Thursday, August 30, 2007

Foreign into Fall: Part III

Part I and Part II can be read by click on the links. Here's my most recent Foreign Film's viewed for this series and have been selected from Edward Copeland's best of non-English film nomination list.

La Strada (1956) directed by Federico Fellini
I've passed up watching this movie so many times, perhaps because of the circus theme or something? But it is a compelling story and Anthony Quinn is famulous as a heartless and limited-talent street performer, Zampanò.

Sold to amuse and bolster Zampanò's performance, Gelsomina struggles with the abuse particularly the emotional abuse. This movie serves to show how and why nice girls fall for bad guys and don't leave them.

Forbidden Games (1952) directed by René Clément
I highly encourage watching this film. It is such an amazing film, that deals with the effects of war in such an interesting way, through Paulette, a five year old girl instantly orphaned during an air bombing during WWII. Unable to fully realize what has happened, she latches onto her dead dog, making sure that finds peace as it enters the next life.

This story was just so rich and layered and powerful. Paulette's attempts to understand God, death, war, family and friendship are unfolded in such a neat way in this picture. This is a true gem.

Black Orpheus (1959) directed by Marcel Camus
It's like early Baz Luhrman, but instead of Romeo+Juliet, it's the story of Orpheus (in Greek mythology the son of king and muse) who becomes the inspiration for music, poetry, and art. Yet in this version of Orpheus, you have Orpheus, a trolley driver in Rio de Jeneiro, Brazil during Carnival. Lots of dancing, costumes, and the tragic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

This project is fun and unique, but is played in a much less serious tone then most of the other foreign films that have been a part of this project.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jamie Foxx & The Soloist

In June 2006 I asked Can Jamie Foxx Pull Off Another Musical Legend, upon reading (what turned out to be rumors) that Foxx would play Bob Marley in a biopic. It seemed like a bad type-cast scenario coming off of Ray and Dreamgirls.

Yet, a new music-themed movie staring Foxx has resurfaced. This one called "The Soloist" about Nathaniel Ayers. Nathaniel is a cellist. He studied at Julliard. Two years into his training there he developed schizophrenia. When journalist Steve Lopez met him on the streets of Skid Row, he was playing a two string violin as it fit neatly into his shopping cart. All who've heard him play attest to his immense talent. Members of the LA Phil and the Disney Concert Hall reached out to him, offering an apartment and lessons (summary from Beckylooo).

The film will co-star Robert Downey Jr, presumably as LA Times reporter Steve Lopez. (There's another repeat role, as Downy played a newspaper-reporter-role in the serial killer film Zodiac)

The lack of typecast is in the director, who is Joe Wright. Wrights previous efforts have been the Keira Knightley films Pride and Predjudice and the upcoming film Atonement.

As of yet, this project doesn't sound too enchanting to me, whil Iam sure it is a touching real life tale, it sounds like an inspirational made for TV movie, but I know some are already excited about the trio of Foxx, Downey, and Wright working together.

For me, I will settle for episode 3.15 of House MD called "Half-Wit" where (the) Dave Matthews stars as a pianist savant. Although not a real story, the episode has a texture of uniqueness to it, that both grabs you and challenges you in a way that's different than the sounds of this inspirational biopic.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Foreign into Fall: Part II

I mentioned this project last week in Part I, here's my most recently veiwed foreign films as selected off the nomination list compiled by Edward Copeland of top non-English language films.

Au hasard Balthazar (1966) directed by Robert Bresson

While slow and boring at times, it also is uniquely moving and purposfully spiritual. The story is about a donkey named Balthazar and her first owner Marie. The story follows Balthazar amongst his various owners as well as Marie. Bresson is clearly drawing comparisons not just between Marie and Balthazar, but also between the full range of experiences that Christ experienced as man.

There certainly was no warning that said that Animals were not hurt during the making of this film, and the mild donkey abuse in itself makes this movie unique.

Beauty and the Beast (1946) directed by Jean Cocteau
This is not your 1991 Disney movie. No songs, no cartoons, and no tea pot played by Angela Lansbury. Although there are moving (not singing) candelabras. In fact, I'm sure some people were impressed with these special effects back in 1946, even though today the tricks are not greater than what you'd experience at a haunted house.

