Monday, July 28, 2008

If I Chose 12 Films for the Beverly Cinema

After posting my list of Diablo Cody's 12 films that would be exhibited at the Beverly Cinema, Piper @ Lazy Eye Theater was inspired to create a meme of 12 films for the Beverly.

How could I not participate???

If I were to be able to exhibit 6 double features back to's what I might chose.

Night #1
Forbidden Games (1952)
In America (2003)

Night #2
City of God (2003)
Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Night #3
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Road to Perdition (2002)

Night #4
Virdiana (1961)
Babette’s Feast (1987)

Night #5
Red Violin (1999)
The Battle of Algiers (1968)

Night #6
Memento (2001)
Rear Window (1954)

What night would you buy tickets for???

I know I'd love to see what type of film schedule these people would create if they were in charge of twelve night of double features the Beverly Cinema would show:(especially Jeff, Darrell, Nathan, Adam, Grete, Glenn, Will, B13, and you!)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Baby Name Story

So, a couple weeks ago, I was buying some boxes for an move we made last week (previously mentioned in part of this blog).

And the lady found out that my wife and I had recently had a new baby girl, and she liked the name we had chosen (Linden).

She said her daughter was having a baby in October and had settled on a name, but this grandma-to-be wasn't sure what she thought of the name.

I ask her..."What name is she considering?"

The mother replied, "They're going to name their daughter, Sienna. It's a little different, and I'm worried about whether this will be a name she will enjoy not just as a baby but as an adult. Plus, it's so uncommon."

My response was, "That's a nice name, it's not completely uncommon, there's the actress Sienna Miller."

The grandma smiled and said, "That's the other problem, my daughters last name is Miller."

Monday, July 21, 2008

TV Shows as Movies - Dreams Come True and Disasters

Last summer the Simpson's Movie came out with great success, and this year we see TV shows hit the big screen like Sex and the City and X:Files (in a 2nd film installment). And of course there's been talk of 24: The Movie for awhile.

It got me thinking, about what other TV shows you might want to see made into a movie.

But beyond favorite choices I started thinking of the most random shows. Suddenly my brain went from the TV show Friends, to Seinfeld, to Frasier, to Cheers, to Mad About You, to the Sopranos, to Sliders, to Alias, to Hanging with Mr. Cooper, to Full House, to Charles in Charge, and then to Who's The Boss.

If writers get unoriginal, and producers can gather the cast back together...what TV shows do you think would make good TV adaptations to the big screen?

What films would you love to shell out the bucks to see in a big screen format?

What would just be plain horrible?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reel People: Sophie Okonedo is Sandra Laing

The movie is Skin, directed by Elysian Films who has previously directed short films and classical music programs through his company Elysian Films. Anthony Fabian co-wrote the screenplay for his first feature length film with newcomer Helen Crawley.

Sandra Laing

Sandra Laing's story is interesting from her birth. Her uniqueness doesn't begin with achievements, discoveries, or personal politics. Rather it began with her genetics, and her birth.

Sandra Laing's parents Abraham and Sannie Laing where both white people living in the country of South Africa when the apartheid was strong. Abraham and Sannie were both a part of the National Party which strongly supported the apartheid system.

Abraham and Sannie had two sons. Yet, when there daughter was born in 1955 there was something noticeably different about her. Through the power of genetics and recessive traits gave birth to a little "black" baby. Her skin was dark brown in color and her hair was black and frizzy.

Obviously, this created tons of classification problems. Was she white or was she black? Obviously her parents wanted her to be a part of white society, but others had a problem with their children associating with Sandra. Her white parents enrolled her in a white school (all schools were segregated) and they hoped that she would get lighter in color as she grew older. Instead her skin grew darker in color.

When Sandra was ten the school were she was enrolled expelled her and she was escorted off the school property. Her parents fought the legal system so that Sandra could be classified as white and be allowed to be enrolled in a white school. Abraham Laing even went through paternity testing to prove that he was indeed Sandra's father. The legal battles were unsuccessful.

In addition to not being accepted by the Afrikaner community, Sandra also was not accepted by white children, and was friends with the black children of her parents employees.

Much to her parents disapproval, Sandra eloped with a black man when she was 15 and moved to the country of Swaziland. Her father threatened to kill her, and so Sandra broke off all contact with her parents and lived her own independent life with her husband.

