Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pigs in Costumes

I tend to think dressing an animal (or babies) in a costume is cruel. That said, if your choice is being dressed as Batman or being turned into bacon...Batman's looking pretty good.

My daughter's favorite animal is pigs. So in her honor this Halloween, here are pigs dressed in costumes (I can't believe I'm posting this).

(And I still can't find the BatPig!)

Soccer Pigs from LA Time Blog: LA Unleashed.
Teacup Pigs in a Pumpkin from Observations of a Nerd.
The Pig Bride from Select Smart Forum.
Piglets Dressed as Tiger Cubs in Thailand from Snopes (with background story)
Miniature Pig Dressed as a Cowboy from Attack of the Cute
Okay...okay, that's enough. Happy Halloween.

Hurricane Sandy & Wall Street

Hurricane Sandy Closes Wall Street
I can respect the power of nature, and understand that where man has a responsibility for nature, nature's power is often unmatched for man.

Year-after-year we see this in new ways, and Hurricane Sandy (SuperStorm) certainly proves this. All day long, distant from the impacted cities, I find myself in an odd state of anxiety waiting for it to be over, and with a heart that goes out to residents and families of those in the areas of most impact.

Yet, today I've also been struck by the oddity of Wall Street being closed. Sandy's power speaks to me in the way that it freezes financial markets in many ways, not just domestically, but in the world.

It strikes me as odd that there is no better contingency plan for such a situation - that an alternative Wall Street isn't set up more inland in another part of the country, but despite the frozen markets, I've been struck with the way that the business world has moved on.

I understand that appropriately so, earnings reports scheduled for this time have been delayed. Yet, perhaps less appropriately, companies who regular experience stock fluctuations with big announcements have pressed forward with big announcements.

Apple's iOS software chief is fired, and while Google cancels New York events, it still announced new products.

Or how about the joint-venture announcement of Random House (privately owned by Bertelsmann), and Penguin (owned by Person PLC, traded under PSO on the New York Stock Exchange)? Is it appropriate for such large announcements to be released when investors do not have the opportunity to respond?

Or Swiss Bank UBS (NYSE: UBS) announces massive layoffs? Clean Habors (NYSE: CLH) buys Safety-Kleen (private)?

I understand some news is simply going to happen - but it's the announcements, planned and controllable that surprise. Where politicians (in their own political way) cease certain types of campaigning due to the storm, you would think (wrongly so) business might stop as well, specifically when the New York Stock Exchange floor is closed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

12 Reasons I Hate Halloween

Picture from Pixsylated.
Every year, I find myself disliking Halloween more and more. Here are the 12 Reasons I Hate Halloween.

12. Horror films which proliferating violence, fear, horror, and sex. For many it's all just fun, and dressing up and if I talked to you, it might seem as if it was Superhero and Punky Brewster remembrance day, but the onslaught in fall of slasher films, torture porn, and all the other things I hate about modern horror films.

11. Unintended & Premature Kid Discussions. Children being exposed to horror, grotesque violence, death, witchcraft, and other things evil before they reach an appropriate age for an age-appropriate conversation. These premature discussions occur in the costumes children are exposed to, decorations, and other related Halloween displays and accouterments (see reasons  10, 9, 8 & 1). Evil exist, but there is no reason to present these topics prematurely to children, especially mixed in with dress-up and candy.

10. Toddler Witches & Devils. Young girls dressing up as witches. I saw two young girls the age of my daughter (four) in this type of costume. How do they explain what they're dressed as? I couldn't let my little girl be a witch! I feel the exact same about the little kids dressed as Satan. The red horns and pitchfork do not amuse me. In this same vein, but perhaps to a lesser extent, I find myself taken aback by babies and toddlers in costume's alluding to death (ghost and skeleton's being popular choices).

9. Bloody Boys With Cleavers. Young boys dressed in violent, bloody costumes. "It's all fun and games" you say, and yet I realize that those who dress as violent mass murders, bloody ghouls, and violent criminals will not become those things. Yet the news is filled with stories of young adults committing unthinkable crimes (I think of the recent developments in the Jessica Ridgeway murder as a recent example, with 17 year old criminal Austin Sigg). And you are adorning yourself in fake blood and cleavers? Tasteless.

