Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Awesome Article from The Art of Manliness: How to Build the Ultimate Survival Shotgun

Arming Yourself for the Zombie Apocalypse: How to Build the Ultimate Survival Shotgun: "

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Creek Stewart of Willow Haven Outdoor.

As a Survival and Preparedness instructor, I take my line of work very seriously–sometimes too seriously. Occasionally, though, I like to take on survival projects that are just downright fun. This article highlights one of those projects.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to turn my passion into my profession–this being the study of Survival and Preparedness. I’ve always enjoyed building survival kits of all shapes and sizes. I enjoy the challenge of fitting lifesaving survival necessities into small compact containers. I’ve built survival kits using film canisters, candy tins, key-rings, boxes, bottles, tubes, bags and everything in-between. For this project, I decided to build a survival kit using a shotgun platform–creating the Ultimate Survival Shotgun. My challenge was that everything had to be included in or on the gun itself–no extra pack items or containers. Below is what I did as well as the survival logic behind each decision.

Ultimately your survival needs fall into five main categories. Your situation dictates the order. They are:

  • Water
  • Fire
  • Shelter
  • Signaling
  • Food

Every survival kit must include contents that directly or indirectly meet these five basic survival needs. The shotgun platform I decided to use is the Mossberg 500 – PUMP. I chose a pump action because it is easier for me to troubleshoot and work on in the field compared to other models. I chose the Mossberg brand because it is a very popular gun, and there are literally hundreds of aftermarket modification pieces and parts designed to fit this gun. I knew I would want to add on some of these extras to increase the gun’s survival value. Below is a photo of the shotgun “off the shelf”–before my survival modifications.

Mossberg 500 Pump Action Shotgun Before Survival/Zombie Modifications

I will now break down each survival modification and detail why it was included in the final build.


First things first: the gun itself. A shotgun’s primary purpose is hunting. Clearly, you can use this shotgun as a hunting weapon to “restock” on valuable calories. Humans can go for three weeks without food, but it’s not fun. Lack of food leads to light-headedness, weakness, and poor decisions. In a survival situation, meat is the fastest and most effective way to replenish lost calories. Meat comes in all shapes and sizes. Carrying different shot shells designed for different applications increases your chances of a successful hunt. For this reason, I chose to pack a variety of shotgun shells:

  • Bird Shot: Designed for birds and other small game such as rabbit and squirrel.
  • 00 Buck: Good for turkey and larger game such as deer.
  • Slug: Designed for large game such as deer, hog, or elk.

Your Arsenal: Bird Shot, Buck Shot, and Slugs

In addition to hunting, a shotgun is an excellent self-defense weapon. It’s easy to imagine the need for a self-defense weapon in an urban or wilderness survival scenario–defending you or your family from man or animal. Not only is a pump action shotgun a proven deterrent, but it also has some serious knockdown power. Because of these 2 considerations (hunting & self defense), I wanted to carry as much ammo on the gun as I could. I filled the magazine and the chamber which holds 7 + 1. I also added a side saddle shell holder and a screw on stock mount shell holder which together extends my total capacity to 19 rounds of ammunition. Not bad at all.

Side Saddle for Holding Shells

Side Saddle on the Stock

Signal Flares

Special shotgun shells allow you to fire signal flares.

You are probably wondering what the short orange rounds are on the stock side saddle. These are specialty signaling flare rounds designed for 12 gauge shotguns. These flares fire over 300 feet and can be seen for miles. They are the perfect signaling solution for a shotgun survival kit. Not only are these EXCELLENT rescue signals but they can also be fired into a prepared fire pit to start a fire. In survival, multi-use products are key.


5” Ka-Bar Knife Mounted on a Picatinny Rail

I know from experience that one of the most important survival resources is a good quality knife. It can assist in almost every survival related task. I found a great 5” Ka-Bar brand knife designed to mount directly to a picatinny rail. The stock Mossberg shotgun does not have picatinny mounts, so I purchased a barrel mount picatinny rail unit. This makes the knife easily accessible for quick deployment. A knife can perform thousands of survival tasks including dressing game, cutting wood and cordage, striking a fire steel, digging, scraping, prying, slicing, and the list goes on and on. I prefer a larger survival knife, but this one will work just fine. I sacrificed size for the seamless integrated mount option.


