Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Unrelated-Related Documentary for the 2008 Presidential Campaign: The Weather Undergound

I was surprised to be listening to the news and hear mention of the Weather Underground.

The Weatherman, a radical liberal American terrorist organization in the late 1960s and 70s that was based out of Chicago. This group did terrorist acts against the United States, often bombing police stations, court buildings, and prisons as well as major US targets like the Pentagon and the US Capital. Violence and bombs by the weather underground occurred across the US in Detroit, New York, Chicago, and San Fransisco.

There purposes often were vague, but were related to fighting US Imperialism and Capitalism, and was lead typically by college students and college educated white Americans, and often paralleled the black liberation movement. Some protests had more direct purposes, while others seemed to be more destruction oriented than message oriented. The Weatherman's group largely disintegrated after the Vietnam War

The story of the Weathermen was told exquisitely in the Academy Award documentary, The Weather Underground (best documentary nod in 2004). The documentary largely focuses on one of the principal leaders, Billy Ayers. This documentary is particularly interesting, simply because it's interesting to watch in our current age where discussions on terrorism are very politically, socially, and culturally prevalent following the September, 11th attacks in 2001.

There has been a recent discussion of the Weather Underground, and particularly the unapologetic leader William Ayers (pictured left) in relation to Barack Obama. Obama is apparently associates to some degree with the adult William Ayers who is now professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Although Ayers never was convicted of any crime, he also is completely honest and unashamed of his involvement in the Weather Underground, often making comments to the effect of people not setting off enough bombs today.

Obama and Ayers were both members of an anti-poverty organization called the Woods Fund of Chicago. Ayers and Obama also both live a few blocks from each other in Hyde Park Chicago, and Ayers has given money to Obama's campaign.

This connection has led some people to suggest that Obama is more left-leaning than he would like most people to believe.

Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who has created a controversial non-profit American Issues Project that funded heavy ad campaigns in 13 markets connecting Obama to Ayers has created a stir, including a response by the Obama campaign directed at McCain.

This campaign is certainly grizzly and aggressive and we're nowhere close to November yet. While, I'd love to know you're thoughts on this connection, the commercials, and Bill Ayers connection...

But beyond that, the point of this post is really to encourage you to rent or netflix or find somehow a copy of Sam Green & Bill Siegel's documentary The Weather Underground. It's a great film, and really something that will entertain and stir a unique discussion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Towelhead or Nothing Is Private? More Sensitivity

Less than two weeks ago, StrangeCulture readers entered into an engaging conversation about the use of the word "retard" in the comedy Tropic Thunder. Special Olympics chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver tried to create a boycott of this film and create protest opportunities in response to it's comical portrayal of mental disabilities.

The majority of comments by StrangeCulture readers seemed to think that Shriver and protesters were out of line to be critical of this R-rated comedy...especially for Shriver to call the use of the "R-word" as a hate crime.

Well, what about this?

Alan Ball, is most recognized for having writing the Oscar winning script for the dark comedy American Beauty, as well as creator/producing/directing/writing for Six Feet Under.

On September 12th, Alan Ball's film Towelhead will be in limited release in theaters after showing at the Toronto International Film Festival. The title of the film has bounced back and forth between Towelhead (also the tile of the book by Alicia Erian for which the film is based) and Nothing Is Private (the title which the film went by at Toronto).

The producers and studios have decided to go with the more direct title of Towelhead which summarizes some of the main themes in this suburban satire about a young Arab-American struggling to find her identity during the gulf war.

The title, clearly illuminating some of the offensive associations that Arab-Americans experience is where the title is derived from.

For this reason the LA office of CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) has released a press release requesting that studio execs change the title of the film back to Nothing Is Private.

What about that? Is this just another case of sensitivity, or do you think there request is valid? Is this the same or different than the concern voiced over Tropic Thunder?

What are your thoughts?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Palmers & The Obamas: Sherry & Michelle

The hit television series staring Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer is almost just as much as the Palmer family as it is about Jack's family.

Maryland Senator turn President David Palmer, expertly played by Dennis Haysberth brings an excellent image of a strong leader and President, who happens to be black.

Although race plays a minimal part in this series, the images of this political family in the early days of a presidential campaign are compelling.

On a number of occasions I have thought about how Barack Obama could benefit from 24 viewership who respected the leadership of David Palmer, on the campaign trail and while in office.

Yet it wasn't until tonight when I watched Michelle Obama's speech live on TV from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, that I had a less positive connotation.

Sherry Palmer, the wife of Sen. David Palmer, is a compelling character (one who came in #3 on my ranking of 10 best supporting women of 24). Penny Johnson Jerald's portrayal is a compelling portrayal of a wife of democratic senator who will go to all lengths to see that her husband makes it in the white house. Her role as a fundraiser, mother, wife, and active philanthropist is redeeming and compelling, but behind the camera lens it is also deeply ugly.

