Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Praise of Independence Day Parades

Maybe it has something to do with getting older (I think it's something different), but when it comes to Fourth of July, these days nothing says "Happy Independence Day" like a parade.

A couple of years ago I posted how I wished for more on Fourth of July...more of a spirit to the Holiday that didn't just come and go with fireworks. I shared in that 2008 post about a favorite Fourth of July memory, that involved a trip to Granbury, TX and their small town festivities.
I griped about how that was my most memorable Fourth of July, and it was too bad that I couldn't remember more.

Last year, I had a similarly positive fourth of July experience in a small town in Kansas (Wamego, KS) where the late afternoon parade was long, well attended, and brought out all the small town community fun.

Now these small town parades are certainly no Macy's Day Parade or Tournament of Roses Parade, these parades have community leaders, businesses, memories, churches, kids, horses, old cars, tractors and motorcycles.

Fireworks of course are a fourth of July favorite, but for a parade is moving right up there with the over head pyrotechnics.

I mentioned at the start of my post, that it could be my age that has caused this change of heart, but I think it's the novelty of a parade that brings it's magic. It's the fact that these small towns shut down, and everyone gets involved (the lions club, the Baptist church, the little flowers daycare, the four H club, and city counsel) all united in a community celebration.

Perhaps this unity, diversity, and celebration is one of the best representations of freedom and independence one can find on this American holiday.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Helen Mirren Fatigue & Her 2010 Roles

This past award season when Helen Mirren received award accolades for her role in The Last Station, I remember hearing some feelings of fatigued that Mirren "was always a sure thing" and a feeling of exhaustion with the love for Mirren.

I sometimes would laugh a little to myself when I read or heard these things, because Mirren who know has 4 Oscar nominations to her name, 1 of those being a win, certainly doesn't seem to me like she's a sure lock for whatever she does.

The fatigue that people feel seems to stem (in my estimation) from the abundance of award love bestowed on her for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in 2006's film The Queen.

But if people felt fatigue last year when Mirren was up for an awards (Golden Globe, Independent Spirit, Academy Award, Screen Actors Guild) in her role from The Last Station, imagine how they might feel this year.

I feel like Mirren has a variety of novelty projects on her plate this year, and surely some of them are bound to be bust, but it only takes one role to get you in the lime light, and Hollywood is very forging of a bust here and there (ask Sandra Bullock, people forgot All About Steve).

Honestly, there seems to be a lot of room for bust in this upcoming line-up for Mirren, but like I said, it only takes one performance.

Here's a quick look at some of Mirren's 2010 calendar (of course, some of these could get a 2011 bump):

• Love Ranch (June 30, 2010): Helen Mirren plays Grace Botempo in a fictionalization based on the lives of Joe & Sally Conforte, a married couple who opened the first legal brothel in Nevada (Mustang Ranch). Mirren plays the role of the wife, Joe Pesci the husband. Mirren's husband, Taylor Hackford directs.

• Red (October 15, 2010): Helen Mirren's role is more limited in this comic book derived action story about a block-ops CIA agent (Bruce Willis) who in order to survive needs to assemble an old team, which includes Helen Mirren's character (Victoria).

• The Tempest (Anticipated limited December 2010 release): Helen Mirren plays Prospera in Julie Taymor's rendering of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Shakespeare's version had the lead character Propero as a male role, as usurped Duke and Wizard, Taymor instead changed the role to a woman.

• The Debt (Anticipated 2010 release, no scheduled date): Helen Mirren plays Rachel Singer as an Israeli Intelligence Officer who 30 years earlier had killed a Nazi on a covert mission, only to find out that he has resurfaced. John Madden directs this Miramax picture.

• Brighton Rock (Potential 2010 release, no scheduled date): Helen Mirren plays Ida Arnold in the film adaptation of the Graham Greene novel (previously adapted in 1947 with the title Young Scarface). Ida Arnold plays a key role in this detective story in investigating a proving that a suicide is not murder. Rowan Joffe directs.

Photos from top to bottom: Helen Mirren in Love Ranch (Love Ranch Facebook page). Helen Mirren as Prospera in The Tempest (USA Today).

