Sunday, May 31, 2009

Attempting the Art of French Cooking: Le Marquis with Glaçage au Chocolat

If you have been following this blog, you have seen that I have taken a chance to delve into the world of Julia Child and Julie Powell including reading Child's biography My Life in France and Julie Powell's book Julie & Julia.

Well I got my hands on a copy of the book that really set both these books in motion, the cookbook Mastering The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simon Beck, and Louisette Bertholle.

I have no intention of cooking the entire cookbook, in fact, it didn't take me long to discover that this cookbooks dedication to technique is far from simple, and that Julia's prose is very uncookbookery. Additionally, MOST recipes require the cook to flip back and forth from the "variation" to the "master recipe" to other recipes that serve as ingredients for what you are making.

I imagine that Julia Child expected people to attempt to cook through the whole book as if they were enrolled in one of the early cooking classes that the three authors put together.

My first recipes were from the end of the book -- the desert recipes. In fact, I cooked the very last cake recipe Le Marquis, which like most of the cake recipes required separating the eggs, "making a ribbon" as Julia calls it with the yoke and the whipping up the eggs real big.

It was in the egg white whipping that I think I did not live up to Julia's expectations, and frankly, my whipped eggs were not as "peaky" as I imagine she would have wanted.

I also had the joy of melting chocolate in a double boiler, and then mixing it all together (actually my wife joined me in this process, she's a great whipper). I also bought cake flour which I used for the first time -- kind of fun. This cake only has 1/3 cup of flour in it, it's actually very light.

As the pictures show my cake actually was pretty stout when all was said and done, so my wife and I cut it in half and layered it to give it some more height.

Julia gives a variety of icing and filling recipes in the book, but I decided to go with her final recipe in volume I, the chocolaty Glaçage au Chocolat...which I like the refer to as Mocha Butter.

By the time we finally got to eat the cake after the cooking, cooling, chocolate melting, egg white whipping, then we found it to be very good. In fact, I loved it. My wife told me my love for it was part "cognitive dissonance" and that my effort made me like it more. But that is not all true, I truly found it taste delicious, although are final product and presentation was lacking.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blockbuster Newest Surival Strategy & My 8 Recommendations

In February I wrote, Will Blockbuster Survive in 2009? Should it? and now 4 months later, I'm still asking that same question.

Blockbuster shareholders met on Thursday with CEO Jim Keyes (and the rest of the Blockbuster board members who all were voted to retain their position in the struggling company).

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the way Blockbuster is going to try to save itself and differentiate itself from Netflix, Red Box, and Videos on Demand is by selling movie merchandise on consignment.

The company's stock (BBI) has dropped 90% in less than two years, and currently sits at 70 cents a share going into the weekend.

Film related merchandise on consignment? This sounds horrible.

I think it's going to take more than some Captain Kirk t-shirts and left over plush Samuel L. Jackson dolls to save Blockbuster.


Dear Jim Keyes, I think you business will be filing bankrupcy by year end. If you have a moment, may I suggest some last minute ideas I have to save your company?

1. All rentals, $1/day. I like the way Red Boxes and Movie Cube allow me to pay $1 a day. It gives me incentive to get that movie back quick enough to, which me they can have fewer copies rented out to more people. Let me pay $1 a day and maybe the velocity of videos in and out will increase. Plus, with so many neighborhood stores, it could sway some netflixers if they know they can watch the movies they want, when they want them without the "pressure" that comes from a subscription.

2. Train your staff. What differentiates Blockbuster from netflix, redbox, and video on demand is not the opportunity to sell movie's that you have live people in your stores who can recommend what movies I would like. Every other business out there has trained their staff on upselling customers -- if your staff actually made quality recommendations and were available to help I bet you could see more movies out the door.

3. Community. Get involved in the community. Libraries offer foreign film nights, cities offer movies in the park, there's mini film festivals here and there and I never see Blockbuster's name associated with these local events. Do some grass roots marketing, why doesn't blockbuster get the rights to exhibit some films in local parks and pull off some quality marketing events, remind people that Blockbuster is a part of their community.

4. If You Like Then... When I go to Borders and other bookstore/media outlets I see tons of recommendations and suggestions located on the shelves and throughout the store. Don't just expect the title and cover art to do the work for you. Help the customers know what they want...the die hard fans are probably going to have a Netflix account filled up to 500, but when Joe Six Pack goes to pick up a movie to watch with his girlfriend or Grandma Josefina, then they might need some suggestions, otherwise they're going to come home with direct to video train wreck that clutters the blockbuster shelves. I remember in the "old days" this type of information was on the back of blockbuster boxes, but it seemed like the information on the back of the boxes became worse and worse shortly after this type of information was added. How about some quality and thoughtful recommendations?

5. Encourage TV DVDs and other Series. Let me rent TV and series more efficiently than renting one disk of the 6 disk series at $5 a pop. If someone wants to rent a season of 24 or Lost they're going to be out $30 when all is said and done. Figure out a way to encourage these multi-disk rentals, not discouraging it.

6. Stores That Work Together. Blockbuster has multiple stores in multiple locations, but I hate the fact I have to return the video to the store I rented the video from. What if I rent the video on my way home from work and want to return it the following day to the store by my house. I can't...these similarly branded stores are not connected. Similarly, if one's store is out of a certain title, create a system where that store can borrow it from a local store that might have multiple copies.

7. Incentivize My Patronage. Clearly there are options, give me an excuse to chose Blockbuster, maybe a point system where my 6th rental is free, or maybe work with a major theater chain where enough rentals will get me free movie passes.

8. Think Kids. Sure you have a kid section, but do kid's ask their parents to take them to blockbuster. Take some time to figure out how the get kids to ask their parents to take them to blockbuster...maybe it'll take some 'McDonald's like thinking' - Maybe you have a kid's pack movie rental that comes with a small microwave popcorn and a toy (The Blockbuster Happy Meal, per se) or maybe a small play area in your store modeled off of the latest Pixar movie. Make your store a kid destination and parents will be walking out with movies for their kids and themselves. Plus, it passes on a culture of blockbuster that will create longevity for the company as those kids get older.

