Monday, March 31, 2008

Quality 80s? Part VIII

It's been a couple of weeks, but the quest to catch up on 80s cinema continues with this next batch.

If you missed earlier reflections as 80s films are watched for the first time with a contemporary eye, check out: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, & Part VII.

This edition contains some very different films from the earlier part of the 80s.

Gallipoli (1981)
Directed by Peter Weir
Recommended by Magnus, Ando, Will & Kat

I don't know exactly what I want to say about this movie, or even how I want to respond. It's definitely a different type of war movie, especially since it involves WWI (the less popular of the World War genre) and deals with army men from Australia (perhaps the least common choice) fighting in Turkey (another less popular war film location). And yet, it all makes sense when you're watching it, but in all honesty the film doesn't becoming engrossing until the final minutes when it's final character development moments all take form in their own horrific way.

Like many of the 80s films, it's interesting to see these still prevalent actors/actresses in their younger days. Mel Gibson as a youthful actor is interesting here. He looks totally different, but his voice is certainly the same. I can't say I loved this film, but I'm glad I watched this. It's amazing to me, especially after watching Mosquito Coast recently as well, to continue to see the different themes and ideas that Peter Weir tries to develop and play with in his films.

Sophie's Choice (1982)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Recommended by Oscar (best actress Meryl Streep, plus 4 other nods), Will, jeremy

I'm glad I watched this. Of course Meryl Streep is fantastic. Plus it was also fun to see early Kevin Kline (you can see the beginning of many of his crazies characters developing in some of his performance in this film), as well as Peter MacNicol (who I loved in season 6 of 24). All three of these actors do an incredible job. There scenes together are very reminiscent of French films Band of Outsiders or Jules and Jim with the 2 male, 1 female acting trio. Or even at some points of something like Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, except instead of Louisiana it's New York.

Yet, while there's that "french-feeling" story line, there is also the long flash-back sequence which is probably the most powerful moments in the film. Yet with this "film within a film" style it certainly makes for an uneven viewing experience. It's too bad it's so uneven, because the performances are great, the story is interesting, yet the screenwriting and artistic elements limited the film from being cohesive.

The World According to Garp (1982)
Directed by George Roy Hill
Recommended by Oscar (2 nods)

Another unevenly told story, but I think it has far more to do with John Irving's unique writing and story telling skills. Skills that work in books, but with their "passing of time" often leave the viewer at a distance. I'm sure other's have drawn comparison's to The World According to Garp and to Irving's novel Widow for A Year (who's first 80 or so pages became the film The Door in The Floor).

The Academy Awards totally got it right by nominating Glenn Close as the nurse mother who is obsessed with fighting the concept of lust, and John Lithgow the former pro tight end who has undergone a sex change. Both of them do great work, and Glenn completely deserved this Oscar nod, her first of five she would receive in the 80s (although she still has not won an Oscar). Robin Williams is the same Robin Williams we see in other films, just with less finesse and's like pre-Mrs. Doubfire.

The story is kind of weird and quirky, much like Accidental Tourist (which started this entire post-series) but it's a little more cohesive and enjoyable, especially because Glenn Close is amazing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

2007's Films: Acknowledging Isolation

In my last two post I've talked about the challenges in developing community as well as media's nichification that makes us have a more individualized culture, as opposed to a collective pop culture.

And while I have previously recognized that many of 2007's films dealt with violent themes, many of the most critically appreciated films also dealt with the concept of isolation. I've noticed in watching 1980s films recently, that many of those films seem to deal with "becoming," making decisions about who we are as individuals, and differentiating ourselves by rising up to the challenges that society places around us. Yet, in 2007, while many main characters where able to make lemonade out of their lemons, they were thrown into a world of isolation, usually not by choice.

What films I'm I thinking about:

In The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby's real-life story is bitter (yet intriguing) story with just a taint of sweetness as he struggles to deal with ultimate isolation when he get's locked-in-syndrome, robbing him of all physical mobility and communication, painting the ultimate picture of Isolation.

While locked-in syndrome is more rare, Alzheimer's disease is not. And Sarah Polley's Away From Her is a strikingly real and sad story of isolation. While much of the isolation occurs in the character of Julie Christie, the lady struggling with memory loss, the real story of isolation lies in the isolation that her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent), who suddenly has a wife who not only doesn't remember him, but who relies upon another patient at the assisted living center. Grant is now completely alone in the world.

Yet, these pictures of isolation are not far off from the isolation we see in the life of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum. As a legendary assassin who doesn't even know or understand his own past, who doesn't know who he can trust, and who's own government is tracking him down, Bourne is thrust into a world of isolation, not of his own chosen, but an isolation that is forced to deal with.

I've discussed previously about the similarities between Atonement and The Kite Runner as the stories central characters (Briony and Amir) are forced and given an opportunity to repair and atone for the past. These stories similarly show isolated characters who because of the combination of secrets and horrific world events are thrown into worlds of separation, dark secrets, and isolation that stemmed from childhood into adulthood.
I could go on-and-on with 2007's most critical films, Juno a girl who get's pregnant, but really the story of isolation is seen even more in Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) as the story plays out.

Or how about No Country for Old this not a story of isolation from the angle of every character. From Kelly Macdonald, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones characters, this film is deep in it's dealing with isolation. In fact the tag line for this film could be "alone together."
Similar thoughts could be drawn from Michael Clayton, Assassination of Jesse James, American Gangster, 3:10 to Yuma, Zodiac, There Will Be Blood, Gone Baby Gone, Waitress, and the list goes on.

Even "redeeming family films" like Ratatouille and Enchanted dealt with Isolation (a rat who wasn't like all the other rats, and a Princess who was forced to go to the place called New York, where everyone is mean, pushy, and unfriendly)

I'm not sure if these films help us learn to become community. Rather, I think the role of these films is the creation of characters whom we can relate with: people with passions that can't be understood, pasts that cannot be fixed, and lives that are forced to be lived out independently.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

800 Channels: Media-Options As A Community Hinderance

Real Simple. Field & Stream. GQ. Texas Monthly. Entertainment Weekly. US News and World Report. Atlantic Monthly. Men's Health. Popular Science. Wired.

