Tagged: Oscar

John Ostrander: On The Side Of The Angels

On the ballot here in Michigan in the last election, there were several proposed amendments to the state constitution. One was concerning the use of Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs). It’s no big news that Michigan is having a hard time of it financially and several municipalities and other local organizations such as school districts have been tottering on their own fiscal cliffs as a result of ineptitude, mismanagement and plain old corruption on the part of the sundry boards, councils, and mayors involved.

The draconian solution devised by the Michigan legislature, itself a meeting place of miscreants and ideologues who are currently ramming through a “right to work” bit of legislation without any public hearings or other forms of democracy, was a pair of Emergency Financial Manages bills. This allowed the governor to appoint a Financial Manager for an undisclosed amount of time who would take over the troubled entity’s finances. The more extreme of these allowed the EFM to break or change contracts without negotiation and many other dictatorial acts. This one was struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The governor’s office responded by trying to reinsert the law as a state constitutional amendment, outside of the Court’s reach, and thus it was on the ballot last November.

It got voted down and I was one of the ones voting against it. I understood the reasoning behind the law and the proposed amendment. The reason that the various local entities were in the financial mess that they were in was an inability and/or unwillingness to come to grips, get past their own petty personal attempts to hold on to power and do what was necessary to solve the problem. At the same time it was so inherently undemocratic that I couldn’t support it. Good, bad, or indifferent, these local officials were voted in by the populations they supposedly served. I could understand the impetus and reasoning behind the EFM but I couldn’t accept installing what was essentially was a dictator however worthy the reason. It just went against the grain.

And what has all this to do with pop culture, about which I am supposed to be writing?

I and My Mary recently went to see Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s astounding film about the President and focusing on his attempts to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, abolishing slavery, through the House of Representatives. It’s going to win a lot of Oscars at the next Academy Awards and deservedly so. Daniel Day Lewis inhabits the part of Lincoln, making you think that this how the man must have been. He wears the sadness and melancholy of Lincoln the way that Lincoln often wore a shawl. It drapes over him.

The cast of the movie is stellar. Sally Fields plays Mary Todd Lincoln and is every bit the equal to Daniel Day Lewis. One scene features an emotionally intense fight between Lincoln and his wife and Mary Todd gives as good as she gets. If you think of Mrs. Lincoln only as Lincoln’s widow who winds up in an insane asylum, this will make you re-think that notion.

There is some very canny casting in the film, playing to our perceptions of the actor and infusing them into the part. Tommy Lee Jones as Representative Thaddeus Stevens, an ardent abolitionist who was a key to getting the 13th Amendment passed, not only looks like photos we have of Stevens but Jones’ rat-a-tat way with an insult meshed perfectly with the character. These days we are accustomed to James Spader playing slightly sleazy and underhanded characters and his part in the film, W.N. Bilbo, who helps court or bribe representatives to vote for the Amendment, plays to that perception.

There are other fine performances and actors throughout the film – David Straitharn, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook among many, many others. The script is by Tony Kushner (who wrote the award winning pair of plays, Angels in America} based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s superb biography of Lincoln and his cabinet, Team of Rivals. This script will be up for an Oscar as well and deserves to win it.

The film also had me asking questions of myself. Abraham Lincoln was arguably the greatest president this country has known. As I’ve learned about him, he has become and remained one the heroes to me of our country’s history. I wonder, however, if I had lived in his time, knowing only what people then knew, would I have been for or against him?

Lincoln, early in the Civil War, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a central tenet of our government, by which an unlawfully detained prisoner can demand his or her release. When the Supreme Court of the time overruled his suspension, Lincoln ignored them. Civil law could be suspended in the areas of the South that the Union controlled and martial law, with military tribunals, were imposed. Newspaper and journalists could be censored and some were, inhibiting freedom of speech.

Given my unease with Michigan’s EFM law, how would I have responded back in Lincoln’s day to the suspension of habeas corpus? Yes, there were good reasons for him to act as he did but how much of that is plain in hindsight from where we are now and how much would that have been apparent then? Would the erosions of civil liberties, however worthy the apparent reason, grated on me? Could I, would I, have supported Lincoln back then?