8. Victoria's Secret Kitty. Young ladies dressed in lingerie - simply because it's October 31st. Lingerie with cat ears, devil horns, a halo, or butterfly wings, is still lingerie. Those young women are somebodies daughter, and it's a pity that this has become part of what Halloween is about.

7. Safety. I always worry a little bit about safety on these nights. It's sad that it's dangerous to walk to neighbors houses in a costume, but there are so many things to be afraid of and although I don't want to be one of "those people" I also don't want to be ignorant. With my oldest being four-years old my wife and I are an active part of the "tick or treating experience" but I look around at a number of young elementary age children traveling the neighborhoods independently, and the exposure to danger is disturbing. Most of these fears are probably irrational (the razor blade in the milk way, or the neighbor who abducting kids) but it's sometimes hard to know how to be safe and have fun at the same time when it comes to Halloween.

6. Family Budgets. The expanding commercialization of Halloween. Reports by The National Retail Federation show that families will spend an average of $80 on Halloween, mostly on costumes. Sure it's not horrible, but the report also shows a year over year increase as well, about 10% this year over last. I'm not saying the commercialization is stealing from the "sacredness" of the day, or anything of that nature, instead that it's another drain on family finances for something that I see as generally not valuable.

5. Adults acting Stupid. If it's all about the kids why are adults more and more using Halloween as an opportunity to party, act stupid, and participate in one night of destructive behavior, all in the name of Halloween. So now not only do you have kids walking on the street at ten at night, but you also have adults drinking and driving on those very same streets. To me, it's a big turn off when I meet an adult obsessed with Halloween as if they were seven.

4. Candy Overload and Kids. I don't know how it was in the "good old days" but now it seems like when it comes to getting your loot it's not about going next door...it's about going to the "good neighborhood," you know...the one with the track record for giving our full size Hersey bars, not dum dums and tootsie roll pops. In these neighborhoods you race to go to as many houses as possible and you're filling up a pillow case of chocolate. This is not an amount of candy you take home and eat for a day or two - you might get enough to give yourself a healthy sugar fix on a daily basis for weeks to come.

3. Candy Overload and Adults. I have this feeling, that even though the Halloween candy aisles hit stores way before Halloween that most of the early purchases of candy somehow makes it in to the office. The last thing most adults need is multiple "fun size" or "miniature" candy bars through out the course of the day...and yet, the packages are so cute, it's easy to pop that 105 calories of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in your mouth, a couple times a day. With adult health in America so poor, this is unfortunate, and once Halloween is over, those leftover Snickers and Smarties surely get a lot of adults consuming unneccesary calories. And that's not even counting what they're stealing from their kids' stashes.

2. Social Harm of Cheap Chocolate: In 2011, American's spent a record $2.273 billion on Halloween Candy. And as Alyce Lomax of the Montley Fool recently shared, most of the chocolate bought and given out is not fair trade, and candy makers are taking advantage of poorer nations to provide American's with a cheap good, on the backs of families and children in places like the Ivory Coast.

This photo (and others like it) from Smith & Ratliff.
1. Grim & Gaudy Halloween Decor. Fall is a beautiful time of year, no other month is quite like October, the colors changing on the trees, the way the changing angle of the sun makes everything seem crisp and vibrant. Oh yes, and by the way, since people have started decorating for Halloween as though it were Christmas, they feel compelled to hang skulls from their trees, fill their yards with leaf bags with jack o' lantern faces, fake tombstones, and artificial spiders. If you're lucky you have a neighbor with strobe lights, halloween lights, and and skulls with flashing eyes. Nothing says fall like artificial spider webs everywhere.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The 2012 Oscar Race: Actors in the Limelight & Actresses in the Shadows

The 2012 Races Set it Up for Actors to Be in the Limelight & Actresses to Be in the Shadows
I'm always someone who's in favor of the best actors, actresses, films, directors (and so forth) winning and being nominated for the Academy Awards in their respective category. Sure campaigns, films, timing muddle the story - but it's always good to see the right person get the right nomination (in the right category).

That said, looking at the way the field is shaking out in the Actor and Actress field, it seems like the Actors getting buzz, as well as their respective films, all seem far more commercially viable with greater name recognition (both the actors and the films), as opposed to the actresses.

