Monday, March 28, 2011

David Duchovny vs. Gillian Anderson: 2011 Edition

About 4 years ago I did a blog post simply titled: David Duchovny vs. Gillian Anderson.

In this post from early 2007 I outlined how in my assessment the clashing X-Files duo how it seemed like Gillian Anderson would have the strongest post-X-files career citing in addition to her praised TV-miniseries role in Bleak House also her role in the film The Last King of Scotland (2006).

At that time, Duchovny's credits worth mentioning were relatively limited. Yet in the past 4 years the tide has changed and where Anderson's been a sleeper, with stage performances and hardly any film credit worth mentioning, David Duchovny had a breakout cable TV series, Californication, that was just renewed for it's 5th season set to begin shortly.

While the Showtime drama has a more limited viewership than Fox's X-Files, the praise and award attention Duchovny has received has kept his name on the covers of magazines, appearances (and wins) at award shows, and buzz that undeniably exceeds Anderson.

Anderson will be in the movie theater again in 2011, although not a glamorous role, she will be in the 2011 film Johnny English Reborn. Hardly the direction I think Anderson seems interested in going professionally, but it will get views and remind people of her previous X-Files days in her role as a MI7 Agent.

More artistic, Gillian Anderson also is still apparently involved in the film The Smell of Apples a film that she apparently signed on to in late 2007 based on The Smell of Apples: A Novel by Mark Behr yet, this film is one I haven't really heard much about and at this film seems like a quiet film that's out of any sort of limelight. Of course all could change.

So despite my early 2007 impression, 4 years later in the Anderson vs. Duchovny race, Duchovny has surprised me with his reinvention, while Anderson has left me surprised that she hasn't followed through with expectations of her reinvention and transition to the big screen. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens - Thoughts on the Graphic Novel

"Why are you reading that comic?" My wife asked. "That looks awful!"

"It's a graphic novel" I told her, trying to give the craft a fair shake, as I continued reading, Cowboys & Aliens by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Rosenberg's craft as chairman for platinum comics deserved some credit, and despite my typical lack of interest with the genre didn't mean I wasn't going to give it a fair shot. But, I'm admittedly not the comic-con type, so my wife had room to question my reading choice.

So, it didn't take me to buzz through the 100 pages...maybe I didn't take enough time to look at the artwork or absorb the story, but frankly, reading a book like this is mighty simple. In fact, the story was pretty simple. Sure there are some creative thoughts and mash-up of sci-fi and history with some puritan pioneers, soldiers, and homesteading opportunities in the American west. But ultimately, when this comes down to it, the stories relatively simple and non-inventive (beyond the premise of well...cowboys and aliens).

The title of the graphic novel is "Cowboys & Aliens" but a more complete telling of the title would be "How Aliens Taking Over Cowboys With Better Technology is Comparable to Cowboys Taking Over Indians in American History." Sure, it's not as an impressive a title, but ultimately, that's the story.

How this will translate to film with the upcoming science fiction Western coming Summer 2011 is a different question. From what I've read (and even comparing the character names in the upcoming film) I have a feeling that a lot of liberty was taken with the original story in it's translation to film. The character names are different and it seems that what's included in the story would have a hard time filling a film. Of course, we've all seen the film that allows weak dialogue and action sequences fill up plenty of time, so a pessimistic view might imagine this would be the case.

But I will give director Jon Favreau and his Lost-script-writing-fiend Damon Lindelof the benefit of the doubt for now and cross my fingers that the big budget Sci-Fi/Western mash-up is pure cinematic magic. Here's hoping, because no one wants to be a doomsday-type of fellow about one of the Summer's biggest blockbusters.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reel People: Rhys Ifans is Edward de Vere

The film is Anonymous. It is directed by Roland Emmerich (known for destroying the world in Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012). The script is written by John Orloff, known as one of the writers on the 2001 Band of Brothers TV-series.

Edward de Vere, 17th Duke of Oxford

Edward de Vere was born April 12, 1550 into one of the oldest earldoms of England. His father John de Vere, 16th Duke of Oxford, had a daughter (Katherine) from a previous marriage to his wife Dorothy Neville that had died in 1548. In addition to half-sister Katherine, he also had a younger sister Mary. But Edward was the only male.

Edward's father John, the 16th Duke of Oxford was known for a variety of activities, from being an avid sportsman to holding a company of actors in his regular circle. He was also involved with the ascension of Queen Mary I to the throne in 1553. He would die in 1562, and his son Edward, at the age of 12, would become the 17th Duke of Oxford as well as Lord Great Chamberlain of England, as the only male heir.

He became a royal ward to the young Queen Elizabeth I, and was placed in the household of William Cecil, who would later become 1st Baron of Burgley (who would be Elizabeth I's chief advisor for most of her reign). During this time in Cecil's household, Edward de Vere academic pursuits would expand to include English, Latin, writing, drawing, Anglo-Saxon studies, dancing and horseback riding.

It was during this time that Edward's half-sister Katherine would also challenge the legitimacy of Edward's Earldom, this would be an ongoing challenge until later when he would sue his livery. Despite the cause for question, the fondness people had for Edward is shown in his honorary degrees he would soon receive from the Queen from University of Cambridge in 1564, and the degree from the University of Oxford he received in 1566. He also was released without penalty for the death of a cook in Cecil's house that was killed while fencing. The coroner's report put the blame on the drunkenness of the cook, not on Edward de Vere.

Edward had previously been arranged by his father to marry either Elizabeth or Mary Hastings in 1568 at the age of 18, but this did not come to pass as planned, as records show Elizabeth married another man, and Mary died unmarried.

In late 1569 war broke out in Northern England over the legitimacy of Queen Elizabeth I's reign, and the Roman Catholic interest with replacing Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots. He would receive the opportunity to serve in 1570 per his requests.

On December 16, 1571, Edward de Vere would marry William Cecil's young daughter Anna Cecil at Whitehall. His legitimacy was still partially in questioned, and it was until he made it a legal matter, was he able to enter his families property May 30, 1572.

It is clear from the record of history that Edward de Vere was quickly a patron of the arts and sciences with countless number of text prepared at this time citing dedications to Edward de Vere.

Edward de Vere also seemed to have an interest in travel, which was not actualized until 1575 which resulted in some interesting meetings in Statsbourg, France as well as Venice and Milan. This trip also resulted in an encumbrance of debts, a pirate attack, as well as a birth of a child that he was not informed of, and questioned the legitimacy of he relations to her.

Anna had given birth to Elizabeth July 2, 1575. Edward de Vere was mid-travel and did not hear of her birth until September of that year. When he returned home he would not live under his roof, but instead stayed at Charing Cross, where he was distant from his family in what is believed to have been caused by a message that Elizabeth was not his legitimate daughter.

In 1576 Edward published The Paradise of Dainty Devises, a collection of 8 poems he had written. During the years to follow he would also attempt to serve in war again, he would have numerous books dedicated to him, embark on further travels, experience courtier life, and be in some family drama as his sister Mary would try to make arrangements to see Edward's daughter Elizabeth.

There was some intense times in 1580 for the duke of Oxford as his loyalty to the Queen was challenged, as a French ambassador said that in 1776 Edward had converted to Catholicism, which led to Edward denouncing three of his catholic friends to the Queen (Lord Henry Howard, Charles Arundel, and Francis Southwell) and a series of attacks on Edward. Just when things seemed to have blown over for Edward, when other events in 1581 wold cause him to be banished from court.