Honestly, I don’t know. Those of us in the moment may not always be able to see things as clearly as the hindsight of history may show. In this time, in any time, perhaps the best we can do is try to do the best as we see it and hope that, as Lincoln said, we side with “the better angels of our nature.”

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: In Its Time, In Our Time

It starts with notes on a piano, played in the upper register, sounding like a child’s piano. We focus in on an old cigar box as a child’s voice, a girl, hums tunelessly as small hands open the box, revealing what looks like junk but is a child’s hidden treasures. The hands explore what is there, picking out a dark crayon and rubbing across a piece of paper. Letters emerge giving us the title of the film as the main theme returns, first with flute and harp and then a full orchestra. It’s a waltz, elegiac and slightly sad, evoking times past.

So begins To Kill A Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan’s 1962 film based on Harper Lee’s 1960 novel. Set in rural Alabama during the 1930s and the depths of the Depression, the story is told from the viewpoint of young Scout Finch, includes her brother Jem, and their father, the widowed lawyer Atticus Finch. It covers a year and a half during which time Atticus is called on to defend Tom Robinson, a black field worker accused of attacking and raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell.

I had the inestimable pleasure recently of seeing To Kill A Mockingbird up on the big screen as part of the film’s Fiftieth Anniversary celebration. I can’t recall if I saw it on the big screen when it first came out; I certainly haven’t seen it that way in decades. It has a force and emotional impact that I don’t feel from the small screen viewings of it. Mind you, I’m happy to watch DVD versions but I was happier to see it on the big screen.

The film brims with talent. It won a best actor Oscar for Gregory Peck who embodied Atticus Finch as well as the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, won by Horton Foote. Elmer Bernstein, drawing heavily from Aaron Copland, wrote one of the most beautiful film scores I know. Robert Duvall made his film debut here, as did Alice Ghostley and Rosemary Murphy. The two young actors playing Scout and Jem, Mary Badham and Philip Alford, are so natural and unforced that it amazes me that both had never acted before their debuts here.

Something else that strikes me in the movie is the depiction of African-Americans. There is a context for the film in its time that younger filmgoers may not know. The major Civil Rights legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 had not yet occurred. The Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama wouldn’t be until 1965. The March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, would happen a year later. In his inauguration speech as governor of Alabama on January 14, 1963, George Wallace proclaimed “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” In June of 1963, he stood in the entry way of the University of Alabama in an attempt to keep two black students from entering.

That’s what the country and the South and Alabama looked like when To Kill a Mockingbird premiered. In the face of this massive refusal to see African-Americans as anything but second-class citizens (when they weren’t portrayed as subservient and altogether inferior), the movie gives us people of color, individuals, rich in humanity. It leaves no doubt that the accused, Tom Robinson, is innocent; it is Mayella Ewell’s father, Bob Ewell, who is probably the guilty one and he emerges as the vicious, racist animal. Brock Peters’ portrayal of the tragic Tom Robinson captures the fear of the doomed man. There is a dignity to all the black characters that gives the lie to the segregationist’s creed. The movie allowed white audiences to look at black characters and empathize with them, see themselves in the oppressed people, to identify with them. In Gregory Peck’s great speech at the end of the trial, we are sitting in the jury box. We, the audience, are being asked to judge. And we must confront the guilty verdict that the jury in the movie brings in and ask ourselves how we would have decided.

What was true in the 30s in Alabama was true in 1962 when the movie premiered. I would not presume to speak to the experience of African-Americans today. I am white, male, getting older, and I am a product of my times. I have heard too many whites I know still using the “n word”. They assume its safe to do so around me; after all, I am white as well. I correct that assumption as it comes up. I have also heard whites saying that they would never vote for a black man for president. Almost three fourths of the white males who voted in the last election voted against Barack Obama. Perhaps some of it was a difference with the President’s policies but how much more of it is because the President is black?