Sports Jersey Day

Because I live in a town that is doing well in the NBA playoffs, we received corporate communication earlier on the week about it being Sports Jersey day at work today. Yes, it's like Spirit Week from grade school.

Now, while the day was in honor of a successful home team basketball team, most people's "Jersey collection" was of the football variety, and so all day long I see co-workers and bosses in Ohio State, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and Miami Dolphin Jerseys.

Very professional. I know.

I did not dress in a jersey because (a) I don't own a jersey (b) I can't imagine working in a jersey (c) I know so little about sports, the jersey would only make me some unintelligent and a poser (d) all of the above.

As much as I mocked this day in my head (and once or twice vocally when asked, "where's your jersey?"). One lady works a few yards away from me, and I've never talked to her before, yet somehow because it was sports Jersey day and because she was practically matching another one of my co-workers her and talked to each other for the first time. Long enough, that I'm sure we will at least greet each other, and maybe talk more in the future.

I've talked before about community, and particularly the idea of "Borrowing the Egg" and I think that sometimes it takes something cheesy like "Sports Jersey Day" to get people talking and connecting...even if you're not wearing a jersey.

Honestly, offices/cubicle cities have to be the weirdest sociological environment of our modern age. Comical, but yet, so real. And although I have found redeeming value in "Sports Jersey Day" I for one, and perfectly happy with wearing jeans on Friday with out having theme days.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Julie & Julia, thoughts on the book (that is, the book based on the blog, that is the source material for the major motion picture)

I will say up front, I did not enjoy Julie & Julia as much as I expected.

After doing the "Reel People" post about Julia Child and Julie Powell, I instantly became interested in Julia Child. I felt like Julia Child's life had such an interesting course of events.

This interest in Julia Child was only reinforced by her posthumous biography My Life in France. If I was having a dinner party and I could invite anyone, I would easily consider inviting Julia Child over, not just to cook, but for the conversation.

Julie Powell's book, Julie & Julia is largely the inspiration, and half the source material for the upcoming motion picture.

As mentioned in the "reel people" post on Julie Powell's life, Julia Powell began a blog in 2002 called the Julie/Julia project, where she was going to try to make every recipe (524 apparently) in Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking.

Enough introduction to this post. Here's some thoughts on the book, based on a blog, soon a major motion picture.

1. If you were going to read one of the source books to the upcoming movie, I'd actually recommend My Life in France by Julia Child, the story is more captivating, and I think the character of Child is more...endearing, shall we say?

2. Julia Powell's quest is ambitious. Not just kind of ambitious, but super ambitious in so many ways. The more I think about what she did, the more amazed I am by it. Julia Powell in essence made a Thanksgiving-esque dinner every night she came home from work (usually picking up the ingredients on her way home from work) so that she could complete her project.

3. As a blogger, I find her story interesting, because I think a lot of people may not understand the connection/reaction Powell has to her bloggers, and their comments, and readership without experiencing it themselves.

4. One of the most surprising aspects of this book is Julie Powell's "coarseness" shall I say...she is shameless in her discussion of her less than fascinating love life, her experience with pornography as a young child, and consistently aggressive language with multiple uses of the F-word -- hardly family reading...and clearly something that isolated and attracted blog readers.

5. The book interestingly enough mentions Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci who will be in the upcoming film adaptation. Powell was supposed to see Stanley Tucci in "Frankie and Johnny" on Broadway (with Edie Falco) to celebrate her Father's birthday but was unable to go due to a day of bad moving experiences. Merly Steep is mentioned because one of the first times Powell is breaking eggs she mentions the grace that Streep cracks eggs in the film The Hours. (In the film Streep and Tucci play Paul & Julia Child).

6. While Julia Powell mentions this two actors in the book it is clear that her heart really belongs to David Strathairn (who she has baked for twice, including the second time when she saw him in a reading of Solome during the project). As a child, Powell's crush was on Jason Bateman (I couldn't help but wonder if she's had a chance to meet him yet since her that would make a good segment on Ellen or another talk show -- have Julia Powell read her pervie thoughts about Bateman she had as a child, while he's sitting in a chair next to her)

7. Julie Powell never had a chance to meet Julia Child -- it's a tragedy, especially since Powell had/has the impression that Child didn't care for her interest and work she was doing.

8. I think it's relatively easy for some blogs to get turned into books -- but for a blog to get turned into a movie, I think this is an uncommon occurrence.

9. I thought that in many way Powell's husband Eric was very very very supportive of Julie's project. In fact, it was his idea she start a blog in the first place, and not only did the blog provide her with eventual fame, it also provided her life with meaning, structure, and freedom from many of the personal frustrations she was experiencing in her own life, specifically physically and professionally. I felt like Julie Powell did not embrace Eric's support in the same way Julia Child embraced Paul's many ways it's a pity.

10. There are many things that Julia Powell makes that I would never ever consider making, any ingredients I never want to work with - props to her for doing the project so completely, bone marrow, kidneys, eggs in aspic and all.

Final note: I wonder how Nora Ephron wrote the part of Julie Powell in the movie, and how Amy Adams plays this role. With the "coarseness" of Powell (point #4) be toned down in the film? Will Adams bring her light & fluffy? Or will be surprised with Adam's starts throwing around sexual analogies for how she is preparing her duck dish?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Reel People: Demetri Martin is Elliot Tiber

The film is Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee. The script is written by Ang Lee's normal screenwriter/producer James Schamus (who wrote/produced films including Brokeback Mountain, Ride with the Devil, Lust, Caution, Hulk and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The screenplay is based on the book Taking Woodstock by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte.

Elliot Tiber

Elliot Tiber was born in Brooklyn New York in 1935. When Tiber was 20, his parents acquired the El Monoco Hotel in Bethel, New York.