Sandra Laing finally re-established contact with her mother in 2000 when her mother was in a nursing home with Alzheimer's. Her mother did not remember Sandra.


In the film, previous Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) will play the part of Sophie. Sannie and Abraham will be played by Alice Krige (South African native) and Sam Neill. Ella Ramangwane will play the young Sandra.

Will previous nominee Sophie Okonedo get some critical acclaim, and perhaps her second Oscar nomination/first win for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Road Trip Movies

In an effort to move to over 2000 miles across the country my wife, new baby girl, and I drove across the United States, which gave us the chance to drive through eight different states in three days (with the much appreciated assistance of my wife's grandfather).

I am not one who is afraid of taking a road trip. In fact, given enough time, I enjoy the opportunity of riding in a car for a long, but stressless amount of time.

In the midst of some of the new adventures of my life, Adam has been filling in guest blogging here at StrangeCulture. One of his post was about the American Road Trip.

His post last month got me thinking about road trips and whether or not they have a future extinction. Obviously this past week, airline companies have shown their own weakness and their prices appear like they will be on the rise, but with high gas prices, and an weak economy the cost of loading up a vehicle and filling it with gas every 300 miles down the road might be a little too costly and time consumptive for the efficient modern American family.

Adam mentioned Steinbeck's novel Travels with Charlie, as well as movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run.

For some reason when I read Adam's post, I also thought of the movie It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World -- talk about a road adventure, and the original Amazing Race.

And, whether or not the road trip is dying off or not, I think that the road trip movie certainly has shown some great strength in the past couple of years. Specifically, I think about Pixar's Cars, Sideways, and Little Miss Sunshine.

In these three movies recent road trip movies, it seems that there is a consistent message and value of the road. On the road being removed from one's traditional environment, mixed with the element of time has the powerful ability to bring about transformation and interconnectivity.

I think there's something powerful about the road, and even though a movie like cars pays homage to Route 66 and the thrill that was lost to the speed of the Interstate, there has to be some sentimentality towards losing even a day of Interstate driving to the hustle and bustle of International Airports.

Are "airport movies" nearly as interesting as road movies? Do characters lives change in the air as much as they do on the road? How can they when a movie is far more likely to have an airplane scene, as opposed to an airplane setting that last a large duration of the film (unless of course you're talking about the Aviator, but that obviously is a genre exception, and that transformation was just plain weird.)

I love the road, and I think generally the road trip movie has a lot of potential, because it offers such a catalyst for change to occur in a relatively short amount of time.

And as I write my brain is flooded with road trip themed movies, everything from The Straight Story, to Into the Wild, and Rain Man.

The most famous epic story The Odyssey was in it's own way a road trip story. And people are still telling Road Trip stories.

What's your favorite road trip movie? Is the road trip or the road trip movie going to disappear?

Joining a Group Means Getting Their Mail

I recently received a gift from my wife this month, a firearm. I've always wanted one since I joined the Army back in 1997. It was there I learned to shoot a rifle, but going to the range is a pain in the butt. It involved wearing gear, being on ammo detail, and getting yelled at to walk faster. I wanted my own weapon to take to a range where I didn't have to pick up every single piece of brass and still make loud noises while shooting at silhouettes of bad guys.`

The next two steps to owning a firearm in the "Great" State of Texas are getting a concealed handgun license and joining the NRA. I haven't acquired my CHL, but I did join the NRA at a discount. At times, I like their rabid defense of the second amendment (which can get silly at times but someone has to do it), I have a soft spot in my heart for Charton Heston after Bowling for Columbine, and I want an NRA sticker for my front door.

What I didn't expect was the official NRA membership packet when I returned. They sent me a generic leatherman/gerber that was made in china; a plethora of ads asking me to start a bank account, get life insurance, rent a car, buy some NRA swag; my official NRA membership card; and my valuable NRA sticker which is stuck proudly to my door warding off all potential criminals. They don't need to know that I keep my gun locked in its case without any ammo in the house. The sticker doesn't say that.

I'm now expecting to get a ton of mail from the NRA. Plus junk mail is so 1987! I really just wanted to join for a year to say I'd been a member. Wayne LaPiere doesn't really need my money. I guess I deserve their annoying mail. I imagine if I joined AARP at 30, I'd get the same sort of membership package. I know for a fact the DNC and the RNC have the same sort of welcome packages. I've given money to each party under the name of someone who made me mad. I wanted them to get DNC/RNC mail for the next ten years of their lives. That's a whole other post.

