Friday, November 28, 2008

Hello Leonardo - Best Actor Academy Award Predicts

In September, my Oscar Best Actor predictions included Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Robert Downey Jr. (The Soloist), Sean Penn (Milk), and Benicio Del Toro (for the Che Guavara movie that can't decide it's title and presentation format).

Well...since then The Solist has been given a far less prestigious release date in spring of 2009, and I have a hard time with the Del Toro prediction, simply because the film hasn't seemed to gain the traction, release schedule, etc needed to succeed...I have a hunch, that given an audience Del Toro has a great chance, but with out it, this project that I struggle to even know what to call...is well, hard to still include weeks before the earliest precursors are released.

On that note, I think that Leonardo DiCaprio has an incredible opportunity to be a part of this years Best Lead Actor race. I think Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet will certainly get enough press recognition for their opportunity to reunite on screen for the first time since the Titanic sunk on screen and rose to incredible box-office and award success.

Despite the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio had been nominated for an Oscar prior to his Titanic success, I think that it has gained much greater respect in the critical sphere since that time...when he was also playing roles like Romeo opposite Claire Danes in Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet.

I think the challenge of a couple years ago with the duel campaign for Blood Diamond and The Departed really showed how much things changed as Martin Scorsese continued to give DiCaprio big parts.

I think Leonardo DiCaprio could be a force to be reckoned with come this years award show, and I think that this is one of those films that could conceivably pick up a surprising amount of Acting awards (Winslet for sure, but also DiCaprio, maybe Michael Shannon, and maybe even Kathy Bates).

This category also has some other questionable nominees. Viggo Mortesen is no longer considered now that The Road's release has been moved from 2008. But a big question mark remains for how Clint Eastwood's film and role in Gran Torino will be viewed.

I have a hard time including this film in my top 5's at this point, but Clint Eastwood and his films always seem like easy "Academy-defaults" in the absents of other worthy candidates. So who knows.

So, while others might include Eastwood as a nominee in this category, I'm going to include Richard Jenkins and his role in The Visitor, simply because I think this film is worthy of some recognition, and this would be a great place to shower a little.

Her are my pre-precursor Best Actor predictions for the upcoming 2009 Academy Award presentation...

My November Predicted Nominees
1. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
2. Sean Penn, Milk
3. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
4. Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
5. Richard Jenkins, The Vistor

Their Potential Can Not Be Ignored
6. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
7. Benicio Del Toro, Che/The Argentine/Guerilla
8. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
9. Dustin Hoffman, Last Chance Harvey

Maybe, Just Maybe
10. Hugh Jackman, Australia
11. Josh Brolin, W.
12. Daniel Craig, Defiance
13. Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon

Hello Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Jenkins to the top 5. If DiCaprio was nominated, this would be his four nomination.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Curious Case of Cate Blanchett - Best Actress Prediction

Oscar loves Cate Blanchett. She received the notable honor of the double nomination last year - best Actress for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Supporting Actress as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There.

These two nominations give her a current total of 5 nominations (winning the award for supporting actress playing the part of Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator).

She has such a wide range of roles that it only seems like her popularity is growing. She does the high-attention art projects like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Babel...she does the smaller art films like Coffee and Cigarettes, The Good German, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Shipping News...and she takes key roles in fan-boy films like The Lord of The Rings and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Like a talented party-guest, Cate does a wonderful job of "playing the room" making sure she gives plenty of attention to the variety of guest at the party. However she goes about picking the roles for films, this busy actress certainly does an excellent job keeping her resume is order, and surely that can only help give her a chance at the best roles.

Cate's great versatility of projects is echoed by the versatility of her acting skills. She can play a Julia-Robert-esque part in the film Bandits, but then she also is exceptional in biopics because of her ability to mimic and becomes someone else, in a completely believable way. Which is probably why four of her five nominations are for playing real people, the exception being her supporting actress nod for Notes on a Scandal.

I have to wonder if she will get nominated for Best Actress for her multi-aged performance in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

I really do believe that David Fincher's film is the film to beat this year, it seems most likely to pick up the widest range of nominations assuming it lives up to expectations. So it makes you wonder...will Cate Blanchett get nominated for best actress.

When people mention the film, her name is often excluded as others are picking up the buzz (Meryl Street, Kate Winslet, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sally Hawkins, Anne Hathaway, Jolie, Kidman, etc., etc.) but... I have to think that the Academy loves Cate Blanchett, and if her performance is respectable in a well loved film, she could easily wedge her way into the race.

