Monday, August 31, 2009

The 5 Film Collaberations of Howard Hawks & Cary Grant

My wife and have thrown ourselves into classic films, and in the process have watched each of the five Howard Hawks & Cary Grant collaborations.

Below is my take on the film, as well as "her" take on the film.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Her take: I liked this movie the most of the Hawks & Grant films. I think that Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn have a charm together, and that was especially true in this film. Even though the story line is silly and goofy, it was enjoyable.

My take: I love the witty dialogue, and I think while Grant is a great actor, he plays great to a powerful woman who's energy is stronger than his own, and Hepburn delivers. I think what Hawks created in this film is unreplicatable and is just wonderful, there are so many memorable scenes and moments, and the insanity of it all is a true pleasure.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Her take: This movie was painful at points to watch, it was my least favorite of the Hawks and Grant films. There is very little plot and storyline. I didn't think Cary Grant did that good of a job acting, either that, or his character is not that endearing. Jean Arthur is lame as an actress in this film. This story drags on, and I kept hoping and thinking that the movie was over. The special effects were probably impressive then, were extremely unimpressive now, and so they don't carry the film the way the might have in 1939.

My take: I actually thought some of the special effects and airplane piloting tricks were pretty impressive especially for that time. But the dialogue truly is week, and the characters are written somewhat inconsistently. While this film is different from many other films in this time, in it's style and story, it lacks the charm that make some of these other films a little more magical. Even the more emotional scenes don't carry the punch you would hope for or expect.

His Girl Friday (1940)
Her take:
I have seen this one eight years ago. I think Cary Grant does a good job, but I think that Roslind Russell is not that endearing of a character. This one seems more like a period piece with the way journalist interacted with the police and the government, it's okay.

My take: I actually enjoyed Russell's performance, again Grant really benefits from a strong female co-lead. I thought that some of the fast-talk scenes were more refined than Bringing Up Baby, but I wasn't sure if I thought this more refined story was a full benefit. Grant's charm is lacking, but his strong screen presence certainly is not. Besides the phone scenes with the reporters, I actually most enjoyed the scenes with Grant and Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin, Hildy's screen fiance).

I Was A Male War Bride (1949)
Her take: This was not one of my least favorites, but I didn't like the pairing of Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan. I thought that this was a funny movie, it just wasn't one of my favorites, because it kind of drags on at points. I also think this movie is less timeless than some of the other ones with the topic of military war brides.

My take: I actually think this film is under-loved. I think this biggest problem with this film is that Grant is horribly unimpressive in acting like a Frenchman. In fact, his acting as a woman in this film exceeds his acting like a military man from France. Beyond that though, I felt like the writing was fun, and there was something incredibly brilliant in the creative premise, not to mention the scenes where Grant is forced to sleep in the most uncomfortable of locations, it really was exceptional physical comedy.

Monkey Business (1952)
Her take: This was probably one of my favorites, I thought Cary Grant acting, but maybe he just did a really good job playing a dorky scientist, Nutty-Professor type of character. I thought the story line was cute, and fairly interesting. The Monkey acting is pretty impressive. I think Marilyn Monroe's part is kind of lame, and I thought Ginger Roger did a good job playing this role.

My take: I actually was least impressed with this film. I thought it was completely gimmicky with the Monkey's and the story line. Definitely Nutty Professor style. There was definitely a lot less romantic intrigue as well because Grant and Ginger Rogers played a married couple, and so the slight bit of tension created by Marilyn Monroe's character, only seemed slightly out of place. Not to mention, there was a change in the humor from previous films, it wasn't quite as fast paced, and it relied a little more on alluding to sex.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Genesis - The Movies? (Or the Movies that Could Be)

My wife and I just began the process of trying to read the entire Bible in 90 days. The first four days of this project lead us to quickly read through the book of Genesis.

When I ever I read Genesis I am struck by so many things, but this past time reading quickly, one of the things that struck me was the unique stories in the narrative.

These stories are rich, with unique character of all sorts, there is love, romance, aberrant sexuality, some violence, a lot of deception, and family drama. Oh boy, is there family drama.

Genesis on Film: What Exist

Yet, when I think about films that portray any of these narratives, the list of major work is short. It is interesting because in the world of art, these stories have multiple representation, but in film the pickings are slim.


Honestly, the strongest work I can think of is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which is really a Broadway play, but I know there's been film versions or taped stage productions (see Donny Osmond above as Joseph).

There's also the avent-garde Mike Figgis film about Adam & Eve, and his own sexuality that I passed on, called The Loss of Sexual Innocents.

And then there a few Noah stories that are hardly narrative re-creations, Evan Almighty & in Fantasia 2000 the scene to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstances with Donald Duck as Noah.

There's also at least one version of John Milton'sParadise Lost that has been greenlighted for some time, that is set to come out in 2011, directed by Scott Derrickson.

Genesis on Film: What There Could Be

I'm sure there's been other attempts and films that I'm missing...but I think I know there could be something big, something interesting, something dramatic...something that matches the power of Ridley Scott's Gladiator in it's story telling, scope, and style.

I think creation, Adam & Eve, and other Genesis stories would be hard to tell on film.