Yea, I'm crying because a group I joined is sending me mail. I just draw the line at sending me an ad that promotes the NRA Wine Club. Leave all jokes about drinking, firearms and the second amendment in the comments. Remember, this is a family blog.

Mean People Beware!!! I have a sticker!!!

You can read Adam at the Stone Report.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Where are all the Oscar Movies?

As I'm doing my own traveling, I've gotten a chance to catch up on some pop culture news. Entertainment Weekly has a news item in the July 11th issue about how few oscar films have been released. A steadfast rule of mine the last 10 years is that if a movie is released between January and March, skip it. If you think a movie looks good after watching commercials or the trailer, don't worry you've seen the best part of the film already. There, I just saved you $10.

The print article has a the following in a nice graph that I can't find online.

Major Oscar nods received by films released before Aug. 1
2000 -- 10
2001 -- 6
2002 -- 4
2003 -- 8
2004 -- 4
2005 -- 6
2006 -- 6
2007 -- 4

This backloading of the quality movies after August first frustrates me. What I want to know is what was the last movie worth seeing released in January, February or March?

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Gilmore Girl "Gushing" of Appreciation

After finishing the last season of Gilmore Girls, I could definitely go for a 10 year reunion show 2017...hey even a 5 year reunion show in 2012. This WB nighttime soap opera has such a rich and idiosyncratic cast...that even when you think certain characters are annoying, the history you develop with them is such that the rhythm and pace of Stars Hollow/Yale/Gilmore life is so rich.

This show is certainly inconsistent as far as television programs go. It changes tone and style throughout the seasons, and characters involvement and personalities change a little to...but almost in a way that is natural...the way people really do change and are three dimensional. (For example it is interesting to watch Lorelai get increasingly passive in her own personal life with Luke once they become engaged, because you can tell her character really doesn't want to be rash and mess up the relationship, so she initial responds for multiple episodes with April's entrance onto the scene was passivity, trying to give Luke time.

For me, the show and it's characters disappoint you, as probably is only natural at times with other relationships. Rory, is especially one who "let's you down" particularly when her a Dean have their second relationship at the worst of times, and when Rory drops out of Yale and ends up living with her grandparents. These times are particularly frustrating because the show has developed these characters so well that when the mom is frustrated with the daughter, you too are frustrated with the daughter.

In addition, I appreciate this show for it's comedy, particularly between the three Gilmore women, so if they are not interacting (as they don't in the first half of Season 6) the show looses it's comedy and instead picks up its dramatic elements.

Season 7, the final season, is the most inconsistent of all. There are certain elements of the way that the previous seasons were crafted that this season lacks. In fact, the episodes almost connect together all to well, and certain traditional "episode elements" that create the rhythm of each episode is missing. But by season 7 you're hooked, so it really doesn't want to see how they end it.

Finally, I love the conversations, pop-culture references, and the tone of the show. It definitely makes you laugh, sometimes in the witty way, sometimes in the situational way, and sometimes in the "I can't believe it" way.

I don't think I'd feel so compelled to "gush my appreciation" if I hadn't previously criticized this show and if I hadn't felt like I needed to confess my enjoyment of the show. So here it is.

Stay tuned for some thoughts on the final episode.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Batman Returns

I've been subjected to endless The Dark Knight commercials since the end of June. Usually this sort of promotion is reserved for cable TV shows on TBS. I call this the Payne effect. If anyone watched playoff games on TBS or TNT, you've experienced this effect countless times with Frank TV, The Bill Engvall Show, and the aforementioned Tyler Perry's House of Payne. The thing that keeps the Dark Knight from reaching the Payne Effect is that they have a large variety of commercials that make the movie look awesome!

I love the 1989 Batman. I thought Michael Keaton did a good job playing the mysterious Bruce Wayne. Jack Nicholson's Joker is my favorite villain in a comic book movie to this day. My second favorite is Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor from the 1978 Superman randomly yelling "MISS TESCHMACHER!!!" I can't include his awful performance from Superman IV. In fact, I'd like to ask that we strike Superman IV from the official record of the world. From every trailer I've watched, I think Heath Ledger might overtake Jack Nicholson for the best Joker and comic book villain performance in a movie. The trailer showed me he sounds crazy, acts crazy, and sells it like a pro. The villain makes the comic book movie. They have to suck in the viewer and sell the evil so the viewer wants the hero to win. The villain is also what separates good comic book movies from mediocre ones. A hero is a hero in my book. The villain is where a writers creativity can shine. This movie looks like it's going to shine in a dark gotham sort of way.
Heath Ledger has even been mentioned in one of RC's Oscar handicapping entries. One day he may start publishing his odds on who will win Oscar, or maybe not.