As I relook at the Oscar race pre-precursors, I have to think that Blanchett has a chance, and if I have to give someone the bump, I think it might have to one of the unknowns (Sally Hawkins or Anne Hathaway) or Angelina Jolie.

I also can imagine, this being a year where no "new comers" are given first time nods in this category. Is it possible? Very possible. The predictions below show Anne Hathaway getting some "first time" love. But the race is still a who-knows in many ways.

Here's my top 5 prediction now (slightly different than my October prediction)
1. Mery Streep, Doubt
2. Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
3. Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
4. Kristin Scott Thomas, I Loved You So Long
5. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Close...so close
6. Angelina Jolie, The Changeling
7. Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky

Easily Could join the crowd, I at least expect globe nods
8. Nicole Kidman, Australia
9. Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey
10. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
11. Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy

Which ladies do you expect to excel in this race? Is Cate Blanchett a shoo-in or a long-shot?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whether You've Seen The Films or Not - The Awards Are Coming - Best Picture Predictions

It's hard to believe that the "big dog" film critic awards will be announced soon. Next week we should be hearing from the prestigious National Board of Review, shortly followed by the LA and New York film critics associations, and then in a couple weeks from now we'll even have the Golden Globe nominees announced.

It won't be long before some "wide open" fields might suddenly be filled with "locks" and near-guarantees of Oscar nods, maybe even wins.

So...it only seems appropriate that it's time to start digesting all this information to make some last "early" predictions before this all gets big.

So with that, I feel I should present some end of November Best Picture predictions.

Things Seem Pretty Likely
1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
2. Slumdog Millionaire
3. Milk

Just my Hunch, I'm Predicting They Also Get Nominated
4. Revolutionary Road
5. Doubt

Easily Could Replace My 4 & 5 Choices
6. Frost/Nixon
7. The Wrestler
8. The Reader
9. Australia

A Non-Surprising Surprise
10. The Dark Knight

Who Knows?
11. Defiance
12. Gran Torino

Pictured above is Brad Pitt...yes it really is...in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film at this point that really seems to have the edge above the competition in the Oscar race this year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

SBUX: The Movie (?)

On March 29, 2006, over two and a half years ago I wrote a blog post about Tom Hanks and director Gus Van Sant (director of many films including this years Milk, Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting and My Own Private Idaho) working together on the film called How Starbucks Saved My Life.

They day I wrote that post, Starbucks stock (SBUX) closed at $37.53. Today after almost an 8% increase, Starbuck's stock still closed at 8.45 per share. Down, more than 75% since I wrote that post 2 and half years ago.
As mentioned March '06, the film How Starbucks Saved My Life
is based on the memoir by Michael Gates Gill, who's book carries the subtitle "A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else."

In the film Tom Hanks would be playing Michael Gill who gets laid off as a high level ad exec, and ends up getting a job as a Starbuck's barista.

The reality is, the film could really resonate with a lot of people who have been/are being laid off from there jobs across the globe. Granted, they probably don't have the disposable income for a movie ticket, when the cost of a ticket is more than the starting hourly wage for a Starbucks barista.

All the same...with the weakening of the Starbucks brand, you have to wonder if this is really the type of project Gus Van Sant and Tom Hanks are interested in pursuing right now. I really haven't heard any news on this film for the past couple of years since the news first came out about the project.

I'm sure Starbucks and their Public Relations group would love to see this film made and come out ASAP, but it certainly doesn't look like that's happening any time soon.

Have you contributed the decline of Starbucks? Have you gone to Starbucks less in the past year then you did in 2006? I'm positive I have*...how about you?

Do you think they should make this movie?

*although a Venti Starbucks double shot on ice, substitute the classic syrup with hazelnut syrup, sounds delicious right now

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Harvey Milk, Politics, Prop 8 & The Oscars

Obviously, 2008 has been a big year for politics. America has embraced a candidate who campaigned on the concepts of change, but at the same time when they voted on individual issues they tended to vote "no" to change, and yes to more traditional values, especially when it came to states that had same-sex marriage ban...and no state has created, or continue to create more press than California with it's state initiative, proposition 8 which passed with overwhelming support to ban gay marriage and support a traditional interpretation of marriage between one man and one woman.

I've wondered what effect Prop 8 will have on the award and press attention associated with the film Milk. Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, one of the first (if not the first) openly gay elected officials, who was elected to the board of Supervisors in San Fransisco in 1977. (Milk along with Mayor Moscone where both assassinated shortly after by another elected official to the board, Dan White).