With the exception of John Hawks in The Session, the leading actor contenders are household names: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Denzel Washington (Flight), Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock), Jaoquin Phoenix (The Master), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Ben Affleck (Argo), Matt Damon (Promised Land), Bradley Cooper (Silver Lining Playbook), Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson) and Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained).

The actress race has potential to offer it's own compelling stories and there is certainly time for performances to rise to the surface, but the biggest names do not seem to be leading the pack, and the films are generally smaller films. Interestingly, one of the most likely nominees is Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook) iscertainly a rising star following a previous nomination for Winter's Bone and perhaps more significantly, blockbuster recognition for her role in The Hunger Games.

Other actresses with a chance for a nomination include less public figures (movie buffs love them - but the man on the street might struggle to name more than one film these people have appeared in): Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), and Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wild). 

And then there are some other females who's names appear at award shows but generally are not a part of the public conversation, and certainly not for these films: Helen Mirren (Hitchcock), Maggie Smith (Quartet), Marion Cottilard (Rust & Bone), Naomi Watts (The Impossible), and Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina).

Frankly, the Actress race looks more like the Independent Spirit Awards. And perhaps this helps compel some smaller films into the conversation, but I think it's more likely this pushes the actress race into the background.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Biopics on the Living: Lance Armstrong

Today, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France wins and is banned for life from the International Cycling Union.

It has been nothing but highs and lows for Armstrong and the story keeps on playing out.

For the past six years I've done a handful of post on the possibility of a Lance Armstrong biopic, so much has changed since that first post in 2006 about Jake Gyllenhaal wanting to play Armstrong in a biopic. In 2009 I did a similar post, about Gyllenhaal's continued interest, but other names being thrown around as well.

And yet, this leads to the complexity of contemporary biopics...the stories are sometimes to fresh to know the full narrative. While I think Armstrong's story offers a compelling narrative, unless it plans to have an pre-2012 ending, in my mind, the story is still playing out.

Frankly, I can't imagine a successful Lance Armstrong film at this point in the story.

I consider the genre of documentary to be more flexible, with the possibility of attacking contemporary issues  with a meaningful narrative and the potential to look at issues from various angles. Feature films have less flexibility.

In that vein, Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney's working on a documentary On The Road which is apparently near completion, with a final edit following today's announcement. Now this is a film that I believe could gain some traction, sure were talking a different arena, but I'm not holding my breathe for a "Jake Gyllenhaal is Lance Armstrong" post. Instead, I've got my eye on Gibney's film for now.

Monday Review by Margie: Source Code (2011)

Margie Cracken is a guest blogger for StrangeCultureBlog.com, her style & taste are not typical to the Film Blog Community. You can read more about Margie here.
Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal, Source Code
I don't know why I rented Source Code. The only thing I can guess is that I saw that the movie took place on a train, and I was intrigued.

Young people these days do not seem to appreciate trains.

It is a well known fact that there is nothing quite as romantic as a train. It is a pity that people rarely take the train anymore. I've read articles that talk about the possibility of high speed trains going in in various parts of the country. In fact, I think there was just a story the other day about some train in Chicago going over 100 miles per hour. A train that travels the speed of the bullet is about as romantic as this unromantic movie, Source Code.

I don't know much about film editing, but I do know a thing or two about story editing. And somehow, this film is one of those kooky creativity things that Hollywood is always trying to pull.

Whatever happened to good stories? It's as if the guy who wrote this movie came up with a good ten minute story about a guy on a train and realized he didn't have anything else. So he got his mimeograph machine out...correction, being a modern man, I presume he used a photocopier...and copies the story 6 or 7 times, staples them together, and then just marked up different sections to make the story seem a little different each time.

I must say, I did not really understand what was going on with the main character being inside that weird box in between the train sequences. I doubt the actors did either, because they seemed so confused themselves. If I were talking to someone on a TV who was telling me to get back inside of an exploding train over and over again, I think I would simply go batty. The truth is, this movie did make me go batty. What a waste.

I understand that the film is trying to be psychological, but clearly that did not happen. The author unfortunately must be hanging around the wrong type of crowd. It's a pity no one told him his story was no good.

If the writer or director asked me about this film, I would have told them to go back to the drawing board. Or maybe, I'd have told him to go to trade school, or get a job at McDonalds.