My two choices for Genesis themed films would be...

1. The story of the Tower of Babel (pictured right is Pieter Bruegel's painting "The Tower of Babel").

The Babel narrative involves the King Nimrod who after the flood and the expansion of the human race begins to develop and empire and desires for people to be together and powerful in one place in stead of spreading out like God intends for his people to do. God punishes these early people by confusing their language.

I think of telling of Babel could be incredible. It could have incredible cinematic style, drama, and the power of a sweeping historical film, never told before with such magnitude.

2. My second choice would be a full blown telling of Jacob. This would include his mother's deception to obtain the birth right and blessing from his father Isaac, stealing it from Esau, with the help of his mother Rebekah, and then the love story of Jacob and Rachel, despite the challenges Rachel & Leah's father Laban places in his way. It could end there with the romance, or continue with his wrestling with God/Angel and the changing of his name to Israel.

Posts in the series: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reel People: Quinton Aaron is Michael Oher

The movie is the The Blind Side, written and directed by John Lee Hancock, based on the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by the non-fiction author Michael Lewis.

Michael Oher

Michael Oher was born May 28, 1986 in Memphis, Tennessee.

The cards were stacked against him from birth. Michael's dad wasn't involved in Oher's upbringing at all and was shot and thrown off a bridge when Michael was junior-high aged. His mother was was also distant, far more involved in her crack cocaine addiction than her sons life.

Michael attended first and second great each twice, and then another school bumped him up to fourth grade without having gone through third grade at all. Most years Oher missed upwards of 50 days during the school year, but the Memphis schools chose to pass-him anyways, because of the hassle and classroom distraction that would be caused by keeping a student back a grade. Michael was enrolled in 11 different schools during his first nine academic years. This includes the 18 month gap, primarily around the age of 10, that Michael didn't go to school at all.

Mike was essentially an orphan. He would crash were he could and was particularly connected with a 400-pound man in the Memphis ghetto named Tony Henderson, or Big Tony. Big Tony had a son, Steven Payne. Tony's dying mom's final wish was for Tony to enroll his son, Steven, in a Christian school.

Big Tony decided if he was taking Steven, he would try to enroll Mike (also known as Big Mike) into the school, Briarcrest Christian School.

Oher was certainly not "Briarcrest material," with a poor academic record (9th percentile on testing and .6 GPA), nor did he have the Christian upbringing and passion that the school was based upon.

Hugh Freeze, the schools football coach tried to help the school view Oher as an exception to be considered. Even with the blessing of the Briarcrest's president, Oher was not admitted by the Principal Steve Simpson, and instead Oher was given the opportunity to try to succeed one semester in a home study program, and if he performed well for a semester, he would be accepted into the school.

Over the course of a couple months Big Tony called Principal Simpson and relayed the struggles Oher was having. Overcome by guilt/compassion, Simpson felt the right decision was to enroll Oher in the school, particularly since his home study program offer had actually hurt Oher by pulling him out of the public school system.

The early weeks were horrible, many described it as though Oher had been in a closet for 16 years. He had no social skills, he couldn't talk, and had no academic interaction at all, and many teachers were concerned with what purpose or impact they were having with Big Mike in the center of their classroom.

Sean Touhy, was a point guard at the University of Mississippi in the early-80s and is the all time assist leader for the Southeastern Conference. He was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 1982 but never played a game with them. In 2002 when he met Big Mike, he was a wealthy (but deeply in debt) business man who owned 60 Taco Bells, a private jet, was a radio broadcaster for the Memphis Grizzlys, was involved in his large church (Grace Evangelical Church), and was married to his high school sweetheart, Leigh Ann Touhy.

Sean and Leigh Ann also have a daughter, Collins, who was a sophomore at Briarcrest the year Big Mike started.

Sean Touhy enjoyed hanging out at the Briarcrest gym and one day had an encounter with Mike, who always wore the same clothes and didn't even money for lunch. Sean Touhy had compassion for Big Mike and set up an account for Mike to be able to buy lunch at the school cafeteria.

It was months later, over Thanksgiving break, that Sean and Leigh Anne were driving and saw Mike coming off a bus in the same cut of jeans and t-shirt. Leigh Anne, a interior decorator from Memphis, had great compassion on Mike and began crying when he said he was going to the gym to get warm.

The next day Leigh Anne left her interior decorating firm and picked up Mike from school to go buy him clothes.

On the football field they were also finding out that this 344 pound sophomore could run, and although he attended practice, he could never play because of academic probation. Not only that, but he had only limited experience playing football, had no foundation of the game, and was very timid and passive. But Coach Freeze was excited about Mike's potential, and continued to work with him. Mike also played basketball and participated in track and field (discus and shot put).

Michael stayed the night with as many as five Briarcrest families, but usually stayed in the trailer of a friend Quinterio Franklin. One night when Leigh Anne Touhy drove Mike to Quinterio's trailer, she saw it, and his air mattress and insisted in that moment that Michael move in with her and her family.

Mike became the third child of Leigh Anne and Sean (with children Collins and Sean Jr., 8 at the time). It was a few weeks on the couch and then Leigh Anne bought a dresser and bed, and Mike was a part of the family, and Sean Jr.'s best friend.