What are your expectations for The Dark Knight?
You can read Adam at the Stone Report.

A Formal Apology, Please Expunge My Previous Comments (A Pre-Post to Some Gilmore Girl Thoughts)

I would like to think I'm someone who's learning to admit when I make a mistake.

(For example StrangeCulture has admitted errors in predictions related to Academy Awards 2007, predictions related to Academy Awards 2008, Pre-thoughts on the film documentary Wordplay, and mis-identification of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood).

So, as I prepare to discuss and share some of my thoughts on the off-the-air WB television show the Gilmore Girls, I felt like I couldn't post without presenting a friend the band aid posted above as a token of an apology and a hope that my record and previous comments on the topic could be expunged.

You see, my wife and I just finished watching Season 7, the last and final season of Gilmore Girls. In fact I have now seen season 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7. (I made fun of my wife for watching season 2 and caught a few episodes, and she had previously watched season 1 live on television.)

And so I first must admit that I enjoyed watching Gilmore Girls. I admitted this last October when I finally succumbed, and found myself not only enjoying the show, but relating to Lauren Graham's character Lorelai Gilmore.

Yet...I must apologize to a good friend Grete Dawn of caLIfe who has posted on Gilmore Girls a couple of times in it's final days as a television show. Each time I was critical.

Grete's first post on the topic:
When the CW announced the date of the Gilmore Girl's final episode, Grete wrote a post where she shared a fan rant she wrote on the shows message board. In this post she exposes her thoughts on issues that she felt needed to be resolved and things she was looking forward to seeing.

Yet, my reply to her emotionally sincere post:
"yikes...sounds like you should stick to watching good television shows."

Grete, my apologies, I can totally see where you were coming from when you wrote this.

Grete's second post on the topic:
When the final episode ends, Grete responds with some heartful thoughts about how she felt the episode ended and how she felt about the characters from Gilmore Girls being a part of her life. I agree with much of Grete's assessment of this final episode...

Yet my reply to her emotionally sincere post:
"Grete, this post is the saddest thing I have ever read. It's sad because I understand how/why you would have these feelings, and the secondly, I'm sad because you're talking about The Gilmore Girls a creation of the WB. Perhaps for Christmas Jon should buy you the complete seasons of "Sister, Sister" to supplement the void."

Grete, how could I say such things. In reality I agree with many of your assessments and wish there was a Season 8 to watch and was sad to see how it all ends.

Grete, please expunge my comments from your mind and let the record show I have changed my position.

Readers, stay tuned for some further Gilmore thoughts.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Diablo Cody Chooses 12 Films

The bummer for screenwriters is that most people don't know you're name. Even if you're one of the greats, they don't recognize you in the streets, etc. For some...this is appreciated anonymity, I'm sure. But for others (the type that give long long long Oscar speeches), I'm sure they wish they were a little more famous.

And's hard to be a "famous screenwriter." And yet somehow Diablo Cody busted on to the scene after scripting Juno and having her own intriguing off the set story.

Diablo Cody gets an opportunity that I think many StrangeCulture Readers would deem a dream come true, which is she gets to chose 12 of her favorite films to be part of a film series for the New Beverly Cinema. The series began this past Friday and goes through July 24th.

What do you think of Diablo Cody's picks? If you were making your own repertory cinema list what would you have to include?

Friday, July 11, 2008

America's Greatest Puppies

CBS is heavily promoting their latest genius reality show, Greatest American Dog. The premiere episode was broadcast this past Thursday. The show seems to be a mix of Survivor (a former favorite of RC), Big Brother, and 12 simultaneous showings of Turner & Hooch.

On the surface, this show would fit nicely in my own personal purgatory next to the calculus problems and Hanson playing in a loop. I get irritated when i see dog owners treating their pets as human, much less dog owners competing in silly challenges to show they have the most special dog in the whole wide world. I didn't get what I expected. This show separates itself from other reality shows by showcasing the positive. Where the Mark Brunett shows highlight the backstabbing and fake alliances, Greatest American Dog promotes the bond between pet and owner. One of the nicer parts of human nature.