For an example of a much better psychological train movie, I would recommend Hitchcok's The Lady Vanishes. In The Lady Vanishes their is an elderly lady, Miss Froy, on the train who all the passengers say never existed. Yet, beautiful Iris Henderson, played by the always beautiful Margaret Lockwood, knows Miss Froy was not a hallucination. Now that is a story. It plays out with intrigue, plot twist, and splendid characters. There's no man talking to a lady on a TV. There's no redo to try the scenes again.

No, this film is no Source Code, and Source Code is no The Lady Vanishes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reel People: Anthony Hopkins is Alfred Hitchcock

The film is Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi. The screenplay is written by John J. McLauglin based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello.

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock was born August 13, 1899 in London England. His father, William Hitchcock was a Catholic grocer. He raised Hitchcock with a Catholic tradition, including sending him to a Catholic school.

William Hitchcock died with Alfred was fourteen. On the heels of WWI, Alfred attempted to enlist, but was turned down at least in part because of his obesity.

Having attended the London County Council School of Engineering and and Navigation in London, he went from being a draftsman and ad designer for Henley's, a cable company. He also began to assist with the in house newspaper, the Henley telegraph in 1919, where he was prolific contributor, including short stories he would write for the newsletter. From here he followed his interest in photography and film, where he was a title card designer for Gainsborough Pictures.

It would be five years before he released his first film, and after a series of less successful endeavors, he had his first success in January 1927 with the release of The Lodger: The Story of the London Fog. And it was after this film, he began to become much more prolific releasing multiple films a year.

It was also during this time that he married his assistant director Alma Reville. Alfred and Alma were married December 2, 1926. Together they would have a daughter, Patricia, born July 7, 1928.

Hitchcock's 1929 film Blackmail is considered by some to be the first British talking film, famous for the use of sound as audiences her the word "knife" in conversation. This film also features an extended cameo appearance of Hitchcock himself.

The next years brought a series of important and popular films to the developing Hitchcock brand, including The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, and The Lady Vanishes.

Following these successful films and the growth of an American audience, David O. Selznick signed Hitchcock to a seven year film deal beginning in 1939.

Hitchcock seemed to have less freedom with Selznick, which would include conflict in the filming and the selection of materials. Hitchcock would benefit from greater resources in filming. His first film with David O. Selznick, Rebecca, would go onto with the Academy Award for best picture in 1940, with Selznick winning the prize. Hitchcock did not win an Oscar, instead the director prize went to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath.

Selznik and Hitchcock's second film Foreign Correspondent was also a best picture nominee for the 13th Academy Award ceremony, the same year Rebecca won.

The Hitchcock's settled in California at this time, buying the 200 acre Cornwall Ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. The Santa Cruz coast provided the setting in Alfred Hitchcock's first film as producer/director, Suspicion, which in addition to being nominated for best picture, won best actress for Joan Fontaine.

Other films during the Selznick era included Mr. & Mrs Smith (1941), Sabatour (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), The Paradine Cove (1947).

In 1948 he would do his first color film, Rope. Which was also his first film collaboration with James Stewart. While Hitchcock would return to black and white for many later films, this film, would start the trend of Hitchcock producing his own films for life.

During the 1950s found his own way by creating the films he wanted to, and further developing his own brand with a number of successful features, some of the best known include Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955) and a remake of his own 1934 film The Man Who Knew too Much (1956).

It was also during this time that Hitchcock's popular soared in a new direction as host and producer of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965). This type of branding was also  used on books and story series.

At the end of the 1950s, he would make some of his most famous films, Vertgo (1958), followed by North by Northwest (1959), which would then be followed up by Psycho (1960). Psycho was the last film Alfred Hitchcock would receive an Oscar nomination for (Billy Wilder won for The Apartment). Hitchcock would never receive an Oscar for any of his films.

The 1960s were not as prolific, with his most famous film being The Birds (1963), and cold war themed films Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969). His decline during this period is in part due to failing health.

His last two films were Frenzy (1972) and Family Plot (1976). Hitchcock died of renal failure at his Bel Air home April 29, 1980.


The film Hitchcock focuses on the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville during the making of Psycho.

In addition to Anthony Hopkins portraying Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren co-stars as his wife Alma Reville.

The film Psycho stared Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and Vera Miles. Their roles are performed by Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh as Marion Crane), James D'Arcy (as Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates), and Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles Lila Crane).