Leigh Anne and Sean would then go on to legally adopt Oher into their family.

With some tutoring and attention from the Touhy's, Michael Oher became an exceptional left tackle on the football field and soon found his name on scouting reports for college. His academic record was also greatly improved, allowing him to play football, and suddenly recruiters became interested in this left tackle.

This was new territory for the Briarcrest Athletic department and Sean Touhy's experience proved instrumental in making sure the scouting was handled in a way to optimize Michael's opportunity.

ESPN's Tom Lemming ranked him as the #1 offensive line prospect in 2004.

With offers from University of Tennessee, North Carolina State, Louisiana State, University of Alabama, Oher chose to go to University of Mississippi (Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy's Alma Mater). This was met with speculation because of the Touhy's relationship with Oher, and it was made worse as his coach Hugh Freeze became Ole Miss' assistant athletic director less than a month after Oher signed his letter of intent.

Oher played at Ole Miss, with much success and accolades, and in January 2008 decided to enter the draft, but changed his mind, deciding to finish his senior year.

In 2009 Oher was drafted in the first round, pick number 23 to the Baltimore Ravens, retaining his jersey number of 74 from Ole Miss. On April 26, 2009 he signed a 5 year $13 million dollar contract with the Ravens playing offensive tackle.

The Blind Side

The Blind Side stars Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher, alongside Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw playing Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy. Kathy Bates plays Oher's tutor. Jae Head plays Sean Jr., and Lily Collins plays Collins Touhy.

ESPN reports that many coachs, including Phillip Fulmer, Ed Orgeron, Tommy Tuberville, Nick Saban, Houston Nutt, and Lou Holtz are all to make appearances in the film as well.

The film isn't necessarily groomed as an Award-season film, and while Quinton Aaron probably won't walk away from the film with gold statues for his role, I would expect his performance as this Real (Reel) Person will impact lives and lead people to tears as this touching and powerful story of human compassion (and the importance of the left tackle) unfolds.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sports & The Box Office

Writing about Clint Eastwood's rugby movie, got me thinking about sports movies.

You know it's a bad sign for sports movie and the box office is the highest grossing sports movie stars Adam Sandler.

Yes - that's right, it's The Waterboy.

In fact we associates sports films as "popular" but I think sports films tend to have loyal supporters who buy the DVD and watch the film on TV over and over again, because it's certainly not about the box office.

Here's a list of all sports movies that have grossed over 100 million at the box office.

1. The Waterboy (1998) $161 million
2. The Longest Yard (2005) $158 million
3. Jerry Maguire (1996) $153 million
4. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) $148 million
5. Rocky IV (1985) $127 million
6. Rocky III (1982) $125 million
7. Seabiscuit (2003) $120 million
8. Blades of Glory (2007) $118 million
9. Rocky (1976) $117 million
10. Remember the Titans (2000) $115 million
11. DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (2004) $114 million
12. A League of Their Own (1992) $107 million
13. Million Dollar Baby (2004) $100 million

It's certainly surprising to only see 13 films, and there are certainly films that I'm surprised don't make the cut.

For those keeping score at home, that's 4 Boxing Movies, 4 football movies, 1 Baseball movie, 1 horse racing film, and incidentally 1 figure skating movie, a dodgeball movie, and race car movie...if those count.

Notice there is no golf, soccer, or hockey films.

And certainly no rugby films.

(Although Clint Eastwood has produced one of the 100 million dollar sports films, and there certainly isn't a precedent for rugby films, so we'll just have to see if Invictus joins this list.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reel People: Matt Damon is Francois Pienaar

The film is Invictus, which is directed by Clint Eastwood, with a screenplay by Anthony Peckham, based on the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation by journalist and author John Carlin.

Francois Pienaar

Francois was born January 2, 1967 in Vereeniging, Gauteng Province in South Africa. He was the eldest of four boys.

Upon completion of high school, he won an athletic scholarship to Rand Afrikaans University, which has since merged to be a premier academic institution that is part of the University of Johannesburg. Pienaar studied law and became a lawyer, while playing Rugby on scholarship.

Francois played at the club level for the English team the Saracens (the Men in Black), and then for the South African team Transvaal (now the Xerox Golden Lions). Pienaar played for this team beginning in 1989.

In 1993, while the Tansvaal's were one of the most successful teams, Pienaar was not only selected to play for South Africa's national team (Springboks), but was appointed team captain.

Piennar was very respected, and even named international player of the year in 1994 by the magazine Rugby World.

In 1995, in the midst of transition, the underdog (9th seeded) Springboks went to the world cup, with great support from Nelson Mandela. The team had many players from Pienaar's team the Transvaals, and although they only had one black team mate, Chester Williams, the role of the teams Rugby success was a unifying factor for the changing nation of South Africa.

In 1995, Pienaar's team met New Zealand in the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final at Ellis Park, and the Springbok's won the championship with Pienaar playing with a calf injury.

Pienaar was a huge celebrity in South Africa, uniting a county and bringing victory to the team.