Frank Darabont & The Long Walk

I don't know why, but I've been thinking about director Frank Darabont, who is most notable for his direction and writing of The Shawshank Redemption, one of three Stephen King work's he's adapted (additionally The Green Mile, and The Mist).

Darabont seems like one of those guys who hangs around Hollywood helping buddies like Steven Spielberg work on their scripts.

But Darabont's work seems kind of slow in coming out, and it just seems to me like this year could benefit from a good Darabont film.

I've heard of a few that are in the work, but one that interest me is The Long Walk.

Now don't confuse this novel, The Long Walk, with the the novel/memoir that Peter Weir has directed, The Way Home, based on a book called The Long Walk.

This book, is one of a handful of Stephen King novels that was written under the pseudonym Richard Backman. This novel, first published in 1979.

This story takes place in the near future with a "sport" that involves 100 boys entering a unique and undefined contest where they are forced to walk at 4 mph or else face serious consequences.
It's reminds me of one of the dance-off's featured in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? except the consequences are far worse.

Darabont has had the writes to this project for at least a few years now, but this doesn't appear on anyone's front burner.

Instead Darabont's name most recently is associated with The Walking Dead. This AMC TV show premiers later this year, and has Darabont named as show creator, and writer/director of the pilot. Not a zombie fan myself, I'm not jumping to make sure I catch the early episodes, it's projects like The Long Walk I'm watching for.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oscar & Pixar

With all the love going around for Toy Story 3, it seems like naysayers are silenced and Toy Story 3 looks like the first viable Oscar best picture contender of the year.

When I recently ranked my early top 50 Best Picture potentials/predictions, I was hesitant to place this film high...wary of it's sequel status with a film franchise that was introduced 15 years ago.

With that in mind, I wanted to look at the Pixar's previous interaction with the Academy.

Toy Story (1995)
3 Nominations, 1 Special Achievement Oscar
Nominations: Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (Randy Newman); Best Original Song ("You've Got a Friend in Me," Randy Newman); Best Original Screenplay (multiple nominees).
Special Achievement Oscar: awarded to John Lassetter (pictured above) for: "For the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film."

A Bug's Life (1998)
1 Nomination
Nomination: Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (Randy Newman)

Toy Story 2 (1999)
1 Nomination
Nomination: Best Original Song ("When She Loved Me," Randy Newman)

Monsters, Inc. (2001)
1 Win of 4 Nominations
Oscar Win: Best Original Song ("If I Didn't Have You," Randy Newman)
Nominations: Best Animated Feature (Pete Docter, John Lasseter); Best Orginal Score (Randy Newman); Best Sound Editing (Gary Rydstrom, Michael Silvers)

Finding Nemo (2003)
1 Win of 4 Nomination
Oscar Win: Best Animated Feature (Andrew Stanton)
Nominations: Best Original Score (Thomas Newman); Best Sound Editing (Gary Rydstrom, Michael Silvers); Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds)

The Incredibles (2004)
2 Wins of 4 Nominations
Oscar Wins: Best Animated Feature Film (Brad Bird); Best Sound Editing (Michael Silveres, Randy Thom)
Nominations: Best Original Screenplay (Brad Bird); Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Gary Rizzo, Doc Kane)

Cars (2006)
2 Nominations
Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film (John Lasseter); Best Original Song ("Our Town," Randy Newman)

Ratatouille (2007)
1 Win of 5 Nominations
Oscar Win: Best Animated Feature Film (Brad Bird)
Nominations: Best Original Score (Michael Giacchino); Best Sound (Randy Thom, Michael Semanik, Doc Kane); Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom. Michael Silvers); Best Original Screenplay (Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco)

WALL-E (2008)
1 Win of 6 Nominations
Oscar Win: Best Animated Feature Film (Andrew Stanton)
Nominations: Original Score (Thomas Newman); Original Song ("Down to Earth," Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman); Best Sound (Tom Myers, Michael Semanick, Ben Burtt); Best Sound Editing (Ben Burtt, Michael Wood); Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter)

Up (2009)
2 win of 5 nominations
Oscar Wins:
Best Animated Feature Film of The Year (Pete Docter); Best Original Score (Michael Giacchino)
Nominations: Best Picture (Jonas Rivera); Best Sound Editing (Michael Silvers, Thom Myers); Best Original Screenplay (Bob Peterson, Pete Docter; Thomas McCarthy)


Some Notes & Observations:

False Inflation - Every film has at least gotten some Oscar love. There is admitably some false inflation caused by the addition of the animated feature category with the 2001 Oscar ceremony. Every eligible Pixar film has been nominated in that category.