Double LookoutDon't get me wrong, I'm not convinced I'm going to watch this show. I have the two greatest american dogs in my house (they finished in a tie for first much like those ice dancers from the Salt Lake City Olympics minus "the french judge"). Hollywood makes shows that reflect our culture in the hope that people will watch. Then again, it would be weird if Greatest American Dog was part Paradise Hotel.
You can read Adam at the Stone Report when it's not under construction like it is now.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Quality 80s? Part XVI

And the project continues...

For those who are new this project was inspired by an attempt to "catch-up" on some 80s films and finding myself very disappointed. With the help of some recommendations and a little perseverance, I've definitely found a few well as some that can stay in the 80s.

The previous quality 80s post can be accessed through the following links: Part I, Part II, art III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, & Part VII, & Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI, Part XII, Part XIII, Part XIV, and Part XV.

At Close Range (1986)
Directed by James Foley
Recommended By Darrell

This bizarre "based on a true story" film about two boys who deeply want to connected with their criminal sociopathic father is certainly an interesting case study in dysfunction. Now, it's very 80s. 80s music, 80s hair, 80s filming. What really distinguishes this film is it's performers. I would love to know how much the actors payroll was for this film, and how much the payroll would need to be 20 years later now that many of these performers are high-dollar performers. The film stars Christopher Walken, Sean Penn, Chris Penn, Eileen Ryan (the Penn's real mom), Mary Stuart Masterson, David Strathairn, Crispin Glover, Kiefer Sutherland and Candy Clark.

By far the greatest performance of this film is Christopher Walken who is really just creepy and nails this bizarro part pitch perfect. This would not be a film I personally would recommend, as it has the 80s feel of Say Anything, yet at the same time is a dark and morbid thriller, which makes it less fun, more disturbing. Honestly, I can't say I'm a fan, but I'm glad I saw these performances and gave it a shot (sorry Darrell).

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka) (1988)
Directed by Isao Takahata
Recommended by Jandy, and IMDb (#24 80s film)

Wow, this film is incredible. Typically I am not into Anime, and have only seen a few films, and the bizarre reliance upon themes of the spirit world and fantasy generally turn me off from watching these films. Perhaps that's one of the reasons Grave of the Fireflies is so compelling. This "cartoon" is really a heart wrenching story of a brother and a younger sister who's family is torn apart during WWII, particularly after their village is bombed and the older brother has to care for his younger sister during the worst of times. The first scene of this film tips you off that the film is going to be filled with sadness, but this film is such a unique piece of art and such an interesting way of expressing a personalized story of war.

I am honestly so glad I saw this film and think that it is a great addition to 80s cinema that speaks in ways that are still prevalent to day, in a style that is unique but is perfect for telling this story.

The Accused (1988)
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Recommended by Oscar (best Actress win for Jodie Foster)

I respect Jodie Foster's performance in this film, she did a tremendous job in this de-glam role. Like many recent Oscar winning women (Charlize Theron, Hillary Swank, Halle Berry), playing someone less-than-glamorous certainly gets you Oscar attention. Unfortunately Jodie Fosters artful execution is far from enjoyable. As a trashy low-income woman who is raped fights to win back her dignity with the assistance of a state appointed lawyer played by Kelly McGillis.

20 years later, the movie The Accused plays out more like a vulgar Lifetime movie with a court scene that is all but predictable. This really isn't an enjoyable movie to watch at all, and other than Foster's performance is relatively un-noteworthy in my opinion.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Challenges and Joys in Living Connected (or, how Social Networks like Facebook and Blogger mean I Now Have to Monitor My Message)

I've talked just a little bit about media and web 2.0 on this blog, but I generally try to avoid it. I find blogging about blogging about as interesting as poetry about poetry (ars poetic) or physics about pysics (metaphysics or quantum mechanics).

But over a couple years ago I did a post called "Our Own Private Paradises" in which I discussed how we are spending our energy carving out our own private experiences, whether it's designing our myspace page or staying at home watching our TiVo instead of seeking collective experiences.

Yet...since 2006, I think I've experienced social networking sites (for me specifically blogging and facebook) create more connectivity than I could have imagined.

I've always been pretty negative towards myspace, and felt like it was a poorly designed and far to under controlled for a middle school and high school proliferation. Those quizzes with 500 random questions "dog or cat? chocolate or vanilla?" where just far too ridiculous to me. And to have all of that floating online was not my cup of tea.