Michelle Obama is a deeply compelling woman, and is a helpful voice in her husband's campaign, especially in their newest attempt to appear like "a regular run of the mill middle class American family." Yet tonight, her elegance, and simple control of language and portrayal of her family life made me think of Sherry Palmer. It made me think of her children Keith and Nicole, and it made me think of the Palmer campaign.

Granted, when it comes to 24, the fiction is bigger than real life ever could be. But you've got to wonder if the Obama's have ever watched that first season of 24, and what Michelle thinks of Sherry Palmer.

(And yes, that first picture is Sherry Palmer played by Penny Johnson Jerald, the second is the real Michelle Obama)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I've Never Watched So Much Olympics In My Life

I've never watch (nor enjoyed watching) the Olympics as much as I did during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

I'm not really sure why...but I can only imagine that a lot of it has to do with just a general life stage. When I was in college, the last thing I wanted to do was watch 16 year old girls on a balance beam, or men's synchronized diving. Yet with a wife, and a baby, it's pleasant to sit and watch the American beach volleyball teams bump, set and spike, or of course watch Michael Phelps eeks out a couple minor miracles and a whole lot of lap whooping.

I also think that the NBC Olympic producers did an exceptional job putting together the prime time Olympic package as a story. Why else would we care about 50 m free swimming events if it wasn't for 41-year old Dara Torres and other similar athletes who's story we are introduced to. They chose the most interesting events and made them something that you could follow as opposed to broadcasting hours of random edited clips of jumping, running, kicking, splashing, and goal making.

I also attribute a lot of interest in the games to the host Beijing. They're contribution to the games is too fold. The first is the initial level of conflict, intrigue and pre-event stories. I wanted to watch to see if the smog was death defying, I wanted to see the harsh planned economy coaches to see how they treated their protegees, and I wanted to see the Chinese crowds put tremendous pressure upon their hurdler, their gymnasts, and their six foot three inch tall female volleyball players. In addition to all this intrigue and early predictions from many (including economist Daniel K.N. Johnson) of China's expected medal counts, developed an intriguing rivalry that had to be watched.

In addition, Beijing was an exceptional host country. Obviously pouring far more dollars (Yens) into the games than London will in 2012. The Water Cube, the Bird's Nest, and the amazing competitive climate that they created really made the games enjoyable to watch.

In addition to all these, it's such a neat experience to see the world compete together. In an ever increasingly global world it's neat to see the world compete, and to have the ability to respect athletes from other countries who are superior in their sport, like Usan Bolt from Jamaica.

I don't know if my experience is unique. But I've got to see I've never watched (or enjoyed watching) the Olympics so much in my life.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Perfect Running Mate

So, before too long John McCain and Barack Obama will be announcing their running mates for the 2008 Presidential Election.

But I thought to myself over the past couple days...the perfect running mate for either of these candidates is Will Smith.

Sure, I have no idea where he stands politically (nor do you probably, so he could take either a democratic or republican side), and he has such a great generic political name. It doesn't get any more American than Will & Smith.

But far more importantly, in our current time, there is really no one I can think of who's more of a symbol of patriotism than Will Smith. Will Smith has become to the fourth of July what Santa has become to Christmas.

Will Smith is the king of Independence Day with Men In Black, Men in Black II, Wild Wild West, Hancock, and of course Independence Day the film itself.

Plus this past year he was the last man on earth (I Am Legend), he's played American Icon Muhammad Ali, he sought inspiration from Thomas Jefferson pulling himself up by the boot straps in the Pursuit of Happyness, and of course he can appeal to all socio-economic classes after he had the chance to be the fresh prince of Bellaire.

McCain/Obama - it's not too late...choose Will Smith. He's the perfect running mate.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

I recently watched the acclaimed film by Sydney Pollack, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Forever I thought this film was a Western until just recently, and when I started watching this film about a depression era multi-week dance off, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
This movie is incredible in many ways, from the writing, to the acting, the costumes, and many of it's creative scenes...yet I had no idea what a heavy picture this was, honestly, like I said, I knew nothing about it.
I had a variety of thoughts watching this film, just as I'm sure the screenwriters and directors expected, but it's interesting to watch this film almost 40 years later when so many of the challenging topics and ideas are still a part of our society.
For me, one of the most interesting themes was the idea of media. Gig Young is perfect in his Oscar winning role of Rocky the dance marathon coordinator. His character is so interesting, because he wants to tell the marathon's story in a way that will get a buck and make him some money.