Newman & Music - Oscar was comfortable pre-Pixar giving animated films a shot in the music categories, and the connection there has been very strong especially with those who's last name ends in Newman, although the Newman's aren't the only one who've been given a shot.

Sound & Original Screenplay - The Sound branches, particularly editing have been warm to Pixar, as have the writing branches.

10 - With a 10 nominee Best Picture field you'd have to imagine some of these other films may have been given the opportunity Up received when it became the second animated film (Beauty and the Beast is the other) to get a Best Picture nomination.

Short Love - Let's also not forget Pixar has also been nominated 10 times in animated short film category, winning 4 of those times.


With this history before you...what nominations seem likely bets for Toy Story 3 given it's popularity and early success?

Reel People: Mark Wahlberg is "Irish" Micky Ward

The film is The Fighter directed by David O. Russell, with a screenplay and story by Eric Johnson, Paul Tamsay, Scott Silver, Russell, and Keith Dorrington.

"Irish" Micky Ward

Micky Ward was born in 1965 in the mill city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Ward's family, like others in the town was certainly blue collar.

Ward had an older half brother Dickie Eklund, almost 8 years older than him. Eklund was known as "The Pride of Lowell" as a welterweight fighter. When Ward was 12, his half-brother Eklund took Sugar Ray Leonard in a 10 round contest. The fight in Boston certainly drew the attention of people, especially Ward who looked up to Eklund.

The town of Lowell had it's own financial difficulties, which was only made worst by the lure of drugs in the town. Eklund fell prey to the drug scene and became addicted to drugs and was in and out of criminal mischief. This all proved to diminishing his chances at continued success in the sport.

Ward did have the opportunity to have Eklund as his trainer, and before going professional as a boxer in 1985, he had won the New England amateur boxing award, the Golden Glove, three times.

At 20, upon going pro, having been coached by Olympic coach John Peverada, he went on to have an impressive 14-0 record. Ward's success then diminished and he decided to give up on professional boxing for a season.

During this time, as in most of his boxing career, Ward worked for the Newport Construction Corporation, which truly made him a working class hero.

Ward returned to boxing in 1994 with great success winning 9 fights in a row.

At this same time, Eklund continued to struggle with drugs, and in 1995 was even featured in an HBO documentary, High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell.

In 2002 and 2003, Mickey Ward and fellow boxer Arturo Gatti engaged in a trilogy of fights aired on HBO, that many consider some of the best box matches ever aired. These fights were considered the fights of the year largely due to the stamina and intensity of the two athletes who fought round after round after round. Prior to the third fight with Gatti, Ward announced his retirement.

The Fighter

The film The Fighter was filmed in Lowell, Massachusetts, a central part of Ward's life story. Mark Wahlberg plays the title role as "Irish" Mickey Ward. Christian Bale plays half-brother Dick Eklund.

Amy Adams character is rumored to be a love interest of Ward, while Melissa Leo plays Dick Eklund's mother, Alice. The film distributed and produced by paramount is set to release at the heart of award season at the end of November.

Will Wahlberg, already an Oscar nominee (The Departed) earn a second nomination for playing this Reel (Real) Person?

Photo credit: From The Fan Site, Awesome Mark Wahlberg

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Cards

According to the National Retail Federation's 2010 data American's are estimated to have spent 749 million dollars on Father's Day Cards this year.

Remember the movie Mr. Deeds? I wonder what Greeting Cards he would have written this year. Maybe some hiuku and touching Father's Day Cards.

While this number seems pretty high for the paper products, in a way, I'm glad to see that facebook greetings and eCards have not taken over as well.

Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mark Ruffalo: 2010, Where The Rubber Meets the Road

If you say the name Mark Ruffalo to most people, I have a feeling they'll know this actors name.

I'm tempted to say, that Ruffolo has yet to do any truly outstanding acting worthy of grand stardom or acclaim, but I think most people find Ruffolo's characters generally like-able and playing roles as a relatable every man. Some emotion, some passion but nothing extreme.