Another tool that assists in survival is a light source. Without a flashlight, low-light work or travel can be very difficult & dangerous–sometimes impossible. Not only can a flashlight allow you to be productive in low-light conditions, but it can also be used as a nighttime signaling device. A good flashlight can also help prevent injuries in dark conditions. I purchased a flashlight with a picatinny rail holder for the other side of my barrel. The push button switch on this flashlight is also a compass. Now, I have a means to confirm direction as well. This can certainly be useful in any survival scenario.

Flashlight/Compass combo will ensure you never get lost.


At this point I need to be thinking about storage space to house several other crucial survival items. After much consideration, I opted for 2 additional modifications which gave me 3 separate storage areas. I first replaced the standard stock with an integrated pistol grip/stock combo unit. The rubber butt plate unscrews and detaches, revealing a generously sized compartment inside of the stock.

In addition, the pistol grip is hollow which allows for more storage.

I went one step further and replaced the pump hand grip with a picatinny version mounted on a picatinny compatible vertical grip.


Fire kit that's stored in the vertical grip.

This particular grip is already designed to store extra batteries and has a water tight seal. This makes an excellent area to store fire starting materials. In here, I stored 6 waterproof matches and a striker. I also stuffed in some steel wool and a package of WetFire brand fire starting material. Both of these are excellent fire starting aids even in damp conditions.

Quick Access Fire and Steel Setup

Before I started assembling items to be stored inside of the stock, I carved a groove along the top of the stock to fit a blank fire steel rod. I used epoxy to permanently secure this in place. I like the idea of having quick access to the fire steel without taking the time to open a storage area. Using the back side of the Ka-Bar, I can strike a shower of sparks into one of my fire starting materials to quickly ignite a fire.


Store your multi-tool in the hollow pistol grip.

In the hollow pistol grip I stored a small Gerber Multi-Tool with pliers, large flathead screwdriver, small flat head screwdriver, cross point screwdriver, small knife, nail file, and tweezers. All of these tools can be useful in a survival situation. I carved a custom rubber plug for the bottom of the pistol grip from a cheap rubber door stop and spray painted it black. It is a perfect and secure fit.

Survival Kit

A survival kit that fits in the butt stock of your shotgun.

Next I assembled a variety of survival kit items to be stored in the butt stock compartment. To remove the rubber butt plate, I use the cross point driver on the multi-tool. Below are the items that I included in this kit and why.

  • 4”x6” Aluminum Baking Pan: Available at any grocery store, this aluminum bread pan can be folded flat for compact storage. A metal container is invaluable in any survival scenario. It can be used to boil water which kills bacteria, virus, and cysts. Boiling water is a 100% effective method of water purification. This container can also be used for other cooking tasks as well as water collection. The reflective metal also makes an excellent signaling device.
  • Trash Bag: A trash bag has a myriad of survival uses. Some of the most practical are poncho, water collection, ground tarp, make-shift shelter, solar still, and flotation device.
  • Fishing Kit: This kit includes 20 feet of 30 lb test line, 5 assorted fish hooks and 3 sinkers. Not only can these items be used for fishing but the line can also be used as cordage for shelter building, gear repairs, or animal snares. Bank lines can be set at night to work while you rest.
  • 2 Non-Lubricated Condoms: By design, condoms are watertight. They make amazing water containers–capable of holding about 1 liter of water each. They are very lightweight and compact and make great back-up water collection and storage containers. They can also be used to protect fire materials such as matches and dry tinder. You can also fill these with clear (but not purified) water and leave them in the sun for 48 hours for UV purification.
  • Water Purification Tablets: Boiling water is not always possible or practical. Chemical water treatment tablets are an excellent back-up water purification solution. They weigh virtually nothing and take up very little space. You can fill up a condom with water and use a tablet to purify it. They also have a very long shelf life. Chemical tablets are not very effective on cloudy or dirty water. The water must be fairly clear. You can pre-filter using clothing or a bandana.
  • Emergency Survival Blanket: These survival blankets are designed to reflect and trap your body heat in a cold weather survival scenario. They also make excellent make-shift shelters, ground tarps, ponchos, rescue signals, and fire heat reflectors.
  • First Aid Supplies: (packed in zip lock bag): 3 adhesive bandages, 30 SPF sun block packet, 2 wound closure strips, 2 Ibuprofen pills, 2 Acetaminophen pills, 2 Calcium Carbonate pills.
  • Carmex Lip Balm: Not only for obvious reasons, but this petroleum based product can be mixed with natural fire tinder such as cattail down. Doing so can extend burn-time up to 5 minutes which is very helpful in fire building. This is an excellent multi-use product.
  • Whistle: Even though I have signal flares, a rescue whistle is always a good idea.
  • Small Bic Lighter: This is the easiest way to start a fire.
  • Snare Wire: Snares can work for you while you are working on other tasks–such as sleep. I’ve included 25 feet of snare wire for building traps. This can also be used as cordage or binding for a variety of projects.