Almost any scene he's in, especially when he explains his thought process on the dress incident to Robert (Robert Syverton), the prize money with Jane Fonda's character Gloria, the way he handles the two instances of contestants have mental delusions, or the way he handles the Sailor (Red Button) incident.
This is a wonderful movie, and I'd highly recommend it. I feel like it's so unique and tells a story that's captivating, meaningful, and is far different from anything I've seen in a long while.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hate Crime or Comedy wouldn't be a good year of film without some controversy.

I've been hearing some about the controversy caused by the movie Tropic Thunder.

I would have thought that the controversy might be based on the fact that Robert Downey Jr. portrays an Australian actor who is portraying a black Vietnam war soldier. Yes...if you haven't seen a picture yet, that man is Robert Downey Jr as a black man.

Yet this is not the controversy. The controversy is over the word "retard," and specifically how it is used in the film.

The protest is led by Special Olympics chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver who, although he hasn't seen the full film, is encouraging protest and boycotts of this film for it's use of the word "retard" 17-20 times.

As I understand it, there is a film within the film called Simple Jack, in which Ben Stiller, an actor in the film, is portraying someone with a mental handicap. As a comedy the discussion about this film and it's role make light of the handicap.

What's your thoughts on this controversy? Is this a hate crime, or is it just something potentially offensive in an R-rated comedy?

Honestly, I think many comedies are offensive, and you can watch them with sensitivity and be offended, you can chose to not watch them, or you can be insensitive and laugh along.

It seems to me (without seeing the film, only hearing some of the film clips) that Shriver might be taking this too seriously.

I don't think he's taking it too seriously by criticizing the message of the film, and using the opportunity to encourage people to be more aware of the struggles that mentally disabled people have...BUT...I hate the term "hate crime" because it's a dangerous word. A crime is a strong word, usually associated with punishment, courts, and legal action.

Ben Stiller's comedy about a group of actors trying to play baity roles to win Academy Awards is sure to be offensive. Yet, I have a hard time saying that they have committed a crime.

What do you think?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Corporate Budgets Cut + Campaign Season = Too Many Political Ads and Images of Wind Farms

So, my post title probably says it all, but when I watch TV I feel like an overwhelming percentage of the commercials are political ads.

And I'm not just talking about McCain commercials about Obama being the biggest celebrity in the world. I'm seeing tons of district and local election commercials too...and some are so low budget it's sad.

I can only attribute all of this to the fact that corporate budgets are cutting back on ads, especially while the economy is struggling, and people either have more limited disposable income, or reserving their disposable income because of uncertinty.

It seems to me, that the result is that any foundation, politician, or coalition can afford more ad space in prime-time then they know what to do with it.

Have you experience this as well?

Just another reason to hope the economy improves, so we can see better commercials!

Also...what's up with the wind farms...every other commercial has windmills in it. ExxonMobile, Visa, republican politicians, democratic politicians, and T. Boone Pickins all try to sell themselves with Windmills.

Is the windmill the peace sign for this new age?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Making Batman Real: Psychology & Crime

One of the great things about Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise is that he tries to take these amazingly cartoonish "Pow" "Bam" "Boom" comics, with some of the most cartoonish characters (Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, and the Penguin), and make these cartoonish characters real.

In the Dark Knight, trying to make the Joker a real, less cartoony villain is certainly a challenge and part of where the real magic of this film comes in. Heath Ledger's casting originally made people scratch there heads (for kicks, read the comments when I announced the original Ledger casting decision).

Yet, the way that Nolan has handled Batman is far different than say Spider-Man, X-Men or this years popular Iron Man. In Spider-Man the rational for super heroes and villains related back to science and personal vendetas after freak accidents. X-Men is a fun concept that in many ways deals with genetic mutations, again with science, but these super heroes and villains are trying to discover there place in modern society. Iron Man, in many ways has some of the same threads of early comics that came out during WWII, in that it combines super-hero powers with national pride and fighting military villains.

The Batman story, especially told in a modern world that is supposed to "seem real" means that these super-villains have psychological problems. In a court of law it would be incredibly hard to pin point Joker's true motive in a way that could be proven with court documents. Instead they would be forced to use circumstantial evidence to try to create a case for the Joker's insanity and psychological motives that lead him to commit crimes. In reality, the story is similar for the majority of Batman's villains, although some cross over into the types of villains previously mentioned (Penguin is a little bit of a freak like X-Men characters, and Two-Face is psychologically schizophrenic and unlogical, but he does have a little bit of a personal vendetta to fight for...but he takes it to a psychological extreme).

In the Real World: Bruce Ivins, Potential Anthrax Killer

When I was listening to stories about Bruce Ivins, and the Justice Departments case against Ivins as the believed Anthrax killer of October 2001, I couldn't help but draw connections to the Joker. Maybe the initial connection came with little connections, like Heath Ledger dressed as a nurse in a hospital, or Ledger's Joker placing DNA samples on a playing card to announce his next move. But the biggest connect to me comes in the challenge that the court system has in identifying Ivins' motive.

