Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jaime Escalante - Farwell

If there had ever been StrangeCultureBlog in 1988 you would have seen a "reel people post" about Edward James Olmos playing the part of Jaime Escalante.

Jamie Escalante wasn't anyone you may have known about until the film Stand and Deliver came out that told Escalante's story, a true story about an inner-city math teacher in one of the roughest schools in LA who taught struggling students math and helped them earn passing scores on the Advanced Placement Calculus exam.

Because of the nature of the school and the students there was much controversy over the scores and the passing students retook the test to prove there scores were not earned in error.

Jamie, the real teacher played by Oscar nominated Olmos, died yesterday of bladder cancer in Sacramento. At the age of 79.

If there was ever a reason for biopics it is for inspiration films like Stand and Deliver. Inspiration is far more inspirational when it's real and told in an engaging way.

Jamie, thank you for your story and life. Ramon Mendez and Tom Musca, thank you for telling it in your film.
Top picture is Olmos in the film, picture to the right is Jamie Escalante.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reel People: James Franco is Allen Ginsberg

The film is Howl, which is written and directed by the team of double documentary Oscar winner Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

Allen Ginsberg

When Allen Ginsberg was born in 1926 to a Jewish school teacher father and communist mother in New Jersey it was a different time then the era he would later influence.

Ginsberg was influenced from his father's poetry and some of the unique experiences from his mother Naomi going to therapy for mental illness and as a result, and a high level of social concern.

In 1943 Ginsberg attended Montclair State College shortly before attending Columbia University on scholarship. Here at Columbia, he had the opportunity to meet beat poets including Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs.

In 1948 Ginsberg had an auditory hallucination in his Harlem apartment where he heard various portions of William Blake poetry, that became a defining moment of his life.

In 1954 Ginsberg was a part of the San Fransisco beat scene instead of New York, and here he met Peter Orlovsky, who had been drafted into the army during the Korean war but was transfer off the front by a psychiatrist to work as a medic in San Fransisco.

Ginsberg and Orlovsky fell in love and began a lifelong partnership in their openly homosexual relationship.

In 1955 Ginsberg stopped doing any sort of traditional work on the advice of his psychiatrist, and he focused strictly on poetry.

Allen Ginsberg had the opportunity to meet many of the famous beatniks of the era and established Beatitude a poetry magazine.

Artist Wally Hendrick approached Ginsberg about participating in a reading and October 7, 1955 an event "Six Poets at the Six Gallery" featured the reading of six poets: Phillip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Phillip Whalen, and Ginsberg. It was here that Ginsberg read "Howl." This is credited as Ginsberg's most famous and influential poem.

In 1957, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky left San Fransisco and traveled the world primarily spending their time in Paris where they joined George Corso along with many poets in what was known as the Beat Hotel until it closed in 1962.

Ginsberg helped bridge a gap between the beatniks and the hippies in the 1960s as he traveled in Europe and the United States meeting, reading, and interacting with a variety of poets. Ginsberg also became interested in Buddhism and Khrishnaism at this time.

Ginsberg had gained a degree of fame that continued to grow as he continued to write and publish through out the rest of his career.

At the age of 70, Ginsberg died surrounded by friends as he died of Liver Cancer in New York.


The film Howl will feature performances by John Hamm, Mary-Louis Parker, Treat Williams, David Straitharn and Jeff Daniels.

New comers Todd Rotondi plays Jack Kereauk and Aaron Tveit plays Peter Orlovsky.

This film has been featured at Berlin International Film Festival and Sundance.

Will James Franco's portrayal of this famous and controversial poet earn him critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some Animated Film Thoughts

1. I love Brad Bird (think Ratatouille, Iron Giant, The Incredibles). I've expressed praise of Bird's work before. Bird's next work does not seem to be for the Mouse House or for Pixar...rather live action work. Including a film adaptation of the book 1906 (historical fiction about San Fransisco earthquake) and now discussions of him being on the short list for Mission Impossible 4.

2. Interesting thoughts on what Pixar says about who becomes directors and who actually directs Pixar films can be found here at FilmChat. Despite saying otherwise Peter explains the Toy Story connections.

3. Fletch at BlogCabins is angry about the marketing for How To Train Your Dragon, in the fact that the slug for this film always includes the studios name...Dreamwork's before the title, not only in the artwork but in the advertising as well. Obviously Dreamworks is trying to brand it's films like Pixar & Disney. But I can't say that Dreamwork animation has the same branding strength (or consistency of product) as these other studios - you have success stories like Shrek & Madagascar...and then you have Sinbad, Flushed Away and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

4. The documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty was released this weekend. The film tells the story of how Disney's animation studio almost closed until it got a huge revival with a Hollywood mindset (take popular films like Splash, turn into a musical and you have The Little Mermaid, add digital effects to Beauty and the Beast, etc). The premise of this documentary is interesting, but it looses massive credibility with Don Hahn directing since Don is one of the producers of past Disney films that are covered here including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.

5. Animation is bigger business then ever and there's a lot of options in the market's hard to imagine a time (like the 80s) when animation didn't really have a place at the box office.

6. Toy Story 3 or any other animated films slated for released in 2010 receiving an Oscar nod in a 10 best picture world? I don't see it this year.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Discussion: In The Garden of the North American Martyrs

I had the opportunity to participate in the Faith'n'Fiction Saturday round table hosted by My Friend Amy, below is part of the conversation that was had as we discussed the short story collection In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff.

Pete: ...there are quite a few of the shorts that left me feeling like I hadn't 'gone' anywhere. To my way of thinking, that's the point of a story, to take the reader with you somewhere.

Now, let me say also that I'm often wrong about such things. My first reaction to something like No Country for Old Men is similar. Sometimes endings have to work on me a bit before they sink in and satisfy (and sometimes dissatisfaction is the point, right?).