In a controversial move, the Springboks coach Andre Markgraaff dropped Pienaar from the roster in 1996, partially due to injury, and Pienaar left South Africa to successfully coach and play for the English rugby club team the Saracens Rugby Football Club, were he played early in his career.

During this time he co-authored a book called Rainbow Warrior by Pienaar and Edward Griffiths.

In 2000 Francois retired to be CEO of the Saracens, and stepped down in 2002.

At this time he returned to Cape Town, South Africa were he lives with his wife Nerine Winter and two sons and their two sons.

Invictus

Clint Eastwood's most recent project, originally title The Human Factor tells the story of Pienaar and his relationship on the field, and with political leader Nelson Mandela, particularly in 1995, the year of the victory at Ellis Field.

In this film, Matt Damon plays Piennar and Morgan Freeman co-leads as Nelson Mandela.

Matt Damon has a number of high profile roles this year including his biopic role as Mark Whitacre in The Informant, but it is certainly expected that this film will capture the hearts of critics and film audiences in this political sports film.

Matt Damon hasn't been nominated for an Oscar since his double nominations for Good Will Hunting more than 10 years ago. Will Damon's portrayal of the South African rugby star earn him critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Robin Hood, Sequins, & Technicolor Birthday Cake Costumes

In May 1938 the Summer blockbuster didn't have a sci-fi superhero or cars who turned into weapon wielding machines. The Summer extravaganza was The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, this best picture nominee tells the story of the story of the Normans, Saxons, and Prince John trying to steal the throne from his imprisoned brother Richard the Lionheart.

While this is certainly a classic film, watching this film recently I couldn't help but to be struck by the costumes. So different then if this story were made today.

Notice the screenshots provided as some examples.

First you have Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) in sequins. He looks more like Peter Pan most the film dashing around in his sequins and green tights. It looks like his mom made the costume for a school play.

Second, the royal court looks ridiculous. My wife and I laughed regularly as we gave these characters nicknames...including the ones in the shot below. May I introduce you to...

Birthday Cake, Christmas Goat with Candy Cane, as well as Shamrock. (I have circled these "characters" emblems below).
Finally I have the films female star, double Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland dressed in some of the most unattractive outfits one could ever imagine Maid Marian to wear.
The film had many excellent qualities but the costumes of Elmer Ellsworth, Ida Greenfield, Rydo Loshak certainly give this film, it's own interesting um...technicolor surprises.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dr. House the Movie? Hospital TV vs. Hospital Cinema

The other day I discussed the difference between Police-themed TV and Police-themed films, and how generally this very popular television drama does not cross over onto the big screen with the same level of popularity, and when it does, it often plays up a "dirty cop" theme. Hence, much more crime fighting cops show on TV then in film.

Well, that disparity seems even stronger with TV doctors and nurses.

While we love hospital TV shows, (like House, a favorite in our home), you will not see House the movie. Or ER the movie. Or Scrubs the movie, etc.

When ER went off the air earlier this year I did a post about 12 Reasons We Love Hospital Shows and sure some of those reasons could spill over on the big screen, but not at the $10 movie ticket price.

Similar to cop shows, our week-after-week interest in hospital shows tends to deal with the consistent dedication these doctors show to the field. They want to solve the medical mystery and care for their emergency patient...even at the detriment of their own lives and family.

Perhaps this an untapped film category - or maybe, it just doesn't work the same way.

The closest thing I can think of to a Dr. House-esque type of movie would be a personal favorite from the early 90s...Lorenzo's Oil (pictured above), a true story about two parents who aggressively fight for a cure for the sons rare disease (adrenoleukodystrophy).

And in Lorenzo's oil, the main characters are parents (Susan Surandon & Nick Nolte) not doctors and nurses.

Yet while there is no end to the popularity of Grey's Anatomy, Nip/Tuck, Chicago Hope, General Hospital, St. Elsewhere, Private Practice and other hospital & doctor shows...the film equivalent is nowhere to be found.

In fact there's new doctor themed shows Nurse Jackie (staring Edie Falco, left) on Showtime, Three Rivers on CBS, not to mention the 9th season of Scrubs, which only has the main characters in guest role contracts...so who knows what that will entail.

As for medical/hospital-based film - forget it - UNLESS you are talking about mental institutions, then your list gets a little longer, whether it's classics (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), or films like Girl, Interrupted, or even portions of last years The Changeling.

Otherwise, hospitals occasionally have a scene or two (think of giving birth movies like Juno), but I can't think of a recent doctor or nurse on film worth mentioning.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Police TV vs. Police Film & Brooklyn's Finest

Police movies & police TV are not equal.

Most police TV shows seem to thrive off of solving a crime or a mystery, and while the characters have their own drama and characteristics, part of the gravity towards police television is that these character development nuggets are revealed slowly, and in the midst of multiple seasons of high tension drama, where relationships are slowly developed. Not only that, like medical shows, police characters are usually intriguing because of their dedication to the job, while their philosophy of how to get the job might be different from other characters on the shows, who are equally dedicated, just with their own thoughts and methodology.

When it comes to police films, they do not have this luxury of demonstrating a characters consistency, dedication, and have the time to slowly develop and reveal these nuggets of personal life.