On March 23, 1581, he found out that one of the Queens maids of honor Anne Vavasour had given birth to a son two days earlier, Sir Edward Vere. This caused Edward to be first put before counsel and under house arrest and eventually banished for the court. It was Christmas of 1581 that Edward de Vere would reconnect with his wife Anne Cecil.

In 1583, Edwards son to Anne Vavasour died, and Edward was allowed to re-enter court.

In 1584, Anne Cecil and Edward de Vere gave birth to another child, Bridget. Another girl, Susan, would be born in 1587. Another daughter, Frances, was probably born during this time as well but died as an infant. They also had a son who died in early infancy (Lord Bulbecke).

During this time in the 1580s Edward's financial situation got increasingly worse as he continued to sell off the family land and enter into many agreements that did not provide sustainable income. During this time his performance troupe, "The Earl of Oxford his Servants" did do decent as they became a widely traveling group with performances in London and across the court yard.

It also clear that during this time Edward was an active patron continuing during this time as well.

His wife Anne Cecil died June 5 1588, and was buried at Westminster Abby.
In 1591 Edward de Vare would marry Elizabeth Trentham, Elizabeth I's Made of Honour. Castle Hedingham, the ancestral seat of the de Vares would be sold to William Cecil in trust of his first wife and three daughters.

Edward and Elizabeth Tretham would have a son, and the Earl's only male heir February 24, 1593. Their son Henry de Vare would become the 18th Earl of Oxford.
Financially struggling Edward de Vare would try to obtain opportunities from the Queen to mine minerals, import oils, and with debt de Vare appears to have been busy fighting various legal issues relating to his financial quandary.

Queen Elizabeth I died March 24, 1603 and just a year and a few months later Edward de Vere would also die (June 24, 1604). He would die of unknown causes just days after helping his son-in-law Lord Norris regain custody of the Forest of Essex after years of battling for it.

Centuries later interest in Edward de Vere would rise to prominence in what has become known as the Oxfordian Theory of Shakespearean Authorship. In 1920 J. Thomas Looney published "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, which proposed that Edward De Vare was the true author of the works traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-avon. This theory has both been widely supported and not supported by various scholars and researchers.

Anonymous

In addition to Rhys Ifans playing the central part of Edward de Vere, Jamie Campbell Bower will play a younger version of Edward de Vare in the film as "Young Oxford."

The role of Queen Elizabeth I is played by Vanessa Redgrave, while the younger incarnation of Elizabeth is played by Joely Richardson casted as "Princess Elizabeth Tudor."

David Thewlis plays William Cecil. Rafe Spall plays the part of William Shakespeare.
Sir Derek Jacobi, plays the role of "prologue" as he has done in previous Shakespearean film interpretations.

The film, as the title indicates, creates a cinematic case for the Oxfordian Shakespearean theory presenting Edward de Vare, 17th Earl of Oxford as the true author of Shakespearean works. With the sure potential for historical qualms associated with the different perceptions of this theory of William Shakespeare could impact the perception of this film.

Will Rhys Ifans receive an Oscar nomination and perhaps a win for his portrayal of this
Reel (Real) Person (Even if the accuracy of the biographical history is under question)?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Double Best Actress Winners - Potential Candidates for 2011

There certainly seems to be a glass ceiling of only a potential for actors and actresses alike to receive multiple Oscar wins in the acting categories. Usually it stops at two awards, and when it comes to the lead categories for both men and women, the opportunity to win two lead acting trophies is certainly an honor, it's not an impossibility. But only Katherine Hepburn has ever received more than two lead acting trophies, and she received four.


After Katherine's record 4 wins, 11 actresses share the honor of having double Oscar wins in the lead actress category: Luise Rainer, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Vivian Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, Glenda Jackson, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Jodie Foster and Hilary Swank.

Unless Jodie Foster's role in the film The Beaver, picks up major traction, I would imagine there is no change of any of the previous double nominees getting a nomination or win this upcoming year based on their current film commitments and release schedules.

But that doesn't mean we should completely overlook the potential of the 12th two time winner joining the list. Here's my analyst of the potential previous winners who could take the stage Agna in 2012 based on their work this year.

Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard or Gwyneth Patrow, Contagion
Previous Win: The Reader, 2008; La Vie En Rose, 2007; Shakespeare in Love, 1998
The genre and subject of the film (action thriller, deadly disease outbreak) doesn't match up with typical award material, but for some reason I always consider Steven Soderbergh's chances even though his award breakout year of 2000 (Erin Brokovich & Traffic) hasn't come close to being repeated. That being said, Soderbergh's assembled a talented cast of "in" actors with proven Academy success (in addition to Kate Winslet is the talented Mr. Ripley crowd of Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law as well as Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburn and John Hawks). Go ahead, count the nominations amongst the crowd.

Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Previous Win: Monster, 2003
Jason Reitman twice Oscar nominated for his limited feature length directing career (Juno, Up in the Air), works again with Juno scribe Diablo Cody to put together this film. Like Reitman's other films this story is a contemporary original piece of work, but the academy has looked favorably at least in terms of nominations when it comes to these roles and performances in these films. Charlize might have a great opportunity to pop to the top of the list if it's the right performance and the right role.

Helen Hunt, Aline & Wolfe
Previous Win: As Good as it Gets, 1997
The story of an affair between the author Thomas Wolfe and an older socialite Aline Bernstein. The film is directed by Lajos Koltai (Oscar nominated director for Malena). Aline is a biographic character, so that certainly can't hurt, and Koltai's small films tend to highlight the female performers.

Frances McDormand, This Must Be The Place
Previous Win: Fargo, 1996
I can't really figure out how This Must Be The Place figures into award season, and I think generally I assume it doesn't despite the star power of Sean Penn in the lead role and the connection of the film to WWII/holocaust themes. McDormand tends to be listed as a co-star of this film along side Penn who plays a rock star who discovers his estranged father was humiliated at Auschwitz and he attempts to track down the SS officer responsible years later. Where McDormand figures in, I can't be sure. Where this film figures in, it's hard to tell as well. So, I'll at least list it here.

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Previous Win: Sophie's Choice, 1982
Streep does have a supporting actress win to match her lead win (supporting actress win 1979 for Kramer vs. Kramer) and yet she keeps on getting nominated for the award show, writing speeches. And while she holds records for her multiple nominations, her two trophies (1 supporting, 1 lead) seems to exclude her from another win. The role in this film is a biographical portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and I'm sure the role will garner some attention. Yet, another win...I won't hold my breathe.

Pictured above are the actual Oscar trophys in the Katherine Hepburn collection.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reel People: Robin Wright Penn is Mary Surratt

The film is The Conspirator directed by Robert Redford with a screenplay by first time motion picture screenwriter James Solomon.

Mary Surratt

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born in 1823 in Waterloo, Maryland. She had two brothers, and due to the death of her father Archibald Jenkins at her age of two grew up without a father. She was sent to the Academy for Young Ladies, a private Catholic boarding school in Alexandria, Virginia as a child.

In 1839 Mary married. She was 16, and her John Harrison Surratt, a Roman Catholic farmer, was 27. History is not favorable to John Surratt, typically classifying him as a drunkard who despite his desire to pursue many financial endeavors (including operating a grist mill, post office and tavern) his alcohol consumption limited his ability to succeed and care for his family. He is often cited as being abusive towards Surratt.