All the same the story is classic, and although Beast (la Bête) is certainly bizarre looking, the story's charm is still there. If only part of the movie was in color, I think the movie would remind me of the Wizard of Oz. Again, no singing, but the overacting and mystical storyline surely must have provided a nice since of post-WWII escapism.

Cries and Whispers (1972) directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sure the other movies are about a Christ-figure donkey and a prince with magic gloves, but this movie is the oddest of the bunch. The story is simple enough, one sister is dying while the other two sisters and their maid in their own depravity wait for their sister to die. In a couple very strong flashbacks the two sisters own immoralness is shown in contrast to the more innocent sister and maid.

What amazes me about this movie is that it received 5 academy award nominations, including Best Picture. I certainly wouldn't argue it's unique cinemotography with it's scenes saturating to red in between significant cuts, but I can't see this film impressing enough people for a best picture/best director nomination. The four women in this film do an excellent job in their roles, particularly Liv Ullmann as one of the sisters. But this movie certainly did not enchant me or grab me in anyway.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

GI Joe: The Movie (how about Lite-Brite: The Movie)

The Hasbro company actually created the GI Joe line of toys (didn't just acquire the rights) when the Hassenfeld Brothers introduced the toy in the 1960s. In 1982 these real American heroes became smaller and got their own TV show.

But, especially in the wake of the success of Hasbro's Transformer movie, comes another toy-themed movie, GI Joe which has recently had it's release date moved up from 2010 to 2009. The GI Joe movie has been recently confirmed as well to be directed by Stephen Sommers. Sommers is best known for his direction of the Mummy series and Van Helsing.

I'm sure this movie will be wildly successful and capture a cross section of the nostalgic males who embraced the toy line at any point since 1960s, as well as big blockbuster loving action cronies.

But the question is what Hasbro toys will soon be making themselves from the toy shelf to the big screen.

Ridley Scott's mentioned directing a Monopoly movie (Russel Crowe yet to confirm his role), which is owned by Hasbro (as owners of Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley). But what other toys by Hasbro are currently overlooked for toy movies.

How about Hasbro's game Jenga? Or how about Lite-Brite the movie? Play-doh? Candy Land? Littlest Pet Shop? Lincoln Logs? An Easy Bake Oven movie?

Or maybe not, and probably not any of these. But I have the feeling we'll be surprised as instead of toys being based on movies, uncreative writers/producers will turn to the toy shelf to revive old toys into highly computer generated films.

Obviously, the success is partially in the selection of the toys...which we saw with the Bratz movie this year.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Foreign into Fall: Part I

For a person who's film interest lean towards contemporary film and the academy awards, some times my film history has major gaps. And so in this "quiet before the storm" period before Hollywood roles out it's critical potentials in full force, now is the perfect time to give myself a little education.

Edward Copeland has created an opportunity for film bloggers to nominate and create a list of the top 25 non-English language feature films. Having the opportunity to submit my nominees along with others, the nomination list turned out with these 122 films making the cut. So I decided earlier in the week I'd get busy and try to catch as many of these films before the September 16th deadline in order to produce a better and strong top 25.

Here's some thougths on the first films I've tackled.

Play Time (1967) directed by Jacques Tati
This delightful film falls into the category of "appreciation" more than "entertainment." The film is so unique as it's wide-angled scenes go phrenologically through a futuristic day in a glass-building-fillled France were Monsieur Hulot and a group of American tourist continue to bump shoulders with each other in a very idiosyncratic and funny (funny-smile, not funny-ha-ha) world.

There seems to be a lot of statements and thoughts that seem to sneak out of the film about technology, the future, and loss of genuine human interaction as a result of advancement. Many of the scenes reminded me of futuristic images from Terry Gilliam's Brazil (recently mentioned here), and yet Play Time is not negative or dooms-day-ish, rather it's light and playful in nature.

I loved this classic French New Wave film, that I had not yet made time to watch until now. The story is a simple character study of a young boy (often regarded as part-autobiography of director Truffaunt). The young kid is certainly far from angelic, but his chaotic and inconsistent home life only aids in his deviant behavior that leads him to getting in trouble at school, home, and eventually with the law.