RC: I think it is interesting Pete mentioned No Country for Old Men, because I couldn't help but think about the story when I read "Hunters in the Snow." I could easily see the Coen brother's adapting this story into a feature film. Here you have this very dramatic hunting story that has some violent and shocking scenes and then instead of having a conventional denouement the story trickles into this very depressing resolution.

Stephen: It really would make a great Coen Brothers film. This line from Tub is pretty important, I think, and a good place to start a conversation about friendship, how it affects how we relate to each other and the consequences of our actions on those around us (see the ending of this story, for example), etc. "Frank, when you've got a friend it means you've always got someone on your side, no matter what. That's the way I feel about it, anyway."

Amy: I'm actually not terribly familiar with the Coen brothers (blasphemy?) I saw No Country for Old Men but don't remember being particularly thrilled by it. I found "Hunters in the Snow" frustrating for perhaps the same reason Kate didn't like these stories as a whole, I kept desperately wishing they'd get to the hospital!

On "Smokers"

Stephen: I think you make a good point, RC, that these stories require you to look deeper at what the author is saying when at first it seems nothing much is happening. Take "Smoking," for example. When I first read it, I didn't really like it. But the more I thought about it, I was struck with how well it explored the tensions of friendship, the temptation of only trying to make friends with those who we think will improve our social standing.

RC: I'm surprised Stephen's the only who mentioned "Smokers." The story of how the narrator forgoes friendship with someone who's on scholarship because he's trying to climb the social ladder, but then when this scholarship boy Eugene makes a key connection with a wealthy influential student he changes his tune, but the way Woolf tells this story it just makes you feel guilty for anytime you've ever tried to manipulate social situations for your own benefit. I thought it really was a fantastic story.

Simon: RC mentions 'Smokers' - I don't know if I'm the only British person here, but 'Smokers' felt the most American of Wolff's stories, to me. Perhaps it was all the slang the main character used (sorry, I don't have a copy of the book in front of me, or indeed RC's email which I've accidentally deleted) and the unusual set-up of sharing rooms. I suppose the themes were universal, as RC suggests, but it all felt at quite a distance from me - because it was so deeply embedded in American culture. A story like 'Maiden Voyage (is that right?)', though obviously also set in America, seemed to me to approach universal themes in a more accessible way for a Brit. I really enjoyed the ambiguity of that story, and the clash of the forthright and shy characters.

Kate: Simon – Interesting that you thought “Smokers” was very American and therefore distant for some audiences because that one stuck out in my mind for a different reason. With all the talk about prep school and getting expelled for smoking, it felt the most dated to me. Which made it feel distant for me too.

Read more from the other participant at these links:

The Quirky RedheadMy Friend AmyStrange CultureThe Fiddler's GunStuck-In-A-BookRebelling Against IndifferenceWordlily

The two primary stories referenced here can be found in their full form online

Thursday, March 25, 2010


"Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts."

-- Leonard Shelby (played by Guy Pearce), Memento

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Double Best Actor Win Potentials for 2010 Films

No male lead has ever won more than 2 best male lead actor nominations. The honor of having won 2 Oscars in the lead acting category is shared among 9 men, most recently as of the 2009 Academy Awards Sean Penn joined this group, winning for Milk and previously winning for Mystic River. The other male leads who share this honor are Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, and Daniel Day-Lewis.

As I see it, looking towards the 2010 season there really seems like only one of these men who stands a chance of winning a 3rd Lead Actor Oscar, and that is Sean Penn who has a variety of upcoming projects including Terrance Mallick's Tree of Life and Fair Game opposite Naomi Watts. Jack Nicholson also has a James L. Brooks film that is too come out as well, and anything can happen with Brooks' films, the title of that film currently is called How Do You Know? alongside Reese Witherspoon.

And like Meryl Streep's challenge picking up a 3rd win, I imagine Penn and Nicholson will experience similar difficulties with a 3rd win.

Tom Hanks, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Dustin Hoffman do not seem to have eligible projects.

While I certainly don't think the winner's guaranteed to come from this list of five, but I don't think it's completely out the picture to think that a 10th actor could join this list.

Here are performances from previous winning actors that could potential lead to a second golden statue:

Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Previous Win: Crazy Heart, 2009
The Coen Brothers do their take on the classic John Wayne film, based on the Charles Portis novel with the same name. In this version a 14 year old girl persuades an alcoholic US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to avenge her father's death. The film also stars Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. Hailee Steinfeld plays the 14 year old girl Mattie Ross.

Forrest Whitaker, My Own Love Song
Previous Win: The Last King of Scotland, 2006
Whitaker plays Joey, a stuttering man who believes in angels. Joey befriends (but also scares) a former singer friend Jane who is wheel chair bound (played by Renee Zellweger). The film also stars Nick Nolte. It is written and directed by French film Oscar winner who led Marion Cottilard to her Oscar win for La Vie en Rose.

Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Jack Goes Boating
Previous Win: Capote, 2005
Hoffman makes his directorial debut by staring in this film, based on and adapted from the play Hoffman stared in in 2007. Jack Goes Boating is written by Bob Glaudini, who also wrote the play. The film is a romantic comedy about a limo driver who likes reggae who changes his life when he meets a Brooklyn funeral home worker (Amy Ryan).

Russel Crowe, Robin Hood
Previous Win: Gladiator, 2000
This performance seems not to far off from The Gladiator win 10 years earlier. So maybe if the field is friendly we could see a nomination, but can you see Crowe stacking a second win up for a repeat performance in a different costume running through the forest? Ridley Scott's retelling of a classic tale stars Mark Strong, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Danny Houston, and Max von Syndow.

Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack
Previous Win: American Beauty, 1999
[Supporting Actor Win: The Usual Suspects, 1995]
Kevin Spacey plays in a thriller version of the corruption and take down Washington DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The film is directed by George Hickenlooper. The film stars Kelly Preston as Spacey's wife. The film also stars Barry Peppers and Jon Lovitz.

Anthony Hopkins, Hemmingway and Fuentes or... You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger
Previous Win: The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
I feel like the Academy would love to give Hopkins another Oscar for the right film, and once of these could do the trick. In Hemmingway and Fuentes, Hopkins plays the biopic role of Ernest Hemmingway in a film alongside and directed by Andy Garcia. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is a Woody Allen romance Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto, and Antonio Banderas.

Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Previous Win: Wall Street, 1987
Honestly, I have hard time believing that Douglas could win a second Oscar for a reprise performance, but playing the same character, Gordon Gekko, 23 years later might earn him a credibility. Although Hopkins wasn't so lucky repeating his reprise role as Hannibal Lecter. But somehow I'm optimistic about Oliver Stone's reprise and think the mix of old and new performers might create nostalgia and freshness all in one film. In addition to Douglas, the film features Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Shia LeBeouf, Charlie Sheen, Frank Langella, and Josh Brolin.

Robert Duvall, Get Low
Previous Win: Tender Mercies, 1983
Duvall performs in one my most anticipated films of the year, a film with a great Oscar pedigree of Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek. Duvall plays a 1930s hermit who throws his own funeral. Duvall is pictured above in this film.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Best Years of Our Lives & Contemporary Period Piece

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Ours Lives came out in 1946 and at the time of it's release was a contemporary film.

Yet it plays out like a period piece, by that I mean, it seems like director William Wyler took special care to make this film capture not only the stories of different men who return from war but to also capture 1946.

The camera seems to linger at times in a way period pieces sometimes do, creating a sense of time and place, paying attention to details of the time not just the characters and the story.

An example of this was a scene in the film where you watch the characters squeeze orange juice and later get it from the refrigerator. Pretty normal scene, but the way these extra details are included seems to make this film a study in 1946.

We also hear about the changes to general stores, feelings about the local pub, and a strong idea about the cost of goods, and post-war wages in America.


I tried to think if there was any film from last year that captured 2009 in this way. I think the closest think this would be Jason Reitman's Up in the Air. This film captures attitudes about unemployment and the corporate experience while also lingering on details of elite status travel programs from companies like Hertz and Marriott.

I think there is something to be said about not just telling a modern story but filling it with modern details that can be appreciated down the road. A film like The Best Years of Our Lives really demonstrates that idea.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chris Evans: Is the Captain America deal a hot deal?

Word on the street has been that Chris Evans has been offered a deal with Marvel to play the anticipated role of Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) in the Avengers series.

In 2008, Nick Cassavette's was to be the director but now Joe Johnson is leading out on the project, but the role of Captain America remains uncasted.

I asked who should be cast in this role back in 2008, and feel like I threw out performers who were older than what Marvel was looking for, especially since Marvel is requesting a 9 movie deal.

It would appear that Chris Evans is the most recent victim of the intriguing offer.

In my mind, this puts a lot of eggs in every one's basket. It would mean Chris Evans, (already having played a Super Hero in Fantastic 4) would basically be signing the dotted line and defining his career by this role. Additionally Marvel would be putting a lot of responsibility on Evans not being a franchise bust (like Brandon Routh was to Superman).

I would think it'd be a tough call for Evans to make, it's a high profile role but I just can't get over the fact it's 9 films. Sure Evans would be gainfully employed, but this would become the framework for which has to be defined.

I'm not sure who else needs to sign the dotted line for the 9 movie, I know Samuel L. Jackson signed his name to the 9 movie contract to play Nick Fury for the Avenger film franchise...but it's really an incredibly ambitious project.

Other rumors floating out in Captain America land include Channing Tatum, Mike Vogel, and Garrett Hudlund.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reel People: Julia Roberts is Elizabeth Gilbert

The film is Eat, Pray, Love popular memoir with the same title by Elizabeth Gilbert, with the same title. The film is written and directed by Glee & Nip/Tuck director/producer Ryan Murphy.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert was born in Connecticut in 1969. Her sister and parents grew up on a Christmas tree farm. Her father was a chemical engineer and her mother a nurse, and together they all had a love for reading and writing.

When Gilbert graduated from high school she attended New York University where she received a degree in political science in 1991.

After graduating she traveled around the country taking a variety of jobs and writing stories. Esquire published one of her short stories, Pilgrims in 1993.

By 1997, after writing for a variety of national magazines (SPIN, Real Simple, Allure, GQ) many of her travel experiences helped shaped the stories in her first book, a short stories collection called Pilgrims.

In 2000, one of Gilbert's GQ articles about personal experiences working at a woman run NYC bar became the basis for the film Coyote Ugly.

Gilbert also wrote a novel and a biography before her best selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love was published in 2006.

This memoir begins with Elizabeth explaining at 32 how despite her success how she was also depressed with her relationship with her husband Michael Cooper.

With an advance from Penguin house publishing the 32 year old began to travel telling the story we find in Eat, Pray, Love. The story in the year of Gilbert's life following the divorce of her husband and a failed relationship with another man named David. Gilbert decides to travel first to Italy for four months (Eat), then India for four months (pray), and then Indonesia for four months (love).

Elizabeth did end up remarrying a man named Felipe from Brazil who she fell in love with, and despite her opposition to marriage, ended up marrying him in order to help establish Felipe's citizenship. This is the topic of her most recent book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.

Elizabeth's husband Michael Cooper's side of the story is to be published in July of this year in the memoir The Husband: One Man's Story of Moving In, Moving Out, and Moving On.

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat Pray Love will tell the story of Elizabeth's travels as told in her very successful memoir.