Fox News. TLC. CMT. The CW. Game Show Network. ESPN 2. HBO.

Tivo the Office. Netflix The British Office.

Art films. Direct-to-video Horror films. Critic Favorites. Summer Blockbusters. Raunchy Romantic Comedies.
One of the awesome things about our current time is that there is tons of information out there...sure it's information overload, but who's stopping it?

Yet as Entertainment Media becomes more diverse, it also means that individually we are exposed to a more diverse collection of entertainment.

One of the goals of entertainment is to escape, relax, and so forth. But another reason we watch CNN, read sports illustrated, get the local paper, read Oprah's recommended reading, and watch certain shows is because it is through media we relate to others.

If you aren't keeping up with College Basketball tournament you may be disconnected from others at work or in social situations. Or perhaps this year in your social group there were those who cared about who won certain Academy Awards, while others said "I haven't seen any of these movies." Or maybe you feel isolated when others gather around the water-cooler and are discussing their American Idol picks and you could care less.

The ideas behind "modern community" are very important to me. As I discussed most-recently, the challenge of meeting our need for community is often a HUGE challenge. While there are many hindrances to community, the expanding breadth of media-options seems as though it really hinders community.

A great connection point for developing relationships can be common interest or experiences. And while maybe we come from different backgrounds, experiences, or are different ages, the ability to discuss sports, movies, television, or news often provides an opportunity to lay relational foundations, spark conversations and create communal building blocks.

It's much safer to discuss about how Dr. Gregory House (House, MD.) is a lovable cranky TV character, then to dive into discussions about our joys, pains, hopes, and fears.

Yet if I spend my time being entertained watching the History Channel and The Food Network, while you watched ESPN classic and a Sponge Bob Square Pants Marathon, how in the world are we going to begin to connect to one another.

I acknowledge that life is far deeper than the magazines we read and the television we watch, yet the over-nichification of media outlets seems to hinder our ability to develop community and form relationships.

People may not want to discuss religion, politics, or even family-relationships in the early stages of relationships, but they may discuss that surprise moment on Survivor, the last moments of the football game, or even that funny video on YouTube...but you probably missed Survivor, the football game, and there's no way you saw that video.

My point is not that we should complain, sell our TVs, or all only listen to NPR and have meaningful discussions at independently owned coffee shops.

Instead, I think it's valuable to expose ourselves to as much breadth to the cultures we live in, occasionally sacrificing depth, in order to engage culture at an interpersonal level. We must interact with culture to engage people, and if we try to engage people with no cultural context we might not really have anything to talk about.

I also think there's values in experiencing media and culture with others. See movies with friends. Visit art galleries, go to concerts, and even read magazines with other people. We already have personal computers, our own cellphones, bathrooms, one cup coffee makers. We don't need our own niche entertainment media. Experience culture with others. Share your interest, and even more importantly try to understand what the people around you see in foreign films/rap music/soccer.

Community: The Challenges Post College

When I was in college, I was surrounded by a wide variety of people, with a wide variety of interest. I though at that point that I was surrounded with more diversity that any time in my life. And from that wide pool of people, I, like many, made some great friends as I met people who I could connect with who shared certain similarities with myself.

Post-college, much of my social life involved friends from college with some similar interests, passions, hobbies, etc.

Over time, my wife and I married, we made new friends and have kept in touch with the old.

But when we moved away from our college's town, we realized that perhaps we fooled ourselves in to thinking that our liberal arts college was so diverse.

Even though you had business majors and art majors and students from all over the country and the world, there were some major unification points: everyone was pursuing higher education, everyone was relatively the same age, everyone had enough money to at least get a loan from a bank to go to colleg,e and everyone chose to go to school where we were.

Yet now that time has passed we're struck with the reality of how significant those collegiate-similarities are.

In college you're living with different people in tight quarters, primarily coming out of similar experiences with similar connecting points. Even if initial discussions are about previous high-school extra-curriculars (sports, clubs, band, etc.) or you're discussing your past (family, pets, hometown) there is a natural connection point. And sure you're hometown might have been small or big, or your football team was good or bad, then general and initial topics of connection have the potential to be similar.

Establishing community out of college is challenging. My wife and I have had an exceptional opportunities since we've moved to form community with others through finding a church and developing relationships in a small group, but the relational connection points are more challenging then a collegiate setting.

Suddenly you're dealing with married people, single people, people with various educational experiences, goals, and pasts.

Even the desire for relationships is different. Some people long for deep relationships, other for a wide variety of friends, some prefer networking, while others are happy with the relationships they have, or simply don't desire many relationships at all.

While it is sometimes hard to develop meaningful relationships in college, forming deep relationships post-college is an even more challenging thing. My wife and I have been fortunate to begin some relationships with new friends post-college, but even as I talk to other college friends of mine the experience is often challenging.

It's strange. I think we all have an innate need for community and relationships with others, yet its often hard to determine why this is such a challenging need to meet.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cowboys for Christ - The Organization & The Movie

I can't remember exactly the complete details of the event, but I remember in college attending an event where we ate true Texas Barbecue and there was a rancher from the organization Cowboys for Christ who spoke. Whatever you picture this "Cowboy for Christ" was like, is probably dead on.

Anyways, I was surprised when I recently ran across this poster for the movie called Cowboys for Christ. What is this about, I wondered? A documentary? The next Christian themed film like "A Walk to Remember?"

But alas, nothing of the type. It's the movie poster for a horror movie staring Christopher Lee and Joan Collins directed by Robin Hardy (1973's Wicker Man), based on Hardy's on book.

Apparently, the story is about a gospel singer and cowboy boyfriend who leave Texas to go preach door-to-door in Scotland, and who find some people interested in the Christian faith, but really have other horrific plans in mind.

The film begins filming in April in Scotland...and somehow I think the rancher I saw share his faith years ago will not be seeing this film.