Tiber received his Bachelors of Fine Arts from Hunter College in New York, as well as took Master of Fine Arts classes at Pratt College.

1969 was a big year for Tiber.

The Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York. This event was a riot that was led by Eliot Tiber among others who fought against the police deptment who targeted the Stonewall Inn and the gay and lesbian community in the neighborhood. Tiber was at the Stonewall Inn the night of the riot.

Shortly after the riots, the permitting for the Woodstock festival to be held in Wallkill, New York.
Elliot Tiber was very involved in keeping his families hotel running while eventually becoming a member of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce. When the permitting for the Woodstock festival was denied, Tiber connected with concert promoter Michael Lang who had founded Woodstock Ventures.

Tiber's attained very vague permits earlier for a chamber music event to be held at the Motel. The permits were under the event title of White Lake Music and Arts Festival. Tiber offered up these permits to Lang to be used for the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, held in Bethel, New York.

The motel grounds were not big enough for the concert, but Tiber helped connect Michael Lang to Max Yasgur, a Bethel dairy farmer who's 600 acre dairy farm was the real location for Woodstock, the largest concert event ever featuring over 32 artists over three days with a half million concert goers.

After the success of the event, Tiber sold the motel and moved to Europe, where as a writer he wrote the book Rue Haute, which was directed and adapted by his domestic partner André Ernotte. This book was translated and released in the United States in 1977 with the title High Street. He also went on to write and translate other works of fiction and teleplays.

Tiber also taught creative writing classes, art history, fashion design, and theater for many years at New York University, New York Institute of Technology, and Hunters College.

Taking Woodstock

The film tells Elliot's story as portrayed in his autobiography. Comedian Demitri Martin will play the part of Elliot. His Jewish mother will played by Oscar nominee Imedla Staunton. Comedic actor Eugne Levy will play the dairy farmer Max Yasugar, and Tony award nominee and One Life to Live actor Jonathan Groff plays concert organizer Michael Lang.

The cast of characters further give an indication to the nature of the story. Liev Schreiber plays the part of Vilma a transvestite, Jeffery Dean Morgan plays a married man that Elliot Tiber is having an homosexual relations with during the time of this story. Emile Hirsh plays a returned Vietnam vet named Billy, and Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan play a hippie couple who come to the concert.

I expect this story to be the type of film that that the Academy could embrace, but be very polarizing to the typical film going public. Like most Ang Lee films of late, it's hard to tell how this film will figure into award season.

Could Demetri Martin's portrayal of this influential person in the succes of Woodstock earn an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blackberry In The Bathroom


Every time I use the restroom at work I hear the clickity clickity of someone texting on their phone or surfing the web while they are sitting on the can in the bathroom stall.

Now, for all intensive purposes there's no need to be paying attention to bathroom sounds, and if it were up to me all bathroom would contain noise (and smell) canceling devices...but alas, that is not the case.

But it really bothers me that people are using their phones will doing their most private human activity.

I am glad that personal communication devices are so personal that we don't commonly share other people's cell phones, because the thought of someone shuffling the toilet paper in one hand with their phone in the other so they can use their thumbs to twitter on their iphone is absolutely disgusting.

And what are you googling anyways. Can't it wait?

Which has led me to another thought...for as much as we touch our phones, we probably don't clean them enough...I don't even know if people know how to clean their phones in a way that is sanitary and antibacterial.

But honestly, you hear someone facebooking on their blackberry and then when they wash their hands they do their special paper towel maneuvers to make sure they don't touch the restroom door, but moments later their touching their phone they were touching intermittently while wiping their anus?

Some people like bathroom reading material, but please must you read your favorite blog while you're in the public toilet stall.

Is it because you're at work and you feel like this is your chance to catch up on your personal e-mail? Is it because you don't know how to just sit for a moment and take care of your business? Or are you so addicted to your crackberry that you can't even let it go to cleanse your colon?

I can't even begin the fathom the human health issues associated with this trend, but I feel like the Center for Disease Control should be aware.

I really don't want to touch your hands if you recently have been touching your phone. Sorry.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part VIII - Movies about Teens Having Babies

In this series we head into one of our final post about "What Movies Do Christians Want?" a multi part series.

Christian's embrace a wide variety of films, and our excited when "main stream" films embrace "Christian"/moral themes.

One of the biggest examples of this (but not limited to this), is when a mainstream movie seems to endorse a "Right to Life message."

Typically, this would be a film when an unwed woman (or unhappily married woman) gets pregnant, and despite the hardships that might be associated with having the baby, she decides to carry it to term.

In most recent times there are three examples of this that come to mind, all of which I have heard and seen Christians embrace. Those films are: Juno, Bella, and Waitress.

It's interesting because you don't hear Christian's complaining about the fact that these characters are not making wise Christian choices in other areas of their lives, but because the Hollywood message is typically considered liberal to see movies present "positive conservative values" is something that I believe only increase box office draw for these films.

For an interesting read, look at Plugged-in Online, a division of Focus on the Family discusses the movie Juno.

Christian audiences are looking for films that support there agenda, and while all Christians are not conservative-George-Bush-loving-party-voting-Republicans, many conservative goals are excluded from the film forefront, and when a film explores these issues in a unique and interesting ways a different audience might embrace something independent and different from your typical "Christian film."

Note: For some reason, I felt like every phrase in the post needed quotes. So many generalities, about so many different types of people. Chime in...what do you think about these films? How about the way Christians have embraced them, is this founded? Do you think the studios had this in mind? Can you think of other films like these?

Other Post in the "What Movies Do Christians Want? Series"
* In
Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience
* In
Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre is developing.
* In
Part III we looked at two Christian motivations for this film genre: insulation and influence.
* In
Part IV we discussed the sub-genre of Prairie-Christian film/tv, and the established tradition of this "encouraging" and "family friendly" genre, and it's lack of transferability to the theatrical screen.
* In
Part V we pondered if there really is such a thing as "Christian movies" and if Christians really like those that are labeled as "Christian Movies"
* In Part VI we see why Christians might be specifically interested in Superhero films.
* In Part VII we looked at the embraced subgenre of the underdog sports film.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part VII - Underdog Sports Movies

In continuing the multi part series about "What Movies Do Christians Want?" in response to a recent Entertainment Weekly article (Movies, Money, and God)...I write this post with caution.