Mary and John had three children, there first Isaac was born in 1841 when Mary was 18. Her other children Elizabeth Susanna (Anna) and John Jr. were born shortly after.

As the American civil war began, the Surratt family, like many others in Maryland found their sympathy's torn as their state sided with the Union, but culturally as farmers with slaves found themselves sympathizing with the South.

John died in 1862 after over 20 years of marriage, and Mary was left with John's financial burden with limited ability to enforce the loans that John had made to others. As a result she leased the family farm and tavern to a former DC Policeman John Llord, while her and her children moved into a town home in DC left by John's family. Mary converted this townhouse into a boarding home.

On April 14, 1865 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theater. What followed was the arrest of anyone who was believed to have had a part in the assassination and Mary Surratt was included in that group along with Louis J. Weichmann, Junius Booth, John T. Ford, James Pumphrey, John M. Lloyd, Samuel Cox, Thomas A. Jones, Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlen, Lewis Powell, Edmund Spangler, and Mary Surratt.

Eventually the list of potential conspirators was narrowed down to eight, including Mary Surratt who amongst other possible connections stored the firearms used in the shooting on her property. Mary Surratt was said to have gone to her tavern and spoken to John Lloyd the day of the murder and advised him to prepare the weapons which were then picked up later that day by John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice David Harold.

Arrested April 19, 1865, the military commission trial would begin May 9, 1865. Mary Surratt alleged she was innocent and not involved with the conspiracy. She is also notable in the trial as the oldest person on trial, as well as the only woman. The verdict was delivered on June 30, 1865.

All defendants were found guilty, and four of them were sentenced to hanging including Mary Surratt (the other sentenced to death by hanging were Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt).

President Andrew Johnson signed her death warrant and she was hung on July 7, 1865.

The Conspirator

The film stars Robin Wright Penn as the lone female conspirator. Evan Rachel Wood plays her daughter Anna and Johnny Simmons plays her son John, Jr.

The film's co-star is James McAvoy who plays Fredrick Aiken, a young war hero who reluctantly defends Surratt in the conspiracy trial. Alexis Bledel plays the role of Aikens wife (Sarah Weston) and Tom Wilkinson plays the role of Reverdy Johnson the former attorney general who is Aiken's mentor. Justin Long plays Nicholas Baker, Aiken's best friend.

In the rest of the court room, Danny Huston is prosecuting attorney Joseph Holt. Kevin Kline is Edwin Stanton (Lincoln's secretary of War).

Stephen Root plays John Lloyd, the tavern renter is also plays the role in the story as the principle witness for the prosecution.

Robin Wright Penn has never received an Oscar nomination and the role of Mary Surratt certainly has the potential to have the dramatic and historical quality to entice audiences and critics. Will Robin Wright Penn receive an Oscar nomination and perhaps a win for his portrayal of this Reel (Real) Person?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Double Best Actor Winners - Potential Candidates For 2011

No male has ever won more than two lead actor Oscars. But nine men share the record of having won twice.

The nine men are (in order of second win):

1. Spencer Tracy, 2. Fredric March, 3. Gary Cooper, 4. Marlon Brando, 5. Dustin Hoffman, 6. Tom Hanks, 7. Jack Nicholson, 8. Daniel Day-Lewis, and 9. Sean Penn.

Sure, the right role and film could allow one of these men to make history with a 3 lead win, but I imagine that each of these men has an extra hurdle to transcend, much the same way Meryl Streep does, in that picking up that 3rd lead trophy is highly unprecedented.

Of the 9 double winners, Tom Hanks directs, writes, stars in his feel-good Summer flick Larry Crowne, where as Sean Penn has some more award friendly potential projects (the anticipated Tree of Life, and the smaller film This Must Be the Place).

But that doesn't mean there's not room for a 10th man to join the double win team. So with that lengthy preface and background...

Here's the contenders from the cinema of 2011:

Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Americana
Previous Win: Capote, 2005
I honestly could see Hoffman picking up a supporting nomination for some of his upcoming work before another lead role, particularly one that matches his skills like Capote did. But at this time, he is rumored to play the lead role opposite Kate Winslet in Americana as an 1860s confederate slave owner who flees to Brazil to escape his past. It could be the right type of film, but will it come out, will it be this year, and will it star Hoffman?

Adrian Brody, Detachment
Previous Win: The Pianist, 2002
I typically wouldn't immediately consider a comedy-drama about schools told through the eyes of a substitute teacher (Henry Barthes played by Brody) a Oscar type of performance, but when Tony Kaye the popular music video producer and film activist most famous for directing American History X makes a movie about the decline of the American education system, I have to think Brody might be worth at least looking for.

Russell Crowe, The Man With The Iron Fist
Previous Win: Gladiator, 2000
As ridiculous as it is to include Crowe her on this list and for this film, I can't help for the off-beat chance something crazy happens. The Man With The Iron Fist is the debut film of musician/actor RZA (co-founder of the Wu-Tang Clan) in a script RZA wrote with violent screenwriter/director Eli Roth. The martial arts film in fuedal China is about a blacksmith who puts himself in a position where he must defend himself. I write all of this thinking I should delete, but again, I can't help but include it.

Geoffrey Rush, The Eye of The Storm
Previous Win: Shine, 1996
A high concept Australian film about an old lady in control of everything (played by Charlotte Rampling) tries to also control her death. Geoffrey Rush co-leads as one of the children alongside Judy Davis and Rampling. The film is based off of the book with the same name by Australian Nobel Prize laureate Patrick White.

William Hurt, Late Bloomers
Previous Win: Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985
I don't expect Hurt to show up as a nominee here or anytime soon, although with the right role it could be a nice surprise. In this film Hurt plays an aging husband opposite Isabella Rossellini, as they struggle in their marriage and their three grown children try to keep them together.

Robert Duvall, Seven Days in Utopia
Previous Win: Tender Mercies, 1983
The role Duvall plays in the co-lead would probably be pushed supporting in any circumstance that puts this film on the radar, but only in the most sentimental move or surprise popularity of this inspiration golf film would we find Duvall even having a chance, although I'm sure he will perform well in the character. The film based on the book Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links in Utopia pairs an older teacher (Duvall) with a young man trying to make it on the pro-tour (Lucas Black).

Richard Dreyfuss, The Big Valley
Previous Win: The Goodbye Girl, 1977
Richard Dreyfuss plays lead opposite Sara Paxton, Jessica Lang, and Aiden Quinn in a remake of the Barbara Stanwyk Western The Big Valley that aired on ABC for four seasons between 1965 and 1969. This film western like the original series takes place in Stockton, California in 1879.

Last Year's Related Post Can Be Found Here. See who we were talking about becoming the 10th double winner last year.


*note: Jack Nicholson has the distinct honor of being the only one of the 9 who has a third trophy, his being for supporting actor does have a supporting actor trophy won for Terms of Endearment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Everyone's Got Food Rules

Recently I was spending a short weekend getaway with a group of friends and meals were shared, and divided up. Some had breakfast, dinner, lunch, and so forth.

In the preparation of meal (I had lunch) I found myself at a unique juncture (that I find myself finding more and more in these experiences) in that I'm uncertain of other people's "food rules."

This concept of "food rules" even came up in a number of ways as we talked and shared notes over the weekend in our shopping strategies and eating rules.

I would imagine a decade or so ago the primary concern in preparing food for others would be their taste preference, and extreme dietary requirements or preferences (low sodium, fish on Friday, or vegetarian) would be known factors. Yet, the width of individual food rules is wide.

