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Peter saw his first movie when he was just a little boy, and has never gotten over that experience.

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Not Made in China

Posted April 24, 2008

Jeff Ma, the man behind 21

Jeff Ma, the man
behind 21

In "Goodbye Yellowface, Hello Whiteout," Sandip Roy in the SFGate considers the plight of Asian actors and characters today. Admittedly, Roy points out, no sane producers would without thinking try to pawn off an Anglo actor as an Asain (as for example, Paul Muni in the 1937 adaptation of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth), but some films, like the recent gambling caper 21, simply swaps out characters in the script: "Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) is star student Ben Campbell. The real-life Campbell was an Asian American named Jeff Ma."






Hollywood Chinese

While there have certainly been changes since 1937, filmmaker Arthur Dong, who examine the issues in his recent documentary Hollywood Chinese, points out the gaps remaining in the system: "There are a limited number of Asian roles and plenty of hungry actors...When a non-Asian gets an Asian role, it's a slap in the face."

Lust, Caution poster

For many--both experienced and new actors--the solution is to forget Hollywood, or least not expect too much. Joan Chen, whose appeared in plenty of Hollywood fare, looks elsewhere these days. ""I'm working, but not much in Hollywood," says Chen, though she sees more roles around than when she started 25 years ago." For others, Asia offers a way to get a start. Roy points out: "Hawaii native Maggie Q made it in Hong Kong before starring in Live Free or Die Hard. Lee-Hom Wan of Lust Caution was born in Rochester, N.Y." Indeed Alexander Lee-Hom Wang began his career when he signed a recording contract when he was visiting his grandparents in Taiwan, and then went on to become an Asian sensation. Gina Kim, whose 2007 Sundance film Never Forever open in theaters last week, had to go to Korean to find the stars. As I reported for Sundance Channel Blog during the 2007 festival, the two male stars--David McInnis and Jung-Woo Ha--were cast from their strong performances in Korean movies and television--even though Mcinnis actually comes from the states and had to learn Korean for his roles.

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Far Blogging Out!

Posted April 23, 2008


A recent Harris interactive poll finds that gay and lesbian adults are bloggier than their heterosexual counterparts. As noted in, a nationwide survey of 2,733 adults shows that "fifty-one percent of gay and lesbian adults who use the Internet regularly read blogs, while just 36% of heterosexuals." Moreover 27% have posted comments to blogs, opposed to a straight 13%, and 21% of the gays and lesbians have written their own blog, compared to only 7% of heterosexuals who have sought out an on-line prescence.

This is good news for us. We'll be discussing -- and hopefully have lots of guest gay and lesbian bloggers writing about -- several gay films. Besides the gay-friendly Hamlet 2 (out in August), we'll be doing extensive coverage on Gus Van Sant's Milk, the long awaited story of Harvey Milk with Sean Penn in the title role. Moreover, Focus Features just announced Ang Lee's next film, a period piece for the peace generation based on the legendary 1969 concert. The project is based on James Schamus' script adapted from Elliot Tiber's memoir Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life. Tiber's book is mind-blowing in itself. A schlumpy Brooklyn Jewish boy growing up in the sixties is forced to help his crazy folks run a decrepit motel up in Bethel NY, and in the process finds he has a music concert permit to offer Michael Lang and the promoters of Woodstock when their original place falls apart. But that is only half the story. Tiber, in the process of finding himself, bumps into the painter Mark Rothko and Robert Mapplethorpe, hangs out at the Stonewall bar and services rough trade at the mine shaft -- all before Woodstock even appears on the horizon. But in the end the book isn't about the sixties as about one gay man learning from the Summer of Love how to love himself.