From the earliest Oscar predictions for this upcoming award season, it has been largely expected that Milk would be one of the top 5 films come Oscar time, and that along with a nod for best Picture Sean Penn would receive an Oscar nod for his role as Harvey Milk.

Yet, being that Hollywood stars are right at the center of much of Prop 8 debate, I have to wonder what effect the larger political debate will have over the small group of Hollywood elite who get to vote for the Academy Award nominees and winners.
I think it is very likely if the Academy decides to reward Milk with multiple nominations, I think it will also open up the opportunity for many celebrities to "get political" about their belief about gay/lesbian rights.

Harvey Milk was not just a gay-politician, he was a politician who was fighting for the rights of his gay constituents in the Castro district of San Fransisco. Harvey Milk has a time in the spotlight over an issue, Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative which was championed by Senator Jason Briggs, and this proposition was to ban homosexuals from teaching in Public Schools. Milk also sponsored initiatives to stop anti-gay discrimination in the work place.
I'm not sure what role the political debates of the time play in the film, but sure Hollywood celebs who are strong champions of gay rights will make a film connection with Milk and embrace the film.

In fact, it takes pretty minimal searching to come up with a list of names of celebrities who have spoken out against Proposition 8 this past year and have championed the rights for gay marriage. (It's much harder to find celebrities who favored the ban).

Some celebrities who spoke out against prop 8: Pink, Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, James Franco (who plays Harvey's long-term partner in Milk), Heather Matarazzo, Chad Allen, Wanda Sykes, Alec Mapa, Lucy Lawless, Ricki Lake, Christina Aguilera, America Farrera, Samual L. Jackson, Molly Ringwald, Ellen Degeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Portia De Rossi, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson, and Anjelica Huston...and surely many more.

It's hard to tell, and even once all is said and done, really measure how this political hot button issue will play a role in Milk's nominations and recognition in this upcoming award season...but it's certainly something I've been wondering, and I certainly expect as the film is released to wide audiences and award accolades begin coming out, this bio-pic will be part of context for bringing to topic of even more.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I loved "Thank You For Smoking" & "Juno"...so let's talk "Up In The Air" & Anna Kendrick

I can hardly believe I'm going to write a blogpost with the word Twilight. But who cares, I'm doing it...and not just to get search hits.

But pictures above is Anna Kendrick, one of the actresses in the hit sensation Twilight. Kendrick plays Jessica Stanley, but to me, far more interesting is the character she has just been cast to play.

The Hollywood Reporter says that she has been cast to play the lead role in Jason Reitman's next film Up in the Air.

I personally I am really hopeful about the career of Jason Reitman who's first two projects...Juno which landed a spot on my 2007 top 10, and Thank You For Smoking landing on a spot on my 2006 top 10.

So with that, I have hope for Reitman's third project Up In The Air, as well as the casting decision to place relative unknown Anna Kendrick in the lead role (although she certainly will be more known after her Twilight role, her biggest prestige recognition is her Tony nomination in 1998 for her role as Dinah in High Society).

Also, exciting for the prospects of the film is the casting of Lone Ranger George Clooney as the other lead in the film, a "career transition counselor."

Up In The Air is based on a book by the same title written by Walter Kirn.

I am excited about the prospects of this film, and in a time where there seems to be such limited roles for female actresses, I think Reitman did an exceptional job at creating great roles for each female in Juno, including Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney, and of course, Ellen Page.

Here's to hoping the best for Anna Kendrick and the prospects of Up In The Air.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Two Reasons I Recommend you watch The Visitor


1. I love the story. Not so much for it's themes on immigration/citizenship/illegals, of which I could see some viewers seeing as preachy or "message film"...but I think director/screenwriter Thomas McCarthy's biggest messages in this film are similar to some of the messages in his first film, a favorite of mine, The Station Agent. The theme of community in film is one I watch for, and McCarthy's two films, The Station Agent and now The Visitor are excellent examples of our needs for interdependence, rather than independence. The way McCarthy intertwines the characters in this film is beautiful. He really paints a picture of the value and necessity of living in community, rather than isolation.

2. I love the acting talent. I've only seen bits and pieces of these actors in various projects, but hardly enough to pay any of them attention. But Thomas McCarthy, much as he did with the Station Agent, really displays the talent of entertainers who haven't had the opportunity to display such strong character performances. It's hard to tell who deserves the credit, the directing, writing, or acting when it comes to the performances of Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Danai Gurira, and Haaz Sleiman...but I think they are all wonderful, and I would be pleased to see Jenkins and Abbass both get Oscar nods.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Terminology: Somali Pirates or Somali Terrorist?

