Monthly Archives: June 2010

A Matter of Race

Recently it was announced that Angelina Jolie will likely play Cleopatra in an upcoming film about the Queen of the Nile’s life. After the announcement, soon controversy spread about Jolie being inadequate to portray the Egyptian icon. Many online argued that as a Caucasian woman Jolie was unfit to play a woman who is often mistakenly thought of as ethnically 100% Egyptian or even Black. To clarify, Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Greek royal family.

Ptolemy was one of Alexander the Great’s seven bodyguards who in 305 BC took over Egypt as pharaoh. So though there was likely some breeding with some of the local Egyptians between the time Ptolemy took rule and Cleopatra did, Cleopatra was mostly ethnically Greek. In other words she probably had fair skin, perhaps not that much unlike Angelina Jolie’s. Nevertheless I understand the frustration that people have when Caucasian actors take roles that should go to other ethnic groups.

There has also been some controversy lately over Jake Gyllenhaal’s recent turn as the Iranian hero of Prince of Persia, mostly because people said he was too White to play the part. To be fair, Persians (also known as Iranians) are White people. Not convinced? Take a look at this picture of Marjane Satrapi, the writer and director of the fantastic 2007 film Persepolis.

And here’s a picture of half Iranian Heroes actor Adrian Pasdar.

Some of the uproar over casting decisions such as the last two mentioned seem to simply come from misunderstanding who around the world belong to different ethnic groups. However, there have been many instances of justifiable anger over casting decisions. I was taken aback when I first heard of the decision to have Angelina Jolie play widow Mariane Pearl in the film A Mighty Heart. I suppose I just thought that Pearl was African American but now I know that she is half Dutch and half African, Chinese and Cuban! Jolie did a superb job in the film, so much so that I don’t have a problem with her having taken the role over someone who looked more “ethnic.” Consider this: Would so many people have gotten upset if an entirely Black woman played the part of Pearl? I think not. Pearl is half White but it is so funny how in our culture if someone is part African, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern or other we immediately see them as entirely that and do not look closer to appreciate the complexity of their ethnic background.

funny-pictures-color-blind-cat-rubi.jpg Color Blind Cat image by Sky_Shark_X2

I sometimes hear people wishing for a day when Hollywood is color blind. A few years ago I think I would have wanted that too but now I hope Hollywood never becomes completely colorblind. I would hate to see the day when Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun is played by a White man in any venue besides a high school gymnasium. I also wouldn’t ever want to see Queen Elizabeth ever played by say Zhang Ziyi or Queen Latifah. However, I do think some roles can be played by anyone regardless of race and that some roles will evolve with the times. If we can have a Black (well, half White, half Black) president, why can’t we have a Latino James Bond or an African American Wonder Woman? I for one look forward to the day when a half Japanese, half Swiss,Norwegian, Swedish and German man like myself can fulfill his lifelong dream of playing Batman.

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Best High School Movies

Most high school seniors have either already graduated this year or will do so in the next couple of weeks. The last few months before graduating from high school I tried to watch as many high school-centered films as possible because I would never have the opportunity to watch a high school movie as a high school student ever again. Of course, you can still appreciate high school movies years after graduating so here are some movies that will surely bring you back to the good old days when all you wanted to do was fit in, party with your friends and not get caught doing something you wouldn’t want your parents to see you doing. Instead of commenting on each of the films, I have instead included a quote from each of the films, in addition to a scene or trailer from each. Enjoy!

Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

If I had one day when I didn’t have to be all confused and I didn’t have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged someplace. You know? – Jim Stark

American Graffiti (1973)

Oh, no, not me. Not old Carol. The night is young and I’m not hittin’ the rack till I get a little action. – Carol

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

What Jefferson was saying was, Hey! You know, we left this England place ’cause it was bogus; so if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves – pronto – we’ll just be bogus too! Get it? – Jeff Spicoli

The Breakfast Club (1985)

You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed. – Brian Johnson

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

If anyone needs a day off, it’s Cameron. He has a lot of things to sort out before he graduates. Can’t be wound up this tight and go to college, his roommate will kill him. – Ferris

Dazed and Confused (1993)

The older you get, the more rules they are going to try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N. – Wooderson

Clueless (1995)

Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie. – Cher

Election (1999)

Vote for me, because I don’t even want to go to college, and I don’t care, and as president I won’t do anything. The only promise I will make is that if elected I will immediately dismantle the student government, so that none of us will ever have to sit through one of these stupid assemblies again! – Tammy Metzler

Mean Girls (2004)

It’s like I have ESPN or something. My breasts can always tell when it’s going to rain. – Karen

Superbad (2007)

I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream, “I love my best friend, Evan.” – Seth

American Teen (2008)


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Has Hollywood Lost Its Luster?