Michael Stuhlberg plays Lew Wasserman (talent agent), and Ralph Macchio plays Joseph Stefano (Psycho screenwriter). Danny Huston and Toni Collette also have roles in the film.

Anthony Hopkins hasn't been nominated for over a decade, and Hollywood is sure to be interested in his portrayal. Will he receive his fifth Oscar nominee, and potential his second win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Fall Bedtime Story: Mr Putter & Tabby Pick the Pears

My two oldest (4 years, and twenty months) have found a new favorite story this week, and we've been reading it non-stop.

The story is Mr. Putter & Tabby Pick the Pears by Cynthia Rylant.

It is a cute story of an old-man, Mr. Putter, who loves Pear Jelly, but due to his cranky knees and legs, can't seem to climb the ladder anymore (like he used to) to pick his pears.

I find the story incredibly cute, my four-year old daughter is old enough to enjoy some of the comedy in the story, and my 20 month year old found a new favorite word "ZING" (a word used as the sound of an apple flung from slingshot Mr. Putter uses to try to get the pears down).

I love when we find new favorite bed time stories - especially ones we all (myself included) can enjoy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reflections on Sherry Turkle's Alone Together Interview

Today, I found myself in the car while NPR's Terry Gross was interviewing MIT Psychologist, Sherry Turkle.

Sherry Turkle's book is called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. The book analyzes the impact of technology on our social interactions, particularly the impact of technological natives, including the impact of kids with parents absorbed in technology.

In compiling tons of interviews of people of all ages, Turkle shared in her interview some of the conclusions of her research.

Of those she shared in the interview, what I found most interesting was her thoughts on why we text message (and may read a text versus making call, or answering one).

I always have declared myself not a phone person, and even though I don't hyper-text, I connected with the thought of checking a text and avoid voice-to-voice phone interaction.

Sherry Turkle's interviews led her to conclusion that we are quick to check the text because we want to know who needs us, and that phone or interpersonal action makes us vulnerable and unable to control the situation (the messages, the time spent talking, our responses, etc.).

Nothing Sherry said was surprising but it's got me thinking all day. One, it's helped me reflect on when other people might be more comfortable with a text message -- encouraging me to text to keep it simple and safe for others. But more than that, it's almost convicting that I'm more prone to e-mail or text someone than call. I've been thinking about what it would mean to pick up more often.

In a way, I'd like to set a personal goal to use more of those cell phone minutes I'm paying for...on the other hand, part of me worries if I am prone to pick up the phone before e-mail, texting or facebook messaging if I will isolate myself, not interacting in a modern way that "takes care of business" and keeps communication open.

What would to consciously avoid texting? Facebook messages? E-mails? And instead, choosing the phone in lieu of these methods. What would a plunge like this mean? What would be the impact?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Twitter, The Debates & Agressive Partisanship

If you were watching the debates, you might have also been on twitter.

Coming off the debates, I've kind of felt like I've needed a detox.

One of the things that was most surprising about being on twitter during the debates was that despite the fact that people talk about their disdain for partisan politics, twitter seemed mighty partisan last night.

Sure there was the jokes about "binders of women." But it seems pretty clear that there are very few undecided voters. although those undecided voters continue to be mentioned as the ones to decide the election.

People seem to praise the politicians for their aggressiveness in debates, and both President Obama and Governor Romney got the memo and the town hall more seemed like a boxing match at times.

Although, I struggle with this aggregation being the solution for America.

I wonder what it would be like if Romney and Obama engaged in Lincoln-Douglas debates. Instead of two minute response times, they would have to fill much more space (the original format is 60 minutes for the first speaker, 90 for the second, and a 30 minute rejoinder by the first speaker).

Neither candidate tried to answer the questions, instead they pivoted to their pre-planned talking points. And in the end, neither candidate seems that impressive because they're playing to fears and present misleading information that that's technically correct to plays in their favor.

Harvard University's Institute of Politics presented some interesting survey data, that showed unsurprisingly that younger voters polled stronger for electing President Obama. But at the same time, the data showed a disinterest in voting by young voters. This impact on voter turn out as well as the election as a whole is interesting to me, because I question the effectiveness of the tone of the ads, and the debates.