I've created a list of "food rules" below that are suddenly new concerns, even on the simplest things like bread and eggs you run into a number of potential factors.

• Bread: Whole Wheat? Whole Grain? Stone Ground? Organic? Gluten Free?

• Eggs: Hormone Free? Free Range? Organic? Or cost-effective cheap white eggs? (And don't even start with egg grades)

• Fruits & Vegetables: Organic? Raw or Cooked? Local?

• Meats: Organic? Grain-Fed? Previously Frozen? Hormone Free? Cuts?

• Milk: Whole, skim or somewhere in between? Raw? Pasteurize? Organic? Soy, Almond or Rice? (And don't think these same questions won't get repeated with coffee creamer)

Then apart from these new types of concerns listed above, many people are in the middle of certain specified diet regiments whether that high protein, low fat, low sugar, high fiber, low cholesterol, limited protein, high antioxidant, low sodium or any other combination of factors.

So unintentionally you could easily offend someone or break their rules if your eggs are made with non-hormone free eggs or your casserole dish contains rice and is not low-carb, or your morally opposed to eating chicken that is not free range.

These foods that find themselves along the perimeter of the grocery store seem to becoming more and more specific to individual eating rules, no longer is it just lettuce, chicken breast and milk. The possibilities, and the potential for strong preference is an overwhelming reality of our current eating habits.

By the way...is that coffee fair trade?

Reel People: Liya Kebede is Waris Dirie

The film is Desert Flower, directed by Sherry Hoffman based on the autobiography by Waris Dirie titled Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad.

Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie was born in Somali, probably around 1965 to a nomadic people group. She was one of 12 children.

As was common to her people group, Waris experienced as a young child (somewhere between 3 and 5) a procedure that is usually referred to as female circumcision, female genital mutilation or female genital cutting. In the case of Dirie and her sisters, the external female genitalia was removed and vaginal opening was stitched up leaving only a small opening for the passage of bodily waste. The intention of the procedure was to ensure down that Waris, as well as other females, would not be able to experience pleasure later in life through sexual intercourse, thus eliminating the temptation to dishonor their families and future husband by engaging in sexual acts before marriage, or infidelity during marriage. It also would require her husband to remove the stitching with a knife when they were married.

At the age of 13, Waris was set up with an arranged marriage to an older man, and in a bold move, Waris would first go to Mogadishu where her sister live and the found a way to go to London to serve as a maid in the home of her uncle. Through a series of events with her family she ended up having to move out and live at a YMCA while she made ends meet working at a McDonalds fast food restaurant.

In a chance meeting, photographer Terrance Donovan, a renowned fashion photographer from England reached out to Waris about her interest in modeling. who had contacted her with the opportunity to model. This modeling opportunity included being featured in the prestigious Pirelli Calendar in 1987.

From there, Dirie had an active modeling career regularly appearing on prestige runways in Milan, Paris and New York City. She was featured in magazines like Elle, Glamour, and Vogue.

She did ads for Levi's, Chanel and Revlon. She even had a very minor part in in 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights directed by John Glen.

In 1997, Dirie did an interview for the magazine Marie Claire with Laura Ziv where she for the first time shared about her experience with female genital cutting that had been performed on her as a child. From here, the story quickly spread including a number of interviews, and a position with the UN as an ambassador for the abolition of female genital cutting.

It was at this time she ended her modeling career so she could focus on her humanitarian efforts.
The interest in Dirie led to her first book, Desert Flower, published in 1998 that became a best seller. She traveled to Somolia to pay a visit to her mother. She would later right additional books best sellers including: Desert Dawn (2004); Desert Children (2005).

In 2004 a stalker (Paolo Augusto), had stalked Durie 1000 miles across Europe and eventually came into her home in Austria. In March of 2008, there was another incident with Durie when she went missing for three days in Brussels, but was found by a policeman.

No longer a model, Wirie Durie continues her humanitarian work, as a citizen of Austria (citizenship was granted in 2005).

Desert Flower

The film Desert Flower features model Lya Kebede in her first feature length role having, performed some other previous film roles, but is more well known as a model, being Estee Lauder's first female model of color. She is from Ethiopia.

The film also features performances by Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall and Anthony Mackie.

Will Ethiopian actress Liya Kebede gain critical attention or even an Oscar nomination/win for her role her portrayal of this Reel (Real) Person?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reel People: Viggo Morteson is Simgund Freud

The film is A Dangerous Method, which is directed by David Cronenberg, with a screenplay by Oscar winner Christopher Hampton, based on his own play (The Talking Cure) and the non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein by John Kerr.

Sigmund Freud

Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born in 1858. He was born in the town of Freiburg in the Austrian Empire (now the small town of Příbor in the Czech Republic).

Sigismund would become the first of eight children to his mother and father. His father, Jacob, 41 at the time of his birth, was a wool merchant and had two children to a previous marriage. His mother was 21. They were a Jewish family, who for the most of his life lived in a predominantly Catholic community. They were not wealthy, but valued education.

Early on in Sigismund's life, there family moved to Vienna, Austria due to international economic turmoil that caused his father to lose his job. Sigismund Freud would attend school, graduate with honors. Despite his interest in studying law, he became a member of the medical faculty at the University of Vienna upon graduation at the age of twenty-four.

This was also the same time period when Freud became a cigar smoker. A trademark habit of the doctor, which would late cause cancer for Freud.

Freud's time in his medical residency provided him the opportunity to work with many different people, including five months with Theodor Meynert a doctor of psychiatry, a field which Freud would later revolutionize.

But the part of his residency that seems the most influential was the final stint, when he pursued his neurological studies abroad in Paris, France under Jean Martin Charcot. Charcot specialized in hysteria as well as practiced the techniques of hypnosis. Freud was interested in much of the work that Charcot was doing, and neurological speciality practice.

After his residency, Freud would marry Martha Bernays (1886). Bernays was the granddaughter of a chief rabbi in Hamburg. They would go on to have 6 children: Mathilde (b. 1887); Jean-Martin (b. 1889); Oliver (b. 1891); Ernst (b. 1892); Sophie (b. 1893); Anna (b. 1895).

As it relates to Freud's family life, Carl Jung had been involved in rumors in the 1890s involving an affair that Freud had with his sister-in-law Minna Bernays, Martha's young sister. There is speculation even today regarding the nature of this relationship.

Freud in his neurological practice, had begun to determine that hypnosis was not a good medical treatment and instead began using what he called "the talking cure." This talking cure treatment method became the start of psychoanalyst, as Freud began to use talking to draw out repressed thoughts from his patients that were unconsciously impacting their mental status.

Interest regarding Freud's work gathered increasing interest, followers, and detractors, particularly as his work would be published. Early work included: The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), and Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality (1905).

Probably the famous detractor and follower of Freud's work was Carl Jung who embraced many of Freud's ideas, but disagreed because of Jung's commitment to religion, which Freud viewed as unscientific. Jung also believed his method was analytical in he would take what naturally existed and the create categorical representations in the science of what was discovered. He criticized Freud for having theoretical ideas and then seeking out examples that suited his scientific intentions.

Freud's influence and ideas, whether praised or criticized would influence thoughts on gender roles, the influence on sex and sexual development, the creation of the concept of ego and id, religion, libido, cocaine, dreams, repression, and unconsciousness.

