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A look back at SPHERE

Sphere kind of came and went in 1998. It was a big-budget production—and still looks it—that got poor reviews and lost money, even counting the international box office. That was the life cycle for many movies before the streaming revolution. Today, it seems most movies are counted on not only to earn most of their ticket stubs internationally, but to find their audiences over an extended period of time through streaming and home media.

sphere movie ourplanetburke

Image courtesy

Sphere was not something I saw when it had its theatrical run but, always the sucker for science fiction, I couldn’t help queuing it up recently when I saw that it would soon expire from Netflix. Those expiration dates are never really set in stone, but if you’re reading this, then the aforementioned expiration date (June 1, 2016) has probably passed.

Adapted from Michael Chrichton’s novel of the same name, Sphere, embraces the feel of a novelistic adaptation. The slow build-up is paced just right for getting to know the characters and feeling a distinct sense of wonder. There are even chapter headings. I don’t have a good answer for why some movies choose to disrupt the narrative with title cards announcing new chapters. It probably works really well somewhere, but I can’t think of an example that isn’t distracting, and in this case, the distraction doesn’t serve much purpose other than reminding us, “hey, don’t forget that this is based on a Michael Chrichton novel.” Read more…

Interview: Documentary Filmmaker Mark Mathis

I’ve been doing magazine work for a little while now. For the most part, it’s far removed from the world of pop culture, but I did recently get to interview a filmmaker. His name is Mark Mathis, and he has two provocative oil-and-gas-related documentaries under his belt. Since I haven’t posted here recently (sorry), I wanted to provide a short introduction to the Q&A I conducted (reproduced below), as well as a link to another profile I wrote.


We are in an election year. Although this means we are treated to the daily sights and sounds of Presidential candidates saying terrible things about one another, we generally don’t get a lot of in-depth chatter about the issues we actually care about. Is it not counter-intuitive that candidates’ platforms become as vague as possible so not to alienate potential voters? Sure, voters are the name of the game, but it is frustrating when the system becomes more about winning than about advocacy. It’s not the best system in the world.

Anyway, here to give us a guided tour inside the proverbial sausage factory, is Mark Mathis. Mathis’s latest, Fractured, is a documentary in Errol Morris’s single-interview style, in which he addresses myths and broken language surrounding our energy industry. I say broken, Mathis might say “fractured,” but Mathis’s point is that the most common phrases we use when conversing about oil and gas are prejudicial and unfair to those in the industry.

With a premise like that, one would expect Mathis to be a great outspoken advocate for oil and gas production. He is. What is surprising, but ultimately telling, is that he does not have much support from the within the industry. This seems like a grave missed opportunity. As I have learned, people in energy are practical and engineering-minded above all, and not interested in engaging in controversy. Unfortunately for them, this behavior doesn’t endear them or their work to the public. If the major oil companies are ever to be undone, it will more likely stem from an unwillingness to play the media game than from Earth actually running out of oil.

The energy industry is like most international industries. Huge, possibly unstoppable, far from perfect, and governed by law. Judging by the stark politics surrounding oil and gas, those laws are likely much more suffocating than those governing other problematic industries. I don’t want to speak for Mathis, though I suspect he would agree that oil and gas production have allowed this country to become what is today. Not everyone is pleased with what our country has become (and some want to make it great “again”), but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of us lead relatively comfortable existences. Sure, alternative sources of energy are likely to catch on in the future, but they have not done so yet. We would do well to stop trying to cripple the one industry that makes life easier and better for everyone, particularly the world’s poor. Gasoline is a playing field leveler.

Without further ado, here is what I wrote about Mark Mathis. He gave me a memorable, colorful interview and I hope his independent film gets seen. I have seen it twice now and can vouch that it is very compelling, and that it forced me to consider energy perspectives that had not previously occurred to me. I think his approach to this material is fascinating and has the potential to make people question even their most firmly-held beliefs about the oil and gas industry.

Click here to read the profile (Talkers And Doers). Read on for a reproduction of the Q&A.

From Permian Basin Oil & Gas Magazine (April 2016 issue):

“The Energy Thinker”

Filmmaker Mark Mathis made time for a Q-and-A session with PBOG discussing film, the Permian, and more.

Mathis and co-producer Kevin Miller.

Mathis and co-producer Kevin Miller.

Some movies are what you might call “thinkers.” For Mark Mathis, calling a movie a thinker is among the highest possible compliments. “Thinkers” are not content to let audiences passively sit back. They engage and provoke. The new documentary film, Fractured, analyzes the inherent flaws in common discussion of the energy industry. That such a challenging film came from Mathis, a man who esteems “thinkers,” is no surprise.

Thinkers come in all shapes and sizes. Bennett Miller’s Moneyball (2011) was a sports thinker showcasing the iconoclastic management style of Bille Beane. Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump (1994) was also a thinker, offering a historically-rich tapestry woven together by subtle unifying themes. While these films rate highly with Mathis, Fractured is something else entirely.

