Wednesday, November 29, 2006

God at Sundance in 2007

Adam first alerted me to the Sundance Films in competition in 2007. Adam specificly noted the documentary For The Bible Tells Me So, directed by Daniel Karslake which tells the story of five conservative Christian families, dealing significantly with how they use the bible to "stigmatizing the gay community and eroding the separation between church and state."

Is this 2007's Jesus Camp II? Actually, from the heavy handed language, it sounds a little more bias then the Jesus Camp documentarians.

Peter Chattaway sorted through the list to find the other films that obviously deal with religion that will be premiering at Sundance. The other films, a drama about a devout Christian girl with a unique physical advantage called "Teeth", a Russian film about an odd monk, and a film from Denmark about an 82-year-old virgin and a nun.

Also controversial and untitled Dokota Fanning film (which I thought was called Hounddog) where Fanning deals with abuse through the music of Elvis, will also have it's world wide premier at Sundance.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Measuring the Intangibles of Success

Success under most circumstances is unmeasurable, and that can be incredibly frustrating!

Some people are fortunate, because they live in the world of concrete facts, statistics and bench marks. LaDanian Tomlinson, of the San Diego Chargers, knows he's a good football player because he has over 1000 rushing yards for this season. Or Michael Dell know's he's a successful business man because he's the 9th wealthiest person in America and he founded the world's largest computer manufacturing company.

But what about the rest of us, what about our other goals. Many days I feel like I'm much more like Hugh Jackman's character in the Prestige, or Abigail Breslin's iconic Olive from Little Miss Sunshine. It's hard to evaluate how we're doing as a magician, how can you begin to know if you're the best magician. Is it ticket sales? Is it your own level of personal satisfaction? The faces in the crowd? Or how about young Olive. Did she walk away from the Little Miss Sunshine pageant the biggest winner or the biggest loser? How can you tell.

Even in my current job, there are both measurable goals and unmeasurable goals, and even if I do my very best job, somedays I feel like Abigail Breslin, that my success can't be measured on the typical scale, rather a scale of abstraction, were I have to know that I have done the best I can.

I think many of us, wish we could evaluate our personal level of success better. Especially when it comes to family issues. My wife and I recently watched the only-mildly-entertaining film The Family Stone, and I think the journey of Sarah Jessica Parker's character (Meredith Morton) is not atypical. Here someone who generally feels confident about themselves, is forced into an arena where they feel they have to prove themselves, and the smallest of things effect the perception of of her characters success.

I think that's why American television is always filled with stories about police officers, lawyers, and doctors. At the end of the day there are ways for a police officer to tell they were successful. On CSI they always solve the crime, on Law and Order justice is served, and on House M.D. they figure out how to cure the odd disease. Even Jack Bauer is almost always able to foil the terrorist at the last minute, and when something goes wrong, viewers are forced to reconcile the situation with the knowledge that it could have been worse.

I think sometimes I hope that there will be a point in my life were I have the Mr. Holland's Opus moment where people all around me from every stage of life are able to help me see how I was successful as a person and that in the world of intangibles, my sacrifice and my effort made a difference on eternity.

Yet, it's all flawed human logic. The other day I was reading Psalms 115 and in achieved and unachieved goals my prayer has been: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory."

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Scoop

It's still a little wierd that the movies Scoop and the Prestige both star Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson and involve elements of magic and disappearing people in London.

But the movie Scoop was very entertaining and amusing. I'm not always a Woody Allen fan, but this film is great.

Scarlett Johansson in my opinion does much better in roles were she's a little dorky and socially uncomfortable. When I think of Scarlett Johansson I think of her as Birdy in The Man Who Wasn't There or in Ghost World along side Thora Birch. Although these are not her most notable films, she really thrives in the role of an attractive dork.

Hugh Jackman's role is kind of flat, but appropriate for the film, and the furthest thing from his more recent Wolverine role.


I think it would be reasonable to assume Scarlett Johansson might receive a golden globe nomination for this film, especially considering she has received 4 nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press (for Lost in Translation, Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Love Song for Bobby Long, and Match Point).

Also, I think Woody Allen would be warranted for a nomination for best screenplay for Original Screenplay, but you just never really know if Woody Allen will sneak into the nomination mix. I have to say, of all the Woody Allen films I've seen this one is certainly the most consistently entertaining one I've seen.