The plot, story, acting, and style of this film were all enjoyable, and I think that as a film it tells a valuable modern message about a mother who is too pre-occupied with her own desires to be a good mother, who as a result has an adverse effect on her son, who's basically unwanted.

Wings of Desire (1987) directed by Wim Wenders
(France/West Germany)
They say this film inspired City of Angels, but to say that purely doesn't recognize that this film is far more about art than about plot. The film follows two angels who can hear the thoughts of other people, and offer than comfort and influence by their presence. But similarly to Pleasantville, these angels live in a black and white world where for centuries they have missed out on true human experience. One of the angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) unsatisfied with his Angelic life begins to develop a love connection with a trapeze artists, and for her sacrifices his immortality.
The movie is very artful, infusing the screenplay with the words of Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and making a number of thoughts about Germany, past, present and future. While I was not particularly fond of this film, my favorite part were the scenes where Peter Falk played himself as an American film star with his own angelic past.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Proximity: Hitting Close to Home

Earlier in the summer I began talking about my thoughts on "inspiration overload," especially as inspiration has, as I see it, began to replace the influence of information.

I was rushing home from work today, thinking about how so often we're actually inspired by what is near us, what see, experience, or at least have some sense of context regarding. I imagine if you live near the Utah area were the mine recently collapsed, that event effects you more than if you live in Australia. Or the thought of starving children in Africa means much more to you if you went on a church trip and saw the starvation and hardships young African children in Ethiopia are experiencing. Or if you know someone who has died of cancer, campaigns and fundraisers to raise funds for cancer research mean more to you.

Proximity and context begin to share what we care about, and I believe as we become over inspired, an image of a starving child I can feed for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day will only effect me for a moment of sorrow, and probably not long enough to pick up the phone. The power of images become limited. Instead, if I see in person, or have some sort of proximity experience, then it will hit close to home and call me to action.

As I'm having these thoughts I rush out of the grocery store and suddenly hear a loud honking horn, and then a "crunch" sound. There before me, an aisle over I see a young-30 something year old girl has backed up her small SUV into a guy driving a four-door sedan.

In that moment, and as I saw the ladies face I felt so bad for her. It's sad that in a world were forced to buy and pay for expensive car insurance, we can get so bummed out to experience a minor fender bender. No one was hurt, the damage was minimal, but in that moment I (and a few other people around) surely felt the angst over a relatively harmless accident.

I wanted to rush over and write the girl a check for one hundred dollars just to help out with her insurance deductible and rising premiums she'll experience. Oh, I know one hundred dollars could be better served in some other areas, donated to some other causes, but in that moment this was the experience hitting close to home, not the starving child, not the abuse of women in the middle east, not leukemia, or mine workers in Utah.

I didn't write the lady a check, but I wanted to. And even hours later I'm thinking about it.

What causes hit home with you?

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Redeeming Masculinity, a Steven Spielberg Top 10

In the couple of times I pulled up my blog today, I could hardly stand the illustration of the American Girl Kit Kittredge showing up. So in an effort to masculanize my blog, I thought I would talk about Steven Spielberg.

Before saying too much, I first would encourage you to check out the work Damian is doing on his blog Windmills of My Mind as he does 31 days of Spielberg during the August 2007.

Spielberg is probably one of the most popular and recognized film directors on a mass-scale alongside directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese, and a small handful of other directors. Sometimes, when people say "Steven Spielberg is my favorite director" I take them as generic and unoriginal people. I also think of the James Vanderbeek-esque film student a la Dawson's Creek with a Spielberg obsession that fails to value the vast amount of perhaps less popular work.

But I think what makes Spielberg a standout is as a director, he's consistent at making a wide variety of films that generally interest a male audience without isolating it's female audience.

So today, I redeem the masculinity of this blog with a personal...
top 10 of films directed by Steven Spielberg.

