Sunday, November 29, 2009

Selling the Smell of Faith Hill

You might remember a post I did earlier in the month, "Celebrity Fragrance Industry & 50 Cent's Power."

Faith Hill Parfums is released by the French fragrance company Coty Beauty who already releases a Tim McGraw fragrance. Other celebrity scents by Coty include Shania Twain, Halle Berry, Kylie Minogue, Isabella Rosellini, Desperate Housewives, Celine Dion, David & Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Moss, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Well, it seems like everywhere I look there are adds for this new scent, whether it's on the back of my wife's Real Simple magazine or Walmart ads or on the department store shelves.

But perhaps we notice it more, because when I first saw an ad, I said to myself...well doesn't the smell have a name?

And with it's generic branding as simply "Faith Hill Parfums" I have wished I had been involved in the marketing plan for this project, and I would have suggested that rename the scent Glitter Boots by Faith Hill.

Glitter Boots would be on every one's Christmas wish list!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

End of November Best Actress Predictions

It's time to update my last update to this year's best actress race.

Since my last update of this category in September buzz has shifted slightly, although the central front runners have stayed the same those waiting in the wings are adjusting.

Tier 1, My Current Predictions

1. Carey Mulligan, An Education
2. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
3. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
4. Helen Mirren, The Last Station *New*
5. Marion Cotillard, Nine

Tier 2, Ladies in Waiting

6. Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
7. Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
8. Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side *New*
9. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart *New*
10. Audrey Tautou, Coco Before Chanel

Tier 3, Holding On

11. Hilary Swank, Amelia
12. Penélope Cruz, Broken Embraces
13. Michelle Pfeiffer, Chéri
14. Tilda Swinton, Julia
15. Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Stoning of Soraya M

Off the list from my last predictions: Charlize Theron, The Burning Plain; Michelle Monaghan, Trucker; Emily Watson, Within the Whirlwind.

Most Recent Predictions: Best Supporting Actress (10/25/09); Best Actor ( 11/27/09): Best Supporting Actor (10/26/2009)

Friday, November 27, 2009

End of November Best Actor Predictions

My last best actor predictions where in September.

The best actor landscape has changed somewhat over the past couple months, most notably with Jeff Brides entering the scene and a release of a few more of the films with viable candidates.

Tier 1, My Predicted Nominees

1. George Clooney, Up In The Air
4. Colin Firth, A Single Man
5. Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

Tier 2, The Maybes
7. Viggo Mortensen, The Road
8. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
9. James McAvoy, The Last Station *New*
10. Hal Holbrook, The Evening Sun *New*

Tier 3, The Maybe Maybes

11. Ben Foster, The Messenger *New*
12. Tobey Maguire, Brothers *New*
14. Ben Whishaw, Bright Star
15. Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes

Out from last predictions: Peter Sarsgaard, An Education; Ethan Hawke, Brooklyn's Finest; Sean Penn, The Tree of Life; Hugh Dancy, Adam; Clive Owen, The Boys Are Back.

Where is Rev Billy Talen & The Church of Stop Shopping

Have you heard of Rev Billy? No, not Billy Grahm the renowned evangelist, but Billy Talen, who's "stage name" is Rev Billy.

As part of an activist movement, he uses a choir, revival meetings, and huge theatrics to tour and protest shopping, sweatshops, environmental harm, and the Iraq war.

The stop shopping message of Rev Billy are demonstrated in Morgan Spurlock's 2007 documentary What Would Jesus Buy? which highlights a bus tour Billy and his Stop Shopping choir takes across America. Stops along the way include the Walmart headquarters, the mall of America, and unique Disney Land ambush.

My favorite term Billy uses in this film is what he calls the Shopocalypse. There's definitely some comedy here.

I'm not necessarily the "activist type" but I appreciate some aspects of Rev Billy, even though I also think he's a little crazy. I value his creative style of activism, I think if more activist thought of creative ways of getting their message across using entertainment, I think more people would listen. I also think his emphasis on understanding the consequences of our deal-seeking behavior is valuable.

So with that, as I was out with my family doing some "black-Friday-lite" shopping (no early morning door busters or running over people with shopping carts to get flat screen TVs or anything), I found myself thinking "Where is Rev Billy today?"

Well, Rev Billy unsurprisingly shuns Black Friday and instead calls his "followers" to celebrate Buy Nothing Day. Rev Billy's website says him and his "congregation" will be singing and preaching at Macy's in New York City today.

Below is a picture I found of Rev Billy at Macy's this morning, from an environmental activist who also showed up at Macy's this morning at the New York dept chain.

So, not sure if Rev Billy had any impact over the early morning shoppers? I sort of doubt it. But it's good to see that Billy and his team aren't taking the day off or backing down from the cause.