You have to wonder if the movie might steal the organizations tag line: "Are you ridin' with Jesus?"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Beyond Santa & the Bunny - Mall Marketing Plan for Father's Day

Last year I wrote on this topic of how it is odd to me that people go to the mall to visit the Easter Bunny. Unlike Santa Clause, there just simply doesn't seem like there would be any thing to talk about with the Easter Bunny, frankly there more mythology associated with the tooth fairy then with the Easter Bunny, and sitting on the lap of who-knows-who's-under-there simply is creepy.

Yet, I was thinking that especially with Easter being early this year, the malls of America might be trying to think of similar ways to market themselves and bring people into the mall to visit with and sit with another person/animal that represents another holiday.

Then it struck me -- Father's Day! While I am and have been very blessed to have a great dad (and hope to be a great dad as well), I continually encounter kids and adults who struggled with distant fathers. Some fathers where absent as a result of heavy issues like drugs, alcohol, abuse, jail. While others might have been distant because of a divorce, re-marriage, blended family situation. Or maybe they were business travelers or workaholics. The likely-hood of dismal fathering is certainly prevalent in the United States.

Again, I'm thankful for my father and certainly would never visit "a stand-in Father at a mall" but I wonder if there would be a marketing draw to have a generic Father fill in at the mall for kids (or parents) to visit.

I'm not really sure what that interaction would look like, and while I am strongly against the idea of many children coming to sit on some strange man's lap, I wonder about the practical variations of a "Visit a Father campaign" at a Mall. For many people there Father is as the Easter bunny, so this all seems plausible to me.

I could see the Mall-Father being of a number of varieties and appearances, it would probably take some trial and error to create the ideal Mall-Father. But I could see the Father sitting at a desk where the mall visitor could pull up a chair and tell the Dad what was going on in his or her life. I could also see the dad reclined in a chair with mustard stains on a white t-shirt watching TV while the mall visitor got to blast the Father for whatever ill and harm their real father had done to them.

And then I realized that there's always the opportunity for a photo with the Easter Bunny or Santa. Why not the chance for a photo-shoot with the stand in Dad. Families who's distant or absent Father isn't or has never been around for a family photo could come up the mall and get a Family photo or Father-daughter/Father-son photo shoot.

The possibilities are endless. But remember, mall marketing departments bring in Santa Clause and Easter Bunny to drive up mall traffic, and while there may be debate over whether everyone will get behind the idea, it's not like there is not disapproval by some over Santa Clause or the Easter why not? right.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Humanity in Into The Wild

Probably some of the strangest footage I've ever seen on film is Warner Herzog's Grizzly Man, about Timothy Treadwell, animal rights activists and naturists who after spending 13 summers in Alaska with the Grizzly Bears, got a little too comfortable and was eaten by a bear.

While the story of Christopher McCandless' story as told in Into The Wild is different than Treadwell's stories, on the outside it has some marked similarities, namely death in the Alaskan wild.

Yet, Timothy Treadwell is simply a challenging person and as Herzog edits through hours of footage a very strange, daring, perhaps even stupid or psychotic character emerges. The beginning of Into The Wild is set up in a way that feels all too similar to Grizzly Man, especially with the knowledge of it's inevitable ending.

Yet, as the story takes shape a deeper level of humanity is breathed into the story that is harder to find in the story of Treadwell.

While Emile Hirsch as the real life Christopher McCandless has his redemable moments, it is really the supporting characters that draw out the humanity in McCandless.

I attribute the humanity that comes forth in this story to two performances.

The first most noted recognized performance is that of Hal Holbrook who plays Ron Franz in the academy award nominated role.

Holbrook is so impressive in this role, and the role is one that can resonate with so many people, the story of a man who has lived a life, made some mistakes, and ultimately professes the power of Christ, forgiveness, and love. And he wants McCandless to have all these things, and essentially be the father (or grandfather) McCandless never had. Every moment of screen time that McCandless and Holbrook have together is cinematic gold.

The second important performance, that really struck a cord with me was the performance by Jena Malone as Carine, Chris' younger sister -- the narrator who really pulls the story together and helps the viewer understand that real Chris. The part is written with such a deep humanity that carries the film and makes it complete and Malone is perfect in bringing every line to life.

When you watch Grizzly Man and "the death moment" draws closer, you feel uncomfortable, because you can't even understand how Treadwell has survived so long and you see his mental state getting worse and the threshold for danger increasing.

Into the Wild paints a different picture of McCandless. First of all, he's generally satisfied with the present, and most people he encounters. His desire to get away is built upon a hatred of his parents and on the concepts of unkind people caught in a social whirlwind. Yet it does seem like he treasures the relationships he forms with everyone in this film. Christopher is satisfied to befriend anyone that will allow him to befriend him.

In the end we see him writing things in his journal about being scared and lonely. Perhaps McCandless was ready to forgive, and had accomplished the task before him, proving to himself that he could do it, as well as learning what he could not.

Without these various elements of humanity, shown through McCandless interactions with people along his journey, his sister's narration, and the realizations in his time in the Alaskan wilderness this story would hardly pack a punch, it was just be the bio-pic of a strange man.

Yet, Into the Wild, despite it's unrelatable central character, suddenly becomes incredibly relatable to a world that sometimes does feel isolated, angry, and misunderstood. It is this layer of humanity embedded in the film that makes Into The Wild a successful film.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Brolin: Not Just Bush - Also Assassin Dan White

In 2007 Josh Brolin's played strong characters in violent films American Gangster, No Country For Old Men, In the Valley of Elah and Grindhouse.

Forget violence, Brolin has new controversial roles to dabble in.

I mentioned just the other day that Brolin will also play the role of George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's upcoming film Bush.

Yet, before Brolin stirs up controversy as a commander-in-chief he will play another controversial role, in what certainly has potential to be a controversial film, called Milk.

Josh Brolin will be acting along a slew of talented male actors in a film about the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Mascone by Dan White (pictured right) in 1978. Brolin will be playing Dan White.

Harvey Milk was the the first openly gay supervisor of San Fransisco, the self-described "mayor of Castro Street." Harvey Milk will be played by Sean Penn.