And I think Ruffolo owes his name recognition and branding to the variety of types of films he's been in, everything from 13 Going on 30 opposite Jennifer Garner, to a soldier in John Woo's Windtalkers, roles in artistic films like Blindness, or small dramatic films like We Don't Live Here Anymore or You Can Count on Me.

And I feel like Ruffolo's greatest role to date in my book is his performance in David Fincher's Zodiac. This was good casting, and Ruffalo did a great job.

It seems to me that 2010 is a year that Ruffolo's exposure as a "serious actor" really is hitting the test. He has already performed the role of Chuck Aule in Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island (pictured right), and he has the lead male role in the anticipated award contender The Kids Are All Right (pictured above).

In The Kids Are All Right Ruffolo plays the sperm donor of two children who re-enters the scene when the children are older. This is the type of role that if embraced could lead to some high awards recognition for Ruffolo.

In addition to this there's the small film Margaret finally coming out, as well as Ruffolo's directorial debut Sympony for Delicious. Oh yea, and that Steve Carrell/Tina Fey project Date Night.

I haven't heard Ruffolo's name being tossed around for any substantial future projects, although it does seem like he's been busy.

So after this year, I think studios get to decide, who is Ruffolo, and is his name worth throwing on the poster and placed in a prominent role, and if so, what type of he a romantic comedy fluff actor, an indie house favorite, or can he carry a detective thriller.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Will Zwick do it in 2010 with Love & Other Drugs?

Edward Zwick is this director on the fringe.

Not because he's overly "artsy" or makes irrelevant films, rather his fringe status in my mind comes from the fact he's never been nominated for best director.

Yet at the same time I have this feeling that there's been years where he's been a close runner up to the top 5 for Oscars.

In 2008, I began to speculate about whether Edward Zwick would get an Oscar nomination for his film Defiance.

Zwick, did not.

In fact, Defiance only received 1 Academy Award nomination, and that was for Best Original Score (James Newton Howard).

Zwick has received two nominations (including 1 win) as a producer for Traffic and Shakespeare and Love, which went on to win the Zwick an Oscar. But still he's never received a nomination for one of his own films, or for his directing.

Other Zwick directed films and there Oscar pedigree includes

Defiance (nominated for 1 Oscar, neither best pic or director)
The Blood Diamond (nominated for 5 Oscars, but not for pic or director)
• The Last Samurai (nominated for 4 Oscars, but not for pic or director)
• The Siege
• Courage Under Fire
• Legends of the Fall (nominated for 3 Oscars, 1 win, but nothing for pic or director)
• Glory (won 3 of it's 5 nods, but no nod for picture or director)

Will Zwick finally join the director's club in 2010 with his film Love and Other Drugs?

Love and Other Drugs is based on Jamie Reidy's memoir Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.

This film is set to be released around Thanksgiving, not because November is a favorite time of year for film about male performance enhancing drugs, but rather because its seems pretty clear that expectations are high for this to be one of this year's must see award caliber films.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the blue pill peddler, Jamie Reidy. Other co-stars include Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, and Judy Greer.

This could be Zwick's year, and with a 10 picture Oscar field, the picture nomination is certainly on my radar for one of my current predictions.

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pittsburgh addicted to Gyllenhaal's 'Love and Drugs'"

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Father O'Malley: A Spiritual Leader in Film

Last month I talked about the role of priest/clergy/pastors in film. My complaint was that the stereotype either has them as sleezy rule breakers or the overly sweet and irrelevant rule follower.

So it was this frustration I was pleasantly pleased with the film Going My Way.

This film doesn't just have a priest in it's rank of principle characters, but rather stars 3, with Bing Crosby playing the lead in his academy award winning role of Father Chuck O'Malley.

Crosby's character is not only endearing, but relevant. His character's love of God and people is undeniable, and yet, those two loves don't prevent him from having a variety of friends, street smart, and a creative passion.

It's crazy to me to think that this movie came out over 60 years ago, because I feel like some of the ideas in this film are the same ideas that religious people discuss when they discuss and dream about what it looks like to be a relevant post-modern Christian. Interestingly, a 1940s version of that concept is pictured here.