Happy Black Friday! (or Buy Nothing Day which ever you choose)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Messenger & Contemporary War Films

Have you had a chance to see a preview for the film The Messenger. The film tells the story of the people who deliver the news to the next in kin about the death of their family members in war.

The film stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson as the messengers delivering this news, as well as staring Samantha Morton & Jena Malone.

I haven't seen this movie yet, but it peaks my curiosity. To think of having a job where you deliver families the worst news imaginable. To do with dignity and control and detachment.

In the film, Ben Foster disregards some of these expectations for detatchment, and certainly seems to present a unique humanity in this role.

I'm interested in this story because one of the things that has been on my mind a lot recently is the military. I think it's been on my mind because it doesn't seem like it's on many other people's minds.

When I hear stories about the War in Iraq, or hearings about Tony Blair's decisions to go to war with Iraq and join US forces, or about Barack Obama's plans for Afghanistan, I have recently been thinking of the soldiers.

In recent months, I have been exploring some ideas about peace and reflecting on Veterans Day and the sacrifice and strain on families that is exhibited as we have a war going on 9 years has been on my mind.

So, I appreciate when media attempts to capture these stories.

The box office grosses for contemporary films about the middle east and war have been relatively dismal, even this years critically acclaimed film The Hurt Locker's widest release was 535 theaters and do date only has 16 million dollar world-wide gross.

Yet, I think the fact that these films keep on being made and they keep not being watched tell me something. It tells me that there are people who realize these stories are important. Whether they have a pro-war or anti-war sentiment there are a lot of people who are interested in telling these stories. They're important.

Yet, at the same time, in the same way that most people ignore the war, hardly discussing, thinking, or adjusting their behavior as a country at war, we also seem to ignore these films.

Perhaps it's a message that doesn't resonate. Perhaps it's a message we want to ignore.

I don't expect box office explosions, or even an explosion of critical awards for this film, it might be too small relative to some of the other behemoths we will see squished into the film season for the month of December, but I hope Hollywood keeps on presenting stories about soldiers in war.

The war is real. There are so many stories. We should seek out these stories rather than ignore heroism, heartache, internal struggle, dedication, honor and acts of will.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, Community & Asking

There is something very communal about Thanksgiving. Historically as a celebration of harvest and giving thanks to God, it is a celebration done not in a vacuum, but something done together.

I've been asking myself, 'Why turkey?' And, I'm sure there's some historically significant reason we Thanksgiving is "Turkey Day," but I have to think that part of it is simply this...the time and effort required to cook a turkey would be wasted unless there are people to share in the task.

A couple years ago I mentioned here about how in my mind, no film has dealt with the topic of Thanksgiving better than Peter Hedges' film Pieces of April.

A significant portion of the plot of this touching film is that April (Katie Holmes) is trying to redeem a broken relationship with her family by hosting Thanksgiving dinner for her family, but despite all her efforts, a broken over begins to spoil her perfect plans. As a result, April has to illicit the support of her neighbors.

This film so appropriately illustrates the idea of community that is central to the historical and present concept of Thanksgiving.

One of the greatest challenges of our current time is to search for ways to build community in a society that is naturally tending towards isolation and independence.

And so, it seems natural this time of year to discuss the need for community.

Here's the twist. Instead of discussing our great need for giving as an expression of our thanks and our gratitude, I think we also need to think about receiving and asking.

That's right. Asking.

I think we would be foolish to say that we have everything under control. I think we all have needs, I know for me, sometimes it's even a struggle to identify "what do I need" because I feel so blessed by all that I have...hence the thankfulness we often express this time of year.

But I also know that I need community, and community is not formed as part of a one way street, and in order to even have the opportunity to give, sometimes we also have to open ourselves up to receive.

Perhaps this is the year you ask for help, the year you express a need to others. Let people help you. Whether you need to ask a neighbor to help shovel your drive because of arthritis, you need to borrow an egg for your holiday baking, you're not sure if you'll be able to pay the electric bill this season, or you need someone to talk some things over with...maybe this year you need to ask?

Let people into your life. If you have a need, express it.

In the same way you long to serve and help others who need a helping hand, there are quiet people all around you who might be long to hear you simply ask.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Informant! Some Thoughts

I realized that I started this post a month ago, and never finished or published! It's okay! Better late than never!

This post could contain a few spoilers, but nothing major.

Why does the title for The Informant! have a exclamation mark in the title? I don't fully understand, but whatever!

Speaking of questions, why hasn't this movie been more popular? Sure, it's grossed over it's small (for Hollywood) budget of $21 million, but you'd expect a Matt Damon/Steven Soderbergh picture to do better.

Is it too serious? Hardly.

Is it too heavy? Hardly.

Was there adequate advertising? Maybe, I saw ads (did you?)