In 1923 Freud noticed a cancerous lesion in his mouth, largely believed to be related to his tobacco use. Freud continued to work hard and did much of his influential work during this period.

In 1938 the Germans came to occupy Vienna, and the Freud family, being Jewish was put under house arrest. Only through the influence of friends, were the Freud's permitted to leave Austria and move to London, England.

In 1939 Freud convinced his good friend and medical professional (also a refugee to London), Max Schur, to help Freud commit suicide due to the tremendous pain the cancer as well as the related surgeries had put him in. Schur administering lethal doses of morphine to Freud helped him commit suicide. He would die September 23, 1939 at the age of 83.

A Dangerous Method

The film A Dangerous Method occurs prior to WWI, and tells the story and interaction of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and one of Jung's students Sabina Speilrein. Speilrein, a psychologist is said to have influenced both Freud and Jung. Freud deriving his concept of "death drive" from her, and Jung developing his concept of "transformation" from her.

In addition to Viggo Mortensen playing Freud (in his third collaboration with David Cronenberg, this following A History of Violence and Eastern Promises), Michael Fassbender will play the part of Carl Jung, Keira Knighley will play the part of Sabina Speilrein.

Other stars include Vincent Cassel who will portray Otto Gross a young psychologist who studied under Freud, and Sarah Gaddon as Emma Jung, the wife of Carl.

Viggo Mortensen scored an Oscar nomination for a Russian mafia member in Eastern Promises, now as an Austrian doctor will he score another nomination and perhaps a win for his portrayal of this Reel (Real) Person?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Personal Response to "The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)"

I recently watched the 1964 Italian film The Gospel According to St. Matthew directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

I'm not sure what originally put this film on my radar, but I've been interested in watching it for awhile. This film is unique in that it tells the story of just one of the Gospels (Matthew, as indicated by the title) instead of combining the story of Jesus as told in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

This film in Italian (with subtitles) in black and white is not told with any sort of speed, in fact it can be quite drawn out in it's telling, for example, the film starts with some lingering shots of Joseph and the pregnancy Mary looking back at one another prior to Joseph walking away and encountering the angel Gabriel who helps explain Mary's pregnancy to him.

It is said that Pasolini, an atheist, homosexual, and Marxist, read the four Gospels in a hotel in 1962 and felt compelled to make a movie about one of the Gospels. He felt like John was too mystical, Luke too sentimental, and Mark to graphic.

As a result, he chose Matthew, and it is interesting because if there is one thing I took away from this film is the way in which different images of the Christ story, can take the same passage filmed and imaged in books and art over and over, and still provide something different.

Now, I wouldn't encourage the idea of artists superimposing things falsely into the story of Jesus, and it's not like Pasolini placed a UFO encounter in the story or took a liberal view of the story. Instead, I felt like Pasolini approached the project with the integrity to tell the story as it was written with his own images.

And I must say, Pasolini's visions are different than some I imagine. There are some things, I just have barely taken the time to imagine, like the images of the killing of babies at the order of Herod after Jesus was born, and I've never really taken the time to absorb the length of time Jesus would be teaching at times with people gathered around him, but the way that Pasolini presented the sermon on the mount with cuts between the teachings created a unique image that I imagine will stick with me.

Other times, Pasolini's images were simply different then I had ever seen before, that didn't match the typical presentation I'm familiar with. The strongest example of this is the way in which John the Baptist was presented far different then I've ever seen before. This John the Baptist sprinkled instead of emerged the Baptized, and he was far more subdued and reserved than the wilder image presented in other tellings.

In watching this film with a friend, there was definitely a time when we watched it through a Mystery Science Theater 3000 lens, often finding some scenes just straight up comical, including some camera work that seemed to loose a disciple or two and search for them with the lens, or the lingering shots of faces that occasionally surprised you. Oh yes, and there's also the issue of the unibrow that is for some reason drawn on the face of Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui).

But beyond the unibrow, there is definitely an aspect of Jesus in this film that seems abrasive and not so endearing. It's wasn't an over-the-top abrasiveness, but more of an arrogance and introspectiveness that I found somewhat challenging compared to my personal perspective on the personhood of Jesus.

All the same, whether it's a different view of Jesus or the influence of 1960s Italian film making, it makes for an interesting case for where and how on a personal level we have derived the image of who Jesus is and what his time on earth was truly like. I'm sure we often superimpose many images, ideas, and our own times on the original text. It made me at least begin the process of thinking about my own mental images of the Jesus story and challenging what cultural images I may have superimposed on the story of Christ.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

10 Thoughts After 10 Days of Twittering


Here's my first ten reactions to Twitter after opening an account and engaging in the world of Twitter for my first 10 days.

1. Quick Source for Emerging News - During this first 10 Days the serious disaster in Japan struck and people were quick to tweet and retweet news as well as general sentiments and thoughts ranging from the most current news on earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns, and tsunami waves coming to the United States.

2. Serious News not Always Handled Seriously - Some people seem to love to combine the trending twitter keywords into little paragraphs. So you see a shockingly high number of tweets that read "#whosaiditwasokay to promote #super8movie when we should #prayforjapan."

3. Love to Talk to My Friends on Twitter, But... - ...Only so many friends are on twitter, so the opportunity to engage with a wider group is limited to what would be available on Facebook.

4. A Different Type of Conversation - Even thought you're missing some of your facebook friends, the twitter tone is different and there's more freedom to discuss and interact. Facebook seems like a great place to talk about the simplest personal things in a public forum (here's a picture of my dog/baby; a funny story from today; can't wait to hang out with friends, etc) where as Twitter provides the freedom to tell a joke, share links to websites, discuss news, etc. in a way that would seem inappropriate for the friendly and non-complicated cordial environment on facebook.

5. Welcome to Twitter World - I'll admit, that pre-twitter there was an avenue of conversation that I was missing out on. There are a few people who I know who are on twitter and use the site actively. I am so glad to be able to connect with them through this medium that they are already long-active in using. With the frequent twitterers there is a comforting sense of connection that I feel seeing and knowing what every day life looks like as told through their tweets. And beyond those people, now I can talk to Ellen Page or Anderson Cooper...if I wanted to.

6. A lot of talking but is anyone saying anything? I feel like there is a lot of personal promotion (I'll admit I readily share links to strangecultureblog.com as part of the backstage pass, which is the premise for the twitter account) and if it's not promotion its a lot of talk about stuff that an entire page of tweets might have nothing worth commenting on or retweeting.

7. A lot of talking but is anyone listening? The ease of slapping up a 140 character tweet is pretty easy, but does anyone care you can't figure out what icecream you want, or your tired, or your sad about x, y, or z? Twitter creates the potential for community, but it's hard to hear in all the static.

8. It's easy to tweet. One of the greatest things about twitter is how easy it is to slap up a message. Not only is the forum so open you can say practically anything, it was easy to set up an accont to message from my phone or via text message.

9. It's easy to tweet something stupid. In your head it seemed so good until you hit send and it was up. Or maybe you had post-tweet regret days later. All I know is that things seemed so smart, creative, or funny when I was typing them and then I later felt like my message could easily have been misconstrued or just missed completly. Not to mention, there's a pressure to be funny or insightful in 140 words and sometimes what seemed great ends up falling very, very flat.

