Tuesday, January 25, 2005

2005 Oscar Award predictions

Here are my Oscar predictions for some of the categories.
* = who I would pick to win
+ = who I think will actually win

+The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby

Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland)
Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator)
*+Jamie Foxx (Ray)
Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)

*+Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways)
Alan Alda (The Aviator)
Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)
Jamie Foxx (Collateral)
Clive Owen (Closer)

Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
Taylor Hackford (Ray)
Mike Leigh (Vera Drake)
Alexander Payne (Sideways)
+*Martin Scorsese (The Aviator)

Annette Bening (Being Julia)
*Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
+Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)
Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace)

*Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)
Laura Liney (Kinsey)
Virginia Madsen (Sideways)
+Natalie Portman (Closer)
Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda)

Brad Bird (The Incredibles)
Terry George & Keir Pearson (Hotel Rwanda)
*Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
+John Logan (The Aviator)
Mike Leigh (Vera Drake)

Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby)
José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries)
David Magee (Finding Neverland)
Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset)
+*Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor (Sideways)

Born in Brothels
The Story of the Weeping Camel
*Super Size Me
+Tupac: Resurrection
Twist of Faith

*+The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Phantom of the Opera
A Very Long Engagement

+*The Aviator
House of Flying Daggers
The Passion of the Christ
The Phantom of the Opera
A Very Long Engagement

+The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby

+The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
+*The Passion of the Christ
The Sea Inside

Finding Neverland
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
+*The Passion of the Christ
The Village

*The Incredibles
Shark Tale
+Shrek 2

The Incredibles
+The Polar Express
*Spider-Man 2

+*The Aviator
The Incredibles
The Polar Express
Spider-Man 2

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I, Robot
*+Spider-Man 2

Sunday, January 23, 2005

film: Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda 4/5

This is the story of how house manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a Hutu, managed to shelter hundreds of Tutsi Rwandans from the unimaginable massacre at the hands of the Hutus, in 1994.

Married to a Tutsi, Paul and many people didn’t care at all about what tribe a fellow Rwandan belonged to. In one scene, he visits one of his hotels chief suppliers and is startled to see machetes spill out of a broken crate. His supplier friend, a militant Hutu organizer , gleefully noted that they only cost 10 cents apiece.

Tutsi President Juvenal Habyarimana signed a peace accord between the two warring tribes. He was killed when his plane was shot down and that only encouraged the Hutu militia to slay Tutsi men, women and children, anywhere they could find them.

Colonel Oliver (NICK NOLTE) and Paul (DON CHEADLE) discuss the dangerous conditions outside the hotel

Nick Nolte plays Canadian Col. Oliver, a fictious character, loosely based on Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) Force Commander. In one scene, a pickup truck full of machete-wielding Hutus drive up in front of Oliver and his handful of men, and when the UN troops draw their guns, he implores them to put them down since as peacekeepers they cannot intervene. This is after several of the Belgian UN soldiers were shot by the Hutu militia.

Col. Oliver is extremely frustrated by the lack of interest the major wealthy UN nations were taking in what was shaping up to be a mindless, vicious, bloody massacre. At one point, all the white Europeans are evacuated. In one scene he tells Paul that the hotel refugees are on their own, the UN won’t send any more help.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX stars as Jack, an American journalist covering the events unfolding in Rwanda

Joaquin Phoenix shows up early in the film as a camerman who snuck out to shoot footage of the slaughter and its aftermath, expecting that the rest of the world will be horrified, but unmoved to do anything. He turned out to be right.

All the acting is well done. You almost forget that you are watching a film. Don Cheadle was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor, and Sophie Okonedo is excellent as his wife. The film has its share of heartbreaking scenes. After visiting his supplier friend, his friend advises him to take the river road back to the hotel. In the dense fog, they suddenly feel the van driving over bumps…

The film is based on a true story but you don’t get a strong sense of how Tutsis and Hutus extremists came to dislike one another. Read Lt. General Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands With the Devil, if the topic is of interest to you.

For a brief backgrounder on the history of the Tutis and Hutus and their conflicts in Rwanda, visit this site: http://www.the-tidings.com/2005/0107/rwanda.htm

Saturday, January 15, 2005

film: Elektra

Elektra 2/5

Directed by the X-File’s Rob Bowman, Elektra is a character from the world of the Daredevil comic book, and Jennifer Garner played the role in the Daredevil film that starred a wooden Ben Affleck.

Assassin Elektra receives a request to kill a man (Mark Miller)and his child (Abby) from her agent. The twosome happen to be her neighbors at the lake, where Elektra has just settled in for a few weeks. Abby, a lonesome troublemaker ends up bonding with Elektra. When the father and daughter fall under the attack of the “Hand”, a mysterious collective whose members have X-Men-like powers, Elektra becomes their protector. Later on, she discovers exactly why the “Hand” wishes to kill Abby.