Pirates.

Pirates seem like fun "characters."

Pirates are things you dress up for on Halloween.

Pirates have birds on their shoulders, pegged legs, missing teeth and are into sinking ships filled with gold and plunder.

Yet, with the recent increased news about the Somali pirates who are capturing and taking ships hostage for huge ransoms at increasing rates, the term pirate just doesn't seem fitting.

When I hear about the strength, technology, planning and scale of what these "pirates" are doing, I think the whimsical terminology of "pirate" isn't quite fitting.

Sure, by definition these are pirates....but I think a stronger term like terrorist is more appropriate.

When I hear about what these "pirates" are doing, and the way in which they are successfully getting their requested ransoms, it sounds like an intense spy thriller or like a dangerous scenario that Jack Bauer would be fighting on 24.

When you watch 24 the bad guys are clearly bad. But when you watch Pirate movies, even "villains" like Captain Hook have a strangely endearing nature to them. Their evil is cartoonish, not evil.

When ransoms are being paid with multi-million dollar price tags and lives are at stake...the term pirate just seems miss placed, regardless of the accuracy of it's literal meaning.

(But as I side note, I do expect to see a movie made about these modern African pirates, and I expect in the right hands...say Steven Spielberg...the film could be quite compelling and perhaps redefine imagery associated with pirates)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

10 Songs I'm Diggin' This Week

Here's the 10 songs...in top 10 style that I've been diggin' recently. Some how the Postal Service made it on the list twice. Posted above is the picture of the band Augustana, who's song Boston hit number 1 on my list.

10. The Echoing Airports, The One AM Radio
9. Criminal, Ringside
8. Fragile People, Sonsofday
7. We Will Become Silhouettes, The Postal Service
6. Sleeping In, The Postal Service
5. Blue Light, Bloc Party
4. The Roses, Caedmon's Call
3. The Maker (live), Dave Matthews Band
2. The Engine Driver, The Decemberist
1. Boston, Augustana


Other top 10 song list...Oct 16, Sept 17, & Sept 3.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"What's Up With That?" Mark Cuban, Insider Trading, & Dancing with the Stars

"What's up with that?"

That's what I imagine Mark Cuban is saying in this picture. As owner of the Dallas Mavericks Cuban has been known to at times have a vocal temper.

But out of context I imagine Mark Cuban saying "What's up with that?" in regards to the new charges of insider trading that have been charged against him.

Personally, I think Mark Cuban is a fascinating person. I admire the breadth of his knowledge and Renaissance-man-ness. As a technology geek and founder of many companies, he began with the company MicroSolutions in the 1980s, an early computer company that serviced Perot systems. In 1990 Cuban sold the company to CompuServe.

I've mentioned Cuban some for another venture that ties in to StrangeCulture content slightly more, when Cuban and Todd Wagner started Audionet which combined their love for basketball and webcasting. This company became Broadcast.com, this company was already there well before the dot-com bubble, and was sold to Yahoo! for $5.9 billion in Yahoo! stock in 1999.

As a wealthy man, in January 2000 Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks, and most would probably say that he has been a good man for the job leading the Maverick's well.

Cuban's relationship with Todd Wagner has also been one that has captured my film interest with the creation of Magnolia Pictures and 2929 Entertainment which has brought films to the mainstream including the great film (and Academy Award success) Good Night & Good Luck, Akeelah and the Bee, Capturing the Friedmans, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

Cuban recently has been accused of insider trading after selling off many shares of Mamma.com, and canadian based search engine company who's less-than-google like success led Cuban, alledgly after a conversation with the founder to sell off the majority of his shares in 2004.

Cuban is probably annoyed and worried about the allegations, and as a "fighter personality" is saying "What's up with that?"

But I think he also should be saying "What's up with that?" for another reason.

Every single time I hear anyone mention on the news, in the paper, on the radio, etc. about his Insider Trading, they always describe Mark Cuban by mentioning him as former Dancing with the Stars contestant.

Of all the things in his resume (and I feel like I've only listed the highlights), they ALWAYS mention Dancing with the Stars.

On top of that, I have heard some news stories that suggest that the reason that the SEC has chosen to go after Cuban is because after Dancing with the Stars he would be more of a high profile person to go after.

Bummer if Dancing with the Stars was the reason they felt they should blow the whistle.