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Letters from Iwo Jima: a 2006 contender

Clint Eastwood's companion film to Flags of Our Fathers, called Letters from Iwo Jima tells the WWII story of the battle of Iwo Jima, but from a Japanese perspective.

The United States release of the film has waffled and been speculated on for awhile, namely because if Flags of Our Fathers and Letter from Iwo Jima were released in the same year, Clint Eastwood would have two films competing against each other in the award season.

Well, after a lack-luster theatrical run and a luke-warm critical response to Flags of Our Fathers, Warner Bros. has decided to release Eastwood's Japanese re-telling December 20th in LA and New York in time for award season. As JW says, this film will have "an excuse to commercially" since it is not in English, and thus might usher it's way into a prime award potential.

As the award season goes on, more people are buzzing about The Departed, and less people are buzzing about Flags of Our Fathers and Babel. Will Letters to Iwo Jima begin to pick up more buzz in the days ahead. Also, Ken Watanabe should now be considered a major award contender for his lead role as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Knee Jerk Babel Thoughts

I think I had higher hopes for Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest film, Babel.

I loved the Amores perros, and was less impressed with 21 grams, but the magnitude and potential of the movie Babel made it one of the movies I really wanted to see in theaters.

Yet, Babel, was much more of a novelty piece than an enjoyable movie. The effort it took to film and create such interesting scenes worked technically, but as an interesting and compelling story there were times when it just didn't hold together.

The Japanese club scenes and the Mexican wedding scenes were fun, but certainly had the potential to induce epilepsy, perhaps there should have been a warning at the start of the movie.
Earlier in the year, people have speculated as to who would be the stand out performance in thensembleble piece, would it be Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, or Rinko Kikuchi. Yet after watching the film the stand out to me is clear Adrianna Barraza does an exceptional and moving job playing the role of Amerlia, the nanny of Mike and Debbie (Elle Fanning). Although I thought it kind of funny that Barraza played Bernal's mother in Amores Perros.

And Rinko Kikuchi's character and the deaf Japanese girl, is way bizarre and was far too much of an over the top character.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

my so called life

My life has been so busy, my post have been pretty irregular...and it's big time movie season...what's up with that?

And strangly enough, my wife has been bloggin'-away more than I have for a change. I encourage you to check out her blog (or my boss' blog) if you're interested in a little slice o'my life.

Monday, November 13, 2006

My life and the Law of the Few

Per my new boss' request, I gladly read the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell in preparation for a new and crazy career venture...that involves branding and creating a viral marketing campaign for a new store.

While, the tipping point is filled with fairly "common sense" principles and lots and lots of anecdotes (sometimes too many), Gladwell's best-seller is great because it creates a vocabulary.

One of the most helpful things about the book is what Gladwell calls the Law of the Few.

The concept is that in order for something to become viral the right information, product, image, etc. Needs to get channeled through the right people, the type of people who create the right buzz.

The three people Gladwell defines and outlines are...
  • Connectors - the person who knows everyone, talks to everyone, makes friends with everyone, and will tell the world about what your doing.
  • Mavens - The person who investigates everything, knows which products are the best, they research for hours, they're all about finding the best deals on the best things. They don't talk to tons of people, but people come to them because they're experts and there minds are steal traps of information.
  • Salesmen - These are people who naturally make you interested in something because their words, body language, and attitudes lead you to get from point A to point B, and before long you've signed on the dotted line and you don't even know what happened. These aren't your sketchy car salesmen, but people who simply have the natural gift to sell you.

This has been a fun concept to have in mind. As only 1 person, I can only do so much, but if I can get other people to be connectors, mavens, and salesman on my behalf, how cool is that!

The store opens to the public this Saturday, and in many ways it is a test to whether or not I've begun to find "the few" who will make a grassroots marketing campaign work. There has been no bill boards, TV or radio spots yet for the store, just a lot of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings this past month.

Yet in the past two weeks, some of the contacts I was most excited about seemed to fizzle, while others that seemed like nothing ended up being the type of people who really made my message pop. It's tricky, because it takes a lot of talking and a lot of energy to find these "few" that make a world of difference.