To deny another their humanity for whatever reason is to deny our own. In context of our time as well as the time it was made, To Kill A Mockingbird remains relevant. It also remains a beautiful, heartfelt film. It makes us feel for another person different from us and with that empathy, breaks down barriers. It’s what pop culture does that nothing else can quite do. It entertains as it opens our hearts and that can change minds. That is where hope lies.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


The Point Radio: WALKING DEAD Comics, TV and….Movies?

Robert Kirkman, the brain behind THE WALKING dead talks to us about the comics, the TV show – and if the two will ever meet. Or better yet, what about a WD movie? Plus ARGO‘s director-producer-star, Ben Affleck, explains why that film is generating so much Oscar buzz, and why Marvel is using A List talent on new B List books.

The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun for FREE. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE on any computer or on any mobile device with the Tune In Radio app – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

Dennis O’Neil: We Can Be Heroes

In my moment, it’s Labor Day. (In your moment…watch me shrug.) That being so – that Labor Day reality – it seems appropriate to think of unions and a cause dear to my heart.

Unions have not been consistent, not in my limited experience. An anecdote? Right after graduating from college, my friend Don Tonelli and I went to San Francisco. No agenda, just a long ramble to somewhere we’d never been. While in the Bay Area we visited my uncle Oscar, whom I’d seen once very briefly when I was a tot, and who was the subject of a bemused mention at clan gatherings. Oscar was a marvelous old man who kept us entertained and fascinated for most of a week. Among his entertainments were stories of the early days of the unions, when he and other skilled craftsmen went to meetings in large groups, armed with rifles, defying the fat cat bosses and their goons, demanding decent wages and working conditions. Back then, unions were the good guys.

But by the time Don and I shared wonderful hours with Oscar, unions had changed. Not for the better. The story went like this: unions had been infiltrated by criminals and had becomes nests of bullies and mobsters. Pretty damn shady enterprises, all in all. We baby blue staters grouped them with society’s ills. We didn’t consider that they provided insurance plans and pension plans and sundry other benefits, including a sense of the pride in working for a living. We were young. We were slow to look at both ends of a question. And, besides, it felt righteous to be pissed off.

Lately, I’ve grouped unions with the good guys again. They are among the few sources of campaign financing that can compete in fund raising with the billionaire-favored superPACs, and so they help blue collar voices to be heard. And they still provide those benefits. Those benefits are important.

We comics guys have never had unions. The closest thing to a union in our world was the Academy of Comic Book Arts, created by a motley crew of freelancers in 1970. ACBA, as we fondly called it, didn’t attempt to negotiate with the publishers, though that was discussed at early meetings, and in the end, did little to provide those important benefits. What it did do was present yearly awards for exemplary work, and that is no small task. But those awards weren’t of much use if your kid was sick or the rent needed paying.

No unions, no benefits. Good luck.

And this brings us to my heart’s dear cause: The Hero Intiative. Which is what, exactly? Here’s a paragraph from the organization’s website:

The Hero Initiative is the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic book creators in need. Hero creates a financial safety net for yesterdays’ creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work. It’s a chance for all of us to give back something to the people who have given us so much enjoyment.

If you get a chance to help H.I., you should take it.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases Goes Gangnam Style


Bill Murray’s Classic Meatballs heads for Blu-ray

Pack up and head to Camp North Star this summer as Lionsgate debuts the wacky comedy Meatballs on Blu-ray Disc, Digital Download and On Demand for the first time. Directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), the hilarious summer camp adventure stars Oscar® nominee Bill Murray (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Lost in Translation, 2003) in his first leading role. The film also stars Harvey Atkin (TV’s “Law & Order: SVU”) and Kate Lynch (New Year). Featuring a new audio commentary with director Ivan Reitman, Meatballs makes its high-definition premiere on June 12th, for the suggested retail price of $14.99. The DVD will also be available for the suggested retail price of $9.98.

Tripper (Murray) is about to have a summer he will never forget. As head counselor at Camp North Star, an off-the-wall summer getaway, Tripper guides his loveable campers and spirited staff members on a quest for fun in the sun. But when the season begins with a runaway camper, an accidental blackout and Tripper’s amorous attack on a female counselor, everyone knows that the tales by the fireside will only get more outrageous as the summer goes on.