I write this post with caution because I'm not sure what to make of the relationship with Christians and their love for the underdog sports film.

There's a number of films that fit this category that I think you will find many Christians embrace as their favorite films...films like Rocky, Hoosiers, Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Chariots of Fire, Miracle, Field of Dreams, The Rookie, and to a lesser extent The Karate Kid, Seabiscuit, Remember the Titans and Mystery, Alaska.

Tell me I'm not going out on a limb here - in fact, I would guess in your mainline evangelical and protestant churches the male pastors and youth pastors cling to these films as the cinema's greatest treasures on earth.

Underdogs or Overcomers?

I don't know if it's good or not, but I think many Christians see themselves as the "underdogs." They may seem themselves as loosing before they even begin.

I know many Christians believe that "nice guys finish last" and expect that because of their values they're bound to loose out on some of lives experiences, or that their moral conscience will get in the way of opportunities that could come from moral or unethical behavior.

Maybe this okay, on the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spent a great effort in a portion of his teachings (commonly called the beatitudes) to convey that the least of these would be blessed.
But on the other hand, the bible also teaches Christians to be victorious and overcomers.

With a lot of imagery the Apostle Paul wrote: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

And somewhere in the middle of these two concepts is the power of the overcoming and often victorious underdog.

Standing Up for Your Beliefs

One of the biggest underdog films most beloved by Christians is the Best Picture winning film Chariots of Fire about Eric Liddel (Ian Charleson) who didn't run an important Olympic qualifying race because it was on the Sabbath. Liddel would later go on to be a missionary in China. Christian's love this movie, because of the true story about a Christian who stands up for his beliefs, even if they don't make sense to the world.

Other characters do this in these films that captures the hearts of audiences, particularly Christian audiences who are encouraged by those who live there lives with principles and values to great success.

A lot of times it's about a coach, that challenges the team or key players to rise above, and be disciplined. It's so formula-matic, but it has the power to pull heart strings. Even in the Karate Kid, Daniel learns from Mr. Miyagi not to fight dirty like others.

It's no wonder pastors and leaders like these movies, because they see the power of "coach-like" influence, and these stories spur them on to bring discipline, hope, and victory in the lives of their congregations.

You Don't Have to Win to Win

Donald Trump and business tycoons might despise many of these films, because often the teams and players don't actually win.

But in line with the concept that the prize of uprightness and "doing your best" is far greater than the championship trophy or medal.

Rocky didn't beat Apollo Creed. Rudy plays for Notre Dame but doesn't win the championship.

But I think the message of integrity is clear in these movies, for example, in The Legend of Bagger Vance, Rannulph Junuh has a chance to win the final hole but calls a penalty on himself and ends the game in a 3-way tie.
Christians like to see this image on the screen, because it is encouraging and reminds them that even if "Good guys finish last" they can still be the ultimate winners.

Other Post in the "What Movies Do Christians Want? Series"
* In Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience
* In Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre is developing.
* In Part III we looked at two Christian motivations for this film genre: insulation and influence.
* In Part IV we discussed the sub-genre of Prairie-Christian film/tv, and the established tradition of this "encouraging" and "family friendly" genre, and it's lack of transferability to the theatrical screen.
* In Part V we pondered if there really is such a thing as "Christian movies" and if Christians really like those that are labeled as "Christian Movies"
* In Part VI we see why Christians might be specifically interested in Superhero films.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part VI - Super Hero Movies

In continuing the multi part series about trying to understand the Christian film market, particularly after the success of film like the Passion of the Christ, there has been a continued effort and awareness of the Christian demographic in film promotion and marketing.

People of the Christian faith obviously see a variety of films in the theater. Some, more conservative Christians might swear off the film industry all together, while other Christians may be more selective in the film choices.

But when it comes to a genre of film that captures the attention of a large sector of the Christian film going public it is the superhero movie.

Some might wonder why Christians are interested in this type of movie claiming that Superhero films are a form of idol worship, or perhaps superhero abilities acquired by extraterrestrial incidents or evolutionary mutation might not neatly fit into Christian theology.

Characteristics of many Superhero movies that connect with Christian film audiences:

1. Good & Evil. They often deal with clear lines of morality. There are good guys and bad guys. It's a black and white world that escapes ideas of plurarily and relativism that are common themes in many films and stories.

2. Flawed but God Wins Out. Even if the superhero has some personal flaws, his opportunity to choose goodness and virtue connects with a Christian film audience.

3. Evil Is Ugly. Sure some evil characters might have some seductive appearances (Cat Woman comes to mind) but generally the bad guys are always ugly, whether it's Doc Ock, Scarecrow, The Joker, Sabertooth), while the heroes are usually attractive and lack these external flaws.

3. Free-Will. Most heroes have the option to fight for the good guy or the bad guy, and as audience we always see the benefit of being on the good guys team, regardless of what temporal joys, freedoms, and opportunities the evil team might offer.

4. Relatively Family-Friendly with Good Fight Scenes. Most superhero films might be a little dark, have weapons, and fight scenes, but general Christian audiences seem less concerned with violence* than they do with sex, nudity, profanity. The expectations for the most recent super-hero movies are pretty clear in terms of content, perhaps that only added to the surprise that many viewers discovered when they went to see Watchmen opening weekend.

5. Characters with Secret Identities: While some Christians demonstrate their faith regularly my carrying their bibles, wearing their necklaces, and wearing the religious message T-shirts, many Christians are more reserved and timid about revealing their very real and active faith, and they might easily connect the film characters desire to do good and do something about it, with their own secret identity as a Christian.