10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
9. Jaws
8. Hook
7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
6. Jurassic Park
5. Catch Me if You Can
4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
3. Minority Report
2. Schindler's List
1. Saving Private Ryan

StrangeCulture Post on Spieberg's upcoming Lincoln project casting (1, 2 & 3) & Indian Jones 4 (1).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bitter Anonymous Comments (or My Wife's Vote for Most Anticipated Summer 2008 movie)

Last September (pre-Oscar nomination) I wrote a post titled Let Abigail Breslin Walk. In it I challenge casting directors, producers, and company to present Abigail Breslin with some great roles and let her give those characters some legs like she's done in Signs and Little Miss Sunshine.

Abigails upcoming roles are getting a little more interesting in 2008 as she's been cast in three different films, Definitely, Maybe, Nim's Island, and Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Mystery.

Now, it's hard to say how big the Kit Kittredge movie will be, but it's currently scheduled alongside Will Smith's film super-hero-flick Hancock. Clearly New Line Cinema expects the American Girl following to be the flip-side of the coin of what was seen this past summer with the success of the Transformers movie. My wife was excessively interested in the American Girl line of books, dolls, and accessories (as was my sister), and when I accidentally mentioned this movie to my wife she stated very clearly that she wanted to see this movie.

I excluded this film from my sequel/reduex posting on what to expect Summer 2008 because it didn't fall in line with the noted themes and in-fact I'm hoping somehow I will get away without having to see this film, but there it is, smack in the middle of next summer's schedule.

While I don't typically care for anonymous comments, I thought I would take this moment to share a very funny anonymous comment I received in regards to my first Abigail Breslin post, it's pretty funny:

"I would rather puke. I hate A.B. I was going to play Kit Kittredge in an american girl mystery. They wanted me to play her. But then she came into the pic. Kit was my favorite american girl too.(grrrrrr......I HATE HER!!)and if anyone wants to email me, make sure Abby reads it first and have 'little miss sunshine(more like little miss perfect)' contact me"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer 2008: Second Helpings & Super Heroes

Last August, I saw the trend that Summer 2007 would be a sequel and trilogy year.

Well in 2008, there certainly looks like there will be far fewer sequels, and franchised films...which I can only see hurting the overall summer box office...yet, it should be exciting, right? Some fresh new things...or maybe not. Here's some major players and themes for next Summer.

Sequels for Summer 2008:
The Dark Knight (July 18, aka Batman Begins 2)

Comic Books & Superheroes:
Iron Man (May 2)
The Incredible Hulk (June 13, not related to Ang Lee's Hulk)
Hancock (July 2...yes, Will Smith on the 4th of July)
The Dark Knight (July 18)

Haven't we seen this before (re-filmed movies, tv shoes, musicals):
The Day the Earth Stood Still (May 9, based on the 1951 film with the same title)
Speed Racer (May 9, based on the 1960s Japanese cartoon show)
Get Smart (June 20, based on 1960s TV show)
Mamma Mia! (July 18, based on the musical)
Fame (August 15, update of the 1980 musical)

(Related Previous Post on Prince Caspian 1, 2, & 3, Indiana Jones 1, Dark Knight 1, 2, & 3, Iron Man 1, Mamma Mia 1)

I Wish Nicholas Angel Reviewed Every Movie

"Well, I wouldn't argue that it wasn't a no holds barred, adrenaline fueled thrill ride. But, there is no way you can perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork."
- Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) in Hot Fuzz after watching Bad Boys II

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Utah, Big Coal, and Chris Cooper

The events going on with the mine collapse in Huntington, Utah is very sad indeed. The picture above is Robert Murray, President and CEO of Murray Energy Corporation, which owns mine operator Genwal Resources Inc, and is co-owner of the mine which collapsed. Seeing clips of him speak (now and in the past) certainly frustrates me because he is so cartoonish in his dealings with this event.

When I've pictured the 6 miners stuck in the mine (I first off hope they're alive), I imagine the scenes from Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. The real life story of two port authority police officers, John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña), is a horrible piece of the 9/11 story which shows these two guys stuck under the rubble of the World Trade Center hoping desperately to be found, not knowing what is going on beyond their dark and stark environment.

Yet, to me the tragic difference is that at least McLoughlin and Jimeno were police officers who were trapped in an effort to do their job, save lives, and were serving their country in a unique and horrific event.