But I have seen the pendulum swings back in my perspective about "private paradises." Recently my wife & I have been making some challenging decisions which is leading us to relocate in about a week.

Yet as this process unfolded, we found ourselves in a place where we had to monitor, censor, and be aware of our online environments.

My wife and I have always been careful to control our online identities in the blog-o-sphere. This has meant not using our last names (our people we know) and not blogging about our jobs, church, or cities in any sort of regular specificity.

Yet we exercise far less caution on facebook. Many people probably still do not know that a moving truck is picking up all our belongings in 8 days and carting them across the US. Part of that has been because we've struggled to control the message.

It has only been this evening that my staff at work found out my wife and I are moving. My boss was aware, but my employees were not. Yet as we were in the process of finding jobs, and have even begun packing we've had to be careful to make sure people didn't comment about our move on facebook, or send congratulatory wall post when we got jobs...because of the vast array of relations that are part of our facebook networks (for example, my boss and my co-workers) there had to be some monitoring of our message.

Similarly, neither of us have felt liberty to blog about our experience. Part of it, because as previously stated, we strive to protect ourselves and our work lives from our blog. But when I bought boxes last week from a used box website, everything in me wanted to blog about it. But again, people in various spheres of our life are aware of our online identities, so it's tricky.

The Silver Lining
The silver lining of this situation is a reassuring one. What it means is that social networking really is allowing us in 2008 to socially connect in ways we couldn't a decade ago.

I may make fun of your twitter stream on your blog, but I still read it. I would probably never call you up to chat, but I love keeping up with you and seeing the pictures of your kids on your blog. I've never met you before but I love reading your reviews because I feel like your perception of movies is similar to mine, and I am interested in your overseas journey.

It's annoying to have to "monitor my message" and make sure that I'm not revealing something about myself that is not public knowledge, and it's even annoying sometimes to make sure you don't write something on my facebook wall or in my comments that people don't know yet...BUT, in my opinion it's worth it, because it means when we do move, it's going to be a lot easier for us to keep touch with friends that we've made along the journey.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Being a Know-it-all

I've always taken a real liking to those that consider themselves a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-none. They make playing Trivia Pursuit a real challenge, and I love a good game of TP.

I was given a book to read recently by A. J. Jacobs called The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. Jacobs decides that he's not smart enough. As a child he considered himself to be the smartest kid in the world. Even through college he considered himself smart. He found his intelligence slipping after working at the magazines Entertainment Weekly and Esquire. To get smart again, Jacobs decides to take on a quest his father never completed, reading the entire encyclopedia. Not just any encyclopedia, but the leather-bound 15th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The book is divided into 24 chapters (XYZ is one chapter). He makes comments on many entries while interweaving stories about his life. His commentary can be funny, sarcastic and serious. Some of the best parts of the book are about him and his wife trying to have a child.
In this excerpt, Jacobs has joined Mensa because he scored a 1250 on his SAT many years ago. He's telling everyone he can that he's now in Mensa. This segment comes from the Dionysus section of the book.
This is huge news: A. J. Jacobs, Mensa member. I
start dropping that fact at every opportunity. At work, when Sarah, the
copy editor, questions the overuse of capital letters in a story, I say, "Well,
you know, I am a Mensa member. At home, I trot it out during
arguments with Julie, like the time we got in a squabble over the Thai food
delivery. I'm on the phone with the restaurant and I've forgotten what she
wants, even though she's told me three times.
"Coconut Shrimp," she repeats. Then sticks
out her tongue and rolls her eyes making the universal sign for "nitwit."
"That was not constructive," I say, after clicking
off the phone.
"What are you? A retard?" she asks.
"Uh, how many retards are members of Mensa?"
"Just One," she says.
The Know-It-All book is nice cotton-candy reading. It's perfect for the toilet or when you are tired of reading 2008 election position papers. I really like the book. In fact, I find myself laughing outloud at the book pretty often. A. J. Jacobs wrote a book after this one called The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.
You can read Adam regularly at The Stone Report.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

4th of July: Somehow Wishing for More

Ever since I went away to college and didn't come home for the summer fourth of July has typically been a less then glamorous holiday. It wasn't as much that it was an amazing holiday at home, it was just there was a rhythm to the day. Usually time with family, fireworks in the evening.