As such, Police films seem to usually focus on one crime and often have a much higher concentration of character development in a two hour period, than a TV show would ever had. This means that the intrigue of film has to be built primarily on the cop (often his corruption) or the magnitude of the crime they are solving, or even, how they are connected to the crime.

I think it's because of this difference that we see Cop-themed television more popular than Cop-themed films.

That's why today we see so many police TV -- The Closer, Bones, Numb3rs, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, CSI, CSI-Miami, CSI-New York, Law & Order, & Southland, among others.

I can't think of many recent cop films that have intrigued me, short of some very heavy films, Training Day, The Departed, and World Trade Center, American Gangster, Hot Fuzz and Gone Baby Gone.

And it's interesting that a genre that thrives on the small screen has such a weak presence on the big screen.

Brooklyn's Finest

Another police themed film is in theaters later this year called Brooklyn's Finest. The film premiered at Sundance earlier in the year, and was the first film to be purchased, although purchased for well under the cost of production.

Directed by Academy-member Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), I can surely expect Brooklyn's Finest to be another heavy film, which will star Richard Gere (pictured above with Ethan Hawke). Gere, Hawke, and Don Cheadle play policemen, facing moral dilemma's as we expect to see in these police films.

The film, obviously takes place in New York, and certainly will have a chance for some drama. The film also co-stars Ellen Barking, Wesley Snipes and Vincent D'Onofrio.

I wouldn't expect this film to be as big as Scorcese's The Departed, but I'm interested in how Richard Gere will do in this role, as he surely has the most to gain or loose by a role of this nature.

I expect Ethan Hawke to do well in this film Fuqua led Hawke to an Oscar nod in 2002 with Training Day, I could see him doing it again...Oscar is impressed with Actors playing police, even though these films aren't favorites in the other catagories.

Understandably so, if it's just a longer version of CSI or Law and Order, why should the Academy be impressed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reel People: Logan Lerman is George Hamilton

The film is My One and Only, which is directed by Richard Loncraine, and is written by Charlie Peter's based on stories George Hamilton had shared with Merv Griffin.

George Hamilton

George Hamilton IV was born August 12, 1939 in Blytheville, Arkansas the son on popular band leader George "Spike" Hamilton, who most typically played at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Hamilton's mother, was a woman named Ann Stevens. Stevens had a former husband William Potter with whom she had another son, William Potter.

George Sr. and Anne also had a second son together, David Hamilton.

George Hamilton live in Arkansas for many years, when he was 12 his nuclear family began to fall apart as his father left his mother for another woman, his step-mother June Howard.

As an adult, George Hamilton revealed on the view that he had sexual relations with his step-mother at the age of 12, prior to his father marrying June Hamilton.

George and his family left Arkansas and traveled across the United States and his family eventually settled in West Palm Beach, Florida for Hamilton's high school days.

Anne Stevens, also had other spouses later including Carleton Hunt and Jesse Spalding.

George quickly left Florida after high school moved to California where he got a contract with MGM.

While his career began in 1952, he wasn't recognized until he was recognized by the Golden Globes in 1960 as a "most promising newcomer" for his role as stylish spring-breaker in Where The Boys Are.

He also played some memorable biopic roles as Evel Knieval (1971) and Hank Williams in Your Cheatin' Heart (1964).


In 1972 George Hamilton married Alana Collins with whom he had one son, Ashley Hamilton. Alana and George divorced in 1975. (Alana Collins Stewart later remarried Rod Stewart, but has since divorced).

Geroge never remarried, but did have another son, his own, George Hamilton (George Hamilton V) with Kimberly Blackford in 2000.

With a variety of film credits and TV appearances to his name, George Hamilton continues to work in the industry, although his trademark tan and personality are more a part of his image now, than his acting chops.

Most recently he has released his own autobiography Don't Mind If I Do which became a New York Times best seller, and included many of his dating exploits including those with Lynda Bird Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor.

My One and Only


My one and only isn't exactly the most formal of biopics, as the comedy feature is only loosely based on the people portrayed. As such, the main character, Renée Zellweger is named Anne Deveraux...not quite Anne Potter Hamilton Hunt Spalding, but close enough.

Similarly George "Spike" Harrison, doesn't appear as a character, but ex-husband & band man "Dan" does appear, and he is played by Kevin Bacon. He is clearly the George Sr. in this story.
From here the cast has many "suitors" of Anne played by Chris Noth, Nich Stahl, and Steve Weber.

But the film is clear, that is based on George Hamilton's child, and the young acclaimed actor Logan Lerman gets the part, of the boy with the mother who's looking for a man, traveling America in her sons.

Could Logan Lerman's portrayal of George Hamilton earn an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this
Real (Reel) Person? Probably as good a chance as George Hamilton scoring a nod anytime soon, although I certainly think Lerman has a lot to gain from this part, and certainly could be a shining star amongst Bacon and Zellwegger.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Julie & Julia - Movie Thoughts

Am I done with the Julie & Julia post now that film has come out?

It's hard to say, and I make no promises.