There is a significant amount of circumstantial evidence of Ivins' craziness, including his obsession with a sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and his poem version of I'm a Little Teapot.

This mentally unstable poetry to the toon of I'm a Little Teapot with a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature sounds like it could totally come out of a Super Villain movie:
"I'm a little dream-self, short and stout.I'm the other half of Bruce-when he lets me out.When I get all steamed up, I don't pout.I push Bruce aside, them I'm free to run about!"

And I find myself drawing this correlation, and wonder if anyone else does? But it seems like some of the most dangerous, and scary issues of local and national crisis seem to be when one person, with psychological derangement uses his knowledge for evil.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bored at Borders

Remember Media Play? I thought it was the coolest store in the mid-90s when they were popping up all over the place.

Previously, I had loved going to the mall to music store and book stores...and now, there was a stand alone big box store with everything I loved -- movies, music and books!

Yet I don't really know what it was about these stores, but they never picked up the traction and customer loyalty that we have seen with Barnes & Noble and Borders. Something about these later incarnations of the movies/music/book combination had greater success. I think a lot of it probably has to do with the design and feel of these stores. Probably a lot has to do with more focused merchandising as well.

I have many fond memories of killing time in both Borders and Barnes & Noble as these stores expanded almost as fast as Media Play disappeared.

The past couple times I have been in a Borders or B & N store, I've found myself bored...I walk around, not really sure if there's anything I'm really interested at looking at.

I don't know why? Maybe it's because the novelty has worn off? Maybe it's because so many of the books seem gimmicky, or the advertisements for xyz-fad novel/movie/book is bigger than ever? Maybe it's because I'm coming to value recommendations in my media consumption, rather than just wondering around to see what I can find?

And I certainly think a part of it is the knowledge that I can find most of these products online for more affordable prices than what I'm seeing in the store.

I don't know, but I'm surprised to find myself bored at Borders. Have you experienced this?

Monday, August 04, 2008

How Old Do You Think Billy Bob Is? (Where's He Going?)

Today's Billy Bob Thornton's Birthday.

When I saw his age I was surprised. How old do you think Billy Bob is?

When I think of Billy Bob Thornton, the first movie I think of is Sling Blade, and then I think of a slew of other, like a Simple Plan, Monster's Ball, Friday Night Lights, Bandits, The Apostle, and Armageddon.

And so, if I had to guess how old Billy Bob is turning. I think I'd guess 58.

But nope, he's only turning 53. Which is a big gap of 5 years to me.

Because it's weird. Despite the tabloid press of Billy Bob and Angelina in the early part of the new millennium, it seems like Billy Bob Thornton's strongest career time was in the late 90s. Yet he is still super active in films, he's a recognizable name, a talented actor...and yet...

I wonder where his career is going to go over the next couple decades.

I imagine he'll stay active in films, but I feel like he needs a hit. He needs another Sling Blade or Simple Plan to rekindle his star power.

According to the Internet movie database Billy Bob Thornton has 6 movies in post-production for 2008 and 2009. That's an active career, but are any of them going to be good? Any of them going to be famous performances, or was Sling Blade the peak?

(Thornton's upcoming films include: The Informers, Eagle Eye, Tulia, Manure, Duplicity, and Peace Like a feeling like any of these have the pop that Thornton needs to rekindle his career into the next couple decades?)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mad about Mad Men

Over the past couple weeks I have had the chance to watch the 13 Episode first season of Mad Men.

Have you watched this TV show? It's great.

There is a lot of work that goes into the period series. Most television series deal with a contemporary time frame, often for ease of costumes, set, stories, etc. But there is something so magical and creative in this period drama that cable-station AMC has put together.
The premise of Mad Men is the story of an creative director Don Draper (Jon Hamm) who works on Madison Avenue as an ad exec.

The story plays out in two worlds, the primary world is the office and work environment of Draper, with a rich cast of 1960s characters and themes, including heavy smoking, sexual discrimination in the work place and 1960s Nixon-Kennedy politics. The advertising enlivenment is a perfect place to bring into discussion a number of pop-cultural thoughts and products of 1960.

The second world opens up this same world of themes in the personal family life of Don Draper. In this world Draper's wife Betty Draper (January Jones) has the opportunity to interact not only with Don and their two children, but also with the other ladies and families in their suburban neighborhood.

The show also has enough intrigue, open ended questions, and soap-opera style to make you curious of what's going on and what's going to happen from one episode to the next.

Yet, I think what I appreciate the most about this series (at least season 1) is it's exceptional execution of something that's a little different than what the networks spit out, and it really is quality, entertaining, and intriguing programming.
I could say more, but are you watching this? Because I'd love to see TV have more of this and less of this.