In a scene with a couple presumably far away from God, they ask questions about faith and how Father O'Malley doesn't seem like a typical priest. Instead of preaching to them, he shares his own dreams of sharing truth in a song and then sings the title song "Going My Way" about his confidence of where he's going, and hopes other people will follow him. There is implied change that occurs in these people upon Father O'Malley's time with them.

Similarly the other major priest in this film, Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) has his own unique cinematic arch, and while he's more of the aging old-style priest image, he really brings the comedic virtue of this film, as well as the touching heart of this film along side Father O'Malley.

Oscar Trivia, Fitzgerald's double nomination:

Going My Way won 7 Oscars including Best Picture. Included in that count were Bing Crosby who won Best Actor, and Barry Fitzgerald who won best supporting.

Barry Fitzgerald was interestingly enough also nominated for Best Actor that same year, and for the same role.

That's right, Fitzgerald was up for Best Actor & Best Supporting Actor, with both nominations being for a role in the same film. Talk about a anomaly that messes with statistics!

The rules were changed so this would not happen going forward. But no one else but Fitzgerald can claim there performance was so good it received two Oscar nominations.

Photo credits with relevant accompanying articles: Bing Crosby with the boys from Classic Film & TV cafe, and Fitzgerald image from Oscar at a Glance.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mid Year Best Picture Predictions: 50 Potentials Ranked

Do you feel like this film year is doomed? That award season is hopeless?

Here's 50 films that could potential be Oscar best picture contenders. 10 films will be nominated, they could come from this group of 50, and I've ranked them based off my current assessment (talent, buzz, distribution, premise, personal bias).

It's a given that in June you can assume that the Academy Award best picture nominations are up in the air as most of the potential nominees are riding on hype and possibility, since no one has actually seen most of these films yet.

However fallible this list might be, I'm ready to jump into award season despite the fact this year's brought more stink than excitement.

Filling 10 spots at first seemed challenging, but that's only due to lack of overtly clear front runners, not due to lack of potentials.

Of course, some nominees could be missed...especially if films get fast-tracked, or a surprise foreign master piece burst into onto the film calendar. Here's hoping! There's could be far more than 50 contenders for the 10 spots.

Feel free to follow the links to previous StrangeCulture post about these films where available. And share your thoughts on these rankings or which films you'd like to see discussed further on strange culture.

Creating an "air of potential" here's my mid-year ranked list of 50 potential best picture nominees...

If I Had To Choose 10
1. The Way Back (dir. Peter Weir)
2. True Grit (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
3. Miral (dir. Julian Schnabel)
4. Love and Other Drugs (dir. Edward Zwick)
5. The Kids Are All Right (dir. Lisa Cholodenko)
6. Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan)
7. Another Year (dir. Mike Leigh)
8. Hereafter (dir. Clint Eastwood)
9. Never Let Me Go (dir. Mark Romanek)
10. Get Low (dir. Aaron Schneider)

The Rest
11. The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
12. The Fighter (dir. David O. Russell)
13. Conviction (previously Betty Anne Watters) (dir. Tony Goldwyn)
14. Everything You've Got (dir. James L. Brooks)
15. Biutiful (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
16. The King's Speech (dir. Tom Hopper
17. The Social Network (dir. David Fincher)
18. Somewhere (dir. Sofia Coppola)
19. Toy Story 3 (dir. Lee Unkrich)
20. Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
21. The Next Three Days (dir. Paul Haggis)
22. Jack Goes Boating (dir. Phillip Seymore Hoffman)
23. The Debt (dir. John Madden)
24. Animal Kingdom (dir .David Michôd)
25. Secretariat (dir. Randall Wallace)
26. Shutter Island (dir. Martin Scorsese)
27. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (dir. Woody Allen)
28. The Conspirator (dir. Robert Redford)
29. Eat, Pray, Love (dir. Ryan Murphy)
30. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (dir. Oliver Stone)
31. Howl (dirs. Rob Epstein & Jeffery Friedman)
32. Robin Hood (dir. Ridley Scott)
33. Tamara Drewe (dir. Stephen Frears)
34. The American (dir. Anton Corbijn)
35. London Boulevard (dir. William Monahan)
36. Brighton Rock (dir. Rowan Joffe)
37. Fair Game (dir. Doug Liman)
38. The Rum Diary (dir. Bruce Robinson)
39. The Company Men (dir. John Wells)
40. Love Ranch (dir. Taylor Hackford)
41. The Tempest (dir. Julie Taymor)
42. Rabbit Hole (dir. John Cameron Mitchell)
43. How To Train Your Dragon (dirs. Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders)
44. Winter's Bone (dir. Debra Granik)
45. The Town (dir. Ben Affleck)
46. The Beaver (dir. Jodie Foster)
47. What's Wrong With Virginia (dir. Dustin Lance Black)
48. Nowhere Boy (dir. Sam Taylor Wood)
49. Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
50. Barney's Version (dir. Richard J. Lewis)