The tragedy of the mine accident in Utah, are different, because these men who are trapped under a mountain, were trapped because they were digging out coal for union wages to provide for their families and line the pockets of men like Robert Murray.

A couple years ago I read the book Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese. In the book Barbara traces the power and history of coal through many historical events and times.Arguing largely for the ecological danger, beginning with what was seen in London centuries ago, Freese makes a passionate portrayal of the dangers and influence of coal in our world, both in mind and from particulates emitted from power plants and within coal mines. Freese cites an EPA report from 2000 that suggest that in the world 30,000 people a year die from emissions from power plants (more than die from traffic accidents, homicide, or AIDs combined). She also cites that in the US 1400 coal workers die each year of "black lung," in addition to number of coal miners who actually die as the result of mining accidents.

To me, it is sad that all of this is in the name of energy. That I, as an American Consumer, am part of this problem. I don't know what the answer is, but it saddens me, because some Americans are working very hard and risking great danger so that I can have lights to turn on, air conditioning to run, a refrigerator, coffee maker, etc.

Whenever I think of coal I always think of Chris Cooper.
Chris Cooper has played superbly in two very different films roles dealing with coal, once as a labor organizer and once as a miner.

In 1987, Chris Cooper did a superb job in John Sayles film, Matewan. The film is about the real life events in 1920's in West Virginia as the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) met great resistence and violence in an effort to unionize and better the horrible conditions for mine workers in "Bloody Mingo" county. In this film Cooper is the union man who witnesses these events and as an outsider tries to mediate and better the deadly conditions for these workers.

In 1999, Chris Cooper plays a miner in October Sky, an adaptation of Homer Hickman's memoirs called Rocket Boys. In this film, set in the 1950s, again in West Virginia, Chris Cooper is not-supportive of the scientific aspirations of his son (Jake Gyllenhaal). The caste system mind set of the West Virginia poor is shown through Cooper's character who's aspirations go no further than his son working his way up the ranks of the local mining system. The dangerous conditions of mining are shown in this film as well, and it's sad to think of the risk these miners were taking, at low wages, for no greater goal then digging up raw energy from the earth.

These films create images of coal mining to me, and I really do hope that the Utah miners are alive and are rescued, and I also hope that the media publicity of this event will urge people and government to think of practical long term solutions to protect miners and reduce the need for coal consumption, not just reactionary changes to how mines are monitored for safety.

Imagining Russell Crowe in Monopoly the Movie

I've read a few places about Ridley's Scott recently expressed interest in making a film version of the game Monopoly.

The question is, will Russell Crowe get the role as Rich Uncle Pennybags?

Below is a graphic I made of what Russell might look like as Mr. Monopoly himself.

I have so many questions beyond that, but this one will suffice for now. Since Gladiator, Russell Crowe was involved with Ridley Scott in last year's A Good Year, this year's American Gangster, next year's Body of Lies, and 2009's robin hood flick Nottingham. Surely Crowe will be Uncle Pennybags.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jackie Chan and I would like to say "Thanks"

Below is the list of bloggers who have read and commented on StrangeCulture in the past month. In addition to these people there are of course many other readers, searcheres, annoymous, and non-bloggers have have read and commented.

But one of the things I've realized about this blog is that my readers are very diverse. Click on a few links and you will quickly see the great variety of readers who come here. I'm honored that so many people would read and link to what I write and think about.

Maybe you recognize one of the 56 names below from other comments...why don't you check them out today? See what their life is about.

Also, I've realized that recently I've done a poor job for appreciating my comments. I have rarely responded to your thoughts in the comment section, like many of you do so well.

I will do better to be a part of the conversation that I start, but as always, love it when you guys respond to eachother.
Thanks for comments.

Pay Phones in 2019

Oh no, Harrison Ford as a reenlisted blade runner is running so he can tell the central police office the truth about certain replicants that need to be retired, and he's running out of time! If only he could fine a pay phone in 2019, especially because Phillip K. Dick's novel never dreamed of wireless communication.