You can read Mark Cuban's blog "Blog Maverick" here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Giving: Construction Entrepreneur in Togo

Earlier this week I talked about in our current times and economic uncertainty we have a great opportunity to give.

My wife and I are truly blessed with health, the birth of a new daughter, new jobs in a new city, and the opportunity to live closer to our family. It's been a big year for us and we are encroaching on another milestone as we are closing on our first home tomorrow. It's exciting and a little scary.

But tonight, to reflect on the blessings my wife & I have we decided to put our opportunities in perspective by cruising the Kiva.org website. Kiva.org is a website/organization that connects people in developing nations, non-profits, and individual lenders.

Tonight my wife Kim & I contributed a small amount to a loan to Kokouda Bada, a 47 year-old man (father of six) who is a retailer of gates and metal for construction. We decided to look into lending to someone who worked in construction or housing. Kodouda Bada lives in Lomé, Togo, and we were excited to lend him money to help the construction industry in Togo, Africa.

If there is one thing that this economic crisis has shown is how closely our individual economies are related, and as the financial systems are challenged in the the developed nations, that will also mean less money that will flow into less developed nations, whether through exports or foreign aid.

It is with an attitude of thanks and giving we have contributed to our first Kiva loan. Kokouda is requesting a $625 loan for his construction business. If you would like to lend Kodouda's business some money (scheduled to be repaid over the next 12 months) then I encourage you do to so. I would certainly be honored to see other StrangeCulture readers lend & give...I really do believe that our opportunity to give in challenging times is often greater then we give out of our blatant prosperity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire - A Winner??

Two months ago I wrote about how Fox Searchlight has been developing a recent history of showing up with popular and successful independent films that make money at the box office and score big with critics, audiences and the Academy Awards.

A couple months ago I thought that Fox Searchlight's best shot was with Mickey Rourke's rave performance in the film The Wrestler...

That is...until buzz continued to grow for...Slumdog Millionaire.Slumdog Millionaire was actually first picked up by Warner Independent, but Fox Searchlight bought a 50% stake in the distribution back in August.

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of an illiterate boy from Mumbai who wins big on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (Kaun Banega Crorepati).

The film has been gaining buzz, and has been released in limited release today to rave reviews. The film is directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later), and the screenplay is written by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day).

The lead actor is bollywood teen star and Dev Patel (also in the BBC show Skin).

It's hard to tell how big of a role that Slumdog Millionaire will play at this years Academy Awards...but I would say, having not yet seen the film, that it has a chance in the following categories...
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director, Danny Boyle
  • Best adapted Screenplay, Simon Beaufoy (Based on the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup)
  • Best Editing, Chris Dickens
As for acting I don't really see any acting nods, maybe Freida Pinto, Supporting Actress (just because this category is up in the air). I've also excluded Dev Patel for Best Actor because the category seems far too crowded...but I could be wrong.

How do you think this film will stack up with the Academy?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Potential Best Animated Feature Nominees

I noticed today on FilmChat that their are 14 films that have been announced as eligible for the best animated feature Oscar for the upcoming Academy Awards.

Chances are there will be three films nominated, since I believe there has to be more than 15 eligible films for 5 nominees.

Here's the feature length animated films that could be potential nominees (Peter at FilmChat has included the US Release dates of unreleased films):
  • Bolt -- November 21
  • Delgo -- December 12
  • Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
  • Dragon Hunters -- unknown
  • Fly Me to the Moon
  • Igor
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
  • $9.99 -- unknown
  • The Sky Crawlers -- unknown
  • Sword of the Stranger -- unknown
  • The Tale of Despereaux -- December 19
  • WALL•E
  • Waltz with Bashir -- December 26
Apparently $9.99 is the name of the film, not the price...I could certainly see that causing problems at your neighborhood DVD store..."but it says right here on the cover, $9.99!"

But...aside from that, I don't think the Australian feature $9.99 will be an Oscar nominee.

If the Academy does decide to go less mainstream, they will choose Waltz With Bashir. Waltz with Bashir is a German/Israeli/French film about the Israeli army mission in the first Lebannon war. Previous R-rated animated films by Richard Linklater (Waking Life & A Scanner Darkly) were critically loved but did not receive Oscar love, but things might be different for Israeli director Ari Folman?

Otherwise, I think we can assume that the nominees will be...