But yet, it was kind of a box office dribble.

This movie is fun, it's goofy. It's light hearted white-collar crime. It's the type of movie that is entertaining that you enjoy watching...the type that I feel like will be a DVD success because it's definitely home-viewing-friendly.

Matt Damon's chances at an Oscar nomination for this film intrigue me...his role is comical and non-dramatic, more goofy in an understated performance. I won't complain about a nod, but I won't hold my breathe.

I'm not really sure why Melanie Lynskey was casted at the spouse of Mark Whitacre, her performance is underwhelming.

This real-life story of Mark Whitacre is not Erin Brokovich, nor told in a Brokovich style. I'm sure friends & family of Whitacre are not so overjoyed since Whitacre is portrayed as an absolutly nutty schemer.

Beyond the performance of Matt Damon (or Fatt Damon as I call him in this film), I was so pleased with the appropriate, unique and tone setting score by Marvin Hamlish.

If you ask me, the real scene stealers in this film are the surprisingly enjoyable pair of Scott Bakula and Joel McHale who play the FBI agents investigating/working with Whitacre (Damon).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reel People: Helen Mirren is Sofya Tolstoy

The film is The Last Station written and directed by Michael Hoffman, based on the novel The Last Station by Jay Parini.

Sofya Tolstoy

Sofya Tolstoy (or Sophia Tolstaya) is famous primarily for her marriage to Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, author of such classics as Anna Karenina and War And Peace.

Sofya, the daughter of a physician was introduced to Leo in 1862, she was 18 and Leo Tolstoy was 34.

The couple became formerly engaged in September of that year, and married a week later in Moscow.

One of the stories surrounding their marriage is that Leo Tolstoy presented Sofya with his diaries on the night before their marriage, and these diaries contained the stories of Leo sexual exploits prior to their marriage.

When Sofya wasn't barring children and tending to the family (the couple had 13 children, 5 of which did not survive into adulthood), she was also helping Tolstoy with his literary work. This included copying manuscripts for her husband. It is said she copied War And Peace seven times beginning to end. She also helped document and keep Leo's diaries.

In the middle of her life, Sofya became interested in photography and took over a thousand pictures documenting the family and the decline of tsarist Russia.

After some years of strained relationships between the couple and arguments over Leo's desire to give away all their private property, Leo left Sofya abruptly in 1910 (Leo was 81, Sofya was 66). Leo left with one of their daughters and their family physician Duchan Makovicki, and died years later in railway station.

Sofya was kept from him in this time. She died in 1919.

The Last Station

Hoffman's film tells the story of the final days of Leo and Sofya's life based on the biographical novel.

Alongside Helen Mirren, Christopher Plumber plays the part of the age Leo Tolstoy. Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy are said to have strong roles in this film, as one of Leo's trusted followers and a private secretary of Leo respectively. McAvoy's wife Anne-Marie Duff plays the Tolstoy's daughter Sasha.

Will Helen Mirren's portrayal of Leo Tolstoy's wife earn her critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Little About The 15 Documentaries on Oscar's Radar

The Academy Awards documentary branch has announced their shortlist for documentary contenders for this years award. The list of 15 includes some of this years most raved about and publicized documentaries (Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, Anvil! The Story of Anvil,and Tyson.

The 15 Contenders for Best Documentary Feature. The List will be widdled to 5 by nomination time.

The Beaches of Agnes,
Agnes Varda
: An autobiographical documentary (Les Plages d'Agnès) about and directed by the french director Anges Varda.

Burma VJ, Anders Ostergaard: Out of Denmark, this film tells the story of Burmese protest in 2007 by thousands of Monks.

The Cove,
Louie Psihoyos
: This highly publicised activist documentary tells the story of secret dolphin killings in Japan.

Every Little Step,
James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo
: The story of real life dancers in a revival of the musical A Chorus Line.

Facing Ali
Pete McCormack
: George Foreman, Joe Frazier, and 8 other boxing rivals pay homage on film to Mohammad Ali.

Food, Inc.
Robert Kenner
: Exploratory film about the corporatization of the food industry and the attempt to create affordable food for the consumer and this film examines the potential harm inherent to the business of food.

Garbage Dreams
Mai Iskander
: A story of three teen boys who live in a garbage village on the outskirts of Cairo where they people of the town make money pre-conservation movement recycling the trash they collect.

Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders
Mark N. Hopkins
: Four aid workers with the organization Doctors Without Borders show their own struggles and challenges in the war zones of Liberia and Congo.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
: Ellsberg released pentagon papers that lead to the end of the Vietnam war and Nixon's presidency. Declared the most dangerous man in America by Nixon's security adviser, the film explores his act of truth telling and the role it had in America.