As I have lunged into the 2009 film season, no film has been so pleasurable to research that this film. At the conclusion of this post you will see links to related post that have led me to read both books this film is adapted from, research both of these women's life stories, and make recipes from Julia's cookbook. It even led me to watch another film related film from the 1940s (Christmas in Connecticut).

So some might wonder...what did I think of the movie?

Two Source Materials - Did it work? Should they have been separate stories? Should Julie Powell's story been left out?
I make no qualms in my review of the two source books that Julia Child's life is far more engaging and interesting that Powell's life story.

Originally I thought the movie was only going to be about Powell, but instead Nora Ephron crafted a delicious treat in covering both of these stories.

I have read some reviews that praise Meryl Streep's performance and claim that the film should have just focused on Child and left Amy Adam's portrayal of Julia Powell out completely.

I say "no." Child's story is far more engaging and interesting, but it is Julie Powell who helps create some contemporary relevancy to this story that makes Child's life work taken on modern importance, and accessibility for any one.

And to be honest, if it wasn't for Powell's work, there would probably be no film at all, and with no film, how would I have ever had thought of researching Julia and Paul Child and become utterly enthralled with their incredible story.

Accuracy to the books?
More or less the story was accurate. The biggest inaccuracy I saw was in the taming down of Julie Powell, and eliminating some of the course language and attitudes that come through in her blog and book.

Additionally, I felt like there was certainly some story-line adjustments for Julie Powell in the order recipes were cooked, and completed, as well as her inspiration for writing a blog.

Who deserves praise in the film?
Praise is deserved by Meryl Streep of course, who is so talented -- Oscar nomination 16 is surely on the way. Streep is amazing for her versatility of roles, is any other female as bankable as her (think Devil Wear's Prada, Mamma Mia, Julie & Julia) what other female is bringing in the dough like Meryl? And not just that, she's 60 years old!

Also Nora Ephron deserves praise for her exceptional story telling - there is a lot of story to tell, and she uniquely ties these two stories together, and with Streep & Adams sharing no screen time, she tells this story is such a logic and cohesive way.

Additionally, I was impressed with Alexander Despalt's film score, as well as the set and production design between the two settings.

Finally, Adams does a great job. And hats off to Stanley Tucci who should always co-star with Meryl Streep (Devil Wears Prada and now this film). They have unique and adaptable screen chemistry.

Previous Post on StrangeCulture that are in some-way related to this film:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thoughts on The Men Who Stare at Goats (the book)

I recently finished reading The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson.

This book wasn't quite what I expected it to be like, mostly because (1) I initially thought it was fiction (2) and I mostly thought it took place in the Middle East.

While it does involve American soldiers fighting in the Middle East, the book is a non-fiction investigative reporting story, and primarily happens at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

The story is interesting, because it essentially revolves around a military program, The First Earth Battalion, which was started in 1979 in the heart of the cold war and covert military action. America was interested in using new methods of gathering intelligence, fighting over seas battles, and exercising American military control.

These methods, as outlined by Ronson through interviews and contact with a variety of people formerly involved with the First Earth Battalion, and Army Intelligence, were often tinged with new age ideology, far-reach psychological ideals, and mystical sci-fi-minded goals. Not to mention Psychic spies.

One of the central "stories" of the book was about Goat Lab at Fort Bragg, and Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon.

Channon is not only is credited with creating the Army slogan ("Be All That You Can Be,") he also created the First Earth Battalion manual, which was to help Army men learn how to be Jedi Warriors who could not only walk through walls, but also stop a goat's heart from beating simply with the power of the mind.

For Jim Channon, being all you could be, was a huge goal, bigger than anyone could have imagined on the surface! And the book even outlines how he secretly met with Bush administration officials following September 11th.

And it is this story of First Earth Battalion that sets the stage for a modern history of military intelligence, and even further connections into later events, including how this culture would go on to breed unique interrogation methods like playing Barney songs ("I love you, you love me") to prisoners, the Heaven's Gate mass murder, and the severe and bizarre range of methods used after 9/11 at Abu Gharib prison.

The cast of characters (and while they're all real people, are certainly "characters") is wide reaching and certainly unique, probably warranting another post, particularly since these characters names are not the same names of characters in the upcoming film version staring George Clooney & Ewan McGregor.

This is certainly an interesting read, especially in a time when the Obama administration wants more transparency and changes in the way military and intelligence gathering operations are handled.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Another Food Writer Flick: Christmas In Connecticut

Julie & Julia isn't the only film about a food writer.

Christmas in Connecticut is a fictional film about a food columnist, Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck). Lane is incredibly popular with her readers as she writes about her husband, child, Connecticut home and hearth, were she cooks up elaborate home-style meals with recipes accompanying the article.


The only problem is it's all a lie, and when her editors boss Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) gets a letter from a nurse who wants to send her sailor-fiance to get a home-style Christmas experience in Connecticut, everything begins spinning out of control, as only you'd expect in a 1945 Romantic-Comedy.


This is truly a delightful movie, while it's premise is certainly food-based, but really it's far more about maintaining the appearance of a lie then it is about the magic of food (think Mrs. Doubtfire more than Eat Drink, Man Woman).

My favorite scenes are the flap-jack scenes.