  • WALL•E
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Waltz with Bashir OR Bolt OR Horton Hears a Who

Okay...so my third pick is cheating...if I had to chose, I would actually predict Bolt will score the 3rd spot, partially because it'll go hand in hand with the nomination for best original song that Bolt will receive bringing us a John Travolta/Miley Cyrus duet at the Academy awards.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Two Cents, The Widow Who Gave Hers, & Opportunity in Economic Uncertainty

Some how over the past couple months I've gotten into the habit of of watching the stock market all day long. Sometime shortly after the market opens I open up Yahoo! Finance and start hitting refresh every so often.

I watch the price of oil change, I've watched Lehman Brothers, AIG, GM, Pacific Sunwear, Honda, Wachovia, Fidelity, Frontier Airlines, Circuit City, Starbucks, Washington Mutual, go up down, and in some cases no longer exist as companies. I've watched the 10 Year Bond and the effect of Chinese stimulus packages, American stimulus packages, the election, house/senate votes, and so forth.

We are living in crazy financial times.

People are loosing houses, jobs, they're going bankrupt, and they're scared.

I don't really know any industry that the is safe from the fears of the current economic situation. Even cities and states are struggling to pay the bills. Nationally and internationally politicians and leaders are attempting to work together out of necessity.

And I have ten billion thoughts inside my head about the situation.

My I have one thought I feel compelled to share...I suppose it's my two cents.

Maybe it's because of the 2008 presidential election, maybe it's because of the big events that the government has coordinated already this year including stimulus checks and emergency bailouts, but it seems to me that our eyes are on the government to solve the problem. We want the government to fix problems from health care to credit to job creation, and fast.

And yet, I've also been compelled to think that in our hearts and minds we know that solutions take time, and that there are people who need help now.

Conservatives in particular looked negatively upon the concept of "spreading the wealth" in this past election, and in reality, especially in that wording, I am negative to those general concepts as well. I am proud of our free market economy and see some of the decisions being made as a slippery slope to big government that is interfering largely in the private sectors in ways that might be hard to ease out of. But while I think it's wrong for the government to "spread the wealth" and spread populist ideology that creates class warfare, I do not think it is beneficial for us to hoard.

As my wife and I prepare to make some big financial decisions we're watching every penny. Yet...I am weary of the penny watching because it's a thin line between fiscal responsibility and hoarding.

A challenging biblical passage is the story of the widow with the two copper coins. Jesus tells a parable of rich people putting great sums of money in to the temple treasury while a poor widow gives all that she has, two small coins. Although the widow gave less, Jesus counts it as more saying "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

I think our less-than-certain financial times offers an exceptional opportunity. Our current times of uncertainty gives us the opportunity to give more...maybe not necessarily quantitatively more, but maybe when we given now it's not just the scraps and left overs, but maybe now it means sacrifice.

I don't want to look to the government and ask them what it can give to me, I want to look around at the world and people around me and ask what can I give to others.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

How Badly Do They Want To Nominate Robert Downey Jr? Enough for a Tropic Thunder Nod?

With a weaker film year there has been more and more discussions and buzz for not just a nod for Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, but also nominations for director Christopher Nolan, and Best Picture.

It is within that unconventional nominations that as soon as the Soloist was no longer a 2008 released film, Downey who had been previously short listed regularly for an acting nod still remained on people's list.

Maybe they know they can't push Downey as supporting actor for Iron Man, and that the lead catagory is too full...but it seems like people want to give Downey an Oscar nomination so badly, to follow up his nod 15 years ago in the film Chaplin.

So...why not for playing the semi-controversial role as a black soldier in the edgy comedy Tropic Thunder?

Yep...that seems like a huge possiblity...Downey Jr. with an Oscar nod for Tropic Thunder in the supporting actor catagory.

At this point in the game, I'd hardly change my June Early Best Support Actor Thoughts which listed nominees predictions for Josh Brolin, Downey Jr., Heath Ledger, Demian Bichir, and Michael Sheen. I'm just surprised to imagine that a Downey Jr nod might be for Tropic Thunder not the more prestigious film The Soloist, that must be pretty crummy to have been moved to Spring 2009.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Letter From Michael Crichton


"The book was so much better than the movie."

The first time I ever used this cliche was upon seeing the movie Jurassic Park.

If someone were to ask me what my first adult fiction book was, I would probably say Jurassic Park. I could hardly believe I was capable of reading one story with so many pages.

As a result, I followed up Jurassic Park with other Crichton works including Congo, Sphere, The Great Train Robbery, and even his non-fiction book Five Patients (which inspired TV's ER).