This at least gives us something to start with...we can whittle it down as the year goes on. There's a lot of room for failure and great surprises in this list.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Long Walk & The Way Back

I've just finished the memoir The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz which has been adapted into The Way Back by Peter Weir.

Here are some of my thoughts on the book as well as how reading this impacts my thoughts on the adaptation. I will avoid excessive spoilers, but some basic premise's of Rawicz' life and this story are inevitable. So be warned.

The Long Walk

The Long Walk is a story by Slavomir Rawicz (ghost written by Ronald Downing) which chronicalizes an epic, tragic, and heroic story that begins with Rawicz, a Polish soldier, captured and imprisoned during WWII by the Russian's on charges of espionage. These charges came as a result of his ability to speak Russian, and through horrific means the USSR men forced a confession.

In all honesty, this part of the story while important and sad, is the least interesting, because it's only the set up for the journey that begins when he's finally charged and sent to travel by train across Russia to Irkutsk in Siberia. Then alongside other prisoners they were forced to take a walk to a prison camp much further north into the desolate reaches of the Soviet Republic where they worked in a labor camp on meager rations.

It is here in the story that it get's interesting, because this puts us in a time when Rawicz gathers other men within the camp for a calculated escape. Rawicz and 6 other men make an escape.

These men make a determination to head South, and the remainder of the book tells the story of their journey which includes a challenging trek through the Siberia, avoiding all contact with any possible, fearful to even make a fire due to the fear of recapture. From Siberia they head encounter Mongols, Chinese, Tibetans, and live off unprecedented survival skills, the hospitality of villagers, and some impressive endurance.

Besides the impressive endurance required to escape Siberia, they also travel through the Gobi Desert and over the Himalayas. It is particularly the passage through the Gobi Desert that is incredibly interesting and incredible.

This title is no hyperbole, as the walk, is a long one, that spans over 4000 miles and over 12 months. It's an impressive journey that is absolutely jaw dropping and amazing.

Would I recommend this book, most absolutely, it's a pretty incredible story.

The Reality/Historic Record/The Feeling at the End
(This section contains spoilers)

The end of this book, like many memoirs and true stories leaves you with some questions. And a little research will lead to some disappointments.

Questions you ask are things like what happened to the survivors of this journey? Did they ever meet again? Basic questions of that nature.

In doing some very basic research you discover that many believe, based on historical records of the Polish Army, that Rawicz is recorded to have been allowed to leave the labor camp in 1942 and upon his return left for Iran. Perhaps this is inaccurate, but the banality of this data compared with the incredible and awe inspiring story that are held in the pages of this book certainly creates some doubt.

Of course, that seems like modern skepticism to doubt, but the fact that only Rawicz has come forward of the other characters mentioned in this story heightens my skepticism more than anything else. Instead these people are enigmas, that never really existed, or perhaps were based on acquaintances at the prison camp.

In many ways this stinks of other fictitious memoirs I've discussed on this blog including the very similar lie Angel at the Fence and the well publicized fiction of A Million Little Pieces.

It's possible that The Long Walk would have made an excellent novel, but the power of "based on a real story" certainly makes things seem more powerful. But once holes are blown into the reality of the story, it sort of ruins the whole feeling you have about a book.

That being said, it's an incredibly captivating story, and could still be very enjoyable historical adventure novel.

The Way Back

Based on the controversy of the historical record, I think Weir was wise to re-title this something different from the book and give the characters new names. This forces the story into a fictional retelling (not to mention moves it a way from the title of Nelson Mandela's memoir and A Stephen King novel).