With Fractured, Mathis, a former television news reporter, turns the camera on himself for a single-interview style doc. This comes in stark contrast to spOILed, Mathis’ previous feature-length film.

“In spOILed, we interviewed some of the finest thinkers on energy in the world,” said Mathis, referring to his impressive roster of interviews including Robert Hirsch, Dan Kish, Robert Bryce, and U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “That was very much a traditional documentary format. The reason I made something different with Fractured was mostly an economic decision. [Traveling and interviewing is] time-intensive and it’s expensive.”

About deciding on this more stripped-down approach, Mathis said, “There were three basic movies that I thought about and said, ‘this can work.'” His allusion was to The Fog Of War, The Unknown Known, two works by the legendary Errol Morris, and Chris Smith’s Collapse, a film that touches upon “peak oil” theory, among other topics.

Okay, Mark Mathis’ cinephile bona fides hold up. Read on for the remainder of our wide-ranging conversation. Read more…

2015 In Film: Part 4 – The Good Stuff

In case you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, here are the links. Since we are now post-Oscars, you’ll forgive us for any comments that now seem oblivious to the Oscars results, as this discussion took place during the week leading up to the ceremony.


Poster courtesy A24

Tony: My top ten of 2015:

  1. Inside Out
  2. Phoenix
  3. Ex Machina
  4. The Revenant
  5. Sicario
  6. The Hateful Eight
  7. The Martian
  8. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
  9. Mad Max: Fury Road
  10. Carol

Read more…

2015 In Film: Part 3 – Auteurs, Unpopular Opinions and More

In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2, here are the links.

Tony: Speaking of del Toro, this is probably a great opportunity to delve into our favorite works from 2015’s top auteur filmmakers. We got movies from del Toro, Tarantino, Abrams, Iñárritu, Haynes, Mann, Baumbach, Sorrentino, Georgo Miller, and the list does indeed go on. I’ll stick a sock in it and pass the mic to you.

Zack: Real quick before you get to your commentary on the auteur cinema of 2015: Bone Tomahawk was so, so great in every mode I expected it not to be.

Oh, this is a big list for me. I’ll take this opportunity to just quickly list a handful of auteurs’ works that I had a real chance to savor.

Queen of earth anomalisa

Queen Of Earth/Anomalisa

Read more…

2015 In Film: Part 2 – Franchises, Cinematography and More

In case you missed it, here is 2015 In Film: Part 1 from last week.

Zack: I will turn the reins to you at this point with a bit of a leading remark. Yes, I just mentioned The Force Awakens, and you’d alluded to it earlier. Franchises had quite an interesting 2015. Plenty of sequels, plenty of first entries, plenty of spinoffs. All to various outcomes. Let’s talk franchises: favorites, despised, anything.

Tony: Franchises? Woo boy. I don’t know where to start, so I guess I’ll declare that I’ve seen 12 such films so far from 2015. I’m leaving Inside Out, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Jupiter Ascending off the list at this point.

I’ll start by pointing out one I liked and one I didn’t. Mad Max: Fury Road clearly lived up to the hype. I covered it at length back when I saw it, but suffice it to say that this was the best action movie I saw in 2015. The story was compelling and left me interested in what might come next. If you set out to make a sequel or franchise film, the least you can do is leave the audience wanting more. Mad Max accomplished this.

mad max fury road poster

Poster courtesy Warner Bros.

Read more…

2015 In Film: Part 1 – Introduction and Surprises

It’s time for the second annual “Year In Film” series. Starting today, I’m rolling out the first part of the conversation I had with my good friend Zack (@QuickFilmPile). When we spoke last year, he’d seen 150 movies from 2014. This year, he’s already over 200 movies from 2015. Zack may be drawing from a larger pool than I am, but that didn’t stop us from having a lively conversation about what we liked, disliked, and found unforgettable about 2015 in film. Enjoy! Also, stay tuned for the remaining installments of this series to follow in March!

Joy Jennifer Lawrence David O Russell

“Joy” poster courtesy 20th Century Fox

Tony: It’s Oscars season, which means another year of movies is not more or less history. Every year has its gems and its many competing story lines. I think 2015’s box office resurgence makes it a year of contentment. I say “contentment” because while I’m not sure this was an all-time great year artistically, I do think there was plenty of goodness to go around. Noting the aforementioned box office resurgence, I don’t recall any major vacuums of quality throughout the year. I think both the studios and moviegoers were generally content. Good movies were seen. Good money was made. A good time had by all.

There were plenty of movies I really liked (maybe even loved) and this leads me to my next point: 2015 was a “Star Wars First” year. I love Star Wars and have a rich personal history with it. While my affection is genuine, my excitement is strictly Pavlovian. You could tell me The Phantom Menace was going o be re-released and I would be excited. I don’t apologize for that particular movie one bit, but it is still Star Wars. And 2015 actually saw the release of a really good Star Wars movie. My gut feeling is that there are a few others like me out there, which is going to make it difficult to see 2015 as anything other than “Star Wars First.” It will remain the $2 billion gorilla in the room. Read more…