Jeremy Renner’s First Mission

This is going to be Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner’s year beginning with this week’s release of [[[Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol]]] on Blu-ray followed by next month’s role as Hawkeye in [[[The Avengers]]]. Later this summer, he appears in the fourth Jason Bourne film, playing another espionage agent in The Bourne Legacy.

Here’s a chat with the actor courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Q: Hey Jeremy. Congratulations on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Not only was it a huge box office success in its films release, but you actually managed to survive making the film. That’s a surprise considering the amazing stunts in the movie.

A: (Laughs) Yes, it’s good to be alive. There are some amazing set pieces, my friend.

Q: Let’s talk about the biggest one. It involves Tom Cruise hanging outside the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – which stands almost 830 metres (2,723 feet) high in Dubai. Can you talk about the stunt?

A: Yes. As you say, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It’s twice the size of the Empire State building in New York. We were on the the top of it and it is so high that when you look down it is like the view from a plane. It’s intense. All the stunts are practical and that made that a lot of fun. There’s a lot of challenges to overcome, but luckily we had a man like Tom to lead the way. (more…)

REVIEW: Fan Favorites Part Two: The Odd Couple, Cheers, Fraiser

23895_oddcouple_ff_dvd_3d-288x450-7242851While television at first reflected American culture, it then tried to mold it in the 1950s before giving up all pretense towards reality in the 1960s. The seismic cultural shifts in the latter part of the decade could be felt everywhere, including television. A rule of thumb is that the theater reflects society fastest with television and film following years later. That certainly seemed to be the case as the television series of the latter 1960s began to explore the themes people had been debating in classes and on the streets. It also forced producers to mirror the reality of the day, no longer attempting to display the ideal lifestyle.

Neil Simon was one of the brightest playwrights of the decade, having cut his teeth on live television in the 1950s. His play The Odd Couple became a box office smash film and a perfect vehicle for a sitcom. It represented a new breed of comedic television when it arrived on September 24, 1970. Over the course of its five seasons, the show, starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, was never less than funny and often sharp with its humor and display of human foibles. (more…)

DENNIS O’NEIL: Who Watches The Wackies?

 “…and I’d also like to thank the guy who parks my car on Wednesday nights and the waiter at the Chinese restaurant we ate at last month and, oh, I almost forgot – forgive me – the young mom with the wild mane of reddish hair at the deli counter yesterday, oh lordy, she was gorgeous! And who else? Mr. Electricity Man who puts the electricity through the wires so my television set can light up with pictures and stuff and…”

On the subject of the television: the one that’s in the room above my head will, within the hour, be colonized by show-biz elite because this is the magic night when my sweetie and I part video-viewing company. She’ll be watching the Academy Awards and I’ll be…doing something that isn’t watching the Academy Awards. Why? Well… I feel consternated by mountain-size helpings of glitz and besides, no superhero movies are up for any of the prizes. (Those Hollywood philistines! Didn’t they see The Green Hornet?)

Though the red-carpet trodders do have things in common with superheroes. For openers: costumes. Listen, I’ve been to Hollywood – I’ve even been to three movie studios – and people don’t wear stuff like that on the street. Just as Batman only dons his cape and cowl on certain occasions – often involving dark rooftops and maniacs – these performers apparently wear their special finery on ceremonial occasions – maybe only this ceremonial occasion – and then shed it and put on, you know, clothes. And the wearing of it doesn’t even please everyone: expect the snarkfest to begin late tonight and continue through tomorrow’s cable news cycle: eyebrow archers who probably have AFTRA union cards commenting uncharitably on couture, coiffure, décolletage, footwear, anklewear, wristwear, neckwear and, if someone is just a tiny bit daring, even underwear, providing all the glorious entertainment of hearing a couple of preadolescents discussing the best looking child in the seventh grade who, of course, isn’t them.

Costumes not enough? Then add masks. Oh, not the kind of masks you wear on Halloween, nor the kind that Catwoman and Spider-Man wear to work (unless one of the trodders decides to make a Fashion Statement and harvest really major snarkery.) The masks I refer to are not donned, they’re applied with brushes and pencils and powder puffs and fingertips and…I don’t know…trowels?