The campaign doesn't stop after this week, but this Saturday and the week to come is a benchmark of my performance thus far, in perhaps creating a tipping point.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ali G in the house that Oscar Built

Borat smashed the box office again this weekend, with an estiamted $29 million dollar weekend.

I've been very surprised at the popularity of Sacha Baron Cohen's movie about a Kazakhstani reporting on American life and culture.

Sarcha Baron Cohen, famous for his HBO comedy/interview program Da Ali G Show, has sneaked his way further into the mainstream this year, not only with his ever popular film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but also as the gay french race car driver in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Oscar doesn't typically look to fondly on slap stick far flung comedy, but I've got to wonder, if they would this crazy knuckle head who plays hipster Ali G, Gay frenchman Jean Girard, and Kazakhstani Borat Sagdiyev. Nah, probably not!

But I do forsee him having a great opportunity to receive a golden globe opportunity (depending on how the Hollywood Foriegn Press perceives the performance) and based off last years Oscar presenters, I have a feeling Borat will at least make an appearance at this years award show.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Scanner Darkly - Animation Buzz?

At the 2002 Oscar ceremony the animated film category had three nominees: Shrek, Monsters, Inc., and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

One film, was noticeably ignored. The complex meta-physical film Waking Life, directed by Richard Linklater using a complicated animation style called retro-scope, which I usually refer to as painted film.

This year, there are enough films to warrant 5 animated picture nominees as this years academy award ceremony, and I've got to wonder if Linklater's more narrative-film A Scanner Darkly will get an Oscar Nomination.

The Oscar Igloo in it's story by Tom Houseman puts A Scanner Darkly in the fifth spot. Houseman says three animated films are already locks Cars, Flushed Away, and Over The Hedge. He places Monster House in the 4th spot, followed by A Scanner Darkly, and places Happy Feet at number 6, missing the nomination by a penguin beak.

Interestingly Nathaniel at the Film Experience at this stage in the game predicts Happy Feet as the number 1 most likely film to get nominated, followed by Cars, Monster House, Flushed Away, and Over The Hedge. For him, a Scanner Darkly comes in at number 8, after Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Open Season.

And Wesley Lovell, at this stage kicks out Flushed Away and includes Happy Feet and A Scanner Darkly in the mix with Monster House, Over the Hedge, and Cars.

Yet, Scanner Darkly is a bold choice. Technically the crew behind this film deserves recognition...the animation is, of course, fantastic. Yet in the animated world of Pixar and company, A Scanner Darkly just doesn't match up with the culture. Perhaps if this film was released in November or December it would be fresher in voters minds, but with the animation explosion, it's just really doesn't seem to have a chance in my mind.

Assuming Happy Feet has box office success, I'm assuming that it's in the nomination pool, although certainly not a winner.

Related Post:
The Pop Culture of Penguins
Linklater: Substance D and Mickey D's

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Pop Culture of Penguins

If Penguins were a commodity, then the value of Penguins is high.

Some people have been genuine Penguin lovers for years, but since March of the Penguins (Academy Award, Best Documentary) came out last year, there is been more Penguin-loving then ever before.

The local mall has decked their halls with penguins everywhere, and instead of getting your picture taken with Santa, you can get your pictures taken with Penguins inside a snow globe.

It's all part of an marketing campaign for Warner Bros. pictures as a way of promoting their holiday release Happy Feet.

This year has seen many animated animals in films like Curious George, Barnyard, Garfield: Tale of Two Kitties, Flushed Away, Over the Hedge, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Open Season, The Wild, and the Ant Bully. Yet this Christmas, it's all about the penguins.

You know the penguin scene is out of control when Bob Saget's directing his own animated mockumentary called Farce of The Penguins with Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator. In fact, the voice talent for Farce of the Penguins, is a pretty strong crew including Dane Cook, Christiana Appplegate, James Belushi, Jason Biggs, Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Mo'nique, Jamie Kennedy, Tracy Morgan, and John Stamos.

Granted Farce of the Penguins is straight to video picture coming out the end of January, but how many talking Penguins can the market handle?

Thus, the sad situation that Sony Pictures finds themselves in with their film Surf's Up. Surf's Up is another Penguin movie about annual Penguin World Surfing Competition and includes the voice talents of Shai LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, and Zooey Deschanel. Scheduled to come out June 2007 you gotta wonder if the penguin craze is going to be gone?