10. A hope for connections. I look forward to having a new avenue to stay connected to StrangeCulture readers and establish more readers through Twitter. I think the potential is there, but I am still learning, and pleased to have acquired a healthy group of followers right off the bat. I think the opportunity for people to engage with StrangeCulture post before and after they are written can extend the conversation, and provide some quick feedback that I look forward to hearing and kicking back and forth. Not completly sold on the magic of twitter, but am still willing to stay in the game.
I invite you to follow me...username is StrangeCulture.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reel People: AnnaSophia Robb is Bethany Hamilton

The film is Soul Surfer directed by Sean McNamara, based on the book Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton, Rick Bunsch, and Sheryl Berk.

Bethany Hamilton

Bethany was born to Tom and Cheri Hamilton on February 8, 1990 in Kauai, Hawaii. Her parents, both surfers, had moved to Hawaii due to their own interest in surfing.

So with her two brothers (Noah and Timmy) and surfing parents, Bethany Hamilton was destined to at least attempt surfing. Not only did she attempt surfing, but began entering surf contest at the age of eight, where she would win competitions in the short and long board categories over the next five years. She even picked up a sponsor (Rip Curl) and began to have dreams of professional surf career.

On October 31, 2003, at the age of 13, Hamilton was attacked by a tiger shark while surfing with the now pro surfer Alana Blanchard and Blanchard's parents. The tiger shark severed Bethany's left arm just below the shoulder. Hamilton was said to have lost over sixty percent of her blood that day. Tom Hamilton was supposed to have knee surgery that day, but Bethany took her father's place on the operating table and her life was saved, and her arm amputated.

In less than a year, Bethany was back to surfing and pushing herself to compete at a competitive level and placing in a number of competitions.

In addition to regaining her surfing legs and competing, Bethany's became a popular inspirational story on the media circuit appearing in a number of different media outlets, including 20/20, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen, and the Tonight Show. She also took a strong stand to use her situation to share how her triumph and perseverance came from her faith in Jesus.
In 2006 she published her biography with MTV, Soul Surfer.
In 2007, Bethany Hamilton went professional in the sport of surfing, in which she continues to surf professionally, as well as work with her foundation (Friends of Bethany) as well as write other books including her upcoming Christian devotional Soul Surfer Devotions.
Soul Surfer

In the film AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany Hamilton. Bethany Hamilton's parents are played by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt.

In the film Carrie Underwood plays the part of Sarah Hill, a missionary who had previously broke her neck and back in a surfing incident, and after attending Calvary Chapel Bible College moved to Kaui in 2001 to become a missionary, founding Kaui Child, an organization geared towards reaching kids on the Hawaiian Island.

The film also features a role for Craig T. Nelson as Bethany's orthopedic surgeon.

Not quite an award contender film (but definitely a biographical film), I can't help but ask if AnnaSophia Robb will receive any type of award attention for portraying this Real (Reel) Person.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reel People: Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher

The film is The Iron Lady, which is an original work written by Abi Morgan and Michael Hirst. The film is directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!).

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Roberts was born October 13, 1925 in Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom. Her father Alfred Roberts was a grocer, Methodist lay preacher, and later became involved in local politics as an alderman and Mayor.

Margaret was the second of two girls in her family, her older sister Muriel was four years older.

After primary school she won a scholarship to Kestevan and Grantham Girls School where in addition to receiving good scores as a student was involved extracurricularly in swimming, hockey and poetry. She would go on to Somerville College in Cambridge, where she would study Chemistry. Initially she was denied admittance, but reconsidered after another candidate withdrew.

Studying chemistry, and specializing crystallography, she would graduate and move to Colchester, England as a chemist for BX Plastics.

In 1949 attending a Paint Trade Federation function in Dartford, Margaret met Dennis Thatcher. At this time Margaret Roberts was a newly selected parliamentary candidate. Dennis was a successful businessmen who had recently been divorced (married to Margaret Kempson 1942-1948).

As Margaret started campaigning for parliament, she was supported by Dennis. They would get married in 1951. In the early 1950s Margaret Thatcher could not gain a set in Parliament, but did get the opportunity to go to law school, where she qualified as a barrister specializing in tax law in 1953. In 1953, Margaret also gave birth to twins Carol & Mark.

After many campaigns, Margaret became a member of parliament in 1959 for Finchley. Margaret would serve in this seat during her entire time in Parliament, representing the conservative party, with a keen eye on spending and lowering taxes. Her prominence rose when she became Education Secretary in 1970. She made firm and sometimes unpopular choices in this role (such as no longer provide free milk for children aged seven to eleven. Giving her the nickname 'Margret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher').

In 1979 after four years of being the leader of the opposition party, the conservatives won a 44 seat majority in the house of commons and Margaret Thatcher was selected to be the prime minister, making her the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom. She officially began as prime minister on May 4, 1979.

Margaret Thatcher would service as the Prime Minister for over 11 years. In addition to continued emphasis on the economy, privatization, and education, she was also the prime minister in the final days of The Cold War and worked closely with American President, Ronald Regan on policies towards the Soviet Republic. A defining part of her presidency also involved the Falklands War when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Thatcher also had to deal with strikes by energy and industrial sectors, primarily the coal unions, due to her stances related to limiting the unions.

In 1990 Thatcher resigned as prime minister after her party began challenging her, largely due to low approval ratings and some of her personal convictions, primarily related to her refusal to agree to a timetable to join Europe's single currency system. In tears she left 10 Downing Street and her Chancellor John Major succeeded Thatcher. Thatcher remained in parliament for the next two years for Finchley before retiring at the age of 66 in 1992.

In the following years Thatcher continued to enter the political spotlight at times whether that's has been making speeches, appearing at important functions, or being honored by her country.

In 2002, Margaret Thatcher had a series of strokes and was advised not to make any more public speeches.

Denis Thatcher died June 26, 2003 of pancreatic cancer.

Margaret Thatcher remains a member of the House of Lords with the distinguished title of Baroness Thatcher.

The Iron Lady

In the film The Iron Lady the film is said to tell the story of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister, largely through flashbacks. Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher. Denis Thatcher (Margaret's husband) is played by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent.

Other British political figures that will be portrayed in the film include Geoffery Howe, Michael Hesltine, Michael Frost, John Nott, & Francis Pym.

Will the perpetually nominated Meryl Streep get nominated for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Real (Reel) People Win Oscars: 2011 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 2001.

• In 2010 Colin Firth played King George VI, stuttering British royalty at the dawn of the radio era and won for Best Actor.
• 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.

The non-biopic winners: Natalie Portman (Black Swan), 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).

I wouldn't expect 2011 to be different. As a result we can almost plan on either Best Actor Oscar winner or Best Actress winner going to a performer who played in a biographical film as a "Real (Reel) Person."

2011 Real (Reel) People Performances:

Reel People: Hiam Abbass is Hind Husseini
Reel People: Matt Damon is Benjamin Mee
Reel People: Leonardo DiCaprio is J. Edgar Hoover
Reel People: Ralph Fiennes is Gaius Marcius Coriolanus
Reel People: Ben Kingsley is Georges Méliès
Reel People: Rhys Ifans is Edward de Vere
Reel People: Liya Kebede is Waris Dirie
Reel People: Keira Knighley is Sabina Spielrein
Reel People: Viggo Morteson is Simgund Freud
Reel People: Haley Joel Osment is Helmuth Hübener
Reel People: Robin Wright Penn is Mary Surratt
Reel People: Brad Pitt is Billy Beane
Reel People: Andrea Riseborough is Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor, Duchess of Windsor
Reel People: AnnaSophia Robb is Bethany Hamilton
Reel People: David Strathairn is William J Flynn
Reel People: Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher
Reel People: Rachel Weisz is Kathryn Bolkovak
Reel People: Michelle Williams is Marilyn Monroe

Click to links to see the previous Real (Reel) People projects from 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007.