Julia Roberts will play the lead part of Elizabeth, while James Franco will play her lover she had around the time of her divorce and following. Javier Bardem will play the part of her current husband Felipe. The film also features Billy Crudup and recent Academy Award Nominees Richard Jenkins and Viola Davis.

Audience loved the book and love Julia Roberts so this film will certainly be one of the successful films of summer.

Will Julia Roberts' portrayal of this wandering writer earn her critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reel People: Naomi Watts is Valerie Plame Wilson

The film is Fair Game, directed by Doug Liman and adapted from Valerie Plame Wilson's memoir Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government.

Valerie Plame Wilson

Valerie Plame was born in Alaska at Elmendorf Air Force Base April 19, 1963. Her father as a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force, and there family eventually ended up in Pennsylvania where Valerie not only graduated from high school, but also attended Pennsylvania State University in 1985 with a BA in advertising.

Plame was interested in joining the CIA, as was her boyfriend and husband Todd Sesler. Plame's marriage to Todd Sesler was short, and it is believed that Plame's interest in the CIA exceeded that of her husband.

After joining the CIA she studied in Europe where among earning two master's degrees by 1991, she was also speaking French, German and Greek.

Plame as undercover in the CIA using her real name worked in a counter-proliferation role, in Athens and then in Brussels at the front company Brewster Jennings & Associates.

In 1997, her role was being shifted to working at Langley in Virginia. During this time she met former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, and because she couldn't reveal her identity to her husband early on and instead claimed to be energy trader based out of Brussels, Belgium. He was separated from his wife of 12 years, a French diplomat, and they began dating.

Plame did reveal her secret identity to Wilson and they got married to one another in 1998.

Wilson and Plame had twins, Trevor and Samantha in 2000. (Wilson had twins in his first marriage in 1975 as well).

Plame's work continued after giving birth traveling across Europe in a variety of top secret capacities, included managing spies and working to keep Iran and Iraq from getting nuclear weapons.

On July 14, 2003, Robert Novak named Valerie Plame in a column "Mission to Niger." This article effectively ended her career with the CIA.

It is believed that this information was provided to Novak as retribution for opinion articles that Joseph Wilson had written for the New York Times that claimed that George Bush misinterpreted information that led to the invasion of Iraq.

This became a giant investigation into the leak that led to Dick Chenney's chief of staff I. Lewis Libby, Dick Chenney's Chief of Staff which was taken to the court in United States v. Libby. The was convicted, but Bush commuted his sentence eliminating the jail time associated with his charge.

The Wilson's also filed a civil suit in 2007 against Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage and Libby. This case was dismissed despite appeals. But was further discussed by the House Oversite Committee, that confirmed that sharing this classified information of her identity with the CIA was prohibited.

After Plame's identity was revealed, Valerie, Joseph and their two children moved to Palisades in Washington D.C.

Fair Game

Much has been written and discussed about this situation, and of course, the intrigue associated with CIA operations always makes these stories interesting but complicated at the same time. All the same, Valerie's memoir serves as a good tool for story telling although there has been efforts and lawsuits to block certain information into the story.

This film stars Naomi Watts as Valerie and Sean Penn as her husband Joseph Wilson.

Will Naomi Watt's portrayal of this exposed member of the CIA earn her critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Real (Reel) People Win Oscars: 2010 Edition

When it comes to win an Academy Award, recent years have shown that not any bio-pic performance means a guaranteed nomination, but if you get nominated for your performance playing a real person, then there is a good chance you will win.

Of the past 10 years (20 Lead Actor/Actress winners), 12 of these winners have won for playing real life people. That's 60% of winners since 2000.

• In 2009 Sandra Bullock played a surprise hero as the Southern mother Leigh Ann Tuohy and won for Best Actress.
• In 2008 Sean Penn played controversial politician Harvey Milk and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
• In 2007 Marion Cotillard played French singer Ediath Piaf and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2006 Helen Mirren played Queen Elizabeth II and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2006 Forrest Whitaker played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and won the Oscar for Best Actor
• In 2005 Reese Witherspoon played country music celeb June Carter and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman played author Truman Capote and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
• In 2004 Jamie Foxx played musician Ray Charles and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
• In 2003 Charlize Theron played prostitute/serial killer Aileen Wuornos and won the Best Actress oscar.
• In 2002 Adrien Brody played Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and won the Best Actor oscar.

• In 2002 Nicole Kidman played author Virginia Woolf and won the Best Actress oscar.
• In 2000 Julia Roberts plays the unlikely activist Erin Brokovich and won the Best Actress oscar.

The non-biopic winners: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Kate Winslet (The Reader), Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), Sean Penn (Mystic River), Denzel Washington (Training Day), Halle Berry (Monster's Ball), Russell Crowe (Gladiator).

I will add films to this list as the post go up, but a few performances previously discussed appear to be 2010 eligible.

2010 Real (Reel) People Performances:

Reel People: Hiam Abbass is Hind Husseini
Reel People: Jesse Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg
Reel People: Colin Firth is King George VI
Reel People: James Franco is Allen Ginsberg
Reel People: James Franco is Aron Ralston
Reel People: Aaron Johnson is John Lennon
Reel People: Diane Lane is Penny Chenery
Reel People: Haley Joel Osment is Helmuth Hübener
Reel People: Julia Roberts is Elizabeth Gilbert
Reel People: David Strathairn is William J Flynn
Reel People: Hilary Swank is Betty Anne Waters
Reel People: Mark Wahlberg is "Irish" Micky Ward
Reel People: Naomi Watts is Valerie Plame Wilson
Reel People: Rachel Weisz is Hypatia
Reel People: Rachel Weisz is Kathryn Bolkovak

See the 2009, 2008 and 2007 Real (Reel) People projects.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kate & Sam

I like Kate Winslet. I like Sam Mendes. And despite the lack of "celeb gossip" you typically find here at StrangeCulture, I must say something. I'm sad to hear that E!Online is reporting that they have separated from one another, as reported by a mutual lawyer, Keith Schilling.