Jim Sturgess appears to be playing the Rawicz character who hear is named Janusz. This is a really great character, and I think Jim Sturgess has an excellent chance to give himself some powerful credibility with a powerful performance in this role.

This film also stars Colin Farrell, who's performances are consistently inconsistent. So I'm hopeful that Farrell does not disappoint.

Two of my favorite characters from the story is a character named Mr. Smith and a young lady name Kristina.

In the film, it would appear very clearly that Ed Harris is playing this "Mr. Smith" character, who's name happens to be in the film...Mr. Smith. This character is an older (but not old) member of the bunch who is an American prisoner convicted by the Russians. Mr. Smith has a unique type of silent authority in the group, and I think Harris is a fantastic casting choice.

Kristina in the story is a young woman who is also a refuge in the Siberian wilderness who become a member of the band of prison escapes. Although they are very skeptical of her joining their band when they encounter her, the bond that forms in the story with her very touching and moving. This character appears to be translated into a character named Irena who will be played by the young Oscar nominated actress Saoirse Ronan. I think this is another exceptional casting decision, and am interested to see Ronan take on this unique and challenging role.

This film really has a great opportunity to stand out as a gem of the film season, and I am certainly interested in seeing it, and hope it lives up to my personal expectations for this film.

Photo credits:
Ed Harris and Colin Farrell image top of post from
Daemon's Movies. The image of the book comes from a post with a very positive review on Confessions of A Writer.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

10 Random Thoughts: Whitney Houston, Independence Day, Shrek

1. Crowds are leaving in mass exodus' from Whitney Houston's recent concert performances for being off key, and weak vocally. How bad is it? That's pretty embarassing for the woman who's know for her strong vocal ability.
2. In the movie Holiday Inn, there's celebrations for Lincoln's Birthday, Easter, and Valentine's Day, among others. If a real Holiday Inn existed, I'd go for New Year's Eve. My wife said she's want to go for Independence Day.

3. Speaking of Independence Day, it's a little sad to think that we will have another 4th of July with no Will Smith movie this year. I'd rather see Smith at the theater, than The Last Airbender, but I'm crossing my fingers that Shymalan's film could potentially be something special.

4. I have this strange feeling that Will Smith's next round of films will all have numbers and roman numerals in the titles: Independence Day 2, Hancock 2, Men In Black III, I, Robot 2 and Bad Boys 3. It kind of is a statement on film studio creativity, isn't it.

5. I'm not too worried about Smith, but I am a little worried for Jim Carrey. Is his career winding down? His most recent film, playing a gay criminal I Love You Phillip Morris just had it's release date canceled by the California courts due to legal issues involving breach of contract by the distributor in paying the production company.

6. I wonder if the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be portrayed in a documentary film or a dramatic film first?

7. McDonald's recall of the plastic Shrek glasses it's been selling due to material hazard concerns (out of an "over abundance of caution"). Now if they would just recall the most recent movie.

8. Shrek Forever After did win at the box office for a second week in a row. Granted it was up against some uninspiring new releases including the 68 minute film Marmaduke.

9 Guillermo Del Toro leaves as Hobbit director, but is to be replacing Sam Mendes in Oz The Great and Powerful, one of the 5 Oz films in the works. I think del Toro wants to out-weird Burton's Alice retelling.

10. Summer films are leaving little to be desired. I'm interested in see a little more hype for some award season contenders...please say the theater offerings will start to improve. Is there anything left this season worth hoping for?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Reel People: Aaron Johnson is John Lennon

The film is Nowhere Boy directed by Sam Taylor Wood. Matt Greenhalgh wrote the screenplay based on The Private John Lennon: The Untold Story from His Sister by Julia Baird.

John Lennon

John Winston Lennon was born to Julia and Alfred Lennon in Liverpool England, October 9, 1940. He was named after his paternal grandfather and Winston Churchill.

Lennon's father was a merchant seaman during WWII, and when he returned in 1944 to his family, he found Julia pregnant with another man's baby and not interested in Alfred's return. Julia also turned her son John into the hands of sister and her husband Mary "Mimi" and George Smith. Even though he lived with his aunt and uncle, he still saw his mother regularly.