But it's easy to complain about the ads, and maybe even the debate tone. But what about the twitterers? Where you tweeting in favor of your guy or criticizing the one who is not your guy? Did you type zingers criticizing the ideas of others? Or did you tweet in a way to encourage collaboration, solving problems, and making America and the world a better place?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ant-Man 2015

Last year I did a post about the depth of Avengers property, and it's numerous characters. Avengers offers almost limitless revenue to the franchise if the broader film-goer audiences had the continued appetite for less-than-famous Superheroes on the big screen.

One that I featured in my post was Ant-Man.

Just yesterday, the LA Times reported that Ant-Man has a November 6, 2015 release date on the Disney calendar. The film will be directed by Edgar Wright, introducing the world to Dr. Hank Pym who's shrinking serum turns him into Ant-Man.

Now just wondering which Avenger we will see next? Namor the Sub-Mariner? Star Fox? She-Hulk? Dazzler? The Forgotten One?

And as for casting - who will we soon hear is cast in this title role of the shrinking doctor?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Blue Like Jazz (the movie): A Personal Review

Justin Welborn as "The Pope" and Marshall Allman as Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz.
The film Blue Like Jazz's widest theatrical release was 136 screens, and a total box office gross was just under $600,000 (just under the total cost to make the film).

I imagine that many, include distributor Roadside Attractions hoped that the wild success of the the 2003 essay collection, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, would not only capture the book readers, but also spread to a wider audience.

I read Blue Like Jazz in 2003, picking it up at a Christian book store, namely because I liked the cover and thought the subtitle "Non-religious thoughts on Christian Spirituality" very interesting. I read the book, and bought copies for others. Soon I would run across others discussing the book. I had never read anything like it before.

At the time I found myself refreshed by an author writing with such a unique and different voice about God, and while he presented some negativity towards Christian subcultures, I could relate to this, but appreciated that he wasn't throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The reality is, that this movie probably came out too late. 9 years after the book was published others have in their own ways, whether it's books or other media (magazines, websites, blogs, etc.) presented thoughts in the same sphere of thoughts here. Many, far less effectively or with theological perspectives and conclusions that are weak, illogical, destructive, or seemingly written for shock value.

All that to say, the novelty of Blue Like Jazz has probably worn off.

When former Christian music artist Steve Taylor took on the project of directing and raising the funds to bring Blue Like Jazz to the big screen, I imagine his goal was to make a move that wasn't pitched as a "Christian film." Although, when this film was released in theaters, I remember the tension. This film did not come with mainstream church endorsements that have in recent years helped some smaller budget films. Additionally, there certainly didn't seem to be any draw or buzz campaign that drew in a broader audience (try as you might to not identify it as a non-Christian film, the wider audience usually isn't seeking out films from this genre, nor did it have the budget for it's own legitimate wide campaign).

And so, I didn't see it in the theater, and sort of forgot about the film, until I finally got around to watching the movie this past week.

It's hard for me to write about this film from a distant perspective, and frankly, from a distant perspective what I would say would be generic and uninteresting -- probably some minor praise for some of the performers, the films efforts and misses. Yet, the topics of this film are remarkably personal to me.

Over a decade ago, before Blue Like Jazz came out, I thought I would enjoy starting my own film production company, hardly knowing what that would really mean, and the intention of my theoretical company was to make films that dealt with characters and stories dealing with spiritual, mainly Christian themes, without being preachy or saccharine. I wanted to make films that reflected life, that presented people outside of their stereotype. Stories with Christian elements even, where a conversion experience wasn't always the climax or resolution.

So, when I watched Blue Like Jazz, I saw in the film something I had once dreamed of. There are a number of Christian films, even one's with theatrical releases, but in the same way Blue Like Jazz was different for the genre, the film followed suit.

I read a review of the film by Hollywood Chicago and agree with the assessment that "Whenever an aspiring artist attempts to speak for a group rather than oneself, it’s almost always a recipe for tediously preachy dreck."

In speaking for oneself, rather than an individual, there were times when this film pushed boundaries that could easily offend a Christian audience. When it comes to offendable sequences, I don't think it's the plot elements (such as a married youth pastor who sleeps with a divorcee),  but rather the more subtle nuances. These nuances include the inclusion of swearing in the film, substance abuse, a few borderline raunchy moments, and characters, such as the Lauryn (Tania Raymonde) who not only is a lesbian, but who's sexual orientation the film makes no comment on it, is simply just an element of her character.