6. Christ-figures. While some superheroes connect to a call for Christ-like-humanity, sometimes Superheroes can also have a perfect Christ-likeness. This is particularly true for Superman, who's almost-immortality makes him have a Christ-figure status.

There are probably even more reasons than the one's that I've listed, but in conclusion of this post, I will leave you with some interpretable quotes that could be and surely have been used in a Christian context.

Some Interpretable Quotes From Recent Superhero Movies
  • "Remember, with great power. comes great responsibility." - Uncle Ben, Spider-Man
  • "Uncle Ben meant the world to us. But he wouldn't want us living one second with revenge in our hearts. It's like a poison. It can-- It can take you over. Before you know it, turn us into something ugly. " - Aunt May, Spider-Man 3
  • "Well, you start by doing the hardest thing: You forgive yourself. I believe in you, Peter. You're a good person. And I know you'll find a way to put it right." - Aunt May, Spider-Man 3
  • "Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself. It's the choices that make us who we are, and we can always choose to do what's right." - Peter Parker, Spider-Man 3
    "When an individual acquires great power, the use or misuse of that power is everything. Will it be used for the greater good? Or will it be used for personal or for destructive ends? Now this is a question we must all ask ourselves." Professor Charles Xavier, X-Men: The Last Stand
  • "Thank you for saving me." [Stark] "Don't waste your life." [Yinsen] - Tony Stark and the dying Yinsen, Iron Man
  • "You will travel far, my little Kal-El, but we will never leave you-even in the face of our deaths. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father. And the father, the son." Jor-El, Superman Returns
  • "Its not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins

*Examples of films with violence that are favorites among Christian audiences: Passion of The Christ, Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings trilogy , Saving Private Ryan

* In Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience
* In Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre is developing.
* In
Part III we looked at two Christian motivations for this film genre: insulation and influence.
* In
Part IV we discussed the sub-genre of Prairie-Christian film/tv, and the established tradition of this "encouraging" and "family friendly" genre, and it's lack of transferability to the theatrical screen.
* In
Part V we pondered if there really is such a thing as "Christian movies" and if Christians really like those that are labeled as "Christian Movies"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part V - Not "Christian Movies"

* In Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience
* In Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre is developing.
* In
Part III we looked at two Christian motivations for this film genre: insulation and influence.
* In Part IV we discussed the sub-genre of Prairie-Christian film/tv, and the established tradition of this "encouraging" and "family friendly" genre, and it's lack of transferability to the theatrical screen.

Quick - find the closest Christian you can find. Grab them, call them, facebook message them, twitter them and ask..."What was the last film that you saw?"

My guess it was just some regular movie. They might have seen Star Trek, Fast and Furious, 17 Again, Paul Blart: Mall Cop or any other random "regular/secular movie."

The first point of this post is simple, but when it comes to movies, there's no such thing as a "Christian Movie."

If you are a Christian, I encourage you to stop using the word Christian as an adjective to describe inanimate objects.

Can a movie be Christian? I don't know has it accepted Christ as it's personal savior?

Can you have a Christian Book? (and if you do have a Christian book do you baptize it before or after the words are printed on it?)

Can you have a Christian school or a Christian coffee shop or Christian University?

Using this type of terminology to describe T-Shirts, music, businesses, TV stations, really just muddles up the terminology.

And I think that with out definiting terms, a Christian movie can be a lot of things, but usually it's just an under funded film with an inspriational story that is destined to the shelves of a "Christian bookstore."

I say there's no such thing as a Christian Movie, but as I say this, I realize the concept and term is becoming more accepted. In fact, while there are many, many, many, many, many, many, many websites and companies that focus and market the industry there's even a website called (screenshot pictured, right), so I'm sure some people would disagree with my claim that "There is no such thing as a Christian Movie."

Second point, I think most Christian's favorite films are not "Christian films."

Alas, I think while a high proportion of people worldwide would call themselves Christian, I imagine most of these Christians favorite films do not include a film from the "Christian Film Sub-genre"

Honestly, ask your closest Christian what there favorite movie is (or the last film they saw) and I betcha, it's not a "Christian Film."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part IV - No More Prairie Films

*In Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience.
*In Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre is developing.
*In Part III we look at two Christian motivations for this film genre: insulation and influence.

Don't be fooled there's many, many, many more films available on DVD that never have hit the theater screen but are available to purchase at video retailers, specifically, but not limited to "the Christian Bookstore."

In fact, there is a degree of variety to these films that I think many people would be surprised to see, as every genre has been attempted with minimal budget's and various skilled and unskilled talent.

One of the most popular sub-genres of a sub-genre is the prairie family drama. I'm not really sure how it happened but somehow Christian publishers convinced Christians that they not just like, but loved Little House on The Prairie and any story that resembled this type of story.

The television show Christy had 21 episodes of poor ratings on CBS in 1994 to 1995. The show was about a single teacher, Christy Huddleston played by Kellie Martin.

Christian's really embraced this show. Why? I don't really no why. In some way, I imagine, it's easy to show a positive sanitized version of life in a period piece of this kind. Because these small rural communities usually had families with Christian community, a local church, and an involved pastor roving the town, it made it easy to deal with morality in this contained environment.

Despite it's minimal 21 epsiode run this show has been syndicated like crazy, particularly on "family friendly" networks like Ion Television (Pax).

The large support of fans eventually led to 3 made-for-tv movies that also ran on Pax.

Tonight I logged on to the website for Family Christian Stores and right on the front page along with their "Father's Day Reminder" was a few DVD's, specifically one prominently featured called Love Takes Wing.

This film, Love Takes Wing, is the 7th in it's series (Love Comes Softly) based on the series by Janette Oakey. This "inspirational" (one of the code words used to say "made for Christians) family film aired on the Hallmark channel last month. The film has a B-list cast (Lou Diamond Phillips, Patrick Duffy, Cloris Leachman, Hallie Duff).

The TV-movie is about a woman doctor (played by Sarah Jones) who goes to a small town being a female doctor on the prairie meeting her fair share of adversity...sound familiar?