Mugabe and the White African
Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey
: A film about discrimination of a white family, particularly farmer Michael Campbell, and his fight against Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe as he challenges government land redistribution.

Sergio
Greg Barker: A film about the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazialian UN diplomat and humanitarian who died alongside members of his staff in Baghdad in 2003.

Soundtrack for a Revolution
Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
: A film that tells the story of the music through the American civil rights movement. The film features music and performances by The Roots, Joss Stone, John Legend, Wyclef Jean and others.

Under Our Skin
Andy Abrahams Wilson
: A personal expose about Lyme Disease and an accusation about the way it's danger is being covered up by the health system and a warning of a large epidemic.

Valentino The Last Emperor
Matt Tyrnauer:
A film about the life of 77 year-old Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani, ffeaturing interviews from Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford, Donatella Versace, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Claudia Schiffer.

Which Way Home
Rebecca Cammisa:
A documentary about unaccompanied children from Honduras and El Salvador who are traveling through Mexico to immigrate illegally into the United States.

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Education: Thoughts on Women, Higher Education, Marriage and Career

Hello strangecultureblog.com readers. My husband invited me to share a few of my thoughts about the wonderful film called An Education. RC shared his thoughts earlier this week, which you can catch up on here. I can’t promise my posts will be as insightful or as robust as RC’s, truly, I cannot compete with his language genius, but I will do my best to be concise and not ramble.

Before I delve in to my post, I warn you, this does contain spoilers to An Education! You were warned...

First off, I adored this movie. The story line manages to be both heavy and light-hearted while giving viewers a look at the tension hanging between a 16/17 teenage girl's academic education, and her life education.

What struck me most about the film were the changing attitudes surrounding Jenny's (Carey Mulligan) academic pursuits as her romantic relationship with the older, financially well-to-do David (Peter Sarsgaard) became more serious - both from the perspective of Jenny and her parents.

From the beginning of Education viewers realize how important Jenny's admission into Oxford to read English is. Jenny's Dad obsesses over her studies and the amount of money he has devoted to her academic pursuits, just so Jenny can go to Oxford, for which he will pay even more money. Jenny pours over her books and delights in her studies, especially her musical pursuits playing cello.

Enter David. Older, wealthy from his naughty stealing, and endlessly charming, wise to all things cultured and somewhat handsome (Peter Sarsgaard just doesn't do anything for me, but I will give him a somewhat handsome nod).

Jenny spends more time with David than with her Latin dictionary, her grades slip. David woos Jenny and her parents and eventually proposes marriage to Jenny during the last semester of her Senior year of High School. All the while, Oxford seems a lot less important to both Jenny and her parents - David can financially take care of her and, therefore, there is no need for her to continue her studies. As the viewer, I found myself getting really frustrated at Jenny's ignorance and quick desire to throw away her academic pursuits to be a wife, and her parent's desire to upload their "financial obligations" to David.

While Education takes place in the 1960s, in many ways, I think the tension surrounding the desire of increased higher education for women and marriage/family has not changed much in 2009. As a college-educated woman who married at 21 and now has a young daughter, I find myself no longer desiring to complete that MBA I always wanted, and trying to rush out of my office as quickly as possible to get home to care for my family. In fact, most of the women I work with have their Master's or Doctorate's Degrees, successful careers and are now starting families and want to quit their 9-5 so they can stay at home, or just work part-time, to focus on being a mommy.

And you have to ask yourself, why did I work that hard, and invest so much money into an education I don't desire to use anymore? And then I wasn't so frustrated at Jenny for thinking that Oxford seemed less appealing compared to traveling and caring for her husband.

Don't get me wrong, I am a major advocate for women being educated - I am forever grateful for my awesome higher education. I just think that women have historically, and will continue to face a unique tension between their work/life balance that is completely unique to them as a mother or wife. And I greatly appreciated the presence of this tension in An Education.

So what do you think?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Tuohys, Drive by Service, and Thoughts on Giving

The movie The Blindside and the story of Michael Oher and his relationship with the Tuohy's has got me thinking.

The last couple months of the year with the holidays in full force, people are often very tuned into the idea of giving and serving others.

This is good - I make no complaint. There may even be reason to suggest this time of year might even warrant a higher degree of service and giving.

Yet, sometimes I think we often check the box when it comes to giving of ourselves, time, and resources. We say "check" I did my good deed.

And I suppose checking the box by donating a little food to food pantry, giving an old coat to a local charity, and buying a toy for a less-well-off child is not to be scoffed at, especially when done in mass numbers.

Yet, I know for certain that most people can give more.

And yet, part of the reason we don't give more is because we typically only give out of the excess, giving in a way that doesn't really effect us. We grab the food out of the pantry that we don't really like or have no assigned intentions of using.

We may give to people in need around the holidays, but not to the point that we alter the way we celebrate.