Yardly: "I'm hope I'm here in time to see you flip the flap jacks"
Elizabeth Lane: "I'm not in a flipping mood this morning Mr. Yardly, Nora will attend to breakfast. Nora, Mr. Yardly wants to watch you flap, I mean flip, the flap jacks."
Nora: "I don't flip them, I scoop them."
Yardly: "Won't you flip just one for me please?"
Nora: "I've Never flipped in me life, and I'm not going to start flippin' now for nobody."

The comic-antics of Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sacall) and Yardly (Greenstreet) are absolutely hilarious. I might just have to watch this again come Christmas time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My 1 Year Old's Top 10 Favorite Books

So, I mentioned how my daughter Linden couldn't sit still through the 10 sentences of Maurice Sendak's popular book Where the Wild Things Are, soon to be released as a major motion picture.

Here's the honest top 10 books our daughter loves -- even though some (like Shapes in My House are far from engaging to me). She will read these or have them read to her over and over again.

I think it's interesting that so many of her favorites use photographs instead of illustrations.

1. Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth and Laura Huliska-Beith
2. You and Me, Baby by Lynn Reiser and Penny Gentieu
3. You're My Little Love Bug by Heidi R. Weimer
4. Shapes in My House by Kristin Eck
5. Andy Warhol's Colors by Susan Goldman Rubin
6. Happy Baby: Colors by Roger Priddy
7. Hola! Jalapeno by Amy Wilson Sanger
8. Today Is Monday by Eric Carle
9. Star of the Circus by Michael Sampson and Mary Beth Sampson
10. Bee & Me by Elle J. Mcguinness

We'll see how her favorite's change as she grows older.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Simple Film, Difficult Reality, Complex Redemption

I wish there were more films like Rachel Getting Married.

Those who have seen this film, can surely attest that Rachel Getting Married is hardly your big Hollywood mega-production. It's hand-held camera style, and it's clear resolute to be unconventional is clearly intentional. This film could not be told so well with Hollywood finesse.

In fact, I think that many films that want to deal with interpersonal drama and situations are better told "small." Some how, by being small makes the film seem more real.

Another small film that has this appeal to me is the film Pieces of April or Frozen River. Perhaps you can think of other films like this as well.

This fly-on-the-wall-production-light style has great appeal in connecting you to these people as three dimensional characters. Neither Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) or Kym (Anne Hathaway), the two sisters in this film, are all victim or all victor, instead there a mixed bag of person that represents how people really are...complex.

And seeing Kym and Rachel and everyone else have low and high points also gives the film viewer to see how in real life there is opportunity for redemption, but it's not all fairies and rainbows.

There's complex redemption. Redemption that doesn't wipe away the past, redemption that doesn't offer future guarantees, but redemption that has hope. And this complex and true redemption is beautiful.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obsessed with the Apocolypse

I'm pretty excited to read Paul Harris' article "Hollywood searches for escapism after the apocalypse" today.

I'm excited about the film The Road because I think Cormac McCarthy's book is incredible, and that the father-son relationship in the film is the beauty amidst the devestation.


Beyond The Road, I'm not too interested in the new Hollywood fascination with the Apocolypse in films like Wall-E, Book of Eli, 9, and 2012.


Harris in his article discusses this with University of Texas at Austin professor Professor Barry Brummett who chalks up the apocolyptic-fascination with anxiety over change.

I find this an interesting theory because the proliferation of apoclyptic films does not neccesarily show a wide-spread fascination, I imagine box-office figures will show relatively dismall interest in the apocolyptic genre as a whole. But perhaps I'm wrong.

But I do agree with the general theory, perhaps people do feel like the world is changing to quickly. Perhaps there is fear about the cumulitive effect of so many significant changes.

And perhaps when it comes to movies like 2012 it's really all about what the article terms "Apocalypse porn" were the trailer alone shows the distruction of Himilayas, Los Angeles, the White House, the Vatican, and a statue of Christ in Rio de Jeneiro.

I imagine all these different films if anything will spur some different thoughts on "the end of the world" and either spur some healthy curiousity by those who don't think beyond the now, as well as some fatalistic fascination by those who only live in the confines of a devestated planet.

I for one, can easily skip them all, with the exception of The Road, which I'm hoping will be an exceptional and uniquely beautiful film.

(pictures from top to bottom: The Road, Book of Eli, and 2012)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Similar Name, Not the Same: Up (in the air)

In continuing the "Similar Name, Not the Same" series...

I present...
Up & Up In the Air
Up: An old man's true love dies, leaving him all alone, and cranky. He decides to fulfill him and his wife's dream by moving their house (with balloons) to their dream destination where there is a crazy bird, a boy scout hitchhiker, and Christopher Plummer with crazy talking dogs.

Up in the Air: A divorced 35 year old man (George Clooney) travels the country firing employees of his large corporation for a living, with hopes of getting one million frequent traveler miles before leaving or being fired himself. Inbetween alchol and relations with women in Las Vegas he fears someone might be stealing his frequent flier miles.

Common theme: Men sometimes don't get a chance to travel if they're tied down by women.