All the same, I'm not surprised.

I thought I would quote a thought I shared in January 2009 after Kate Winslet's speech when she won the globe for Revolutionary Road:

In Winslet's win for Revolutionary Road her praise for Leonardo DiCaprio seemed to far outshine her praise for her director-husband Sam Mendes. It honestly felt a little uncomfortable. Sorry can't love Leo "with all your heart" and also love your husband with all your heart as well.

--RC of StrangeCulture: 10 Thoughts on 66th Golden Globes Ceremony

I feel a little guilty for writing that now that they are no longer together, but there is something to be said for the way you speak about your spouse in public that people can see through, and it's too bad that it didn't work for this very talented couple.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weighing in on Health Care: Rationing & Increasing Health

The last thing the world really needs is one more person sharing their thoughts on health care.

America's health care reform effort, led primarily under the White House initiative of Barack Obama will certainly be the discussion of text book authors and college political science classes for ages.

Not just for the initiative and the results (whatever those may be) but because of the process, the successes, the failures, and the politics behind a health care bill that's page count grows by the month.

Yet for all the talk, the summits, and the discussion I continue to feel after well over a year of talk that the point of it all has been missed.

Health Care Rationing.

Whether we like the idea or not, health care is rationed. There is only so much health care that is available.

In some countries health care is rationed by money, if you have a lot of money you can get the health care you need, while the poor are without. In other places, government health care is provided, but certain services are excluded and only certain procedures are available to the general public, perhaps those deemed most medically accessory and involving life sustainability. And in other places, health care is rationed by systems that involve long waits in health clinics or on waiting lists to receive the prescribed services as available.

The fact of the matter is that health care like everything else is a limited resource, not a finite resource and the government wants to play a role in determining how health care will be divided out in a way that does not exclude people from the system simply due to market forces.

Of course, there in lies the debate. Most people are somewhere on the spectrum that would deny someone basic medical care because they have limited financial resources, but how does the system accommodate for this? What care should be provided to those who can't afford it, and how will it get paid for.

My thoughts, Increasing Health

Yet, here is were to me, the conversation has continued to get bogged down. When discussing policy (which is only part of the conversation, as so much of the conversation is about the process of passing the bill, rather than the policy that it will implement) the discussion focus on the what is distributed and how it will get paid for, operating under the mindset that health care is a fixed resource, not with the ability to increase or decrease.

Thinking economically, I wish that instead of just determining how to ration health that the conversation instead would focus more on how to increase health.

If there was more doctors, more medicine, more health care facilities, more nurses, more intellectual capital, then there would be more health, and the cost of health care could potentially decrease and be increasingly available so their would be a decreased need to ration and a decreased bottom line to cover the cost of insuring more people.

In my mind some of the key ways of increasing health would include making it more affordable for individuals to enter the medical field and to practice medicine. What if there were more scholarships at public universities that would allow people to get their degree in medicine to provide medicine in rural and economically depressed communities. If physicians didn't enter the field with thousands of dollars of medical debt they might be willing to work in less profitable fields for lower wages.

What if medical malpractice insurance was less expensive, and there was better caps on what doctors could be sued for? The cost of medicine would decrease dramatically.

Sure these are not final solutions, and there are aspects about the health debate that are messy but good conversations to have, but I think this component of the discussion is grossly ignored.

Instead of just looking to insurance companies, dollars and cents, who's covered, what's covered, and how's it covered, let's look beyond that. Let's look at how we can increase health, not just how we can divvy it out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Clint, Cecile & Peter - Hereafter

When I look at the past 10 years and Clint Eastwood's has had a pretty robust catalogue of work...and because his past three films have made only limited impact on the award scene (and the social scene) part of feels like his name is less meaningful, as if he's working a film assembly spitting out movies left and right.

(Changeling, Gran Tarino & Invictus all had some success, but didn't seem to live up to expectations).

But I have to give the guy a break and there's something interesting to me about his next picture called Hereafter.

Part of it is Cecil.

Cecile de France is one of Eastwood's stars in his next film. I am curious in this role he's placed the Belgium actress in, because frankly, Eastwood's past films all seem heavily male, only Million Dollar Baby and Changeling had a female leads, and with award recognition for both of these leads, he might be underselling one of his skills.

So, what does it mean to see a female lead in Clint Eastwood's lens. This is no Space Cowboys, or film about classic cars, soccer players, cowboys, or modern day mobsters with baggage.

Rather Cecil de France plays a french television journalist who survives a natural disaster.

She's one of three main characters who story's collide in a Crash type format with a supernatural element. The other big name co-star is Matt Damon who plays the part of a psychic mechanic.

I'd be skeptical, but the film is written by one director who has demonstrated a true talent for telling stories, and recently seems equally as busy as Clint spitting out respectable projects like it's no big deal.
That screenwriter is Peter Morgan who has brought us recently The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, and Frost/Nixon (as well as the 2011 installment of James Bond)

Hereafter seems like a different project for Morgan (for starters it's not a biopic about English royalty, nor does it star Michael Sheen), and for that I'm excited.

Clint seems to have assembled an interesting crew and I'm interested see this trio particularly working together.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Now What? Best Actress Edition

So, the Oscar went to an American Sweatheart with a filmography that's recently tended towards romantic-comedy (Bullock), an Actress who probably is so sick of being in Oscar-contender films and probably after last night just wants to retire (Streep), a woman's career has blossomed with age but could be over exposed (Mirren), a fresh newcomer with big expectations (Mulligan), and a new comer who for various reasons might have a rough time finding another mainstream part (Sidibe).