Surf's Up is directed by Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2) and Chris Buck (Tarzan) and yet all their talent and hard work depends on the strength of the Penguin in the world of child pop-culture. I can't imagine it look good for the Surf's Up team.

Pictured above are stills from The March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Farce of the Penguins, and Surf's Up.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Nicolas Cage Isn't Leaving Las Vegas

When World Trade Center came out many people chimed in on their thoughts about Nicolas Cage as an actor.

And at this point, I don't know why I get surprised when I see the different roles Cage is cast for.

Next year Milos Forman is to be working on a film about poker legend Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim” Preston Jr (still living-on-the edge at the ripe age of 78).

Milos Forman appears to still be having trouble finding a domestic distributor for his film Goya's Ghosts that was supposed to come out this year in time for award season.

Yet, Cage, seems like an actor that directors like to see as a gambler. When I saw that Cage was going to be playing Amarillo Slim all I could think of was Cage's role in Snake Eyes. Although in reality, Poker's popularity now than in 1998 when Snake Eyes was released.

Amarillo Slim is famous for having won the World Series of Poker 4 times, including the main event in 1972. Amarillo Slim is also famous for having been kidnapped accidentally by the Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. (via)

Bio-pic screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson, writer of Nixon, Ali and Copy Beethoven has written the screenplay for this project.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Prestidigitation

I just saw Christopher Nolan's film the Prestige, a film I've been waiting to see for awhile.

Nolan, who is really becoming a master of non-linear story telling throws you into a film without creating much context, but once it get's going, it get's going.

This story of rival magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) is very complex, and gives the viewer the same feelings you might have while watching a magic show. Questions like...what's he going to do? Why did he do that? Wait, I think I figured it out. Oh, never mind? etc.

The performances in the film are very good, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, and Rebecca Hall all included. The performances in this film do not require huge dynamic performances, rather subtle ones, that will fly under the radar of year-end award givers, but at the same time are entirely believable and unshowy. If there is award recognition for this film it will come in it's great technical accomplishments. The editing (Lee Smith), cinemotography (Wally Pfister) and costume (Joan Bergin) are all top notch.

My one pre-film recommendation is to read my post Brief Look at the Life of Nikola Tesla. If you do not have an understanding of who Tesla was, this post will help to create a quick context, that does not give away anything in the film, but rather helps understand the context of the film better.

Pictured above: Andy Serkis, David Bowie and Hugh Jackman. The second picture is Christian Bale.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ted Haggard Needs to Go To Jesus Camp

How bizarre is this?

Two days ago I post on Jesus Camp and Becky Fisher closing down her Kids on Fire Camp in Devils Lake, North Dakota. In that post I mention and quote Ted Haggard.

Then today, I read that Ted Haggard, leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has stepped down as leader and pastor of these two organizations.

Is it because of Jesus Camp?

No, much worse. Ted Haggard has been accused on KHOW radio, in Denver, of regularly paying a man by the name of Mike Jones, 49, for gay sex.

Haggard is claiming that he has remained faithful to his wife, but is stepping down to cause minimal damage to his church and the National Association of Evangelicals.

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Academy Award Nomination for Ed Harris?

Ed Harris has received four academy award nominations in the past 10 years (Apollo 13, The Truman Show, Pollock, and the Hours).

And while he has never won an academy award, he is obviously someone who the Academy keeps their eye out for.

With that mind, it seems logical to keep an eye out for how Ed Harris is received in the period piece Copy Beethoven which will begin it's limited US release November 10th.

In the film Ed Harris plays Ludwig van Beethoven on the eve of his death and the premier of his most famous symphony, Symphony No. 9.

In the film Diane Kruger (Troy, National Treasure) plays Anna Holtz, a young female composer who deals with Beethoven's cantankerous attitude, and "helps" the deafening composer finish his greatest masterpiece.

The film is directed by Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa).

The film's screenplay is written by Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson who together wrote the biopics Nixon and Ali. As a side note Will Smith received an academy award nomination for playing Mohammad Ali, and Anthony Hopkins received a nomination for playing Richard M. Nixon. In this same vein I would think Ed Harris has a great chance of being recognized for playing Beethoven.

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