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Poehler in All Directions

Posted April 22, 2008

Amy Poehler in Baby Mama

Amy Poehler in
Baby Mama

Every body is all about Amy these days. Lauren A. E. Schuker writing for the Wall Street Journal online noted in her article "Going for Belly Laughs" how "Amy Poehler is proving that you don't have to leave "Saturday Night Live" to make it big outside the show." And Darel Jevens at the Chicago Sun-Times made the observation: "If her Hillary Clinton imitation seems especially accurate these days, it might be because Amy Poehler has been sharing another trait with the senator: serious sleep deprivation." And Newsweek in their interview "A Very Busy Mama" simply asks:" Does Amy Poehler sleep?" Starring in the upcoming Baby Mama, Poehler also is co-creator and writer of The Mighty B! for Nickelodeon. Then come August, she making adults laugh in Focus Features' Hamlet 2. And this on top of her day--or rather, night--job on Saturday Night Live.


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Movie Culture: Palestine

Posted April 17, 2008

Mai Masri's 33 Days

Mai Masri's 33 Days

For our next installment of "Movie City," we go to Baghdad with Anthony Kaufman's account of the Baghdad Film School. The attempt to resurrect a cinema after the horrendous years of war and occupation are nothing less than heroic. Other Arab cinemas have had equal hurdles. In the Guardian today, Nicholas Blincoe gives a short history of Palestinian cinema in this report on the current London Palestine Film Festival. In summing up cinematic tendencies, Blincoe points out, "Palestinian directors have a powerful sense of irony: they are very aware that everything they do will be pored over for evidence of terrorist sympathies; but, rather than collapse into paranoia, the response has been a heightened level of self-conscious wit." Certainly the films bear it out, but also this kind of black humor seems reminiscent of the stories told by other beleaguered cultures, including interestingly enough, Israel.

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Herzog: All Over the Map

Posted April 05, 2008

Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog

The news is out. The Guardian reports that Werner Herzog will direct his own adaptation of Daniel Mason's best-selling novel The Piano Turner. The historical drama follows Edgar Drake, a London piano tuner, who is sent to 19th century Burma to repair a piano that has become central to their peace keeping. No doubt the film will return Herzog to the Southeast Asia he explored in Rescue Dawn. On the other side of the globe, Paste Magazine reports that Herzog will produce a remake of his Amazonian masterpiece Fitzcarraldo, with Daniel Day Lewis signed on to play the lead.

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Say Hello Good-bye

Posted April 03, 2008

R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe's happy, shiny lyric "It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine," has never been more apt. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the very funny men behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, are now planning to end the world as we know it. After a full frontal assault with their zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead, and then a sideways ambush with their crime-fighting farce Hot Fuzz, the two told the British Newspaper The Guardian they were planning a "sci-fi/doomsday theme" with the working title being "The World's End."

"Step One: Shaun of the Dead"

"Step One: Shaun of the Dead"

This marks the end also of what the pair refer to as their three-flavor Cornetto trilogy. Inspired by Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Trois couleurs" series, Pegg and Wright have added flavor to their three way. Shaun of the Dead was strawberry (as part of the blood and ice cream theme), Hot Fuzz reflected the classico brand with its police-blue wrapper, and "The World's End" will be mint choc chip.

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Almost a Brother

Posted April 02, 2008

"Four Benches"

"Four Benches"

It's hard to think of the Coen Brothers alone, but currently in New York only one brother, Ethan Coen, is putting on a series of his one-act plays under the title Almost an Evening. The night involves three plays: "Waiting," a sort of update of the metaphysical plot device that Beckett used in Godot; "Debate," which entails a real theological debate between Gods; and "Four Benches," in which a British secret agent meets his end in a steam room. The pieces, directed by Neil Pepe and with performances by F. Murray Abraham, Jonathan Cake, and Elizabeth Marvel, will run at New York's Atlantic Theater Company. As Ben Brantley points out in his New York Times review, the play is "touched by the premise that hell lurks right under the surface of, or just around the corner from, everyday life. Make that Hell, with a capital H, the same piece of real estate charted by Dante and Milton."

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