Emergency blanket in survival kit can be used for shelter.

I carefully wrapped most of the items inside of the trash bag for water proofing and then stored everything in the stock storage area. All of the kit items only weigh a few ounces.

What the survival kit looks like in the butt stock.


Makeshift Survival Saw

One tool that I use extensively while on survival trips is a handheld folding saw. It’s not practical to include one of these in this shotgun kit. However, I did incorporate a suitable work-around. A saw is an excellent tool for cutting larger fire wood or collecting limbs & trees for shelter building. I purchased 2 replacement bow saw blades and cut them down to fit the span between the back of the pistol grip and the butt stock sling stud. I added another sling stud to the bottom back of the pistol grip which allowed for 2 anchor points. Using 2 small bolts which I keep in the stock, I can secure 1 of the saw blades on these sling studs–creating a perfect make-shift bow saw. I chose to pack 1 blade designed for wood and 1 blade designed for metal to give me versatility in a variety of survival scenarios. The blades easily tuck into the butt stock compartment when not in use.

Saw in action.


Make your gun sling from braided paracord.

At this point I am still lacking sufficient cordage. Never underestimate how important cordage can be in a survival scenario. My favorite cordage is 550 Parachute Cord. I always like to keep as mush 550 paracord with me as possible. It can be used for all kinds of survival functions from climbing ropes to shelter construction. 550 paracord is comprised of 7 inner strands which can be used independently as well. These lines make excellent snares and fishing line. For this reason, I also added a shotgun sling made from approximately 80 feet of braided paracord. If necessary I can unravel the sling and use it accordingly.

Another view of the paracord gun sling


I finished off the sling by tying on a bandana. I have used a bandana in more ways than I can count while camping and backpacking. It is an incredible multi-use product that I know for a fact would be very useful in a survival situation. Below are just 15 great bandana survival uses:

  1. Filter/Sieve for dirty water
  2. First Aid Bandage
  3. Dust/Sand Mask
  4. Hat
  5. Signal Flag
  6. Dew Rag for collecting dew as drinking water
  7. Container for collecting berries, fruit, nuts, etc…
  8. Cut/striped into emergency cordage
  9. Cleaning Rag
  10. Neck Gator – Cool Weather
  11. Evaporative cooling neck band – Hot Weather
  12. Filter for Bush Tea (filtering out seeds, leaves, bark, etc…)
  13. Eskimo sunglass to prevent sun blindness. Cut eye slits in the bandana.
  14. Trail Markers – strip into pieces
  15. Last ditch toilet paper

Locked and Loaded

So there you have it, the Ultimate Survival Shotgun ready for even the worst scenario. It offers multiple solutions for securing food. It offers multiple solutions for collecting and purifying water. It offers incredible signaling devices. It includes shelter building materials and also several “fool-proof” fire building methods. It also includes a knife, a flashlight, 80 feet of paracord, 2 saws, and a complete first aid kit. If the zombies still eat your brains when you’re carrying this thing, it’s your own dang fault.