This film is certainly a message film, and despite it's attempt at mainstream appeal, I still felt like the film was speaking to Christians, as a critique of their efforts to fit into their own subculture, at the cost of acting out the beliefs that they profess. And if there is a message here for the non-Christian, it is a simple message that Christians are often not a reflection of who Jesus is, but rather humans struggling to fit in and reconcile their faith with the world around them.

In all honesty, somewhere in this I find my own self being uncomfortable, maybe it's in my own knowledge of my personal failings to live in authentic way, with a fluency for the things of God that show in all my circles (not just the one's where it's convenient). I think there is a discomfort as well in the fact that Steve Taylor and Donald Miller are not speaking for "the group" but rather out of personal experiences, and so where they avoid being preachy, their less-safe perspective is something I'm not used to watching. There are times I watch and thank "I would have done that differently" or "I think I would have left that out."

And perhaps that why we need more films like Blue Like Jazz. We need films that are complex (and yet still also attempting to entertain), that risk offense to those with different beliefs (Christian and non-Christians alike), yet don't set out the gate with the goal to offend. Rather, set in mind the goal to present something that is authentic and true.

I don't think I can recommend this film as a masterful piece of art, nor can I recommend it as the world's most powerful message film. Or even a message that I fully endorse. But I can recommend it as a film for the discerning viewer to watch, discuss, and maybe even realize that what has been made here is one-of-a-kind, and that nothing else in this years film season is quite like it. In a time when originality does not abound, that alone could make this film worth a viewing.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kevin James, Boom, & Faith

[Timothy Dalyrmple] Here Comes the Boom showed characters engaging in acts of everyday faith — praying before a fight, or discussing the story of Jacob wrestling with God over a plate of pasta...Was there a deliberate decision to include scenes where faith is organic to the lives of the characters?

[Kevin James] Yes, absolutely.  There are so many movies out there that go the opposite way.  There’s so much negativity.  To show faith and prayer as positive things was important to me.  You’re right in that it’s difficult.  You don’t want to beat people over the head.  They’re hip to it, and they know when you’re just banging them over the head to get them to believe it.  So that was important to me, to make it organic, and to have it be in the main stream of this movie.  It shows up in different parts of the movie.

Timothy Dalyrmple in his interview of Kevin James (Here Comes the Boom) for Philosophical Fragments

Monday, October 08, 2012

Halloween Costumes Inspired by 2011 Oscar Films

Last year, I did a post trying to muster up costumes from the 2010 Academy Award best picture nominees - I thought I came up pretty flat, based on the available options.

2011's memorable and not so memorable nominees included (if you need a refresher): The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse.

Now, some of these films have some worthy costuming associated with their unique period piece (I think of Hugo, The Help, and War Horse, here...maybe even Midnight in Paris), but there's no recognizable character or costume that can be simply captured. Sure dress up as a 1960s southern housewife, or a WWI soldier, but don't expect people to know you're dressed up as Cecilia Foote from the Help or a character from War Horse.

For Men & Women:
If you feel compelled to truly master a character and film from this list, it seems to me the best bet is to make your best attempt at the artist, capturing the look and feel of a silent movie star, and more specifically George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) or Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo).

For the Brave, Daring, and Man (or Woman) Among People Who Would Appreciate It...
But if all of this talk of portraying the leads from The Artist, I really only have one other suggestion from the list of 9 films mentioned above.and that would be to dress as the automaton from the film Hugo. If you give this one a try, send me a picture and good luck.

Beyond those suggestions, I've got nothing. You might just have to dress up as Batman, again.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Skyfall, Adele & Oscar's History with James Bond

I've heard some raving about the Adele song ("Skyfall") for Sam Mendes latest turn on the James Bond franchise. I agree that the song performed by Adele and written by Adele and Paul Epworth is a great Bond song.

But of course, you never know exactly what will happen in the Academy Award category for song.

But thinking of Skyfall, I thought I would pull the data regarding the Bond franchise and Oscar nomination/win history, confirming my suspicion that it's been a long time since a Bond film has been nominated for an Oscar. 

In fact, if you look at the history outlined below you will only see 2 Oscar wins ever, one for sound effects (Golfinger, 1964) and the other for Visual Effects (Thunderball, 1965).