Elektra is portrayed as mostly uptight and humorless by Jennifer Warner. She appears unhappy and is reluctant to let anyone get too close to her, as she is battling personal demons and nightmares of her past.

Some of the scenes are too cheesy to buy into. Tattoo, one of the bad guys, is able to make the animal tattoos on his body come alive in the form of birds, snakes, spiders and wolves. He uses these animals to chase and attack the Millers. Typhoid, a beautiful (what else?) model-like brunette, draws the life out of anything she touches. As she walks through the forest, the leaves around her instantly wither and dry up. Stone is an enormous black guy whose body resists gun shots and stabs from Elektra’s metal weapons. Kirigi is a master Japanese swordsman, who has the ability to move very quickly. Elektra is light on her feet as well, but has an ability to see actions before they happen. She believes these powers are not fully developed, however, since her training with her blind master, Stick (Terrence Stamp) wasn’t competed. You just knew he had to be blind.

This film does not feel fully realized. I found little reason to care for Elektra or Abby. There’s not enough of Elektra’s training tradition explained to make it seem interesting, not enough myth making and real storytelling. Character development is neutered in favour of visuals (witness the cascading, billowing sheet scene in the duel with Kirigi) and action scenes. This film will have to sell itself based on its previews because it can’t be sold by word of mouth.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Pilgrimage To Mecca


My Dad and a family friend left for Saudi Arabia recently, for a just over three weeks, to go on the Hajj, the annual Moslem pilgrimage. Here is some information about the event.

(Ottawa, Canada - 11/1/2005) - Thousands of Canadian Muslims will soon
take part in religious observances associated with the annual Hajj, or
pilgrimage to Mecca. Hajj is one of the "five pillars" of the Islamic
faith. (The other pillars include a declaration of faith, daily prayers,
offering regular charity, and fasting during the month of Ramadan.)

Pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who have the
physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.

When the main portion of the pilgrimage is completed, Muslims worldwide
gather for communal prayers on the first day (January 21*) of Eid
ul-Adha (EED-al-ODD-ha), the second of the two major Muslim holidays.

The obligatory and optional activities of Hajj include:

* Entrance into a state of self-control called ihram, during which
pilgrims are forbidden to harm living creatures, even insects or plants,
or raise the voice in anger. The state of ihram is signified (for men)
by the wearing of two pieces of unsewn white cloth. This clothing
signifies the equality of all before God. No specific clothing is
prescribed for female pilgrims.

* Circling of the Ka'aba (Tawaf), the stone building Muslims believe was
originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. The Ka'aba is viewed as
the first sanctuary on earth dedicated to the worship of the One God. It
is a symbol of unity for Muslims because all prayers, wherever they are
performed, are oriented in the direction of the Ka'aba.

* The Sa'i, or "hastening" between two small hills near the Ka'aba, to
commemorate Hagar's search for water to offer her son Ishmael.

* The "Day of Arafah" on January 20.* Arafah is a mountain and its
surrounding empty plain near Mecca. On this day, the climax of the Hajj
season, pilgrims assemble for supplication to God.

Hajj pilgrims stoning of the devil, left, as the annual Muslim pilgrimage near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia Saturday Feb. 23, 2002. In forth day of Hajj ceremony Musilms pilgrims gather 49 or 70 pebbles at Muuzdalifah and they used to stone the symbolic pillars. About 2 milion Muslims of Hajj pilgrims over the world gather for Hajj ceremony in Mecca city.

* The stoning of three pillars representing Satan's temptation of
Abraham. The stoning indicates the pilgrim's rejection of evil deeds.

* Cutting the hair to symbolize the completion of Hajj.

Hajj pilgrims cut other pilgrams hair in celebrate the start of Eid al-Adha inMina near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia Friday Feb. 22, 2002. After Friday's stoning of the devil, pilgrims may then celebrate the start of Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, by slaughtering a camel, a cow or a sheep.

* Sacrifice of an animal to help the poor, and in remembrance of
Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command. The
meat is distributed to relatives and to the needy.