As most of you know Dennis Hopper died last Saturday. Upon hearing of his death I decided to watch Easy Rider to see how great he was. I was impressed by the ease with which he played Billy, the long haired biker and highly recommend the film for a deep dish slice of 60s nostalgia. Then I discovered that he had been in a number of other Hollywood classics including Cool Hand Luke, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet. He even had a tiny part in Rebel Without A Cause. Clearly Hopper was an actor who saw Hollywood change tremendously, he was around for the days of James Dean all the way to today’s day of Twilight. After searching IMDB.com for Hopper’s resume I found a wonderful tribute to Hopper on VanityFair.com in which writer Gwen Davis recounts her first meeting with a very young Hopper at a party in the Hollywood Hills in the 1950s. I can already picture a party with classic hollywood rebels and starlets sipping on cocktails and not once worrying about the paparazzi bashing their party. Gwen’s great tribute can be found here: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2010/06/remembering-dennis-hopper.html

jamesdean.jpg image by jellybaby_344

I bring all of this up because it seems that some of the aura of Hollywood has died with Hopper and the actors of his generation. Of course people are still fascinated by the lives of actors (and some directors, writers and producers too) but nowadays there’s little mystery behind these people. The paparazzi follow them everywhere and we get constant Twitter updates about where these people are, what they’re eating (or not eating) and what kind of toilet paper they use. Plus with the apocalyptic ambush of reality TV stars into our media, the allure of fame is becoming more and more off-putting. Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood there seemed to be a certain amount of exclusivity when it came to being a movie star but now it seems there’s no guarantee that a party with a talented, respected actor like Kate Winselt might not be crashed by a no-talent fame whore like Snooki from Jersey Shore.

On the Vanity Fair website there is a special section devoted to Classic Hollywood and it says, “call us nostalgists, but we tend to think films were better, stars were more glamorous, and scandals were saucier in the good old days.” Now I’m sure that we glamorize the Hollywood of the ’20s through the ’70s but in those days it does seem like movie stars were less manufactured and in less fear of censorship. Today there are so many actors,stars and celebrities (many of them very young) like Miley Cyrus who are basically products packaged in plastic. Stars like this are boring, controlled and have none of the genuine edge of classic Hollywood stars. A scene of an episode of Entourage comes to mind when movie star Vinny Chase is in a meeting with a potential talent agency and they tell him that they want him to be a brand and he leaves the meeting, offended that they would simply try to turn him into a product.

I think about everything that has made Hollywood so enticing and iconic: Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn in the ’30s, Casablanca, Citizen Kane and the Hollywood Blacklist of the ’40s, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando of the ’50s, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Fonda and Bonnie and Clyde of the ’60s, Meryl Streep, Francis Ford Coppola and A Clockwork Orange of the ’70s, even the Brat Pack and Spike Lee of the ’80s but in the last couple of decades the movie stars seem less iconic and the intelligent movies seem to be getting driven to the fringes of Hollywood by studios afraid to take chances on smart movies that might not make a billion dollars.

Two years ago Time magazine printed an issue with George Clooney on the cover calling him, “The Last Movie Star.” This might seem like a pessimistic declaration until you remember that Clooney only got his big break in the 90s and to be fair there have been a number of stars who will likely one day be looked upon with the same admiration we have for actors like Hopper: Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Quentin Tarantino just to name a few. So Hollywood might not be what it used to be but we can be confident that there are still stars that do good work and resist revealing everything about themselves in order to keep a mystery and sexiness about them which is crucial to the survival of Hollywood. After all what draws us to show-business above anything else is its sexiness.

What do you think? Comment! Discuss!

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