Senate minority leader-turn Mayor, George Mascone was also assassinated by White, and in the film "Milk" will be played by Victor Garber.

It's interesting to me that Brolin would play Dan White and George W. Bush back-to-back as White was a conservative leader in the city of San Fransisco. While the comparisons between White and Bush end there, it's always interesting to see how some actors bring their old characters with them into later performances.

It's hard to tell how exactly the story Milk is going to be told. Will it be a political film, a social film. Will it tell a story or tell a message. Will the film be more about Milk's life, election, time in office of assassination. Will the film show Dan White's court scenes where he got manslaughter charges instead of murder charges on account of his "depression due to food."

I can't see Milk being too popular at the box office...I don't feel like many people are interested in seeing Sean Penn and James Franco act the role of gay lovers. I think especially as the film gets closer to release gay activists will champion a film of this nature, while more conservative film goers are apt to ignore or criticize the project.

Yet, if done well, I would imagine that Milk could be a critical success and edge it's way into some Oscar categories. I feel like there are certainly some acting honors that might get awarded. And if nothing else MTV will likely nominate a gay kiss from the movie (Sean Penn and James Franco?). MTV loves the same-sex kiss.

In addition to Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Victor Garber and James Franco, the film will also star Emile Hirsh as gay activist Cleve Jones, as well as Diego Luna. The project is directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting).

Enjoy this picture below of Sean Penn as Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dramatizing Recent History: Josh Brolin as George W. Bush

I didn't really know what picture to use for this post. You see, Josh Brolin is set to play Geroge W. Bush in an Oliver Stone film, called Bush, currently in pre-production. I didn't want to use that more popular No Country For Old Men pic (used here).

So I'm thinking Crawford, Texas...horses, and "that'll do."

But word is that Brolin is set to play the president in the 2009 Stone release. I'm not really sure what time period "Bush" will focus on, who will Laura, Condi, Bush 41, and so forth, but I will be curious to see who gets cast.

Oliver Stone is not afraid these days to make films on "modern history" (or should I say "current events"). Oliver Stone is credited with one of the very first 9/11 dramatizations with World Trade Center released August 2006.

After recently catching up some Stone films, I'm glad to see Oliver Stone tackling projects like this. I loved Nixon specifically, and am interested to see what a G.W. Bush film would be like from the mind of Stone (and the pen of Stanley Weiser, writer of Wall Street and TV projects like the Rudy Giuliani Story).

Any predictions in terms of story, time period, or casting?

Is it too early to do a feature length dramatic bio-pic of our current President? It worked for The Queen can it work for this?

Friday, March 14, 2008

CNN, George Bush, & the Economy: Some Thoughts After A Day at the Mechanic

So I have been delaying getting my breaks repaired and some other regular maintenance on my car. The main reason is because it takes up my time and my money. Man, did getting my breaks repair take time, and not only did it take a lot of money, I also got the chance to watch CNN for 5 hours.

In college I actually majored in International Economics (new fact for many StrangeCulture readers, I'm sure). And so I am actually pretty interested in our contemporary economic situation. Not just because it effects my life, your life, etc. but also simply because like Oscar caliber films, the dismal science of economics interests me.

So today, I was lucky enough to catch CNN on a day that was filled with economic woes, success, and discussions.

It started out with an announcement that inflation for last month was flat (which is great news under the circumstances of ridiculously high inflation in 2007, of which I've heard estimated around 17%, which is simply not healthy growth at all, which the Fed normally tries to keep around 2.9%.)

Then Bush gave his speech to the Economic Club of New York. It was a pretty good speech, especially by Bush standards. And it was pretty entertaining to be watching it in a car dealership service lounge where it was like watching a high-stakes football game where everyone was rooting for the loosing team. There were definitely some people who's blood pressure started elevating.

While I'm sure many people will have different feelings about various aspects of his speech, I appreciated his discussion of why he does not encourage reactionary measures taken on the part of Washington to save people from ome foreclosure through debt forgiveness, subsidizing mortgage notes, etc. Although Bush did not say we were in or headed towards a recession, the fact of the matter is that part of the functionality of the business cycle (pictured Econ 101 style, left) and recession is the role of price adjustment. Sometimes, prices are simply too high, as we saw in the run away inflation of 2007. Runaway inflation tends to cause devaluation of currency, that is best corrected by lowering of prices. While Bush mainly focused on the legality of getting involved in debt forgiveness and buying up foreclosed homes to maintain their value, the fact of the mater is that many homes, in many areas simply might be over-valued. (Think about how the trend to flip-houses certainly aided in rising home prices, by creating a new shock in demand for purchasing homes).

(Later in the day Ben Bernanke, Fed Chairman, did speak later in the day at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition's annual meeting and he outlined ways to help eliminate problems in the sub-prime industry, but his suggestions are small relative to ideas others have thrown around)

Then there started to word of huge bad things going on with Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC) one of the largest investment banking firms in the world. A company who I've followed a little extra since a friend of mine worked there after college. And suddenly due to major liquidity problems, largely accredited to the "credit crunch" and their involvement in investing in sub-prime housing. The Federal Reserve came to the rescue, along with competitor JP Morgan Chase, and today the stock just kept on dropping and dropping, eventually dropping 27 points (-47%). This is no good.

Oh, and gas prices reached record highs, with people in California and Hawaii paying as much as $4 a gallon. (Much of this is attributed to a weaker dollar, which means OPEC nations controlling oil are not increasing production, and so our need for oil, means we have to pay more for it in international markets...this then attributes to more inflation).

Then there were democratic responses to Bush's speech, and way to many clips shown over and over again, with other random CNN stories through out, including economic stories like people on the verge of foreclosure committing arson on their own houses for insurance money and the effects of a struggling economy creating riots in various places in the world, especially more developed Africa areas where economies are crumbling with inflation and the inability to get basic need.

It all was dismal.

The facts are that there is major conflict in the American economy, and it's hard to know how much Washington DC and the Fed should react, and in which ways. However they react, or don't react will have an effect for the United States and the world, short term and long-term.