So...who will we see again in 2010 films? And what direction are they going next.

Sandra Bullock isn't have a project change, she's currently attached some "more of the same" comedies including One of the Guys about a girl who throws off her male friends when she embraces her feminine side, a Christmas film called Jingle. And a romantic comedy called The Sprinkler Queen. Needless to say, she hasn't been signing up for The English Patient 2. Honestly, I think that's a good call in her current stardom and establishing a continued Bullock brand that people are interested in.

Meryl Streep's schedule seems light right now. Honestly, what role would she want at this point? I've read some that she will be in an Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) film called Downsizing, but Payne has three other films in the works so I'm guessing Streep will have another film leap-frog this one, but she'll probably want to eat a couple tubs of Ben and Jerry's ice cream before she picks up another script.

Helen Mirren packs a schedule some films already in the can, including The Debt by Shakespeare in Love director John Madden, the story of a Nevada brothel directed by husband Taylor Hackford (Love Ranch), Julie Taymor's version of Shakespeare's The Tempest playing Prospero, voice work in Zack Snyders Legend of the Guardians, Bruce Willis vehicle Red, and an expected performance in Hungarian director Istvan Szabo's directoral adaptation of The Door. I read this saying that Helen Mirren will say yes to anything she can fit into her schedule by any director who any sort of name.

Carey Mulligan seems like she has a great chance to get some prime roles. She wll be in the film Brighton Rock with Helen Mirren, Oliver Stone's anticipated Wall Street sequel Money Never Sleeps (Mulligan will play Winnie Gekko). There's also the film I'm anticipating, Never Let Me Go based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Were else Mulligan goes, we'll see, but I have a feeling we'll see her at another award show before long.

Gabourey Sidibe seems like a great girl, but I'm not sure how she fits in the Hollywood scene. She has gotten some type of role on Showtime's drama "The Big C" alongside with Oliver Platt and Laura Linney, but not sure on the size of the role. She also has a role in the film Yelling to the Sky by first time writer/director Victoria Mahoney.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Oscar Ceremony in Brief

Enjoyable Oscar telecast, not too many surprises in the acting races, although a few categories kept us guessing, but as predicted when I made the above graphic back in January, the winners were clearly a consistent bunch this season.

As for what I'm sure people will talk about is the overwhelming love for The Hurt Locker. 6 Wins of their 9 nominations vs. it's perceived competitor, Avatar with 3 out of 9.

As for my predictions, this year I got 17 out of 24, and accepting the fact I will never guess the best foreign language category.

Hope you enjoyed the show, and I imagine many people will be watching The Hurt Locker this week if they hadn't caught it previously, as one of the lowest box-office performers of all 10 nominees. Fortunately it's out on DVD.

18 Films That Weren't: 2009 Films That Didn't Live Up To Expectations

This post is not about the lowest box office take, or the films with the worst critical response. Or even whether I like them or not.

Instead this is a ranking of the films that a year ago people were buzzing about for Oscar glory, and that will likely warrant hardly a peep at this year's ceremony.

This doesn't mean that they were bad films, but rather they didn't live up to their high expectations.

17 & 18. Greenzone/Shutter Island - These were two films I figured would come into play in at tomorrow's Oscar ceremony. Both film with respected director (Paul Greengrass & Martin Scorcese) with respectable cast. And yet...they were moved to early 2010.

16. The Young Victoria - I think everyone is waiting for Emily Blunt to have a breakout role and score herself an Oscar nomination. It seemed like playing the young queen in a biopic would be the winner. She previously fit in with "the crowd" of Tucci, Hatheway, & Streep in Devil Wears Prada and since then she's picked up little awards and accolades here, but never had the right role to take the prize. Despite critical prizes and satellite noms, she struck out for Oscar's art branches still gave it three nominees but Blunt wasn't in the picture. Nor were any of the other performers.

15. Away We Go - I was intrigued by this project and the cast. Sure John Krasinski and Maya Rudolf aren't, but Sam Mendes is. I appreciated his departure from a typically heavy handed suburban story, and yet this film wasn't.

14. (500) Days of Summer
- How can this film get so much hot & cold love. You would have though early summer that this film was a shoe-in for the original screenplay nod. But was completely shut out at the Oscars. Not a single nod.

13. State of Play - After Michael Clayton came out, I was sure Tony Gilroy would be a name we'd have to reckon with and here again and again. But with two lackluster projects this year, Duplicity & State of Play, I feel like his name might disappear back into the world of ice skating sequels. State of Play was actually an alright film, but it's pretty sad when Rachel McAdams is the best performer in a film staring Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Ben Affleck, and Jeff Daniels.

12. The Soloist
- Once it got bumped from the 2008 schedule, you knew there was concerns, but it still baffles me how Joe Wright, director of Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, could create a film with two hot actors, Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx and end up with a film without a single critical award. A biopic none the less. Wright should go back to the drawing board before he does his next project.

11. Bruno - Sacha Baron Cohen had love, love, and more love for 2007's Borat...but the opposite was true of this project. This film was on no-one's short list for another original screenplay nod, nor an actor nod. A complete strike out. Fine by me, but it seems like Cohen's Oscar love was a one time phenomonon.

10. Capitalism: A Love Story - Besides the fact it wasn't short listed in the documentary race, there was time when people though Michael Moore's documentary would jump into the top 10 of the year. But of all the films Moore has ever done this one seemed the least discussed, watched, and cared about.

9. Public Enemies - Michael Mann is one of this directors you always want to consider will show up at the Oscars, and that his films will have some punch that attracts people either to the characters, editing, sound, screenplay, or something. Yet, this film came and went and didn't even show up as a bleep on Oscar's radar.