Not the Same: Somehow, the animated kid's film is sad, sentimental, and serious; the live-action film for adults is more whimsical and will be less likely to make you cry.

Other movies in the Similar Name, Not the Same Series:
* Avatar & Avatar the Last Airbender
* 9 & Nine
* A Single Man & A Serious Man

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Grant/Hepburn and New Thoughts on Romantic Comedy

It's been all about Classics in our house recently, and not just classics, but Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn (and movies directed by Howard Hawks and George Cukor).

One of the things I've realized in watching these Grant/Hepburn films (Holiday, Bringing up Baby, and The Philidelphia Story) is that these early Romantic Comadies from 1938 & 1940 are a pure delight.

My wife's favorite was The Philidelphia Story and Holiday. I leaned more towards Bring Up Baby, but I think I enjoyed some of that Howard Hawk's slapstick, while she enjoyed the strong female Hepburn in the Cukor films.

All to say though, is that in the midst of all the other films coming out during this exceptional time period, it is these well crafted romantic comedies that rank up there as a favorite's from this film era.

It might seem odd that despite Cary Grant's incredible acting and on-screen persona that he wasn't recognized by the Academy at this time, and even in The Philidelphia Story was overlooked in favor of Jimmy Stewart.

All the same, it certainly makes one wonder what films will be favorites 60 years from now. It's hard for me to think that favorite films in 2070 would be films like 10 Things I Hate About You, 27 Dresses, Made of Honor, Music and Lyrics, Failure to Launch, or Sweet Home Alabama.

Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps I'm missing out on seeing the genius behind the future's most beloved films? Or maybe the genre's lost that class that it had in the 30s and 40s and instead opted for sexual humor and a lack of attention to style and aesthetics.

If the romantic comedies of today are here to stay, might I recommend we skip movies like 17 Again and Ghost of Girlfriends Past, and find some writing talent and acting talent with chemistry that meets up the standards of Holiday, Bringing Up Baby, and The Philidelphia Story?

Similar Name, Not The Same: Nine

One's spelled out, and one's the numeric symbols. Hopefully Academy voters don't get confused when they are filling out their Oscar ballots.

In continuation of the series...I present:

9 & Nine
9: Animated cartoon produced by Tim Burton were a creepy looking puppet-thing, named 9 (voiced by Elijah wood) comes to life in a post-apocalyptic world, where he has to help other post-human creatures figure out to take on the machines that want to kill them.

Nine:
In the style of a Chicago, Rob Marshall brings this musical to screen about a Director (Daniel Day-Lewis) has a midlife crisis and has to deal with all the complicated women in his life, including his wife, costume designer, protege, mistress, and muse.

Common theme: Life is hard, regardless of whether the world has ended and you're body is a zipped up zipper bag, or if you have to sing songs and deal with lots of women.

Not the same: 9 goes for cutesy with a 9/09/09 release date, while Nine goes for Awards-savy with a November 25, 2009 release date.

Other movies in the Similar Name, Not the Same Series:

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Similar Name, Not The Same: Avatar

Writing about Avatar: The Last Airbender has got me thinking about all the movies coming out with similar titles.

I'm not talking about movies about the same thing, or even with the same character...no, just movies with similar tiles.

And so, I begin the "Similar Name, Not the Same Series" with...

Avatar & Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar (2009): A military man goes to a lush rain forest with ten foot tall blue people. The man lives in a body suit that allows him to breathe and he falls in love with a blue woman.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2010): Human civilization is divided into four kingdoms: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. The fire kingdom is bad, and only one human is left from the air kingdom can unite them all.

Common Theme: Even though they both have love stories, they still probably make bad date movies.

Not the same: James Cameron's Avatar will be viewed as a sci-fi success, M. Night Shymalan's The Last Airbender seems like it's positioned only to engage fans of the TV show.

Other movies in the Similar Name, Not the Same Series:
* 9 and Nine
* Up & Up in the Air
* A Single Man & A Serious Man

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Why Food Movies?

I love food movies.

With the upcoming release of Julie & Julia, I can't help but think about my favorite culinary flicks.

My three favorite food movies...Babette's Feast, Ratatoille, & Chocolat.

All interestingly enough have a strange common theme of French food and spirituality...

Chef refugee from Paris has a chance to lavish extraordinarily decadent French to the simplistic, pious community.

French rat chooses fine dining and culinary skills over low quality scraps, and in the process redeems the art of French cooking and prepares a meal that effects not only the taste buds, but the heart of one of the most critical people in all of Paris.

Drifter and her daughter journey across France were they open a chocolaterie in a strictly controlled religious community during lent, where the woman uses the power of decadent treats to mystical influence the lives of the people in the town, and to challenge their perceptions on faith.

It's interesting, but as I see it, food films usually deal with certain themes that make me enjoy food films.

Why Food Films?
  • Food is an equalizer, because we all eat food, it brings people together that might not normally come together.
  • Food brings pleasure not just to the consumer of the food, but the preparation and giving nature of food also is a powerful experience
  • Food is mysterious, you see it's presentation and taste it, but the best food has a mysterious quality that cannot be perfectly decomposed but deals with the unknown details of it's preparation.
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