When I listen to the people around me getting their car fixed, the overall climate was that the stimulus package wouldn't cover the loss of income due to rising gas prices, lost jobs, foreclosed houses, or repair their bitter mistrust in President Bush or the United States current condition.

And the whole system is generally a mess because short-term the government and the fed are doing everything they can to eliminate a recession. I appreciate that, I really do. But, I think there governmental powers can only do so much at this point. Again...the Business Cycle.

Now, the business cycle doesn't create short-term comfort, but it's cyclical nature of troughs and peaks is a standard way things have gone in the United States over the course of it's relatively short existence. And Federal Reserve tools are relatively limited (adjust the money supply or adjust the federal funds rate). And the Feds two tools are relatively powerless because our economy is facing two conflicting problems. Economic slow-down AND inflation. Lowering interest rates is supposed to stimulate the economy AND it creates inflation. Raising the interest rates will slow down inflation BUT will also slow down the economy. (I feel like cost of gas and transportation is the easiest way to explain these conflicting problems, although I realize and understand it's a compound issue that goes beyond oil prices.)

What's the Fed to do?

Normal recommendations from StrangeCulture involve movies, websites, and fiction. But today I have new recommended reading. There's a short book that's incredibly insightful called The Fabulous Decade: Macroeconomic Lessons from the 1990s by Alan S. Blinder and Janet L. Yellen. This book was published summer 2001 just months before the September 11 attacks. A point when the economy was past it "peak" in that portion of the business cycle. Yet it covers an important time in America, the 1990s, a time when America had it's longest stretch of economic growth without recession or depression.

I think in the past couple of decades, especially after "The Fabulous Decade" of the 90s, we became dependent upon the government to guide us in a path of continual economic growth. And while this is a great goal, challenges do and will arise in America and the global economy. There is ways to minimize the economic and social damages, but not eliminate economic downturns.

Anyways, it was an interesting day. I did my part to stimulate the economy, getting serviced at my American car service department. Here's to hoping I won't have to stimulate the economy that way for awhile.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Was Mad About You, Then She Found Me

People like the sexual innuendo and connotations that get created with the strangely common game of opening a fortune cookie and adding the phrase "in bed" (or sometimes "between the sheets" to the fortune. (Example: "You Will Find Great Happiness When You Try Harder [in bed]")

Well, this upcoming May, Helen Hunt's indie-film Then She Found Me comes out (Picked up by ThinkFilms and winner of the Audience Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival). Now, when I say it's Helen Hunt's film...I mean it. Hunt is the director, star, one of the writers, and one of the producers.

Based on a the novel (Then She Found Me) by Elinor Lipman, it tells the seemingly depressing story of a school teacher who's husband leaves her, adoptive step mother dies, and she starts to date one of her student's parents.

Yet, the title "Then She Found Me," some how entertains me. (I think it might have to do with the main character's (Helen Hunt) talk show host birth mother reappearing in her life). It entertains me though because "Then She Found Me" seems like something you'd end to random past tense sentences, especially one's that begin with I.

- I had the best day of my life, then she found me.
- I did yoga last night, then she found me.
- I was running late this morning, than she found me.
- I went to sleep early, then she found me.
- I lost my mind, then she found me.
- I ran over my neighbors dog, then she found me.
- I ate all the ice cream, then she found me.
- I went on vacation, then she found me.
- I helped an old lady across the road, then she found me.

And while these may not quiet be as humorous as "in bed" fortune cookies, I will note that for each of the sentences above I simply asked my wife (not knowing what I was posting) to say a past tense phrase that started with the word I.

Feel free to come up with your own "then she found me" sentence.

Quality 80s? Part VII

The voyage through 80s cinema continues. (Check out: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI).

Working Girl (1988)
Directed by Mike Nichols
Recommended by Oscars (6 noms, including best song win) Jeremy, Will

I thought this was a great film. Apart from the fact that 20 years later the role of women in the workforce has surely changed and probably a decrease in the number of "administrative assistants", the issues at hand are not fully dated. Many businesses and sectors still remain male dominated, and far more than gender issues, this film deals with office humor, and office humor is always funny to anyone who's worked in an office.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film, this is the type of film that as a male you have to feel secure about checking out from the library, I certainly felt silly carrying it out. The performances of course are great, I am honestly surprised Joan Cusack scored an Oscar nod for this bit-size comic role that largely is pure 80s as a result of her bad hair and make-up. Melanie Griffith is great and plays such a likeable character. I joked with my wife that man women think they're Tess McGill, extremely intelligent and only disadvantaged among peers because of their good looks, and if given the chance could really show their stuff ("I have a head for business and a bod for sin.")

The Big Blue (Le Grand bleu)(1988)
Directed by Luc Besson
Recommend by Heather & Adam

Although Adam said not to watch the director's cut, I did. And there I'm sure is a big difference between the 118 minute version and 168 minute version. There's a handful of weird things that are going on here, that somehow you're just able to excuse. The rivalry between Enzo (Jean Reno) and Jaques Mayol (Jean-Marc Barr), Jaques dolphin-lovin', Jacques awkward silence and facial expressions, Johana (Rosanna Arquette) and her weird job that is investigating insurance fraud that leads her to South America and her fraud that takes her to Torino, her instant obsession, and Jacques continued obsession with Dolphins.

Yet...despite all the weirdness, the film is shot so beautifully and the intrigue of the deep water diving is enough to keep you watching and intrigued. I'm not sure how I feel about the ending, I'm sure it's beautiful in it's own way, but also falls in line with the weirdness previously mentioned. Jean Reno is fantastic in this film, and I love his and enjoy his character. Barr and Arquette are also good, and really the three main characters all really get an exceptional opportunity to develop their unique and illogical characters, in such a pleasant and entertaining way.

The Natural (1984)
Directed by Barry Levinson
Recommended by Oscar (4 nominations), AK, Kat, & Heather

I feel like the Natural is one of those movies you're supposed to love. You're supposed to love Robert Redford, the themes, the music. I think I like all these things, but because the theme and style of this film is so overplayed (including the theme music) it's hard to experience like you might imagine experiencing it for the first time in 1984. Glen Close has an excellent understated role.