Despite the popularity of Prairie films I don't think this is what Christians want... least not at the movie theaters.
I think the people that are drawn to participate in this bizarre sub-genre of sub-genres are not your typical theater goers. Even though there seems to be an odd love for the stories of these prairie women, these viewers don't trust the "Hollywood-world" and would shun any attempt to get these people into $9 per person theater seats, and they certainly aren't buying popcorn and sodas.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I've pinned this crowd in a box, I'm sorry if you love Dr. Quinn medicine woman and would pony-up-the-dough to see Jane Seymour bring this character back to the big screen.

Interestingly, many of these stories of the high plains aren't even specifically "Christian" but somehow they crowd the Christian bookstores shelves, but I can't see one of these films ever being successful in a theatrical run.

Maybe I'm going out on limb, but I don't think Christians want another prairie film, and certainly not on the big screen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part III - A Dichotomy of Purposes - Insulation or Influence

In Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience.

In Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre developed.

Why would a Christian want to make a Christian movies, there are two primarily reasons I can think of.

1. Insulation:
I think it's as old as time, but Christians (and any other type of cultural group) finds ways and reasons to isolate themselves. Whether it's the Puritans coming to the United States or the development of Christian television networks, Christians rightfully feel that their world view is different, and so even when it comes to entertainment they might want something different. Whether it's films and music that speak specifically to their faith and relationship with Jesus, or whether it's protecting themselves from amoral philosophies and values.

There is biblical grounds for Christians to chose this type of separation, creating sanitized entertainment that reflects a different world view. This type of media has existed for longer than 10 years, Christian bookstores, Christian music, and Christian films have existed before films hit the silver screen.

Application - What someone might say: "I really want to be able to go to the movies and see a fun/exciting/romantic film without compromising my beliefs. I want to see a movie without sex, violence, language, and un-Godly values"

2. Influence:
Just as Christians feel called to keep themselves pure before God and Men, there is also a call for the Christian believer to influence and impact their world.

Jesus in the popular Sermon on the Mountain encourages the Christ-followers to be like light on a hill that cannot be hidden, or salt that works as a preservative to keep the world from increased evil.

And if a person likes to act, write, or create, they may feel spiritually called to use their gift to impact the world, represent God in their art, and bring glory to God in a contemporary way.

In many ways the lure of the theatrical setting seemed to really capture this philosophy. Christian's with an interest in the film media might see the film with a theatrical run as an opportunity to get non-Christians in the theater chairs who might be exposed to Christian truths and changed (like a city on a hill) or at least see something that replaces a film with amoral messages (salt of the earth).

Application - What someone might say: "If Christians want to see movies that have a positive message they should be the one's who make them, not just complain about what's out there. The film environment is also a comfortable environment to share a God-centered message."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part II - The Past 10 Years

In Part I of the series we opened up the conversation based on an Entertainment Weekly office discussing how films studios are searching for the films that Christians in want.

The fact is, this phenomenon of "Christian films" really didn't begin with any sort of big screen presence until 10 years ago.

One of the first films to hit the big screen was the Omega Code. Some in the Christian community were excited about this film because it was an action/spy style film "big name stars" Michael York and Casper Van Diem and a bigger budget than similar projects had before. Yet despite all it's horrible reviews, and really just a muddled and horrible film, it still was bizarrely profitable (7.6 million dollar budget 12.6 million dollars in the theaters). In fact, this horrible film even got a sequel (Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 in 2001).

Yet despite these films had moderate success for their low budgets the challenge really seems in what is their function. The Omega Code's muddled plots with biblical references and concepts, really seemed like it had the hopes of capturing the type of crowd that would watch movies like Mission: Impossible, and yet the Mission: Impossible crowd didn't gravitate towards this movie.

The earliest Christian movies didn't seem to draw a non-Christian audience, but they're broad limited marketing seemed focused on trying to capture a secular audience. Yet, these films probably failed in this aim.

Another film around this time with even less success than Omega Code was the 2001 film Extreme Days which tried to create a romantic-comedy-extreme-sports-road-trip film with a Christian twist. (Pictured left is Ryan Browning and Cassidy Rae from Extreme Days). The motivation behind this film truly seemed like it was focused on capturing the MTV audience, and the reality was, for various reasons up for debate, this movie failed in it's goal with a box office that barely topped a $1 million dollar gross.

In trying to be accessible to vast audiences, these films generally fell flat. Low reviews, low box office grosses, and only relative successes.

Another film that had the chance to break in to the "history of big screen Christian flicks" was a big screen role for the Veggie Tales with the film Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. Again, a profit was made with a $25 million box office pull with $14 million budget.

Yet when studios realized with Passion of the Christ that there was a Christian film audience, bigger studios began doing the leg work for the "Christian film scene" with their own films, like The Nativity Story or Evan Almighty.

Previously Christians were trying to make films for vast audiences, and now Studios were trying to make films for Christians.

I remember when Evan Almighty was coming out, Universal Studios was pushing Christian audiences hard to see the film with advertisements mailed out to churches, and sponsorships of Christian concert events. Whether they captured the Christian audience with these tactics, it's hard to tell, but it's hard to gauge whether the $200 million dollar budget film staring Steve Carell.

Evan Almighty grossed $173 million in the theaters and was successful, although I imagine many Christian audiences didn't rush to theaters because there wasn't any "Christian purpose" behind the film and to the ultra-conservative Christian viewer this liberal and comedic story of God's wrath might not have been exactly what captured the church pulpits.

Yet, this passion for trying to capture the Church audience opened up a wider opportunities for films that were more Christian.

Sherwood Pictures, a studio out of Georgia's Sherwood Baptist Church, was in the film game as early as 2003 with there first film Fly Wheel (with it's widest release only showing at 3 theaters in Georgia), but by the time they made their second film Facing The Giants, the scene had changed.