And it's in this attitude, that we often do "drive by service."

It's fast, it's efficient, and it's done.

I think that is part of what is compelling about the story of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy who's story of sacrifice is compelling, almost too big to be true, and it's real.

When the Tuohy family invite Michael Oher into their home and eventually into their family, they make a big commitment. They opened themselves up to something going utterly wrong, they took on cost. And not just financial cost, but surely a cost of some of their time, their energy, and their peace.

I think giving out of the excess is meaningful, but that giving with sacrifice is beautiful.

I think we have that opportunity in our current times more than ever.

That is what makes stories like we see in story of Sean & Leigh Anne Tuohy truly touching.

I think we want to give like that. I want to give like that.

Pictured above is the Sean Tuohy, Michael Oher & Leigh Anne Tuohy played in the movie the Blindside by Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron & Sandra Bullock. Photo from Go Memphis.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quinton Aaron on Biggest Loser & The Blind Side Box Office Expectations

So, it seems like marketing for The Blindside is pretty heavy, and Sandra Bullock's name is popping up in magazines, newspaper blurbs, and of course the many trailers for this film.

And in fact, when I say many trailers, I mean many trailers. The past couple weekends if I'm watching a college football game, there is a variety of commercials, and some specifically tailored to a college football crowd, discussing Michael Oher and his college football turned professional football career (University of Mississippi & Baltimore Ravens).

Yet I was surprised tonight watching Biggest Loser (a favorite of mine) to see a Quinton Aaron (who plays the part of Michael Oher) doing his own market-appropriate promoting. In the little mid-episode commercials Aaron with the background of a gym discusses how he lost almost 100 pounds to play the film role and discussed the benefit of healthier living.

There was also a brief snippet of interview with Sandra Bullock talking about how "the story of Quinton Aaron is equally as fascinating to that of Michael Oher" or something of that nature.

Unfortunately, there aren't more details in the little snippet about Quinton Aaron's life, but it was intriguing to me to see again, another form of direct emotional marketing for this film.

Obviously, this film has a lot to contend with, and can expect not to be number one at the box office with the much anticipated Twilight sequel New Moon coming out (speaking of which, if Entertainment Weekly does another Twilight oriented cover in the next three months I will have no choice but to boycott this publication).

Yet, with a strong marketing campaign, a compelling story, and Sandra Bullock I think we can expect this film to be one of the most financially successful sports themed movies ever.

In fact, if enough women can drag there men away from watching football on the weekend to see a movie about football over the weekend, I think it could potentially be the most financially successful sports themed movie ever, it would just have to beat Waterboy's $161 million dollars.

Monday, November 16, 2009

10 Initial Thoughts on An Education

Warning: This post is about my thoughts on the film, and thus will contain spoilers.
1. The opening title sequence surprised me, it created a playful lightheartedness. I think I like it, but I'm not completely sure why. Perhaps it helps connect the surprisingly creative/appropriate title of the film.

2. As the storyline unfolds I got a little bit of a knot in my stomach. I feel like so many dramatic films I've seen recently build up to this over the top shock-value sort of climax that it was nice that this story, although dramatic and with surprises never had one of those over-the-top moments. It felt more real, perhaps that has something to do with it being based on a a memoir. Nick Hornby did a great job as this film's screenwriter as well.

3. I love how this film is "clean." While it deals with some mature subject matters, it's not one that would make you feel squirmy watching with your grandparents. The absence of violence, nudity, and language in a film for adults is a nice treat.

4. I liked how the film took place in London, but I didn't feel like I needed subtitles to understand their British accents.

5. Carey Mulligan is phenomenal and deserves the praise lavished on her. By far my favorite scene with Mulligan was were she confronts Emma Thompson's character and with fear and power confronts the head master. The layering of emotions in that scene was excellent.

6. Praise is really not just for Carey Mulligan this is truly an excellently crafted ensemble. I don't know if praise is best placed on the casting director or the individual performers.

7. If I were to praise the individual performers, I would have to praise Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, and Cara Seymour.

8. Rosamund Pike has such a distinct look and played the role of Helen so well. She plays her "blond" character pitch perfect. I hope to see her in more roles. Speaking of which I'm definitely interested in rewatching Pride & Prejudice again to see Mulligan and Pike in action as sisters alongside Keira Knightley.

9. This film was the type of film that spurs a number of conversations. It was the type of film that in it's complex and simple characters hits on so many real ideas and concepts. My wife and I did not find ourselves short of conversational subjects related to this film. I was most interested in concepts relating to persuasion and our own ability to think we are smart enough to make wise decisions and shrug off logic and conventional wisdom. I loved the way that Jenny (and other characters as well) were not push overs but still ended up being deceived. My wife was most interested in topics relating to womanhood and education.