The well principled sportsmen who gives his all, despite his age/race/past, and overcomes adversity in the final moments is overplayed I think the one unique quality of this film that separates it from other similar baseball/sports movies is it's discussion of the past and personal failings. While the movie paints a relatively optimistic view of redemption and honor, when Close delivers the lines "You know I think we have two lives...the life we learn with and the life we live with after that," it is certainly a powerful concept. I'm glad I've finally seen this movie the whole way through, although I think in the grand scheme of things has the unfortunate disadvantage of being a film that it's story was not unique enough to limit others from rewriting the same story a hundred different ways.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Top 10 Supporting Women in 24

Some of the best roles on the television series 24 have gone to women, who occasionally play strong supporting roles, especially in the grand scheme of the overall storyline.

While many of these actresses are not household names, I wanted to focus on my favorite Actresses who appear in 48 our fewer episodes of 24 from the first 6 seasons (144 episodes).

Believe me there are certainly quality characters and performances left out (Julia Miliken, Sarah Gavin, Nadia Yassir, Marie Warner, Erin Driscol, Teri Bauer, and other fabulous characters and performances)

10. Marilyn Bauer (Rena Sofer)
Sofer, also in Heroes (Nathan Peterelli's wife) is a very commanding actress. She certainly has a different look and style that is capable of being a powerful character just by being in the camera shot. Her role has the potential to be melodramatic yet she played a unique role with command, control and mystery. I'm not sure what role she may have in futre episodes or seasons, but her character has it's own line of complications, and I still believe there are mysteries about her to be unveiled in future episodes.

9. Anya Suvarov (Kathleen Ghati)

In only 7 episodes, the first lady of Russian president Yuri Suvarov, plays an important role a couple of times. Her character is interesting, and she plays it so convincingly. It's some times too bad that the story doesn't take place in Russia. Martha Logan's character simply would not work as well with out the interaction between Anya and her.

8. Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter)
I always wanted her role to be more. Her sisterly/motherly role is very interesting and she is an interesting 24 female, namely for some of her "weaker" character qualities. I love the scene when she goes into the Mosque to identify the terrorist. You can feel the fear and anxiety in those moments. While her screen sister Marie also has an interesting role and does a good job at her part, Kate's subtly and multi-faceted performance really sets her apart.

7. Mandy (Mia Kirshner)
Mandy may not have a last name, but she makes a huge impression as she opens up episode 1 of the first season. A skilled woman who will work for anyone for enough money, Kirshner is perfect casting, and her appearance at any point, in any season gives viewers a sense of pure evil in a woman with far too much secret agent talent. Never has a nasally girl been so scary.

6. Karen Hayes (Jayne Atkinson)
While some of the female characters end up degenerating into cartoony charictatures, Karen Hayes is a believable and sympathetic character. Especially when she is a member of the cabinet in season 6, she portrays the strong make-it-happen character that makes the white house scenes far superior to the CTU scenes. Her ability to accomplish impressive feats without torture or bribery is impressive.

5. Lynne Kresge (Michelle Forbes)
After season 1 there is a game that you can't help playing, which is the "is he evil or is he good" game. Like many characters her desire to use protocol causes significant conflicts between her, Jack Bauer and President Palmer. Yet the best interactions are certainly the one's she has with Sherry Palmer when she is brought in to assist David. Lynne also is one of the first women to clash head to head with white house staff (Eric Rayburn) and get frustrated when her ability to be in control is comprised.

4. Martha Logan (Jean Smart)

What a well executed performance. By the time she's first lady, the white house is pretty messed up and she's one crazy presidential wife. Certainly a different type of character than power-hungry Sherry Palmer. When Jean Smart is on the scene in season 5, your are just captivated by her character and her performance, sometimes you feel like she is so crazy and mean, and other times you feel so sympathetic for her...sometimes you feel both feelings in the same episode. I love her first scene when her hair is made up and she dips her head in the water because she doesn't like it. Her sexual manipulations and interactions are a little bizarre, and her scenes with the Russian first lady Anya Suvarov really give a full rounded performance and character development.

3. Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson Jerald)

If there was just one season of 24, Sherry Palmer would place at the top of the list. Unfortunately some of her character returns end up being cartoonish after the first season. Yet you can't deny that David Palmer's character is simply not interesting with the antagonistic challenge and pulling of Sherry Palmer in his life. The power that Ms. Palmer has as a character and onscreen is incredible. Her performance is unforgettable, and even in episodes and seasons where Sherry is not in the picture her past and presence still has power.

2. Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke)
In season 1 you have really no idea what type of ride your getting into. And the writers and Sarah Clarke use that their full advantage. As season 1 develops you can't help but replay the early scenes with Nina in them, as you piece together the story and begin to understand what type of web 24 is going to pull you in on. Clarke does an exceptional job of taking you there, by playing the scenes in a convincing way that let's you follow the story you think you're watching, but also in a way that upon later reflection lets you realize that Nina's biggest trick was the one she was playing on the audience. I can't imagine anyone else playing this role.

1. Dina Araz (Shohreh Aghdashloo)

Season 4 is probably the weakest season, but none of it can be blamed on Aghdashloo. Aghdashloo essentially plays the same role she played in House of Sand and Fog (for which she received an academy award nomination). Yet the reprisal of role does not diminish it's power. I love her sweet-gentle-evil and her interaction with Jack and her son Behrooz. After each episode she was in I couldn't help pretending I was Dina Araz talking with a creepy-calm middle eastern accent with intense an unflinching eyes. Dina Araz is a powerful and scary woman, and Aghdashloo plays the part pitch perfect.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

How To Respond to No End in Sight?

No End in Sight is a very important documentary that premiered last year at Sundance and is no available on DVD.

No End is Sight, while frequently critical of the way the Bush administration has handled the war in Iraq tells the story with much more honesty, details, integrity, and finesse that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 .