Similarly there are a number of times a phone would have been helpful to Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) and the rest of the future world in Brazil, certainly could have used some wireless technology as some of societies largest ills in the movie Brazil is that there are ducts going everywhere that allow their plugged in society to be electronically energized and monitored. In addition there's so much paper work everyone has to fill out and send via tubes. Terry Gilliam got some of the social ills right in this film, but he never dreamed of e-mail or wireless computers.

It truly is amazing to think of how much technology has changed since these films came out, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner in 1982 and Gilliam's Brazil in 1985. Things like absence of cell phones (but the presence of pay phones) in the future especially can really change the dynamic and "realistic" nature of futuristic movies.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

The Face I Fear

Although Anthony Hopkins' is very scary in the classic serial killer movie Silence of the Lambs, it is his role as Mr. James Stevens in the film The Remains of the Day that scares me more.

For starters, the movie is a poor representation of the great Booker prize winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day is probably my favorite book of all time.

In the story James Stevens an English butler takes a week long road trip of personal reflection on his days of service, particularly in the 1930s over a large mansion to the service of Lord Darlington.

While the story sounds relatively uninteresting, the well written story plays out masterfully and with power. Stevens for the first time evaluates his life and relationships. In his life his overarching goal was to be a great butler, elevating the status of his service and commitment to his lord.

Yet, in retrospect and simple evaluation his dedication to his work and honor in the work force not only denied him the opportunities to experience love, commitment, and honesty. It also denied that experience to those around him. And when all is accounted, his most dedicated service is deemed little by the events that surround his service.

So I often I make personal sacrifices to be successful in this-that-or-the-other but for who or what am I making these sacrifices, and so regularly I don't feel like I'm even beginning to measure up in any aspect of my life.

I think one of the lessons I learn from Mr. Stevens (the butler) in The Remains of the Day, is that we don't just have influence from working hard, a workaholic might get a lot done, but getting a lot done is an unsatisfactory end goal to me. It's like the Egyptians who dedicated their whole lives to prepare monuments for their death. Even if I could garner eighth wonder status for the monuments I built in my lifetime I wouldn't care.

Instead, Mr. Stevens' error could easily become my own. Stevens failed to connect personally with those around him. I don't know if it's a faulty dream, but when I see what real influence and success is, it involves people and relationship. I've talked about this before, even in terms of the best Robin Williams' roles. We connect with these roles were influence is made not in building, working, and painful self-promotion and sacrifice, rather influence occurs when we allow our lives to deeply intersect the lives of others.

At the same time while I so deeply value community, I often feel very alone--so very alone. I shouldn't feel alone, yet the feelings creeps up in so many ways, and beyond feeling alone I feel this inner-grumbling that says I'm wasting time, that there is only so much day left to be had.

It is the face of lost time and a wasted life that I see in the story of Stevens in The Remains of the Day. And it is that face that I fear.

Remains of the Day photo above from movie screenshots blog.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Speaking of Cereal...

Speaking of serial killers...let's just talk cereal.

Mind you, I'm not the hugest of cereal fan, but at times, enjoy it like a normal 21st century human (I mean, every grocery store dedicates like an entire aisle to cereal, people must eat the stuff).

So I bring, you my top 10 favorite cereals.

10. Cinnamon Toast Crunch (General Mills)
9. Honey Bunches of Oats (Post)
8. Frosted Mini-Wheats (Kellogg's)
7. Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch (Quaker)
6. Good Friends Cinna-Raisin Crunch (Kashi)
5. Kashi GOLEAN (Kashi)
4. Raisin Bran Crunch (Kellogg's)
3. Cinnamon Life Cereal (Quaker)
2. Kashi GOLEAN Crunch! (Kashi)
1. Cracklin' Oat Brand (Kellogg's)

The brand tally of personal preference is as follows. General Mills and Post each with 1 cereal each, Quaker with 2, and Kellogg's and Kashi each with 3.

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Serial Killers in Cinema

I just hired a new employee who wants to be a missionary, but at the same time is interested in forensic psychology a.k.a. serial killers...and I'm thinking "what a combo."

Actually, I think a lot of people are at least semi-interested in "serial killers," not that they're listing it as a hobby alongside other interest in knitting, marathon running, and Cajun cooking.