Facing The Giants really is one of the biggest success stories, it's $100,000 budget was multiplied to $10 million dollar's in the box office.

Sherwood Pictures followed this up with their third film the 2008 release Fireproof. Fireproof in it's widest release had 905 theaters and consistently stayed in the top 10 box office grosses after it was released. It ended up grossing over $33 million dollars, with a half million dollar budget.

I think, by an large, these are the first films that have captured a Christian audiences. Maybe the gross is not above the 100 million dollar gross line, but it opens up a field for Christian film makers to make Christian films, and they're winning over an audience that is passionate about contemporary Christian films.

In just a short period of time this unique sub genre of films has popped up and not even counting the post-theater gross, these films have made money, and when it comes to putting movies on the big screens studios and theaters are interested in films that will make money. Yet the sub-genre is still young and the people behind the decisions are still trying to figure out what it means to make films by or marketed to Christians.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part I - Passion & Fireproof?

Josh Rottenberg wrote the article "Movies, Money and God" in the most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly.

In the article Rottenberg honestly addresses the issues that after the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, film executives and studios became aware that Christians were "a market" that could be targeted.
In fact, there has been a lot of effort to try to re-capture this audience.

The article discusses the "Christian-marketed film" success stories are limited to Passion of the Christ and Disney's Chronicles of Narnia. In terms of percent profit, Fireproof was very successful grossing $33 million in theaters, with a production cost of 1 million dollars.

And I believe, in many ways, the low budget Christian film Fireproof connected with Evangelical audiences largely because the authenticity of the project, being written, produced, and performed by Christians. (Including Kirk Cameron, pictured left).

Yet...even with the vast Christian support, this film "only" grossed $33 million.

Match the success of "The Passion" marketing to Christian won't happen.

There's so many great stories from the Bible that could transition into really compelling film stories. Yet I think what studios might learn first, is when it comes to Biblical stories, no story is as important to the Christian faith then the the death and resurrection of Christ, and while Mel Gibson's passion focused on the brutality of this passion, this is the part of the story that church Easter services might not capture.

When it comes the story of the Nativity, the movie "The Nativity" offered little different that what had been presented in church performances and other Christian videos.
Honestly, it's too bad that more Biblical stories aren't produced with the love, care, budget, and audience-focused presentation placed in the Passion but there will not be another Passion of the Christ.
If there are other Christian success stories in recent years, lower-budget films like Fireproof will probably be the most "successful."
But I think that when it comes to "What Movies Do Christian's Want?" it hardly ends with The Passion of the Christ and Fireproof. In fact, to answer the question in this way is hardly sufficient, and maybe part of where studios have gotten it wrong.
[That's why this post is simply "Part I." More to come. Stay tuned.]

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Peace Like A River

Earlier in the year when I listed 2009 film adaptations based on fiction, I saw that there was an adaptation for Leif Enger's novel Peace Like a River in the works.

This led me to read the freshman novel of Leif Enger, a Minnesotan author who previously was a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio.

This book has a unique appeal in that it is written with such a home-spun appeal that lends itself to fireside or rainy day reading. The book isn't gimmicky or avant garde, in fact it calls back to simple times and simple people.

Peace Like A River has a small cast of characters, that are honest and realistic. The narrator is 11 year old Rueben Land who reflects on a challenging time in his families life, the son of a poor janitor who's rich in every spiritual and emotional way. In many ways, Rueben's father, Jeremiah Land have an appeal similar to the Finch's in to Kill a Mockingbird.

Jeremiah's wife had previously abandoned her good natured husband, and three kids, and takes care of them, raising them in truth and honesty, despite each of his three children's (Davy, Ruben, Sweede).

Davy far more rebellious and independent than Rueben finds himself getting into serious trouble with the law that leads the family on their own challenging journey.

I wish their more stories like Peace Like a River. Not necessarily pastoral North American stories that re-invent the Western. No, what I wish is that more stories could develop realistic characters that are interesting and unique, without thinking that the characters needy to be girtty, edgy, and unhappy.

I think as a film, the novel Peace Like a River could certainly adapt well if handled in a manner that can transition the desolate open tone of the novel in a cinematic way. I am also excited and interested in seeing how the cast develops once production gets under way.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


"...a tragedy is a tragedy, and at the bottom, all tragedies are stupid. Give me a choice and I'll take A Midsummer Night's Dream over Hamlet anytime. Any fool with steady hands and a working set of lungs can buildup a house of cards and blow it down, but it takes a genius to make people laugh."

--Jerome Wireman from Duma Key by Stephen King

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Reel People: Ben Whishaw is John Keats

The film is Bright Star. Bright Star is written and directed by Oscar winner Jane Champion (The Piano).

John Keats
John Keats was born in 1795 in London, the son of a stableman. At the age of 7, John's father died of a skull fracture caused from falling off of a horse.

John was one of four siblings, and although his mother remarried, she left her second husband, and moved herself and her four kids to live with John's grandmother after his grandfather died in 1805.

In 1810 John's mother died of tuberculosis, leaving him and his siblings in the care of his grandmother who hired two guardians to take care of the children.

John went to become a surgeon's apprentice, and after a fight with his teacher, he left in 1814 a became a student at Guy's Hospital (now part of King's College London). There he began a strong interest in literature and devoted himself to study. As well as to the writing of poetry.

When John's grandmother died, be became entrusted to the care of his brother Tom, who was also suffering of tuberculosis like his mother. John went away on a trip with his friend Charles Armitage Brown to Ireland and Scotland, and when he returned from his trip his brother's sickness had progressed further and Tom died shortly after (December 1, 1818).

It was around this same time that John Keat's epic poem Endymion based on the Greek mythology about Endymion a Shepherd loved by Selene, the moon goddess. His work received harsh criticism and was said to depress him and limit his writing.

John went on to move in with the family of his friend Charles Armitage Brown. While at the Brown's he had a chance to meet and fall in love with Fanny Brawne, the Brown's neighbor.