(* Because the beginning of Islamic lunar months depends on the actual
sighting of the new moon, the start date for Hajj and Eid ul-Adha may



A: In the Quran, Islam's revealed text, God says: "Thus We settled
Abraham at the site of the House (the Ka'aba) [saying]: 'Do not
associate anything with Me, and purify My house for those who walk
around it, and those who stand there (praying), and those who bow down
on their knees in worship. Proclaim the pilgrimage among mankind: they
will come to you on foot and on every lean (beast of burden); Let them
come from every deep ravine, to bear witness to the advantages they
have, and to mention God's name on appointed days..." Chapter 22, verses


A: The main benefit of Hajj for many people is the sense of
purification, repentance and spiritual renewal it instills. After his
Hajj, Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography: "...I have eaten from the
same plate, drank from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on
the same rug) - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims
whose eyes were bluest of the blue, whose hair was blondest of the
blonde and whose skin was whitest of the white. And in the words and in
the actions and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same
sincerity that I felt among black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and
Ghana...In the past I permitted myself to be used to make sweeping
indictments of...the entire white race...Because of the spiritual
enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my recent
pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to the
sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life
of a true Muslim."


A: Because Dhul-Hijjah is a lunar month, it begins about eleven days
earlier each year.


A: The sacrifice commemorates the Prophet Abraham's readiness to
sacrifice his son, identified in Islam as Ishmael, at God's request.
This is not a blood offering. In the Quran God states: "Neither their
meat nor their blood ever reaches God, but heedfulness on your part does
reach Him." (Chapter 22, verse 37) The meat is distributed to relatives
and to the needy.


A: Yes, but only for those who are physically and financially able to
make the trip.


A: All pilgrims must do tawaf, or circling the Ka'aba. This obligation
creates a stunning scene as thousands of people circle the building at
all times of the day and night. Also, the standing at Arafah on the 9th
day of the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah presents a scene in which
several million people all dressed alike and with the same intention to
worship God, gather on a barren plain.


A: Hajj is a high point in a Muslim's life. Questions are welcome and
congratulations are in order. Most communities welcome visitors at Eid
ul-Adha prayers. Just ask a Muslim friend to act as an escort and guide.

book: “Turn It On Again – Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins & Genesis”

“Turn It On Again – Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins & Genesis” by Dave Thompson.
Backbeat Books, San Francisco, 2005.

Until their apparent demise in the late ‘90s, Genesis were one of the longest running, most successful music acts in the world, having debuted in 1967. Dave Thompson’s new book covers every decade of their existence, as well as the careers of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, the two frontmen who went on to enjoy equally massive success as solo artists.

Billed as the first book to cover the complete history of Genesis, Thompson’s book is probably the most comprehensive. I haven’t read Robin Platts’ “Genesis: Inside and Out (1967 – 2000)”, which, at 184 pages, can’t be seen as the definitive overview to date.

Thompson truly starts at the beginning, telling the stories about how future members of Genesis met at Charterhouse, an old, exclusive public boarding school, in 1963. Here, kids are taught to feel superior to the common folk and are not just educated, but trained to become leaders. Until 1965, the school’s most famous alumnus was Baden Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement. Jonathan King managed to score a massive world-wide hit with “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon” which caused some of the students to dream about being pop stars. In a return visit to Charterhouse, he was presented with a demo by an unnamed band and enjoyed the vocals of the lead singer, Peter Gabriel. To christen the start of his career as a music producer, he dubbed the unnamed band Genesis.

keyboardist Tony Banks

There is a mention of how few people thought Peter Gabriel was born to be a performer but instead saw him making a go in fashion. Gabriel found an old hat in his grandfather’s attic, had a manufacturer run off several copies, and sold them in London boutiques. Pop star Marianne Faithful bought one and became a regular customer of his.

The stories behind the albums are all here. Stories behind session albums are also here, including the work Phil Collins did for Pete Townshend and how he asked the Who guitarist if he could replace the Keith Moon, who passed away in 1978. The recording Invisible Touch became the first new rock album to be released simultaneously in vinyl, cassette and CD formats.

Is Genesis finished or on hiatus? It’s seems unlikely that they will record new material again, especially after the disappointment of 1997’s Calling All Stations. It’s not a terrible album, but just not the right album for them, or for vocalist Ray Wilson. Near the end of the book, some of the members ponder getting back together. The author notes that the closest the band came to a reunion of sorts lately was when Phil Collins appeared as best man at Peter Gabriel’s second marriage in 2002. I suspect the unrealistically high expectations that a reunion would generate will be enough to keep them from getting back together in any truly significant way as Genesis. They have nothing left to prove and almost certainly can’t relive the magic that made them seem fresh, inventive and engrossing.

Turn It On Again” is exhaustive in detail, perhaps too much so for the average fan. Surprisingly, the index, while a fair size, is not as appointed as it could have been. The book gives you a terrific overview of the careers of Collins and Gabriel, though, as well as a massive discography.

If you want to loose yourself in a rich, definitive book about Genesis, and the characters behind every incarnation, for now, “Turn It On Again” is the book to buy. You’ll also learn, if you haven’t done so already, that keyboardist Tony Banks is the person most responsible for Genesis.

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