However, it is still missing one very critical piece. Survival is 90% mental. Keeping your morale and spirits high is absolutely critical. Finding your inspiration and motivation for staying alive can get you through even the worst of situations. The will to live is more powerful than any skill or tool you can buy or improvise. I always include something personal in every survival kit I build–an item that might keep my spirits lifted and remind me of what I’m fighting for. It can be anything–a photo of your girlfriend or your family, a song lyric or a motivational quote. It must be meaningful and inspirational to you.

So finally, for inspiration, I had one of my favorite passages engraved on a small metal plate which I affixed to the receiver of this survival shotgun:

Now…I’m all set.

Many of the lessons in this project apply to building any kind of preparedness kit for urban or wilderness survival. Basic survival principles apply to almost all survival scenarios. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and have taken something away that you can use in your own preparedness efforts and projects.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN.



Creek Stewart is a Senior Instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor School for Survival, Preparedness & Bushcraft. Creek’s passion is teaching, sharing, and preserving outdoor living and survival skills. For more information, visit Willowhaven Outdoor.

Related posts:
  1. How to Make a Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Emergency Evacuation Survival Kit
  2. Wilderness Survival: Know Your Distress Signals
  3. How To Build a Roaring Campfire
  4. Fun with a Pocket Knife: How to Play Mumbley Peg


Monday, July 11, 2011

under the radar...

Just like the story I mentioned last week, here's another important bit of info that no one is talking about, but has huge potential to change the future:

[A]n abundant, safe and clean energy source once thought to be the stuff of science fiction is closer than many realize: nuclear fusion

As long as Keanu Reeves isn't involved, this is where we need to be headed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

been too lazy too long...

I've been seriously derelict with this blog for awhile now, and I can come up with all sorts of excuses but that feels like a pointless exercise.  I just need to get back into it, and try to start posting on a regular basis.  I am thinking that maybe I'll try to have some regular features, some running items so that I maintain a better rhythm to this.  Be a little more professional about it and so forth.

For now, this is something I just came across, and it's probably the most important story no one is talking about right now:

Lab-made organ implanted for first time

That is the future right there.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Club: The Chemistry of Death discussion

The Chemistry of DeathOur spot to discuss last month's book club choice, The Chemistry of Death.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Club: Ape House discussion

Ape House: A NovelI realize I never posted a spot for discussion of our last book club selection, and a few people have asked about it, so I am putting this up now, even though it's a couple of weeks late. I'll be curious to hear people's thoughts on this one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

100 Great Things from Movies

Patton Oswalt did something like this a few years back, and I recently saw someone else post something similar online, so I felt like coming up with my own.  It’s by no means a complete list – I am sure there are things I will kick myself over for forgetting – and it’s in no particular order.  These aren’t the 100 greatest movies or moments, but just things that always stood out.  There are even three or four that were inspired by (or lifted wholesale from) the previously mentioned lists, but for the most part these are things that came to mind that could only happen in the movies:

  1. Talos in Jason and the Argonauts
  2. Werner Herzog’s voice overs
  3. Orson Welles’ reveal in The Third Man
  4. Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke
  5. The bike jousting in Quick Change
  6. Gary Jules’ version of “Mad World” in Donnie Darko
  7. “No prisoners!” in Lawrence of Arabia
  8. Burt Lancaster stepping over the foul line in Field of Dreams
  9. Gene Wilder’s blanket freakout in The Producers
  10. Frankie Faison as the landlord in Coming to America
  11. The diaper-stealing scene in Raising Arizona
  12. The baptism scene from The Godfather
  13. Miller’s Crossing
  14. Hannibal Lecter’s psychological dissection of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs
  15. Burning Bright: a thriller centered on a young woman and her autistic little brother who are trapped in a house with a ravenous tiger during a hurricane.
  16. Steve McQueen
  17. The gauntlet, sachem’s decision, and ending of Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans
  18. Anton Chigurh at the gas station in  No Country for Old Men
  19. Black Hawk Down
  20. Terence Stamp as General Zod in Superman II
  21. Clive Owen walking the baby out of the battlezone in Children of Men
  22. Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
  23. Bloom and Penelope in The Brothers Bloom
  24. Charlie Kaufman
  25. The Iron Giant being Superman
  26. John McClane and Hans Gruber in Die Hard
  27. Aliens
  28. The rainstorm scene in Freaks
  29. The Wages of Fear
  30. The wall in King Kong
  31. The Odessa steps in Battleship Potemkin
  32. Regan telling Father Damien what his mom does in The Exorcist
  33. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
  34. “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria” from Fantasia
  35. Leatherface’s mallet work and door slam in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  36. Clarence Boddicker’s request for a phone call in Robocop
  37. The head sprouting legs and Palmer’s response in The Thing
  38. James Gammon as Lou Brown in Major League
  39. On the Waterfront
  40. Mugatu’s freakout in Zoolander
  41. The rebel fleet taking evasive action in Return of the Jedi
  42. The man in the bear costume in The Shining
  43. Dr. Strangelove gaining the ability to walk
  44. Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood
  45. Peter Lorre in M
  46. Things to Come
  47. Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West
  48. The 1942 version of To Be or Not to Be
  49. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  50. John Huston in Chinatown
  51. E.T. seeing Yoda on Halloween night
  52. Ralph Feinnes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List
  53. Mr. Orange’s brick of weed story in Reservoir Dogs
  54. Boris Karloff in The Body Snatcher
  55. Groundhog Day
  56. Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski
  57. Michael Myers’ head-tilt in Halloween
  58. The ending of Le Trou
  59. The opening titles sequence for Charade
  60. Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Walken in True Romance
  61. The song “Up There” in South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
  62. The drug deal in Boogie Nights
  63. The plane explosion seen from the terminal in Final Destination
  64. Jim Carrey’s multi-directional morning pee in Me, Myself, and Irene
  65. Gary Oldman in Hannibal
  66. The Electric Mayhem bus in The Muppet Movie
  67. Bill Murray’s Richard Burton impression in Scrooged
  68. The “married life” sequence in Up
  69. John Cazale
  70. Utah! Get me two!” from Point Break
  71. Getting the retainer in Good Will Hunting
  72. The destruction of the machine in Contact
  73. “Tech Noir” in The Terminator
  74. discovering “Sloth” in Seven
  75. The opening scene of Narc
  76. The fight among the bamboo posts in Master of the Flying Guillotine
  77. Ben Foster as The Stranger in 30 Days of Night
  78. Harold and Maude
  79. Chunk’s discovery of the ice cream in The Goonies
  80. Ed Harris’ blue hand in The Abyss
  81. Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story
  82. Forrest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
  83. Kevin Kline yelling “Asshole!” in A Fish Called Wanda
  84. The Indianapolis speech in Jaws
  85. The opening battle in Gladiator
  86. Lee Marvin beating a man with a chicken in Emperor of the North Pole
  87. Wilford Brimley’s Cajun accent in Hard Target
  88. Mighty Joe Young and the burning orphanage
  89. The body bag moving down the hall in A Nightmare on Elm Street
  90. The plague of locusts in The Good Earth
  91. “Peggy Gordon” in The Proposition
  92. The church “hello” in 28 Days Later
  93. Joaquin Phoenix telling the kids to “vamanos” in Signs
  94. Frank Dux’s shidoshi and dim mak in Bloodsport
  95. The gremlin gargoyle in Gremlins 2: The New Batch
  96. Diving into the fountain in The Way of the Gun
  97. Liam Neeson in Taken
  98. The umbrella in Rififi
  99. The ninjas in The Last Samurai
  100. “Fragglestickcar” in Bad Santa 