Every year, there seems like there's a movie or two that is either a horror, thriller and/or crime drama that relates to a serial killer, real or fictional. In my own mind, I think I often think the reason serial killer films are so popular is because films are trying to ride of the success of the wildly popular film The Silence of the Lambs.

Yet at the same time, watching the first season of Prime Suspect, which came out the same year of Silence of the Lambs (1991), they too are tracking a serial killer, and I began to realize my Silence of the Lambs theory was wrong.

Serial killers offer a scary and creepy sense of urgency in pop culture. The idea that the sooner we track down the pyscho-killer, the less people that get hurt is debatably far more interesting than a film where they're tracking down a person who has committed a crime of passion or who simply shoots people to get what they want. Not just does a serial killer present a sense of urgency, but also creates an antagonist who is intelligent who needs to protagonist to out smart the crook.

That's the way it is in the recent David Fincher film Zodiac. This great film really captures the serial killer interest in culture and individuals. This true story about San Fransisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) who does his own investigation to track the Zodiac killer out of personal obsession really creates such an interesting "based on a true story" type of movie. I think so many people want to be like Graysmith. They want to sit around their breakfast tables, looking at the evidence and details in the newspaper and solve the case.

So it's not just Silence of the Lambs that drives people to have an interest in watching and making films about serial killers. Also, many popular films pre-date Silence of the Lambs, the main films that come to mind is Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Psycho, which of course has one of the most famous fictional serial killers of cinema, Norman Bates. Similarly, there are other early fictional serial killers like Michael Myers from Halloween series (which began in 1978), or Jason from the Friday the 13th series (which began in 1980).

And of course, this year has already seen a couple serial killer films in Zodiac, Mr. Brooks, Hannibal Rising, and maybe a few others.

But of course, potential the biggest serial killer movie of 2007 will be the musical Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Tim Burton's film based on the Stephen Sondheim musical is an excellent example that our cultural interest in serial killers has existed for a long time.

The story of Sweeney Todd as a serial killer/barber has been around since at least 1846 when it appeared in a British penny fiction book called The String of Pearls: A Romance. In 1847 George Dibdin-Pitt wrote a popular "based on fact" play based on the story and gave it the "Demon of Barber of Fleet Street" as a subtitle. A film adaptation of the Sweeney Todd story was made in 1936 directed by George King. In 1973 Christopher Bond wrote a play called Sweeney Todd where he gave the title character a motive for this crazy killings by giving Todd a back story as the wrongly imprisoned Benjamin Barker.

And it from that story that Hugh Wheeler and Steven Sondheim crafted the Tony Award winning musical that first appeared on Broadway in 1979. And still over a quarter of a century later, the story of this serial killer (or any other) is guaranteed to create a thrilling and horrific experience for movie goers. And seeing the first pictures of Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd certainly has the ability to make your skin crawl.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

DCI Jane Tennison (and Jack Bauer)

I have just watched the first "season" (4 episodes) of Prime Suspect, the British television miniseries staring Helen Mirren as Detective Cheif Inspector Jane Tennison.

This first season of Prime Suspect came out in 1991 and it was interesting to watch because you could see how something like this could have really helped spawn and influenced television shows like CSI. The 4 episodes in many ways, run like a long episode of CSI as the British detectives under the controversial new female detective try to find evidence and solve a murder mystery.

I'm interested to watch other seasons (there are 7 in total), to at least see if the feel changes, or developes, and how different characters and story lines might linger into subsequent seasons.

My wife compared Tennison to Jack Bauer from 24. (namely because to her everything relates to Jack Bauer). Her comparison was that DCI Tennison was relentless in solving the case, and while allowing her home life to crumble around her dedicated herself exclusively to the case at
hand, even while at times getting criticism from her superiors.

At the same time, I pointed out the Jane Tennison is no Jack Bauer...namely in the fact that she plays by the rules to create a solid case, with good evidence that will with stand a court of law, even if that means releasing a suspect she believes is guilty because she cannot legally continue to hold him.

DCI Jane Tennison does not endorse the same type of torture and irreverent investigation tools that Jack uses, and the post and thinking about torture and rendition, I think this is admirable.