Because of my interest in Michael Crichton, as well as my interest in writing...I very much looked up to Crichton and I remember as a class assignment in middle school we had to write a letter to someone famous, and I knew I wanted to write a letter to Michael Crichton.

My letter was simple. Per the assignment, I used the proper letter writing format...I'm sure it was block format with well calculated spacing. But the content of letter was simply a statement of interest that I admired his work and that I was curious what I must do in order to be an author.

Crichton responded to my letter, and I have to believe it was actually from him, partially because of it's direct response to my question and partially because of the content of his answer.

I am sure somewhere I could find this letter...but I don't need to find it to remember the gist of what it said. Crichton said in his letter to me that in order to be a good writer I didn't need to focus all my attention upon English and language classes.

Instead, Crichton urged, in order to be a great writer you had to have something to write about. He encouraged me to learn history and science.He urged me as an impressionable middle-schooler to learn about anything that interested me, and that from there I would have the necessary content and ideas to be a great writer.

You certainly don't need to read the cannon of Crichton's work to realize that Crichton's strength is not in his writing skills, metaphors, and figurative language. Instead it is the way he melds reality and real life details with fiction and possibility.

I really value Crichton's advice and while I am certainly have not become an author, I have treasured his advice and have challenged my self to learn as much as a can -- both breadth and depth.

Thank you Michael for your stories and for the way you encouraged me learn.

And as for those books that were better than the movies...well, we can't blame you.

Picture from Pop Matter's post on "The Admirable Michael Crichton."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Fellow Americans: Reaching Across The Aisle

This post is part of the Politics and Movie blog-a-thon hosted by The Cooler, running Nov. 4-9. In the film My Fellow American James Garner and Jack Lemmon play former presidents who fought each other in two consecutive elections with a very bitter rivalry. Jack Lemmon plays the thrifty Republic former president and James Garner plays the promiscuous democratic former president.

In the film these two bitter rivals are forced to work together. Essentially enemies on two different sides of the political spectrum are forced to work together as they get roped into a conspiracy that they both end up needing to rely on each other.

If there's one lesson to pull away from this film is that the only time republicans and democrats seem to effectively work together it is when they are forced to. When there's a crisis. Something immediate. Something that is too big to be ignored.

As Democrats have picked up considerable power in Washington tonight (I type this watching Wolf Blitzer reporting on various precincts), there is a continued shift in power...just years after Republicans had much more significant control.

Yet there's one thing that is clear...regardless of who's in the white house, the senate, and the house, American's are a mixed group of conservative, liberal and middle of the road people. If America wants to thrive and succeed as a Nation it will require not just our politicians, but also our citizens to reach across the aisle.

I hope that as this long election season comes to a close, and the yard signs and buttons get removed that our interest in politics won't diminish. Instead I hope it will be easier for us to contribute to talking about how to solve problems without tying it as closely to party politics.

When it comes to education, health care, the economy, energy, moral issues, and international affairs I hope that people can unite to solve problems easier then perhaps it was in the midst of such a long and politicize campaign.

I also hope that since there's not going to be much of an aisle, that Washington DC will represent the center of America...not the middle of the Democratic party.

Previous StrangeCulture Post on this years Presidential election:

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election 2008, Comedy, SNL, & A Fist Bump

Saturday Night Live is hardly a show that everyone talks about like they did "back in the day." Is it because the writing is less funny? Maybe. But maybe even more so, it's harder to be "intellectually" funny with mass-appeal.

I've outlined before the concept that with some many diverse forms of media (multiple new outlets, magazines, online media, etc.) it's hard for people to be able to play with and find humor in references that ever will find accessible.

If anything part of the reason that SNL has picked up so many renewed viewers during this political election is because when they make fun of McCain/Obama/Biden/Palin they are making fun of personalities most people have had various degress of exposure to. Plus, Fey as Palin certainly created blogosphere/water cooler chat...and if people missed out, there was always YouTube.

I thought I would share one of my favorite comedic moments of the this years campaign...below is a series of pictures that Jeremy Baker calls The Evolution of Satire that resulted in an Entertainment Weekly cover that was very creative...with a reference surely, many people missed (I didn't get it first)...but when you look at these pictures, I think you might laugh.
Barack & Michelle Obama "fist bump" on June 3rd.
The New Yorker in July recreates this moment commenting on fears of people that the Obama's are extremist. Barack with Muslim ties, and Michelle as anti-American. Entertainment Weekly Creates a Cover that recreates the cover of The New Yorker with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart recreating the entire scene in every detail (except the burning flag)
That's creative comedy in my opinion on the part of Entertainment Weekly. Again, as I mentioned though, I didn't get it at first.

