fully realized. They don’t always stick to what was originally planned with pre-vis or story board. As a result a lot additional material was shot to cover all options such as time of day, weather, and any camera angle.

The production of Captain America Civil War was collaborating work of 18 teams worldwide working on a single project.


The Met Live: Elektra

The Met Live: Elektra

April, Fathom events – On Saturday, April 30, 2016, I had the privilege and pleasure of viewing a screening of a live performance of Richard Strauss’s inexorable one-act opera Elektra,*  the concluding operatic work in a year-long 10th anniversary celebration of “MET: LIVE in HD,” which had featured ten of the world’s greatest operas on giant cinema screens  throughout the US.

The production premiered at the  Aix-en-Provance Festival in France in 2013 and is considered to be a landmark contemporary staging of Strauss’s masterpiece.  It was produced by the renowned Patrice Chereau who tragically died shortly after the opening at the age of 68.  (A DVD is available of that production.)

The superb cast is headed by the smoldering intensity of soprano Nina Stemme in the title role whose Elektra is unremittingly consumed with a passion for vengeance upon her mother Klytamnestra, widow of Agamennon, performed masterfully by mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier, and her lover, the cowardly Aegisth, convincingly portrayed by Burchard Ulrich, who have brutally murdered Elektra’s father Agamemnon.  Bass-baritone Eric Owens gives a strong rendering of her sympathetic brother Orest and Adrianne Pieczonka rounds out this incomparable cast as her weakling sister Chrysothemis who plays a perfect counterpoint with her banal domestic aspirations to her possessed sister Elektra who has dedicated her life to revenging her father’s murder, She realizes her goal in the end, but at the expense of her sanity.

Staged in an ominously sparse gray space with costumes to match, Chereau’s smoldering rendering of Strauss’s masterpiece is a production for the ages and opera at it’s best!

* * * Significantly, Sigmund Freud used Sophocles’ Elektra in his analysis of a daughter’s attachment to her father, and Oedipus Rex as the basis for his theory of a son’s attraction to his mother.  The so-called “Oedipus” and “Elektra” complexes continue to be very much a part of Freudian psychoanalysis.


by Lidia Paulinska and Hugh McMahon

Renoir: Revered and Reviled

Renoir: Revered and Reviled

April, Fathom events – “Renoir” was presented in select HD digital cinemas nationwide by Fathom Events in cooperation with Seventh Art Productions, enjoying its third successful season in presenting Exhibition on Screen, a one-night film event held on Thursday, April 21, 2016. It is a story told in representative paintings of one of the most influential artists of all time and a principal contributor to the creation of the Impressionist movement  (which he later rejected), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).

This compelling overview of Renoir’s masterful works focuses primarily on the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia which is home to more Renoir’s than any other gallery in the  world. August Renoir was father of the celebrated French film director Jean Renoir, creator of such works as La Grande Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939), often cited by critics as one of the greatest films ever made.

In April, 1874, August Renoir, accompanied by Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and several others displayed their works at the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris and from there, a prolific Renoir was to go on to create several thousand paintings during his lifetime, 181 of which are on display at the Barnes, representing the single largest collection of his works. One of the best known Impressionist works is Renoir’s 1876 Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, a painting depicting an open-air garden scene crowded with people dancing, a place close to where Renoir lived. Fellow artists who admired him included Picasso, Matisse and Claude Monet.


The Met Live: Roberto Devereux

The Met Live: Roberto Devereux

April, Fathom events – On Saturday, April 16, 2016,  Fathom Events presented Gaetano Donizetti’s del canto* masterpiece Roberto Devereux for a one-night only cinematic presentation in hundreds of theaters throughout the United States.  The screening was part of the year-long celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera’s Peabody and Emmy award-winning series, “The Met: Live in HD.”

This magnificent program, which has included some of the greatest operas of all time, also features during intermissions, fascinating behind-the-scenes interviews with the Met’s illustrious stars, the supporting cast, crew, and production teams, giving us an “up close and personal” insider’s glimpse at what’s involved in staging these operas.

Roberto Devereux is the climatic opera of a Trilogy which also includes Anna Bolena  and Maria Stuarda, all three having been staged by Sir David McVicar, and astonishingly, Soprano Sonar Radvanousky who magnificently portrays Elizabeth I in the third piece of the trilogy, completes a marathon at the Met, having sung all three of Donizetti’s daunting queens in a single season:  Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart, and Elizabeth I  (Queen Elizabeth II coincidentally celebrated her 90th birthday April 21, the same week Roberto Devereux was presented.)

The Met has assembled an ideal cast for this outstanding production, featuring the superb tenor Matthew Polenzani who excels with lyrical elegance in the title role and Ms Radvanousky who sings with sharp-edged searing power perfectly portraying an aging,  broken Queen tragically in love with Devereux, a  manipulating nobleman 34 years her junior. The great Mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca brings her sumptuous voice to the role of Sara who is in love with Deverux, Earl of Essex, and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the role of her husband the Duke, singing with both virile power and soaring lyricism.

For an interesting balance, this reviewer highly recommends a 1998 film starring Cate Blanchette titled Elizabeth , and although obviously not an opera, it vividly portrays Elizabeth as she first ascends the throne of England and was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning one for make-up.

* Del Canto (“beautiful song”).  According to The Harvard Dictionary of Music, del canto  “denotes the Italian vocal technique of the 18th century with its emphasis on beauty of sound and brilliance of performance, rather than dramatic expression or Romantic emotion … it must be considered as a highly artistic technique and as the only proper one for Italian opera and for Mozart.”  We might safely add Rossini and Handel to that statement.

Today, the  term del canto seems to have fallen out of favor and tends to be viewed as vague and ambiguous and lacking any semblance of relevance in the 21st century.


by Lidia Paulinska and Hugh McMahon