Friday, March 11, 2011

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo: The Book and Pre-Thoughts on the Film Adaptation

I recently read the book War Horse in preparation for the upcoming film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg.

The book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo is a young adult fiction book. Told from the perspective of a horse just prior to and during WWI in Europe.

Now, to be fair, I'm one who normally doesn't find themselves liking "animal movies" and while there horse movies can have a different flavor, I don't know that I've ever read with a horse as a narrator. In the case, the narrating horses name is "Joey."

And so while the book generally bored me to tears and made me imagine a Black Beauty or National Velvet type of story might have the same feel, as the story got moving along my feelings began to change.

The first change in my feelings occurred, when I realized that what Morpurgo was doing was going to be moving this horse in the midst of a variety of characters, and the somewhat pathetic obsessive young boy who loves the horse in the early stage of the story (Albert) was not going to be in the book the whole time. And instead, through the changes that occur in the horses life.

In this way the book reminded me of the movie The Red Violin that follows the object (the violin) through time with various settings and characters. This film was similar in that regard, with the exception that the horse was a character with a name, thoughts, and an internal voice. But like an object it had little ability to impact it's own personal situation, had limited ideological allegiance, and like an object had the capacity to be owned (and trade hands among various owners).

The second thing I found myself appreciating in this story was that how an animal narrator, particularly in the harsh setting of war, could have a unique role in the way that Morpurgo wrote the character of the horse, Joey. Because the various owners and carers of Joey formed an emotional connection to the horse, the human characters in the book often speak openly with the horse as though he were a trusted confidant, giving the opportunity to really know the inner thoughts of all the other primary characters in the story. As they share and Joey relays to the readers what he has heard, this first person perspective truly is able to present a more omnipotent perspective into the various characters in the story.

So as this story unfolds, the simple perspective it presents of WWI, with some themes one might expect in a young adults fiction novel unfolds, you find that the story is still quite touching and enjoyable.

This book was written in 1982, and 25 years later this story made it's way to the London stage after Nick Stafford wrote a stage adaptation with some unique life size stage horses which can be seen in the YouTube video below. The play then came to the West End and Broadway.



After Kathleen Kennedy saw this play in London, she told Steven Spielberg who bought the rights to the book, which is being adapted independently for the film expected later this year.

Having read the book, it is clear that a film or stage adaptation will have a different flavor for a couple reasons. The first is that the element of horse narration will be lost. The second is that as a children's novel much of the brutality of war can be easily glossed over with simple lines that summarize briefly battles, death, and animal brutality. But in a film version, a picture is worth a 1000 words, and the pictures of these war sequences will have a different flavor in color than with simple words (from the perspective of a horse).

And so the final product will admittedly be different from the initial 1982 packaging, and I can imagine that being ruined in many ways, or hopefully under the hands of the respected director Steven Spielberg, and the Oscar nominated screenwriters Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral) the final project will be it's own masterpiece.

Film still from Dreamwork's War Horse via The Film Stage site.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spiritual Leaders in Film: Pastor Rosier Pile (Walter Brennan) in Sergeant York

Walter Brennan's Oscar nominated role of Pastor Rosier Pile in the film Sergeant York is certainly interesting, and I even say a praise worthy performance and great film role.

As a biographical film, I'm uncertain as to what degree of care was put into the creation of this character, because at first glance there are many parts of this rural minister that are quite stereotypical. He's hand waving, country church preaching much of his screen time. He's soft spoken. He's sensitive in a way no other male character in the film is, particularly in his interaction with Mother York (Margaret Wycherly).

But despite some of the stereotype, I'm not critical. Some pastors are hand waving speakers. Some pastors are known for their preaching. Some are soft spoken. And some are sensitive, particularly to old women.

But what I like about this character in the film is that in addition to all these things, he is also unafraid to be honest, and handles a rough guy (like the pre-conversion Sergeant York) with a care and honesty that I felt like was moving. He didn't gloss over the truth, but he didn't condemn. Rather, you could tell it was a love for the York family, including Alvin York (Gary Cooper), that helped lead him to repentance.

I like that this image of Pastor Rosier Pile doesn't end his interest with Alvin York at the moment he experience conversation. I like the fact that in interaction isn't solely for him to attend church (although that is an interest of the Brennan's character). Instead, he truly seems interested in helping Alvin York experience full life transformation, that will impact every aspect of his life.

Another aspect of Walter Brennan's character is that while he he is the minister to the community he also the owner of dry goods store. I don't know why I am drawn to this aspect of his character, perhaps it's because it helps break up the stereotypical character, and even give him a sense of cultural relevance that he is capable of having a trade in their community that doesn't depend on the attendance in his white painted chapel.

I wish there were more films that had characters like Pastor Rosier Pile in them. Often biographical films have a spiritual element, because our spiritual self's influence what we do, as we see in the life of Alvin York. For some reason, in modern fictional films, film makers and writers seem to fail at writing in interesting characters like this into their stories, and if they do, they stick to the stereotypes.

Other previous posts about spiritual leaders in film:

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Two in A Row Colin - Probably Not

Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 for A Single Man and won in 2011 for The King's Speech.

Which has led me to wonder if he might have the chance to be a double winner this next year?

9 men have won two best Actor Oscars: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Sean Penn.

Of those 9, two won their Oscars back to back (Spencer Tracy 38/39 and Tom Hanks 94/95).

Now, looking at Colin Firth's upcoming filmography, I don't think Firth will be nominated again this upcoming year or win, but I don't under estimate Firth's sudden rise to prominence, and something tells me whether it's lead or supporting, that Firth is not done with Oscar, even if it's just a nomination some time down the road.

But could he follow up with an award this year? Probably not.

Colin Firth shows up in the spy film, directed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, based on the novel with the same name by John Le Carre.

But more curious to me is Firth's role in the film The Promised Land, a biopic and police thriller set in Tel Aviv in 1942. Colin Firth's role seems to be supporting, but the information on this project is limited, and so you never know.

And then beyond that, all other projects seem like they'll be 2012 films...all with some better potential for Oscar love...The Coen Brother's film Gambit, Neil LaBute's Seconds of Pleasure, or even Chan-wook Park's Stoker.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Two in A Row Natalie - NO!

When it comes to lead actresses and multiple wins, a few ladies have this honor.

Katherine Hepburn won 4 Oscars.

11 woman other women have one two Oscar trophies ( Luise Rainer, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, Glenda Jackson, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Jodie Foster, and Hilary Swank).

Two of those won back-to-back Oscars (Luise Rainer 37/38 & Katherine Hepburn 67/68).

Will Natalie Portman join this group of ladies after her win for Best Actress in the film Black Swan?

I can tell you now, the Answer his NO. I have posted an image of her 2011 filmography, and with three films not one offers her a chance.

Natalie Oscar winning "follow-ups."
  • No String Attached
  • Your Highness
  • Thor

Monday, March 07, 2011

For The Birds - Tweet!

So, Twitter's like "old school" in the world of hot new trends, but for some reason I put it int the category of "how much social networking does a guy need?"

But for the last couple years people have been encouraging me to Tweet.

If you have any tips, secrets, or idea for the twitter feed of StrangeCultureBlog.com feel free to share your ideas.