10. I hope people see Lone Scherfig's film. It's a film worth watching and discussing. It was worth the anticipation and is a welcome addition to this year's film scene.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Best Actor Contender: Jeff Bridges

About two months ago I posted my rankings of 15 best actor contenders and where, at that time I saw them falling in line for the Oscars.

Clearly speculative, these list are for fun, and what makes the race fun is when new viable contenders pop up at the last minute.

That's the way it with Jeff Bridges who's film Crazy Heart, who appears to be a a viable contender not only for a nomination. And who knows? Even a win maybe?

Crazy Heart is based on the the book Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb about an old alcoholic country music star named Bad Blake (Bridges). Bridges comes in contact with a young journalist (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) who helps Bad Blake get back on track with life.

The film also stars Colin Farrel and Robert Duvall.

With Fox Searchlight pictures acquiring the rights to this film and preparing the 2009 release and Oscar campaign, we can anticipate that this film, particularly Jeff Bridges will have a role in award season.

I always love a little mix up and new arrivals to the award season. Welcome Jeff Bridges to the upcoming award season.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Times Top 100 of the Decade & Caché

Call me patient, but I don't understand the rush to release the Top 100 films of the decade, but the UK paper The Times decided to do just that.

Of course, list of this nature are just to spur controversy, discussion, and awareness, and the number one film of the decade selected by the times was the 2005 Michael Haneke film Caché.

If you've seen the french-language film Caché (hidden), you will immediately be able to identify the picture posted above. The plot of this horror-esque film is based upon a family who receives video tapes for an undisclosed person who is sending them hours of footage of the front door of their home.

The mystery, the stress, and the discovery of information that come from these tapes ends up being truly intriguing.

But, I would say this is almost a high-brow horror film, that because of it's various elements including long uncut camera shots and unique story construction can easily make this film not only a praised film, but one that polarizes audiences.

While I loved this film, I imagine it would bore my wife to tears and should would fall to sleep fifteen minutes into viewing.

It's inclusion as the Times's #1 film is certainly interesting, as is the rest of their best of the decade. Here is their (British-centric) top 10 of this decade. (Their full top 100 can be found here)

1. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
2. The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2004 and 2007)
3. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
4. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
5. Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)
6. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)
7. The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, 2006)
8. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)
9. The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006)
10. Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sports: Better Water Cooler Chat

These days at work I find myself shooting the breeze with co-workers around the watercooler, it is likely we might be talking sports.
First of, we don't have a watercooler...so let me correct mystatement and say we're shooting the breeze around the Flavia Coffee Dispenser (pictured right).

Now, I like the idea of the coffee dispenser, and I drink coffee from this regularly, I just wish the coffee it brewed actually tasted good.

As you know, I'd far rather have a discussion about movies like Rachel Getting Married or who's going to get nominated for best actor at this year's upcoming Academy Awards.

But, it's far easier to talk about this weeks upcoming college football line-up with male co-workers, than it is to talk about how I'm hoping to get a chance to see the movie An Education soon.

But the fact is with so many media options, it's hard to have relevant discussions about media in most circles because everyone is consuming different media.

That's what's somewhat different about sports. Unlike movies, television, and books, sports are live.

If I miss a game I want to watch, I'm not interested in watching it later on TiVo or DVR, or renting it on DVD, or watching it on YouTube. No, I want to no the score, the way it finished it up. The intrigue is in the live event and the results. There's no waiting.

I'm not going to go to work and say, "Don't tell me how the game turned out, I haven't watched it yet."

No way! What type of nut would I be taken for?

I sometimes sense the romance of sports in this regard is somewhat waning because not everyone is glued to there sets and reading their papers about the big sports events like the World Series like they might have in years past, not to mention there are more sports channels, websites, and different sports to care about all the time.

But regardless, there are few live events with high entertainment value and low controversy that you can talk about.

So when I can talk college football with co-workers who also want to talk college football, I say, "why not."

Now, I'm not saying I can hang with the old men talking sports on Thanksgiving Day as they compare stats on the Phillys and Yankees from the past 60 years, but I do know, there's something valuable in sports that I have a growing respect for.

One things for sure, I've been to ESPN.com more times in the past year then I think I've visited it in my lifetime. It helps that my alma mater is having a great college football season, so it makes the conversations all the more natural.
Watercooler Photo from AZ Central. Flavia coffee from Revive Vending.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox & My Top 5 Favorite Roald Dahl Books

I'm so glad that there is going to movie version of Fantastic Mr. Fox coming out.

Not that I'm holding my breathe for it to be the most amazing cinematic experience, but because I love Roald Dahl.

Growing up my greatest pleasures in reading seem to jump from the pages of Dahl's books, and Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception.