This election in many ways has shown that people care in a collective more than ever. It also has proven that more than ever we can get our news and information, true or untrue from a variety of sources...with 800 Channels of TV, billions of magazines, e-mail forwards, facebook groups, and online ads and videos the information is vast and wide...and of course, that impacts many things...even our comedy.

Let's hope we can still find comedy in it all come November 5th, when hopefully we know who the 44th president of the United States is, and let's hope those who voted for the non-winning candidate don't find themselves in too much dispair.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Our Princess (As Promised) PLUS Other Halloween Pics

The other day I outlined my feelings on "the cruelty" of dressing up babies and puppies and how I craved to my wife's wishes and we dressed up our 4 month old daughter, Linden (with her Mom)

As promised, here are some pictures of our little princess.Also, Michael Parson's sent me some pictures of "cruel" cat painting, which included this bizarre picture of the skeleton cat, and then this potentially Anne Geddes inspired Chiquita Banana dog pic.




Finally...my friends Anthony & AK sent me a picture of their dog Annie. As I understand it the intention was to dress Annie up as a cowgirl, although some people mis-interpreted Annie's costume as being a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. Judge for yourselves folks:

What Type of Ads are you Expecting November 5th?

You favorite television shows, new programs, and sporting events have been brought to you by McCain, Obama, Congressional nominees and incumbents, unions, lobbyist, and special interest groups.

Every ad seems to be back-to-back vote on x and y, and certainly avoid z.

I mentioned this back in August...and who knew what we had coming? Especially with a weak economy some of your regular advertisers might be monitoring their advertising cash flow a little more cautiously.

So what do you think we'll see on November 5th, one day after the election when all the votes are casts and the decisions are made (we hope).

My predictions:
- Big Box Retailers searching for holiday dollars, like Home Depot, Walmart, Best Buy.
- Movie Entertainment, especially holiday blockbusters trying to etch there way into families schedules and budgets
- Car Companies always have ads, and despite the challenging financial times for the car industry I expect to see more Honda and VW commercials, as well as some luxury car brands thrown into the mix. Maybe even a few Chevy Volt commercials like were shown frequently during the Olympics.
- TV advertising TV, this is always inevitable and what better way to fill the dead space then promoting at 7pm what will be showing tomorrow at 8pm...or even networks advertising cable and cable advertising networks.


I expect less than normal advertising from speciality stores, online brands, restaurants, credit cards and banks on November 5th.

What do you predict?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Confession: I Miss Being Annoyed By Renee Zellweger

The other day in configuring my predictions for the Oscar best actress nominees I realized that I missed Renee Zellweger.

It's no secret that I think Renee Zellweger is a less than impressive personal figure...primarily just because she comes across as being so unintelligent and that goofy grin, and squinty eyes drive me crazy...especially in interviews and on the red carpet.

It seemed like for so many consecutive years Renee was always at least on the Oscar shortlist and always a Golden Globe favorite, that she was one of those actresses I just loved to be annoyed with.

Of all of Renee's performances, I honestly was very pleased with her win for best supporting actress in Cold Mountain. If nothing else, she did an excellent job not having a goofy grin or squinty eyes and played the part perfectly (check out the picture above to see her looking almost normal).

Even last year Renee Zellweger was short-listed for Miss Potter for which she received a globe nomination. In fact in the past 7 years there's only been 1 year Zellwegger didn't get a globe nominations...3 wins (2001: Nurse Betty, won; 2002: Bridget Jones Diary; 2003: Chicago, won; 2004: Cold Mountain, won; 2005: Bridget Jones the Edge of Reason; 2007: Miss Potter).

The Academy doesn't quite love Zellwegger as much with only 3 noms (1 win) in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

I enjoy complaining about how Zellweger's ability to act is based on her mimicry skills and ability to do whatever any one tells her to do do because she's not really intelligent.

I like to complain about how the Golden Globe nomination is hers no matter what.

I like to complain about what she says at the Award show and how she gushed about so random actor she's worked with or is dating.

Yet unless every other 2008 movie completely flops and they can't come up with who to award and decide that George Clooney's movie Leatherheads deserves some nods (which they won't...although they do love George Clooney too) then I'm afraid I can't complain much about Zellweger this year.

Of course, I can always complain about how I can't complain.
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