Friday, April 22, 2011

read one thing today

Dog Day Afternoon [Blu-ray]This is by far the best summation/obituary for Sidney Lumet I have read since his passing back on April 9th.  If you really want to understand how great he was, give this a read.  It is a bit film wonkish, but it's worth it -  I guarantee you'll come out with at least two or three (or more) movies to add to your Netflix queue.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Club: Lowboy discussion

Lowboy: A NovelI actually think this is the best book I've suggested so far, but if anyone believes otherwise, this is as always the spot to share your thoughts.  The only thing that bothered me was the "revelation" that his mother was also mentally ill.  I thought that was pretty obvious after awhile, and at the end the author tried to make it seem like it was some sort of Shyamalan-like twist or reveal.  Beyond that, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

read one thing today

“If only the outrage over a rehabilitated 29-year-old woman… becoming the personal and financial property of a man she never even liked was half as loud as the chorus that once proclaimed her sexual antics as degrading to women.”

Excellent article on a subject I thought I had no interest in - Britney Spears.

It’s Not Britney, Bitch.

Her dead eyes in the picture below say it all...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

read one thing today

Is the Criterion Collection Too Cool?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

rebirth of the Aztec empire

When I decided to go to SDSU for my MBA, athletics was the last thing on my mind. I didn't even know the school mascot before I was accepted into the graduate program, and it wasn't until my older brother said "So you're going to be an Aztec?" that I learned where my new allegiance lay. Thankfully it was a cool, unique mascot, since my previous association was with St. John's Red Storm, something I always considered particularly lame (though I could understand the change from Redmen - but why not just drop the Red entirely and find something new?)

When I arrived in San Diego in January 2006, there was absolutely no talk of the Aztecs on a national level.  The Mountain West Conference as a whole was a bit of a joke, and SDSU in particular barely stood out even within the city limits.  Yes, the basketball program was showing signs of life then, as they were in the midst of putting together a 24-9 season, a school best at the time.  But even then there was little talk of the team and, not really being much of a basketball fan myself, it was only the fact that my roommates and some mutual friends decided to go to a game that I happened to tag along and see the Aztecs play in person for the only time in my life so far.

My friends did not pick this game by chance though.  An Aztec victory in this game would guarantee the team a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Forty minutes of ball later, and we were rushing the court to celebrate the team's ticket to the big dance.  And suddenly I was a fan of college basketball.

Read about the rise of the Aztec basketball team on ESPN

Which is why it has been great to watch the school put themselves on the map of college athletics these past few years - a laughable football team in years past beat Navy in their bowl game this year, Tony Gwynn coached Stephen Strasburg to a #1 overall draft pick as a pitching phenom, not to mention championships in swimming, diving, golf, and other under-the-radar sports.

And now we're making another run at March Madness.  Five years ago, the team I witnessed thrilled us just by reaching that level.  This year, we've nabbed our first Tournament victories and are in the Sweet 16. Their double overtime win over Temple last weekend was a nail-biter classic, and proof of their legitimacy in the basketball world.  And as great as it must be to be a student there right now, I am glad I've had these five years to watch them grow and earn their place in the realm of college sports.

For another take, read this Sports Illustrated writeup

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book club: The Death of the Adversary discussion

The Death of the Adversary: A NovelOur discussion spot for last month's book club selection, The Death of the Adversary.  I can say right now that I didn't like the book at all, so it won't surprise me if there is no discussion of this one and people just want to move on.  (Not that we have had discussion at all on any book, but maybe eventually we'll get some momentum behind this.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Law and the Multiverse

Is shooting Wolverine attempted murder when you know he will heal?  Is telepathy hearsay?  Is Bizarro insane or just incompetent to stand trial?  Is life imprisonment cruel and unusual for an immortal?  Finally there is a place to find answers to all these pressing questions:

Law and the Multiverse

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscar predictions

"At this moment of awards-giving and back-patting, however, we can all agree to love movies again, for a little while, because we're living within a mirage that exists for only about six or eight weeks around the end of each year."