Last year, I even got a copy of this one for Christmas, oh, how the pleasure of this little page turner came back.

Dahl is goofy, smart, and fun, and writes in such a conversational and surprising style it tickles the brains of children with it's rich creativity.

So, with Wes Anderson's film version of Fantastic Mr. Fox coming out, I thought I would list my...

My Top 5 favorite Roald Dahl Books as a Child

5. The Witches
4. James and the Giant Peach
3. Matilda
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
1. The BFG

[Runner-up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but since I had seen the movie, it just didn't seem as magical because the pictures were already in my head.]

If you have a young person on your holiday wish list, I recommend getting these books in their hands, they'll blow any boy wizard out of the water!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

Here are two pictures I took at Arlington National Cemetery recently on a trip to Washington DC.

Recently, as America has been involved in a long-war with many soldiers going around the world for multiple tours, I've been asking myself 'How do we honor our veterans?'

I ask, 'How can we serve our fellow country men overseas in a real and practical way?'

And then I ask, 'How can we show servicemen and woman that we care?'

Nutcracker: The 3D IMAX Experience (or, Robert Zemeckis Wants Christmas Cash)

I recently wrote about Robert Zemeckis and his filmography. More specifically, how I wish he would leave behind his obsession of the decade of 3D animated classic (Polar Express, Beowolf, and 2009's A Christmas Carol).

And lo and behold the bad news I hear today...Zemeckis is rumored to be working on a big screen adaptation of The Nutcracker.

Yes, that's right, another feature length Zemeckis Christmas movie.

Apparently, his intentions are not to bring Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite to the big screen, but instead a faithful adaptation of it's source 1816 source material Nutcracker and Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffman.

Honestly, I'm surprised this hasn't been done up recently on the big screen. I can see how when Zemeckis and studio execs start brainstorming there holiday line-ups how they could easily be allured by such an idea.

It's practically Toy Story: The Prequel (and because Zemeckis works with Tom Hanks, who knows, this version of the Nutcracker might even have Woody the Cowboy).

So with A Christmas Carol number one at the box office sweeping in over $30 million opening weekend (the first weekend in November, mind you) I can say, Zemeckis is probably wondering why he wasted all that creativity with films like Back to the Future, Contact, and Forrest Gump.

Photo from Voice of Dance.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Billy Wilder Invited To Our House

A couple months ago it was all about Howard Hawks & Cary Grant in our house.

Recently it's been about Billy Wilder.

Billy Wilder was nominated for 21 Academy Awards and won 6 of those, some for writing, some for directing, and 1 as producer (The Apartment).

So, with our recent Hawk's festival in our household, it only made sense to spend some time with the Wilder/Hawks collaboration with Ball of Fire.

Ball of Fire...talk about a fun romantic comedy from 1941. You seem some of Howard Hawk's over the top scenes, with Wilder's gritty-under belly notions all mashed up into one crazy film.

Ball of Fire stars a hilarious cast of old men writing an encyclopedia who wax and wane on love with no true knowledge (with the exception of the widower), while Gary Cooper resist his instincts to make a pass at Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) who's using him to hide out from the district attorney.

So, as we invite Billy Wilder into our living room, I'm excited to catch up on missed classics and revisit some favorites, but I am certainly glad that I caught this film.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Reel People: Morgan Freeman is Nelson Mandela

The film is Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood. 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.

Nelson Mandela

When Nelson Mandela (born Rolihlahla Mandela) was born in July 18, 1918 his great-grandfather ruled as the king of the Thembu people who resided in South Africa's Cape Province.

Rolihlahla was the first member of his family to attend school. There he received his English name, Nelson, from his teacher, Miss Mdingane.

Nelson's dad died when he was 9 of tuberculosis, and went under the care of a guardian who sent him to a Wesleyan school. Nelson still lived the life of Thembu royalty and was treated well. He was interested in a variety of activities including boxing and running.

Nelson did go on to attend higher education at University College of Fort Hare, University of South Africa, and the University of Witwatersrand. During this time Nelson Mandela began shaping his own political ideologies as well as nurturing life long friendships.

Having received his degree in law, Nelson's friend Oliver Tambo and him, set up a law firm. Mandela and Tambo provided affordable legal advise and counsel to poor blacks without representation.

Nelson also was very active in the African National Congress, especially with the political victories of National Party which supported apartheid in South Africa.

Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela was arrested and charged with treason along with others who participated in a non-violent protest in 1956. Mandela along with the others were acquitted.

In 1961 Mandela became the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC which was formed in cooperation with the South African Communist Party to fight apartheid. Nelson became more interested in armed struggle as a last resort in a fight against South African policies.

After living on the run for 17 months, Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962 after the CIA tipped off the South African government to his whereabouts. Mandela was sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment and labor, and was eventually brought to trial with other ANC members in 1963 for their attempts to overthrow the government. By 1964 he and 8 others were sentenced to life in prison.