Like our superheroes, these actors have something to hide – insecurity? pimples? – and I don’t think we see them at their best on Oscar night. Weirdly enough, we do see them at their best when they’re most hidden – when they’re saying others’ words and, in some cases, even mimicking others’ gestures. When they’re doing their jobs. That’s how I like to enjoy them, how I like to remember them, as wonder workers who can, however briefly, transform my world and maybe and brighten my existence for the two hours I sit in darkness.

My pick? I thought you’d never ask. I gotta go with The Artist. By the time you read this, we’ll know if I’m right. And you can do me the favor of not giving a damn.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases Gives A Damn


Steven Spielberg’s War Horse Coming to Video on April 3

BURBANK, Calif., February 21, 2012 – Legendary Academy Award®-winning motion picture director/producer Steven Spielberg presents the critically acclaimed and multi Academy Award®-nominated epic adventure “War Horse” on Blu-ray™, DVD, Digital and On-Demand, April 3. This newest home entertainment release not only enthralls viewers once again with its visually stunning and emotionally heartwarming story on the Blu-ray, but also offers an unprecedented look into the making of the film by Spielberg himself.

The extraordinary journey of courage and friendship as seen through the eyes of one unforgettable horse named Joey and his miraculous journey to find his way back home, “War Horse” is a must own contemporary classic for everyone’s home entertainment collection. Spielberg’s renowned creative passion and artistry not only shine throughout the film but are also evident in all the fascinating bonus features included exclusively on the Blu-ray disc. (more…)

The Secret World of Arrietty Opens Tomorrow

carol_amy_bridgit_007-r-300x200-4466388The Anime adaptation of Mary  Norton’s classic novel The Borrowers, known as The Secret World of Arrietty, opens tomorrow across the nation. Walt Disney continues its associate with Studio Ghibli with this release, featuring a stellar array of American vocal talent as seen in this picture with Amy Poehler, Bridgit Mendler, and the legendary Carol Burnett.

The G-rated film features the vocal talents of Mendler, Poehler, Burnett, Will Arnett, David Henrie, and Moises Arias. The movie was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi from a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa. Producers of the English translation, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, hired Karey Kirkpatrick to handle the screenplay.

Residing quietly beneath the floorboards are little people who live undetected in a secret world to be discovered, where the smallest may stand tallest of all.

Arrietty (voice of Bridgit Mendler), a tiny, but tenacious 14-year-old, lives with her parents (voices of Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (voice of Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) remains hidden from view, except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to “borrow” scrap supplies like sugar cubes from her human hosts. But when 12-year-old Shawn (voice of David Henrie), a human boy who comes to stay in the home, discovers his mysterious housemate one evening, a secret friendship blossoms. If discovered, their relationship could drive Arrietty’s family from the home and straight into danger.


  • Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most influential and admired filmmakers working in animation today and is a major figure in the Japanese cinematic landscape. His films have inspired moviegoers and colleagues around the world, from Pixar’s John Lasseter to fantasist Guillermo del Toro to Chinese director Tsui Hark, and consistently top the box office in his native Japan.
  • Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a top animator at Studio Ghibli, was responsible for the animation in a signature scene in “Ponyo,” in which Ponyo runs atop ocean waves.
  • English language voice talent director Gary Rydstrom is a seven-time Academy AwardÒwinning sound designer/mixer (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”). He joined Pixar Animation Studios as an animation film director in 2003.  His directorial debut for the studio was the Academy Award®-nominated short film “Lifted,” and he directed the short film “Hawaiian Vacation,” which was released with “Cars 2” in June 2011.
  • Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall are highly successful producing partners whose films, separately and together, include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, E.T., Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the Indiana Jones films and the Jurassic Park films. In total, Kennedy and Marshall have earned 11 Oscar® nominations.
  • English language screenplay writer Karey Kirkpatrick’s credits include Spiderwick Chronicles and Over the Hedge, which he also directed (with Tim Johnson).