I know for every reader of this blog, there is a different thought of what fourth of July means to you, whether your patriotic, in love with America, angry and bitter over current American foreign policy, or who cares because you get a day off work. Or maybe you live in Australia or Ghana and could care less about American Independence Day. Or maybe you want nothing else in this world but to eat an American flag cake made with strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream, and you can imagine no better way to celebrate American Independence.

It seems to me though, that beyond the family barbecues and the fireworks, there is something grander, bigger, more meaty that is missing, or maybe even deteriorating with the holiday.

Probably my favorite post-College fourth of July was one when my wife and I and our friends Jon & Grete took a trip to Granbury, Texas for Fourth of July where we got there ripe and early, watched their large parade filled with Shriner's, labor unions, marching bands, and gospel choirs. Later that day we watched an ice cream contest, drank the grosses water ever (the small towns water system stinks...literally), and laid out in the grass by Lake Granbury watching fireworks before getting on the congested roads to return home.

Yet, beyond that I can't think of a memorable fourth of July from the past 10 years (disclosure to friends and family: my apologies, if I am forgetting something amazing that we did together).

In fact, apart from a small town fourth of July experience three or so years ago, it all seems like a day that should be more, but really is just a day where we have to seek out an ideal fire works spot in the evening.

But like I prefaced at the beginning of the post, maybe for you fourth of July is something that you love celebrating. Maybe you have some amazing family traditions. Maybe you live in a small town for fourth of July is the rage. Maybe you put on the biggest neighborhood fireworks display every year and this year is bigger than ever. Or maybe there is a place in your heart that makes fourth of July a very special time for you.

And as I've begun reflecting on Independence Day this year, I'm saddened by my lack of "gusto" about the holiday, and really the lack of "gusto" of everyone else I encounter. If you're a Generation X, Y, or Z person you see the world in a different way then your parents and grandparents. The world is smaller, it's more accessible, and you might care about things like AIDS in Africa, or how Burma is dealing with the Tsunami and the military regime.

Caring about the world doesn't mean your less patriotic, but it may mean you aren't really reflecting on your own patriotic history very often. I know I don't. So when fourth of July springs up, I'm not really thinking about fourth of July until it gets here. Fourth of July isn't like Thanksgiving with a huge meal and family travels to prepare months/weeks/days in advance. And of course, it certainly isn't like Christmas.

In a world that's increasingly a lot less like Granbury, bigger and smaller all at the same time...and is far more individual and less communal...I feel like I need some prep-time to get in the fourth of July spirit. I need something more than a Google search to find out where a good firework watching sight is.

I wish fourth of July had more multi-day traditions to it then just fireworks. I wish that there was Charlie Brown specials (or great war movies, or PBS specials) that people would watch, or maybe at least fourth of July themed television specials. I wish more placed decorated for Fourth of July, and when I say I'd like to see decorations, I'm not just talking about red white and blue streamers and a sale sign outside of the furniture store. It's not commercialization that I want, it more reflection, more tradition. More of a "fourth of July season" if you will.

I think of the movie Born on the Fourth of July. Tom Cruises character loved Fourth of July, and yet as he became bitter about the Vietnam War and what America was doing, it did not cause him to loose his patriotism, it caused him to redirect it. If you're frustrated with things in America's political realm, maybe the fourth of July season is a time to do something about what's bothering you, maybe it's a time to right a congressman, blog your feelings, or rally with others who believe in your cause. Maybe there is a way to be "critically patriotic" and to use a "fourth of July season" to do so.

Maybe my experience is drastically different from yours, but it just seems to lack the spice and flavor that I imagine American Independence Day once had in the small cities of America.

How can that be rekindled? How can we rekindle it?
Or maybe you think it's fine. Tell me your thoughts, tell me your story.

Reel People: Sean Penn is Harvey Milk

The film is Milk, the newest film directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forester, Drugstore Cowboy).

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was born in 1930 in New York, the grandson of the owner of Milk's Department Store. In 1951 Harvey Milk graduated from University of Albany, and then went on to join the Navy.

Milk was honorably discharged from the Navy, but later claimed his discharge was the result of a purging of homosexual military men.

After the Navy, he lived in Dallas, Texas for awhile before returning to New York to work on Wall street as well as serve as an Assistant Director on Broadway plays.