With the Smith's Lennon was raised an Anglican. But was not overly religious himself.

Lennon was able to make it into high school but while there was considered a class clown. During Lennon's high school years his uncle died (1955), it would be three years later when Lennon's mother would die when struck by a car.

A year before Lennon's mother died, she had bought him a guitar, despite the fact that Lennon's aunt Mimi was hoping that Lennon would get more serious about his studies and that his fascination with music would subside. Lennon's fascination with music had led him at the age of 16 in 1956 to start a band called the Quarrymen, named after Quarry Bank High School where most of the members attended.

In 1957 Lennon met John McCartney at a concert in Woolten, and he shortly was invited to join the band. In 1958 McCartney arranged a meeting for Lennon to met George McCartney, and although Lennon thought Harrison too young, but was allowed into the band. This band shortly after became The Beatles.

By 1963 The Beatles had mainstream success in the UK, which was shortly followed by international stardom when they performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

During these years of fame, John Lennon's wife Cynthia Lennon (married 1962-1968), had a son Julian Lennon.

After a rise in popularity, a rise in controversy occurred, particularly with the 1966 controversy created by a quote in the American teen magazine Date Book, where Lennon gave the infamous quote: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

This controversy coincided with a time when Lennon's use of LSD was greatly impacting his behavior and his song writing. It was during this time the unique Magical Mystery Tour launched and Yoko Ono having a unique pull on the band.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon were married March 20, 1969. It was during this time Ono and Lennon began making music together. In September of 1969 Lennon left the Beatles officially.

Lennon continued to write music, which often was associated either with peace issues, or emotions associated with childhood trauma.

In 1973, Ono and Lennon separated, and Lennon had a new girlfriend May Pang. They were together for 18 months, Lennon would re-unite with Ono, and in October of 1975 Lennon would have his second son Sean with Ono.

After Sean was born John became a family man and did not pursue his music career as he had previously.

December 8, 1980 John Lennon was assassinated by Mark David Chapman in an event that became an international tragedy. Ono made an announcement the following day that there would be no funeral for John, instead he was cremated in a quite way, and ashes scattered Ferncliffe Cemetery in New York.

Nowhere Boy

This film, tells the story based on Lennon's half sister Julia's memoir of Lennon's younger days in Liverpool. Aaron Johnson plays Lennon (Johnson is currently 19, so this film clearly focuses on the earlier portion of Lennon's life).

Anne Marie Duff plays his half sister Julia Baird and Kristin Scott Thomas plays his aunt, Mimi Smith.

The film received attention in the UK but has not yet been released in the US.

Could this film, or Aaron Johnson receive some award attention this year for his portrayal of this iconic Reel (Real) Person?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Unique Time Capsule: Ninotchka

I love the way that sometimes a film freezes a period in time, telling a story that can only be told in that very moment.

I recently watched the 1939 film Ninotchka, which was a film, that while could be re-made now as a period piece, is far more wonderful as a contemporary film.

Obviously in 1939 WWII was beginning in Europe, and this film acknowledges this by predating the film in an opening slide that alludes to the story taking place in an earlier time, although I sense that addition was an after thought of clarification for contemporary audiences.

This story stars Greta Garbo as a representative from the Soviet Republic who is sent to straighten out three comrades who are in over there head in a sale of confiscated jewels when the case becomes litigated.

An example of the the unique flavor this film has as a 1939 film is the way the Russians respond when they go to pick up the special envoy from the train station. In the scene there is a moment when they think they have identified their superior, but instead through mannerisms and a "Hale Hitler" realize he is in fact a German, not a Russian. These scene is used as comedy, in a way that might be balked at today.

But it fit the time, wasn't over kill for the time. Additionally, the humor about the Soviet Union was relevant to the time, there were jokes about the 5 year plan for example.

Like many films the content serves as a time capsule, and really speaks to the importance of contemporary films, including comedies, that deal with contemporary issues.

This a incredibly fun film, from the incredible film year 1939.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Ridiculous Nicolas

It's been awhile since I talked about how ridiculous Nicolas Cage is, or how dumb The Sorcerer's Apprentice movie looks (some expected slack was received on my gripe about this movie).

Is Cage really taking this seriously? He looks like pretty boy version of Mickey Rourke.