Mandela remained in prison until 1990, having served 18 of the 27 years at Robben Island Prison off Cape Town. Many believe when Mandela was transferred from Robben Island the intentions were that he was being moved to limit his influence with younger activist who might attend "Mandela University" in the prison.

February 11, 1990 Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison, upon decree of State President F. W. de Clerk. He reversed the decision of banning anti-apartheid organizations and wanted to bring peace within the community of the black majority.

In 1991 in the first meeting of the African National Conference since 1960, Mandela was elected President of the conference (while friend Oliver Tambo was elected the National Chairperson of the ANC).

This was not a time of peace in South Africa, but F. W. de Clerk and Nelson Mandela were devoted to cooperation and negotiation despite violence and assassination of leaders like ANC's Chris Hani.

In 1993 Mandela and de Clerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their negotiations and cooperation.

1994 was the first year for multi-racial elections in South Africa and Nelson Mandela won and was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa May 10, 1994. Mandela made the National Party's F.W. de Clerk his first deputy.

Mandela had a huge challenge in a disrupted South Africa that was trying to bring together the white and black South Africans. One of those attempts was in getting all South Africans behind the Springboks, the South African national rugby team that was hated by black-South Africans.
Mandela also had a number of challenges, but is particularly marked by his attention to problems AIDS in Africa.

In 1998 was re-married to his 3rd wife on his 80th Birthday. His bride, Graça Machel, was the widow of the former president of Mozambique who had died 12 years earlier in a plane crash.

In 1999, Mandela decided not to run for a second term of office retired from the presidency at the age of 80. His friend Thabo Mbeki succeeded him.

Despite retiring from public office, his involvement in politics and the world continues, despite his age and battles with prostate cancer.

Nelson Mandela is currently 91 years old.

Invictus

Invictus
tells the story of Nelson Mandela's early years as president and his role in uniting the country behind the South African National Rugby Team lead by Francois Pienaar, despite the fact that black South Africans did not support this rugby team. The film focuses on 1995 and the Rugby World Cup played in South Africa that year.

In the film Francois Pienaar is played by Matt Damon.

Clint Eastwood's film is one of this years highly anticipated films, and could play a significant role in this years Academy Awards.

Will 72 year-old 4-time Oscar nominee (1 time winner) receive another nomination, even a win for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela? You can imagine there is certainly potential for that type of recognition for his portrayal of this
Real (Reel) Person?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Celebrity Fragrance Industry & 50 Cent's Power

NPR had a great (and fun and interesting) story about the celebrity scent business.

Brian Reed's story, "Money In A Bottle: The Celebrity Scent Business" is really an interesting look at how wide the business is, not to mention why this is an affordable marketing strategy for the fragrance industry and celebrities.

It's interesting to think of celebrities with their own scents. I think of Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jordan when I think of celebrity scents. Taylor's glamour seems to line up with all those diamonds and ruby smells she tied her name to.

But Jordan, I remember thinking "that's disgusting" does it smell like court sweat?

How many celebrities out there have followings big enough to translate into marketable fragrances?

Who wants to splash a little Joe Pesci eu de toilette, Jim Carrey musk, or Tina Fey Ambergris?

Give a listen to the story on the premier of 50 Cent's Power fragrance, I think you will find it an interesting story.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Robert Zemeckis: An IMAX 3D Experience

In the 80s Robert Zemeckis was successful. It was all about the wildly popular stories of the Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Zemeckis, never prolific, directed a handful of films in the 90s, of those, perhaps his most famous film, was Forrest Gump. The film won Zemeckis an Oscar for directing.

He followed Forrest Gump up with Contact, What Lies Beneath, and Cast Away.

And then over the next ten years it'sbeen all about these CGI animated films (always available in IMAX 3D).

In 2004 it was the animated The Polar Express, also presented in IMAX 3D.

In 2007 it was the less-successful Beowolf, also present in IMAX 3D.

And now 2009 it's A Christmas Carol, again in IMAX 3D.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure when it comes to the full package of DVD sales and TV rights down the road, A Christmas Carol is going to be a financially viable and relatively entertaining film. Goodness knows, people don't seem to get sick of the many, many, many adaptation of the Charles Dicken's classic.

And I respect Zemeckis for evolving with the times, he has found a way to make financially viable films for every decade.

But I must admit, the Robert Zemeckis of this decade, who is fascinated with classic stories told bigger than life in a feature-length format with 3D glasses is not the Zemeckis I admire.

Zemeckis created magic with many of his films, but generally this decade his films have been boring sure-beats. Films without risk, creativity, and the type of uniqueness that makes a truly great fresh and modern classic.
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