8. Bright Star - Abbie Cornish, Abbie Cornish, Abbie Cornish. Well before this film came out it seemed like Abbie was a lock as the new young thing that was going to finally get her day of critical love and joy with awards raining from heaven. Yet Jane Champion's film's intrigue waned almost instantly as that release date came close and this film ended up just being one of those sideline costume nominees.

7. Invictus - The two leads in this bio-pic got nods (Matt Damon & Morgan Freeman) but neither are expected to win, and beyond that, people expected more. In the early days (let's call it Spring 2009) we would call this film "The Human Factor" and it was the film to beat. Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela seemed like the baitiest award performance of all, one that we've been waiting for since Mandela was to star in The Long Walk to Freedom. And this was Clint Eastwood and his powerhouse. Yet Clint Eastwood seems to be loosing his street-cred and this film couldn't even make a best picture nominee in a year with 10 nominations...something that was early in the season considered impossible.

6. Where The Wild Things Are - Spike Jonze won over hearts and minds with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Yet somehow despite huge advertising compaigns and hype this film this film polarized audiences, occasionally picked up critical support, and lost enthusiasm by fans quickly.

5. Creation
- I was intrigued with the film about Charles Darwin's moral battles until everyone was talked about what a bore of a movie this was. I still might rent it and give it my own vote, but as for now it seems like a bomb of a film in the eyes of anyone I've heard talk about it.

4. Nine - Rob Marshall swept the awards with Chicago, and Daniel Day-Lewis seems like he's the Academy voter's secret crush, plus you have an award studded cast that plays off all the Oscar's favorite women like Dame Judi, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, and Sophia Loren. And yet...Cruz was the only actress who slipped in, and Rob Marshall's name is shown nowhere on the awards lineup, nor did the film even make the 10 nominee best picture line-up.

3. The Lovely Bones - Every actor in this category was tossed around as a potential nominee, and as an adaptation of best selling novel with some spiritual themes directed by Peter Jackson there was always the potential of a bust, but hopes were high a year ago. Saorise Ronan was tossed around as a potential nominee back in the time when everyone thought that the average age of the actress race this year would be in the teens/low-twenties with Meryl Streep pulling up the average (Ronan, Cornish, Sidibe, Mulligan and Streep). But in the end Stanley Tucci got the nod, and some even attribute that nod to his Julie & Julia work, so this film in some eyes only has half a nomination.

2. Amelia - Mira Nair's biopic of Amelia Earhart was an absolute strike out. You would think the world would love an Amelia film, but something about this didn't click with critics or audiences and ended up being one of the biggest surprise bust of the year in my opinion.

1. The Road - This film was hyped for awards in 2008, and then was moved to end of year 2009 and still was a bust. Adapting Pulitzer Prize winning fiction has it's challenges, and perhaps one of the most lauded books of the decade wasn't meant for adaptation, at least not like this. Great cast, and bleak sets couldn't push this film into the hearts and minds of anyone and didn't match any one's earliest expectations or excitement.

30th Anniversary of Coal Miner's Daughter

Released March 7, 1980 (30 years ago today) is one of my surprisingly favorite films. And certainly my favorite film of the year 1980...the film is Coal Miner's Daughter directed by Michael Apted.

I say surprisingly a favorite, because prior to watching Coal Miner's Daughter, I knew nothing about Loretta Lynn whom the biopic is based, and because I feel like musician bios all seem the same...usually a surprise rise, a fall, and a settling somewhere in the middle.

Not to say that the Loretta Lynn story doesn't have those same characteristics, but I think the character of Loretta Lynn is different because there is this strange yin and yang of a weak submissive woman and a strong take on the world woman all wrapped up in one person. Not only that but Sissy Spacek captures this magic wonderfully, particularly playing a character over a variety of ages.

Sissy Spacek deserves her Oscar win for this role. And while this film was nominated for many other Academy Awards, I think retrospectively, it might have deserved some additional wins.

In addition to Spacek's tremendously captivating performance, I think Tommy Lee Jones makes this movie a success as well. His character is stressful, tense, and emotional. The way his character is written carries the same strength/weakness balance of Spacek's character and so he responds in just the dramatic way at every turn to make for an interesting story. One that is supporting, frustrating, and intense.

So while you have music in the story, you also have the story of a couple, both of them too young for what they are taking on and struggling as they change.

I'm glad I watched this film, and as it celebrates the 30th anniversary of it's release I say happy anniversary, I hope that people continue to watch this movie. I think it is a great film.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Imagining the Oscars: My Predictions

It's that time of year...and I have to put in my predictions...there's a lot of things I think are guaranteed...but I always feel so compelled to suggest a surprise...I don't know why. I feel like it could be an Avatar sweep, but I'm hoping the awards won't match the hype.

Picture: The Hurt Locker
Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blindside
Supporting Actor: Cristoph Walz, Inglourious Basterds
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Original Screenplay: The Hurt Locker
Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Cinematography: Avatar
Art Direction: Avatar
Costume Design: Coco Before Chanel
Editing: The Hurt Locker
Sound: Avatar
Sound Editing: Avatar
Visual Effects: Avatar
Make-up: Star Trek
Original Song: "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart
Original Score: Up, Michael Giacchino
Animated Short Film: "Logorama"
Live Action Short Film: "Istallet for Abrakadabra"
Documentary Short Subject: "The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant"
Documentary Feature: The Cove
Foreign Film: A Prophet, France
Animated Feature Film: Up

Well see how these predictions pan out...some years those short film categories and foreign films kill me.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ryan Bingham Meet Ryan Bingham

Two Ryan Bingham's will be at the Oscars this year.

1. Ryan Bingham the song-writer who worked with T-Bone Burnett on Crazy Heart, including the Academy Award nominated song "The Weary Kind" (who also acted in the film as well, you will recognize him as the band-for-hire that performs at the bowling alley at the beginning of the film, his character's name is Tony).