In 1972 Harvey Milk and his gay partner Scott Smith moved to the Castro district of San Fransisco, where he opened up the store Castro Camera. In this role, he also began representing neighborhood businesses in dealing with the city government. As he took more political roles people began to refer to him as the Mayor of Castro Street.

Harvey Milk ran for city office in 1973 and 1975, and did not get elected, but when the new liberal mayor of San Fransisco, George Moscone took office he credited the gay and lesbian communities and appointed Milk to the Board of Permit Appeals.

In 1977, San Fransisco switched to district elections which created far more diversity in the San Fransisco political elections, opening up an opportunity for Milk, where he was elected to the Board of Supervisors, where he took office January 1978. Along with Milk one of the elected officials to the Board was former police officer and fire fighter Dan White, a conservative anti-gay official.

Harvey Milk was often in the media spotlight especially when he was debating State Senator Jason Briggs. One of Senator Briggs' biggest propositions (Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative) was to prohibit homosexuals teaching in public schools. At the same time Milk was also sponsoring initiatives to not allow anti-gay discrimination to occur in the workplace.

Dan White was very unhappy about the way the political winds were blowing and resigned his seat, and although he later rescinded his resignation, Mayor Moscone at Milk's encouraging, made it so White resignation was finalized.

The morning that Moscone was going to announce the resignation of Dan White, White assassinated both Moscone and Milk by entering through an unlocked window in San Fransisco City Hall. White then left the scene and with his wife went to Saint Mary's Cathedral and turned himself in. There was much response in San Fransisco with candlelight marches from the Castro to city hall.


The screenplay for the film is written by Dustin Lance Black (who has written some for HBO's Big Love series.)

Milk's story has been told before, including the 1984 Academy Award winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk by Rob Epstein. Bryan Singer (X-Men, X-Men 2 & Superman Returns Director and House Producer) has long been announced to be working on his own Harvey Milk film called The Mayor of Castro Street.

In Gus Van Sant's film (which will come out first, which could create a similar issue that happened when Capote and Infamous came out years apart), Sean Penn will play the title role of Milk. James Franco will play Scott Smith, Harvey Milk's long term partner. Victor Garber (Alias) will play the pivotal role of Mayor George Moscone. Josh Brolin will play Dan White. Additional cast includes Emile Hirsh and Diego Luna.

With it's thematic material, and with Gus Van Sant behind the lens, it's hard to imagine that this film will be a box office bonanza, but it certainly stars some critical favorites, and has critical potential.

Will Sean Penn (or other cast members) get some critical attention and and his 5th nomination and/or 2nd win for his portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

80s films that made the cut in Entertainment Weeklys "New Classics"*

Entertainment Weekly's 1000th Issue contained a list of the top 100 "new classics" in the realm of film, tv, music, books, etc.

So when it came to Entertainment Weekly's top flicks from 1983 to 2008, you can imagine I was paying pretty close attention to their top films in the 80s...with this 2008 blog-series on 80s films.

I thought I would display the "classics" from the 1980s EW chose (*remember this will only contain films between 1983-1989).

1. Blue Velvet (1986) (#4 on EW's list)
2. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) (#7)
3. Die Hard (1989) (#9)
4. This Is Spinal Tap (1989) (# 11)
5. Do The Right Thing (1989) (#18)
6. A Room With A View (1986) (#24)
7. Aliens (1986) (#27)
8. Wings of Desire (1988) (#28)
9. When Harry Met Sally (1989) (#30)
10. The Breakfast Club (1985) (#33)
11. Rain Man (1988) (#45)
12. Scarface (1983) (#48)
13. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988) (#52)
14. Fatal Attraction (1987) (#54)
15. Risky Business (1983) (#55)
16. Ghostbusters (1984) (#58)
17. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) (#61)
18. sex, lies, videotape (1989) (#62)
19. Big (1988) (#63)
20. Dirty Dancing (1987) (#65)
21. Witness (1985) (#68)
22. Broadcast News (1987) (#70)
23. Drugstore Cowboy (1989) (#74)
24. Out of Africa (1985) (#75)
25. Sid & Nancy (1986) (#77)
26. Moonstruck (1987) (#81)
27. Evil Dead 2: Dawn of the Dead (1987) (#83)
28. Back to the Future (1985) (#91)
29. Full Metal Jacket (1987) (#94)
30. Glory (1989) (#97)

Do you agree with there assessment of these films as modern classics? Which of these do you think are "must sees" from the 80s?