The film is written, produced, and directed by Charles Ferguson (pictured right). Ferguson could potentially be the most intelligent director to have made a film in 2007. Ferguson received his Ph.D. in political science from M.I.T. in 1989. He then went on to do post-doctoral research as well as provided consultation to the white house, department of defense, and companies like Apple, Xerox, and Texas Instruments. All before founding Vermeer Technologies which created the program Front Page prior to selling the company to Microsoft. And now he's been nominated for an Oscar for No End In Sight.

Who is this guy?

The film is powerful and really help lay out some history and the events behind what is and has been going on in Iraq with some important interviews that especially help outline some of the failures of the United States government in it's initial and on-going occupation efforts.

The film's main criticisms are specific and mainly directed (but not limited to) decisions by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and L. Paul Bremer.

Rumsfeld is specifically criticized for his poor coordination of ORHA (the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) and later the CPA (the Coalition Provisional Authority), as well as his shady dealings and representation of the war, specifically as it influenced American perception of the situation and the needs for troops in reconstruction.

L. Paul Bremer was the Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, for just over a year in 2003 and 2004. Yet watching this film, you almost feel like his poor decisions warrant him being charged for war crimes for his unilateral decision making regarding "De-Ba'athification, not providing enough troops and specifically disbanding the Iraqi army.

To say that this film is pro-war/anti-war is impossible, because when it comes down to it, the Iraqi-situation as shown in this film is something so unique, that while troops and military seem essential, their "war" role is portrayed as far less important than their reconstruction and peace keeping role.

How To Respond?

I don't really know how to respond to this film. As a documentary I enjoyed and recommended it.

As an American, it's hard to know how to respond. It's so heartbreaking to get what I have to believe is a true look at the real Baghdad/Iraq situation. There are scenes where you believe the journalist and Iraqi's that describe a regime under Saddam Hussein as life under "little Satan" but their current life is under control of "big Satan."

This film makes me disappointed in American leadership. I was already critical of many of the decisions made by the Bush administration along the way, especially by Bush and Rumsfeld, so the groundwork for my beliefs were already there, but this film only fueled the fire.

It certainly makes me even more curious as to how upcoming white house leaders (whether McCain, Obama or Clinton) will lead America, Iraq, and the world through this ongoing situation/conflict/war/tragedy.'

You watch this film and you feel informed, but powerless. "What can I do?" I find myself asking. I wish there was a tangible way to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq who in despair find hope in religious fundamentalism, rebel groups, violence, and hate.

If I watch the film and find myself asking "where is the hope?" I imagine the Sunni and Shiite Muslims ask the same question, but for them it is not a question of theory, but a question that drives their every waking decision.

What about those formerly in the Ba'ath party or the military? What about people's who lives have been destroyed by rioting, violence, and destruction of life and property? What about women and children who's husbands have been imprisoned and are left with nothing?

I don't know how to respond. Director/Producer/Genius Charles Ferguson laid out this film with such care and yet there are no simple outlines lined out in the end credits. No simple solutions. There's no message of buy this product, or donate to this cause, or vote for this leader.

If you've seen this film, what was your conclusions on seeing it, how should we respond.

If you haven't seen this film, see it...I believe it's 100 minutes well spent. To begin to understand something so important that is shaping our world.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Quality 80s? Part VI

In a search to find timeless, non-quirky 80s films (inspired by my viewing of The Accidental Tourist) I have begun my movie viewing. Here are some 1980s films I've just watched for the first time and my thoughts on whether they're any good 20-or-so years post-release.

Also check out: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, & Part V.

Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey
Directed by Michael Apted
Recommended by Oscar (5 noms)

No one really recommended this film, but I felt like I was being schooled in the career of Sigorney Weaver, so why not dive into this film as well? Honestly, I really enjoyed this film much more than I thought I would. I found the story line interesting, and Weaver's acting very respectable. It's kind of a bummer when bio-pics (like this or Silkwood) have mysterious deaths associated with the main character, it certainly makes there resolutions a little unsatisfying, even if the end credits contain title cards explaining what happened next.

I thought the mix of real Gorillas and man-as-Gorillas worked well also. It's a touching story, and tracing American ecological concerns through the decades is certainly an interesting concept. I felt like this movie did a good job escaping "80s quirkiness" and be an intersting and well-made film that could be easily enjoyed 20 years later.

The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element) (1984)
Directed by Lars Von Trier
Recommended by Will

This is my first Lars Von Trier film I've ever seen, and I could defintly appreciate the Noir effect that Von Trier was trying to create, especially with the story-telling patterns with the hypnotis, the unique coloration (yellows, oranges, browns), and water dripping everywhere.

While I appreciated this film, I don't know that I actually enjoyed it, it was hard to "get into" and really "enjoy." I don't know if others have drawn the comparison, but I felt like this was a precursor to Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000). I feel like in every way that this film succeed, Memento also succeeded, and yet Momento didn't have the "failings" that I saw in this films.

This film is the first of Von Trier's Europe-trilogy, I'm not sure I'm interested in catching the other two films.

Airplane! (1980)
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker
Recommended by Will, Jasdye

I am really glad I sat down to watch this film, because it really is funny. I felt like it was one long Saturday Night Live skit. There were certainly funny and memorable scenes and I could definitly recall allusions to this film I have seen in other comedy bits, TV shows, movies, and personal interactions.

Is it quirky? Of course, but it also is successfully done in a way that is purely enjoyable. My favorite scenes where the ones that involved the nuns, the Jive speaking black men, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scenes, and the scene of Lorna Patterson playing the guitar and dislodging the IV of the girl that's going to the Mayo Clinic.

Friday, March 07, 2008

First Thoughts on The Increasing Reality of 24: The Movie

(Warning this post about 24: The Movie will of course have spoilers about the first 6 seasons of 24. The spoilers are not intentional, but since every season has new characters and plot developments, I can't avoid the spoilers, becasue even mentioning a characters name could potential spoil the fact of whether the character lives, dies, or becomes the president. My intention in this post is not to dramaticly spoil anything, but is writen with a perspective that you have seen all six episodes of 24...for example Jack Bauer survives through season 6.)My friend Jon sent me a link today to the Hollywood Reporter story about 24: The Movie. I've heard rumor and seen an imdb page for this film for awhile, and have long wondered what a two hour film treatment would feel like, since the show has a very distinct "real-time (with commercials)" style (we always watch 24 on DVD, largely because we'd be too impatient to be left hanging between TV episodes).