Little is known about this relationship, partly because Keats requested all the letters Fanny Brawne wrote him be destroyed upon his death. But letters that Fanny wrote to John's sister Frances were later discovered and published.

In 1820 Keats began to show serious signs of Tuberculosis and his doctors recommended he leave the cold of London, and so in the name of health Keats left the Brown's home as well as Brawne while he went to Italy on September 16, 1820 with his friend Joseph Severn, an English painter.

John's sickness got worse, and Severn found himself playing the role of John's nurse. John Keats died at the age of 25 on February 23, 1821.

Bright Star

The film Bright Star is to focus on the final years of Keat's life, specifically his relationship with Fanny Brawne during Keats time in Hampstead, London.

Ben Whishaw plays the part of John Keats, while Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne. Paul Schneider plays Charles Armitage Brown and Samuel Barnett plays Joseph Severn.

The films title is derived from the Keats sonnet "Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art."

Ben Whishaw has been largely aplauded for his acting skills, in film like Perfume: Story of A Murder and as one of the principal incarnations of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. Yet this is really one of his first lead roles that could attract the attention of the Academy and critics and potentially lead to some increased recognition.

Will Whishaw's portrayal of this famous and tragic poet earn Whishaw an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this
Real (Reel) Person?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Vomit Inducing Summer Movies (2009 Edition)

It's that time again for the Vomit Inducing Movie list for 2009. This is the fourth year of this list, and the 2006, 2007, and 2008 list can be reviewed - of course, you must remember this May tradition is sure to mention some flopperoni's but you may find yourself arguing with me about why a film you're sure you'll love is included, or mock me in August because I included a film that was highly entertaining.

So forget the fluffy positive and excited Summer movie previews - I present you with what I think will be the worst, most disappointing, and biggest waste of money we'll see this side of summer. Bring a barf bag because the fact that people paid money to make and watch these films, just might make you sick.

I love the TV Show Scrubs just as much as anyone, but Donald Faison (Turk from Scrubs) headlining a summer movie just doesn't sit well with me. Faison's without Zach Braff just seems wrong, and Mike Epps is not an equal replacement (the plot of this is a action comedy about a wrongly delivered package of Cocaine, also is simply uninteresting and uncreative sounding).

From the director of movie failures like From Justin to Kelly, Boys and Girls, and The Ten Commandments: The Musical comes a new film sure to fail. Robert Iscove directs this film staring Amy Smart and Tom Malloy (also the writer/producer). The title alone makes it an instant inclusion on the list, but the cast and premise of a love story revolving around a swing dance competition makes it even easier to include.

May 22: Dance Flick
Is any spoof really that entertaining? A spoof simply let's audiences rest assured that the genre is overplayed and tired and this movie staring the Wayans brothers about two dancers realizing their dreams through a dance competition first reinforces the inclusion of Love N' Dancing on the list, and any attempt to spoof Save the Last Dance, Hairspray and Step Up 2: The Streets all in the same film has to be painful in it's own right.

June 5: The Hangover
It it so bad to expect a little originality. This comedy looks so tired. Three groomsmen (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis) loose the groom-to-be in Vegas. The film follows a tradition of most of the men-behaving-badly-comedy that's overdone, and rarely funny. Director Todd Phillips continue to make the same movies (Old School, School for Scoundrels, Frat House, and Road Trip).

I think Maria Bello is very talented, but why did she take this part? This is a movie about a depressed lady who hires her killer over the Internet, but she ends up falling in love with her killer. Note, this is not billed as a comedy, rather a drama...Maria Bellow's role as Nancy is supposed to be convincing.

I have no idea why this movie is coming out in July. I feel like it would really capture the February audience. With that in mind, I just feel like something is very fishy about this movie...and when something is fishy, it's usually bad. John Corbett and Nia Vardalos team up again for the first time since the big fat success of that Greek wedding movie. It's the story of a florist who tries to date a restaurant owner.

July 10: Brüno
Sacha Baron Cohen attempts to bring another edgy character to the big screen and with the success of Borat, why not? It's low budget, and big grossing. Not only did it gross over 100 million in the US alone, it also manged to score an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. I can't imagine entire mockumentary style film with this homosexual Austrian character not be extra-extra over the top, and interviews with Ron Paul and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't quite up my alley for this summer.

This 80s period piece is loosely based on the life of real estate heir Robert Durst. The movie stars Ryan Gosling and Kristen Dunst. The fact that Kristen Dunst is in this movie is playing the "beautiful girl from the wrong side of the tracks" quickly puts this movie on the Vomit list.

July 24: G-Force
A movie about guinea pigs trained to stop evil villain from taking over the world with household appliances? Jerry Bruckheimer is at it again and finally Nicholas Cage plays his most embarrassing role yet -- Speckles the Mole.

August 7: Shorts
Robert Rodriguez has to be one of the schizophrenic directors as he bounces back and forth between dark horrific movies (Planet Terror, the Faculty, From Dusk to Dawn, Sin City)and goofy kid movies (Spy Kids, Shark Boy and Lava Girl). Well this falls in the goofy kid movie category. Shorts is about a kid who discovers a coveted wish granting rock. The rock looks like a combination of a gay pride flag and an Everlasting Gobstopper from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.

August 7: When In Rome
Kristen Bell plays Beth Harper. Bell's character pulls magic coin out of a fountain of love in Rome (home of her newly wed sister) and kaboom - the magic coins change her life. And Kaboom, I pass on this movie.

August 14: Bandslam
Missing the fact that no High School Musical 4 is in the works for this summer, then Bandslam is the movie for you. The Vanessa Hudgens movie about a diverse group of teens competing in a battle of the bands competition just sounds like it could give you the HSM fix you've been looking for. If you don't need this type of fix, it shouldn't make your summer must-see list.

This comedy's title is horrible for starters. This movie is about a used car dealership who has a failing car dealership sell more cars over a fourth of July weekend. In our current economic times for the auto-industry this project certainly doesn't sound like escapist comedy.