That's from Mark Harris' great article in the Feb. 2011 issue of GQ, The Day The Movies Died, and it rings pretty true.  He's right when he talks about the difficulty of original concepts getting a greenlight when studios are looking for pre-packaged concepts, though I don't think the outlook is as bleak as he suggests.  Trends eventually fade out and there will always be an audience for something that isn't based on a comic book or toy.  Though with movies coming based on Battleship, the Ouija board, and Monopoly, that trend may not be dying out fast enough for some of our tastes.  And like Harris says, sometimes you do get a gem out of these properties (I can't argue with his choices of Iron Man and The Dark Knight) but sometimes we just keep convincing ourselves that these movies are better than they are.  Let's face it - the Harry Potter films are pretty weak and will ultimately be negligible in film history.  (The best of the bunch, The Prisoner of Azkaban, is very good but by no means great, and the others float between mediocre and horrendous.)

And even though I have my problems with awards season and the politics behind it all (the move to 10 Best Picture nominees being the most recent focal point of my anger), I still love to play along with the Academy Awards and do the annual guessing game.  After all, I did make it a point to go about seeing every Best Picture winner in history, and that reveals a certain concession on my part to legitimize the power of the Oscar. (I've seen 9 of this year's nominees too, and will likely catch The Fighter - the one missing film - before the ceremony on Sunday.)  So below you'll find my picks for each category.  Also remember that there are a few contests out there that have some solid prizes for picking the winners, like up to $100,000 for trying to best Roger Ebert, or a stay at the Four Seasons in LA, so you may want to think about playing along too.

Best Actor - Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Actress - Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actress - Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Best Picture - The King's Speech

Best Director - David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Foreign Film - Incendies, Canada

Best Animated Film - Toy Story 3

Art Direction - Inception

Cinematography - Black Swan

Costume Design - The King’s Speech

Best Documentary - Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best Documentary Short - Strangers No More

Best Film Editing - The Social Network

Best Makeup - The Wolfman

Best Original Score - Inception

Best Original Song - We Belong Together from Toy Story 3

Best Animated Short - The Gruffalo

Best Live Action Short - God of Love

Sound Editing - Inception

Sound Mixing - Inception

Best Visual Effects - Inception

Best Adapted Screenplay - The Social Network

Best Original Screenplay - 
The King’s Speech

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

pet peeve

Ok, so this sounds like a very cool video about how babies adopt language.  It's actually worth watching, if you can get through it all, which is what I'll discuss in a moment:

Now, can you guess what my problem is?  It's the sounds the speaker makes while talking.  What is with that horrible mushy/pasty sound that she makes as she speaks??  I realize there is bound to be saliva as we talk, but magnified like this it just becomes disgusting to listen to, and takes me right out of the presentation.  Truth be told, I don't know whether the fault lies in the speaker or in the sound technician perhaps having the microphone too close or too loud.  Whoever is responsible needs to do something about it though, because like I said, I end up distracted from the presentation and end up hearing those repulsive sounds instead.  And that's a bit ironic when you're trying to give a presentation about how you are heard.

sharing is caring...

whoever took the time to program this is genius:

The Great Gatsby for NES

Monday, February 14, 2011

read one thing today

Since the budget is the big topic in DC right now, here's a good article debunking an old but persisent myth about the effect of taxes on the rich:

How tax hikes affect productivity

Thursday, February 10, 2011

quick update

I realize I haven't posted anything in about a week, and I am trying to decide if that's good or bad.  I don't want to post just to post; it's really when I find something interesting or noteworthy for discussion that I am looking to use this as an outlet.  But at the same time, I know there are plenty of things I want to mention or share that I haven't yet, and perhaps I don't need to expand on everything I post about.  It's still early for this blog and I am feeling out how it's going to always work.  I am thinking of resurrecting my Wednesday Morning Short Film Club, which may play better here than on Facebook.  Maybe also a daily or weekly suggested read, and the Hollywood roundup kind of thing too.  Like I said, still feeling this out...