But according to the Hollywood Reporter, the long-rumored movie looks like it will actually happen, and will serve as a a season 7 prequel, with the movie coming out this fall to lead into the 7th season, much delayed because of the writers strike.

Apparently there is a 2 year gap between season 6 and 7.

Having heard rumors of the movie, I wondered if the movie would come out after season 5, dealing with Bauer's escape from a Chinese prison. In fact, I've been convinced that a film version would tell a story that could not be told in a 24 hour time frame, and to me this meant a trans-Atlantic flight.

So even watching Season 6 I thought a film treatment might involve Jack going to China to save Audrey Raines, but obviously that's not a possibility either.

It makes me wonder who will be president in the film version. President Wayne Palmer (DB Woodside), VP Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe), or will season 7 President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) already be in office?

I hope it's President Daniels because Powers Boothe is a great actor with such an interesting character, but I have a feeling it will be Wayne Palmer because the Palmer family is a big part of the 24-story line. (In season 6 Wayne wore a wedding ring, but it was never clear who his wife was...perhaps this will show up in a film version?)

It's sad to think of certain CTU employees who have passed away that will not be able to make it on the big screen. If the film has different formatting then the show, there could be flashback sequences, but generally I don't care for flashback sequences, so I will have to live with some favorite characters not making the movie.

Yet, there are certain characters who are still alive in the story line but have not been in the television show in recent seasons, namely I'm thinking of Elisa Cutberth (Kim Bauer-Edmunds) and James Badge Dale (Chase Edmunds). I would love for Kim to be a part of the movie, just as long as she's not getting caught in cougar traps.

Of course, I hope 24: The Movie, assuming it happens, is great. I scratch my head a little and wonder, why make a movie? And I hope it's not just about the opportunity to make $8 off of me by getting me to go to the movie theaters to watch Keifer Sutherland's traumatizing and sleepless life story play out.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hamlet 2: 2008's delightful & weird indie-sensation?

I'm not really sure what's going on the picture I've posted above, but it's one of the only film stills I can find for the upcoming film Hamlet 2.

If you haven't heard of Hamlet 2, then by looking at this image you can tell that the idea of Hamlet 2 is not some sick deranged thought of Kenneth Branagh or Mel Gibson. And no, it's not even a modern day Shakespeare retelling (think Hamlet with Ethan Hawke, She's The Man, or 10 Things I Hate About You).

No, it's a whole different animal. Hamlet 2 is already carrying that "weird indie vibe" that characterized recent films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno.

Focus pictures purchased the rights to a little film called "Hamlet 2" at Sundance this past year for $10 million dollars (just a half million shy of the high price that Little Miss Sunshine received).

Hamlet 2 tells the story of a failed actor (Steve Coogan) who ends up getting a job at an Arizona highschool as a theater teacher at a school with practicly no theater budget. Catherine Keener play's Coogan's wife and David Arquette plays the roomie who helps pay the bills.

As a theater teacher Coogan's character apparently get's very creative (I read one place that they do a stage rendition of Erin Brokovich). He also meets Elisabeth Shue (who took the role originally listed in the script as "has been movie actress") who revitalizes his creative juices. And somehow this all leads to the school putting on a stage production of play (which can only be disasterous) called Hamlet 2, written by Coogan's character.
Despite how wierd this sounds, I can't help but wonder whether or not this film, like similarly quirky projects (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and Lars and The Real Girl) will at least be able to land itself an original screenplay nod this next year. Obviously, Focus Features saw something good in this film, and it sounds like it already is following in the path of similar low-budget hits.

Also, interesting to note, 3 of the 5 original screenplay nominees this past year were females (Diablo Cody, Nancy Oliver, and Tamara Jenkins). Does a woman screenplay writer have an advantage, especially if writing quirky comedy? If so, Pam Brady (who notably has lended her creative writing skills to Matt Parker and Trey Stone in their work with the South Park TV series and movie) might just be able to get an Oscar nod with a film, who's title I can hardly believe is Hamlet 2.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Theology of Ricky Bobby & Obama's Prayer Life

Speaking in Ohio, prior to yesterday's "Super Tuesday II" Obama confronted the claims that he is a Muslim, trying to state clearly that he is a Christian not a Muslim. In addition to saying "I’m a Christian and try to go to church as much as I can," he also tried to make a point by saying, “I pray to Jesus every night.”

Obviously, saying he prays to Jesus was intentional, trying to eliminate the broad definitions of "God" (God the Father in Christianity, Allah, the god of laundry detergent and daisies?). Yet saying, "I pray to Jesus" simply carries some funny connotations in my head.

In fact, it makes me think of the discussion in Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby explains why he like to pray to Christmas Jesus, but opens up the idea that there are different Christian options of "who" to pray to (baby Jesus, teenage Jesus, Jesus on the cross, etc.).

I've linked to the clip below.

I shared this clip recently with my small group as we discussed prayer last week. Biblically, it's not really Jesus who we pray TO, instead it's Jesus that we pray WITH.

Biblically, post resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Jesus both intercede for us and are involved in the prayer experience with us. ["the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26) and "Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:34)]

I don't write this as a criticism to Barack Obama (or Ricky Bobby for that matter), but I think it's interesting and powerful to think of prayer in terms of the trinity and as something we do with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, not just as something we do independently, throwing prayers up at the ceiling as an act of Christian ritual.

I love the quote by Edwin Hui, (professor of bio-ethics and Chinese culture at Regent University) in the book Living the Story saying:

In the praying event, the praying person has an unmistakably three-facets "experience" of the Triune God as she is being incorporated by the "Spirit" into the life of the "Son" towards the "Father." It is an experience of being caught in the Tritarian life of God...of being invited in the conversation of God to God in and through the one who prays. In such a literally Godly prayer, and indeed in a truly Godly life of prayer, what else can a human person say other than "Amen."