In the meantime feel free to follow me...username is StrangeCulture.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sergeant York: A War Story, An American Story, a Faith Story

Recently, having a film conversation with my pastor and his wife, they mentioned their interest in the film Sergeant York. I asked why they liked it and they said "we like the film because it's a compelling film. It's a large scale Hollywood film, it's an entertaining, well told story, and shares the gospel message of Christ in the film, very clearly."

Because I've been catching up on my cinema from the 1930s and 1940s, the recommendation put this film instantly on my radar.

This film is directed by Howard Hawks and tells the real life Sergeant Alvin York, America's most decorated WWI veteran.

Beyond the element of faith, what I found most interesting about this film was that the film is marketed, even it's name as a war story with taglines about fighting, tanks, and guns. Most pictures from the film are stills like the one above with Gary Cooper either in battle or decorated as a war hero.

But while the climactic battle seasons with Cooper as Sergeant Alvin York are one of the turning points in York's story (on the screen and in real life), this image of York is "What He Did" while the true image of York (the "Who He Is") is a struggling Tennessee farmer with a powerful conversion from a violent drunk troublemaker to a man who wanted to do right by his family, his fiancee, and the Lord.

A more appropriate image for this film would be one like the one here, that shows Cooper as a simple man in Tennessee trying to find someway to change his caste in life by earning enough money to buy up a piece of bottom land and win the heart of the girl he loved (Gracie Williams, played by Joan Leslie).
But billed as a war story, it's okay too - because it's that type of story as well, yet I don't think as an audience you watch cheering for for York to win the war, I think you cheer for him hoping he can get himself a piece of bottom-land in the valley.

In my assessment, more than a war story, this is actually an American story. A story of American freedom, what that means in the scope of time and history. When it comes to war the aspect of war, war is a piece of that story, not the entirety of the story.

In terms of the faith aspect of the story, is that faith is not used as a marketing strategy in this film, but instead as a historical film about a real person, the reality of York's faith is a dramatic part of his story and a continuous thread in his life. His conversion experience isn't the climax, but rather the catalyst for the changes in his life that help make York who he is supposed to be.

This not only makes for powerful story telling, but also a powerful story. And it seems that the most compelling films about faith are the true stories, where film makers tell the story of someone the way that they are and faith is a part of their character. In fictionalized stories it seems like authors tend to ignore the aspect of faith in the creation of characters, unless it is to create a certain type of stereotypical supporting character. Yet, in real stories, like the stories of Alvin York the peaks and valleys of his own experience with God are as much a valid part of who he is, as where he lived and what family he came from.

In this regard, York's real story plays out in a powerful way that I'm sure spoke out to audiences in 1941, particularly as another great war was beginning in Europe, but I think there is room for this film to challenge contemporary film watchers 70 years after it's initial release.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Contemporary Smart Phone Protocol: 13 Questions Regarding Cell Phone Ettiquette

I write this post with no one person in mind.

But I have a feeling you will relate.

The explosion of cell phone users of all ages and with all types of social needs and desires creates a huge sudden divergence in what is perceived as acceptable etiquette, protocol, and just general rules of conduct.

Here's the questions that I imagine different people have different "rules" for and I don't think everyone's playing with the same rule book.

Here are 13 Questions for the Current Communication Age

1. If you are with other people and you get a text message, do you check it?

2. If you are with other people and you get a text message do you check it, and respond?

3. If you get a text, do you have to respond? What if there's not question?

4. If there's a lull in the conversation with friends can you get out your phone and play a game with one of your favorite iPhone apps?

5. If you know that someone has a phone glued to their hip and they don't respond to the e-mail you sent to their blackberry should you be concerned?

6. If you call, should you leave a message, or will they call back if they see they missed a call?

7. If you get an e-mail is it better to respond on your phone with a shorter more reactive response or should you wait until your at a desk top computer to write a more thorough and grammatically conclusive response?

8. If your phone is out and your getting an incoming call, can someone else pick it up and tell you who's calling?

9. If you do get a voicemail is there an expected turn around time for a return call on the basis that you do have your phone with you everywhere you go?

10. Is there a standard cut off time for when you can make a call? Send a text?

11. If someone ask a question and the fact can be found on your phone, is it appropriate to do the google search there or should you not cause a break in discussion?

12. Can you respond to a message in one medium (say a voicemail) with a response with another phone medium (say a text message or e-mail)?

13. Can you use your Blackberry in the bathroom?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The 2011 holiday season will have a Martin Scorsese film released called Hugo Cabret. The main character Hugo isn't a gangster or gritty violent villain. In fact no drugs, sex, violence, or intense language. And it doesn't take place in New York city.

The film is based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This book falls into the category of books that typically lacks some glamour...as a young adult novel. Although, as a young adult novel, it has won a unique prize. The Caldecott Medal, which is an award given by the ALSC (The Association for Library Services to Children) honoring art in children's books.

This book is rather short (with 24 short young adult sized chapters), but on the shelf, this book has a massive presence at 533 pages. That is because author Brian Selznick also serves as illustrator with captivating pencil art throughout the book, often taking the place of written narrative and telling the story instead of words themselves.

There are certainly plenty of things to discuss, particularly as it relates to film and this being made into a movie by Scorcese, but focusing on the book itself, let me provide a brief outline.

The story takes place in Paris, France in 1931 and deals with a young boy who lives secretly in a train station by himself, after some unfortunate events. Here, he cares for the clocks in the train station and because of his fascination with machines, and a unique machine he has acquired he sometimes steals toy parts from a cranky toy store owner.

This sets the stage for a series of events, that while at time fit together just a little bit too perfectly creates for an interesting story.

Where this film becomes particularly interesting (a part from a few expected and unexpected turn of events) is that as you get into this story the historical nature of this book begins playing out.

The film actually has a great deal to do with early cinema, particularly the French inventor/magician/film maker Georges Méliès who many would credit as being the first film fantasist or the man who made the first science fiction film.

The film that Méliès is most associated with is a short film called "A Trip to the Moon (French title "Le Voyage Dans la Lune"), about just that, a group of men who travel to the moon being shot in a giant cannon...with a rocket the lands in the eye of the moon.

It is clear that as you get into the book, that Brian Selznick's intention in writing his story is to introduce readers to Méliès and play with many of the themes of Méliès life (invention, magic, and the movies).

As one of this years books that is being taken from fiction to film, I find this to not only be an interesting choice for Martin Scorches (3D and all) but I think is one that will make a great transition and really could be one a real gem.

There was obviously something that captured Scorsese's interest early on, as this book only was released in 2007, but Scorsese has really assembled an A-list cast from the young stars (Asa Butterfield and Chloë Moretz) to the seasoned veterans with important roles in the story (Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Richard Griffiths, Emily Mortimer, Helen McCrory, Frances de la Tour, Michael Stuhlbarg and Ray Winstone). Not to mention a screenplay adaptation by double Oscar nominee John Logan (Gladiator and Aviator).

But this story in many ways has to be a family flick, I can't picture it any other way after reading it, nor would I want it "adulted up" in any way. I think the story works, and I can easily see it filling and fitting into a feature length context. I could take it or leave it when it comes to 3D, but since it's about invention and the technology of cinema, I think I'm even okay with that decision as well.

Check out this book when you get a chance. I'm not done talking about it. And give it a little bit and I have a feeling you'll start hearing more about this book and the film.
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