2. Ryan Bingham the character performed by George Clooney in the Oscar nominated performance for Up in the Air.

Kind of crazy coincidence if you ask me? I would hope they'd do a red carpet photo op, but kind of doubt it'll happen.

Current 2009 Box Office Rankings for the 10 Best Picture Films

I've talked some about how this year's box office hits aren't built around stars, and I've talked about the release schedule of the 10 best picture nominated films. I like to think about how business and the Oscar's with only a few days before the award ceremony I thought I would look at the current box office rankings and grosses for 2009 and see how these films rank in the 2009 film landscape.

10 Best Picture films current 2009 box office ranking based off US domestic gross.

1. Avatar ($709 million)
5. Up ($293 million)
8. The Blind Side ($249 million)
25. Inglourious Basterds ($120 million)
27. District 9 ($115 million)
38. Up in the Air ($82 million)
65. Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire ($47 million)
131. The Hurt Locker ($12 million)
135. An Education ($11 million)
150. A Single Man ($8 million)

I think having 5 of the 10 films above the $100 million mark definitely communicates that this year's award nominees are more accessible choices. Had their been 5, only 1 or 2 films would have been in that range and the awards would have seemed more elite.

The expansion of 10 films certainly seems to have made the awards more "accessible" although, it's hard to tell what that'll do for ratings. I was skeptical at first, but I think I'm happy with the change in having ten nominees.

I must admit, it's nice to see a wide range of films making the cut, and it's a pity that some of those at the bottom didn't get more attention in the theaters, but it's nice to see that they haven't been ignored in award season.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Parenthood Knee Jerk Thoughts

I usually avoid watching new TV shows, because I like to "test their longevity" and see if they continue to maintain interest because the worst experience is getting hooked on a show and continuing to watch it through it's downfall.

(I did this with Heroes. Yikes! The one good season hardly justified what followed.)

But I got sucked into the idea of watching the first episode of Parenthood for the following reasons.
  • If Ron Howard did Arrested Development, then I want to support his new work so it doesn't get canceled mid season with a 4 episode finale opposite the Winter Olympics (2006, so sad!).
  • My wife and I don't mind inviting Lauren Graham into our living room. Gilmore grew on me, so I want to give her a chance.
  • Every preview featured a different scene and many made me laugh.
So...we watched it.

Now, it's pretty clear that Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are not ashamed to borrower from the 1989 comedy, Parenthood they were involved in. In fact, the contrast between certain characters is pretty easy.

I know there was a 12 episode attempt to do a similar show in 1990 that flopped, but now is also noted for some of it's unfamous children stars, now famous...Thora Birch, David Arquette, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Well see how this mid-season start up for NBC does.

Here's my knee jerk thoughts after watching the pilot...
  • Drama, Drama, Drama...and did you see the "next time on Parenthood" there's more drama, drama, drama.
  • It's like an alternate reality Gilmore Girls, as if, what if Lauren Graham had bad kids and was poor
  • Speaking of bad kids, Mae Whitman is totally impressing me. Forget Anne Veal from Arrested Development, this girl the other side of the coin. Nice work.
  • I remember when I saw Erika Christensen in Traffic I thought she would go places...she really hasn't, but I was excited to see her in this role and hope this puts her on radar. Although after episode 1, her family was the least interesting.
  • Max Burkholder as Max Braverman really did a great job in a role that will probably be discussed the most...a kid with high functioning autism
  • Craig T Nelson makes me a good way
  • I think different people will connect to different characters based on their own parenting experiences and personal stresses, the question is can you handle all the stress of all the characters in a 60 minute episode.
  • With the cellphone sequencing in the start of the episode it makes me wonder if Peter Krause's character (Adam Braverman) will continue to be the lead character or if this is a true ensemble?

We'll see if I keep this on my TV watching radar...I hope this is a success story. It certainly has the mixed bag potential to fizzle quick. Here's hoping for success for this multi layered ensemble.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Food Inc.

Probably one of the most watched documentary contenders of the year in the Oscar race was Food Inc.

While the documentary Oscar is The Cove's to lose, I think that Food Inc. will for many people be one of the most important documentaries of the year because it deals with something near and dear to our, but ask a question we probably don't ask enough which is "where does my food come from?"

I must be honest, and say that while very impactful and dealing with a variety of important topics, Food Inc. is a little disjointed. It's message is become a person who questions your food sources and takes the opportunity to buy food that is both healthy and ecologically sound, even if that means spending a little more.

Generally, I think this claim is quiet reasonable and one of the producer's Eric Schlosser, author of many investigative journalism works including Fast Food Nation, makes a strong case in the film for deterioration of food quality because it is delivered to our dinner table (or cars, or restaurant table) at the lowest price, hence we can have dollar menu items you couldn't replicate for the price in your kitchen.

But this idea, is just one of many. Through the graphic images of a few select slaughter houses, is the story of chicken, beef, corn, e.coli bacteria and soy bean patents. I think this film will speak to people in different ways, perhaps making them more interested in grass-fed beef, wanting to write congress about Kevin's Law, or perhaps scratching their head at a system that allows for vegetable libel to have such inertia.

Perhaps it is this disjointed expose that lends itself to such varied conclusions, but tends to speak to our challenge a variety of people.

For putting all these ideas out on the table, the film is a good starting point for discussions. Honestly, if I could chose a follow up documentary I would like to see a documentary that explores in a balanced way the role of corn subsidies, the intentions, history, and impact. Of course, what is only touched on partially in this film is a whole new realm to explore.

Yet, for something so common the film demonstrates how many topics are worthy of our attention to be explored, and while the regular farmer's market purchaser might walk away with a different perspective that the typical Sam's Club bulk ground beef purchaser, I think it should leave viewers with something to chew on.