A handful of Oscar nominations have gone out, and the song category has seen Bond films show up 4 times.

But there has been no love for Bond at the Oscars since the 1981 song nomination from For Your Eyes Only

Can Adele do something that the past 11 films spanning two decades have not been able to do...get an Oscar nomination? 

And can Adele do something that has never happened...an Oscar win in the song category for a Bond film?

The James Bond film history with Oscar is below as well as a video with the song. Listen, while you read.
  • Dr. No (1962) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • From Russia With Love (1963) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Goldfinger (1964) - Won Oscar Best Sound Effects (Norman Wanstall)
  • Thunderball (1965) -Won Oscar Best Special Effects, Visual (John Stears)
  • You Only Live Twice (1967) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Casino Royale (1967) - Nominated for Best Original Song ("The Look of Love," Burt Bacharach & Hal David)
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Diamonds Are Forever (1971) - Nominated for Best Sound
  • Live and Let Die (1974) - Nominated for Best Original Song ("Live and Let Die," Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney)
  • The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) - Oscar Nominations for Art Direction, Original Score (Marvin Hamlisch), and Original Song ("Nobody Does it Better," Marvin Hamlisch & Carole Bayer Sager)
  • Moonraker (1979) - Oscar Nomination Best Visual Effects
  • For Your Eyes Only (1981) - Nominated for Best Original Song ("For Your Eyes Only," Bill Conti & Michael Leeson)
  • Octopussy (1983) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Never Say Never Again (1983) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • A View to a Kill (1985) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • The Living Daylights (1987) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Licence to Kill (1989) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • GoldenEye (1995) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • The World Is Not Enough (1999) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Die Another Day (2002) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Casino Royale (2006) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins
  • Quantum of Solace (2008) - No Oscar Nominations/Wins

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Some Conversations We Could Have About Presidential Movies

Here's what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a table of every movie about an American president and make a graph that counted number of movies per president.

I expected that Lincoln, Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and Nixon would come out ahead.

I expected that there would expect a number of president's with limited hits (say James Monroe, Millard Fillmore, and Benjamin Harrison) to show us as under appreciated by Hollywood.

Alas, I couldn't come up with a criteria that qualified which movies would be counted and project became to daunting (amount of screen time for the president, whether only wide releases would count, etc.)

If I made this chart (which I didn't) the related conversations would be:

1. This year two biopics come out this fall that potentially pits Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) against Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the award races.

2. What makes a president a bio-pic star. I imagine that part of it is historical time/context (i.e. we love WWII movies and stories, so Roosevelt get's a boost from that alone). It's not just this though - there's also the highly embraced presidents (Lincoln), and the caricature president (Nixon).

3. Increased interest in contemporary political stories...and here I might even digress into TV, just think of the award success of the Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) TV movie Game Change. There is an incredible interest in contemporary stories. Similar George W. Bush wasn't even out of office when Oliver Stone's film W. came out.

4. Whether Obama would be a frequent film character of the future - and if he had his own major biopic decades from now, what story will the biopic tell.

5. Danny Strong scripted Emmy success TV movies Game Change and Recount - how will his The Butler be perceived. The film is not about a specific president, but rather Eugene Allen - white house butler for 8 presidents (with some interesting casting decisions, such as John Cusack as Richard Nixon).

6. Which presidents would be worth revisiting in a biopic, since they're untold stories are truly film worthy.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

3D: One Film I Want To See in 3D This Year

Just because you can use technology in a film doesn't mean it's appropriate.

Not every film should try for loud sounds, big effects. In the same way, not every film needs to be animated. Sometimes, animation in a film is appropriate...such as in the film Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins used the technology available when it was needed and appropriate.

Similarly, in a time period where every "big blockbuster" seems to be available in 3D, the premium for the tickets is hardly worth it for a gag here and there.

But, I'm contemplating my feelings on 3D for the film The Life of Pi. In 2009 when this project continued to develop I questioned what this film would be like. Ang Lee is a master of many genres, and early word on this project is generally positive.
And it's in that positive view of the film, that in this case, it seems that 3D is used in a way that enhances the story telling here, and frankly sounds majestic.

I'll pay extra to see the movie this movie in 3D. I respect a director using the tools available to tell the right story when the story was appropriate.