In the meantime, this trailer for X-Men: First Class popped up today.  I like that we are getting to the point where comic book movies are going in some new directions.  The four comic movies this summer - this, Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern - may not all end up as winners, but each one of them is trying something a little different than what we've typically seen from past Marvel films.  Captain America is still the one I find most intriguing, but this trailer bumped this up on my radar.  Take a look:

Friday, February 4, 2011

source material

The backstory of Star Wars is pretty common knowledge at this point.  Yes, George Lucas was inspired by Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and the influence of Kurosawa and Flash Gordon is a standard talking point as well.  What a lot of people probably don't realize though is just how detailed Lucas was in his references.  This is not laziness or theft or a rip-off.  As Kirby Ferguson shows in the latest installment of his series, Everything is a Remix, this is an intentional mix of all his favorite elements from other sources into something totally new.  Check out the video below and watch just how closely Lucas matches shots.  (Watch past the credits - there's even more.)

And of course you can't talk reference and homage in film without considering the current king, Quentin Tarantino.  QT has been dealing with the homage/rip-off debate ever since Reservoir Dogs (which was influenced by City on Fire), but if you can't tell by now that he's doing a lot more than stealing wholesale from others, watch this clip. (If you followed my advice and watched the full clip above, you saw this part mentioned.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hollywood roundup

Superman - The Movie (Four-Disc Special Edition)Since the biggest thing in Hollywood for the past decade has been comic book movies, the biggest news seems to inevitably revolve around that genre.  But the comic book movie really got its start back in 1978 with the original Superman, so it makes sense that the big story this week was the casting of Henry Cavill as the latest incarnation of the Man of Steel (which also seems to be the working title for the new movie).  Teenagers at this point are probably not as familiar with Christopher Reeve in the role, so it's a good time to sell the character to a new generation. (I'll give Brandon Routh credit for doing a decent job in the otherwise forgettable Superman Returns.)  I've never seen any of the work Cavill has done, but I am willing to trust that Zack Synder (director) and Chris Nolan (producer) know what they are looking for.  Ultimately it will come down to those two taking the character and story in a new direction.  They know the comic book movie pretty well - I thought Synder did a fantastic job with Watchmen, and obviously Nolan has done alright by Batman with his two movies.

Speaking of which, the rumors online (or maybe just the wishful thinking) for awhile now have had Joseph Gordon-Levitt as The Riddler in Nolan's next Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Once the announcements of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle and Tom Hardy as Bane came out, those rumors seemed to die out.  But those fires seem to be rekindled with the report that Gordon-Levitt is in talks with Nolan to join the cast of the The Dark Knight Returns.  Nobody is saying what his role would be, and with two villains already announced, it seems unlikely that The Riddler would be the part, but it will be interesting to find out exactly how he fits into the mix.

The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet)I don't think the original mini-series of Stephen King's The Stand was perfect by any means, but I am pretty sure the problem wasn't that it was too long.  It's a heavy, intricate book with a lot of great ideas and subplots, and it naturally seems like something that is better told in long form.  So while I am not surprised that a studio would be interested in going back to the source material, I find it a little puzzling that they are looking at it as a feature film.  Warner and CBS both have ties to premium cable channels where the story could play out as another mini-series (with an increased budget and no broadcast restrictions like the original ABC version had).  If a book like Band of Brothers can be turned into a 10-hour event, something like The Stand could easily go the length of a standard cable season (13 hours or so).  Beyond that, there is plenty of material there to expand it into a regular series, even without tapping into the expanded material that has come from the Marvel comics series.

Long form is the direction that Stephen King's other magnum opus, The Dark Tower, is headed.  We're all still waiting to hear if Javier Bardem is going to accept the part of the gunslinger, but that's not the only choice Bardem is facing.  It seems that he's also being enticed to take the part as the next bad guy in the Bond series.  Not too much is known about this next installment, but Sam Mendes is an intriguing choice as director, and whatever he told Bardem seems to have gotten him intrigued as well.  Between those offers and Bardem's surprise nomination for Biutiful, he's certainly becoming an A-list name in 2011.