movie star drool · news in review

NC-17: Yes, please!

Steve McQueen’s new movie Shame – about a New York man’s sex-addiction problem, portrayed by Michael Fassbender – has received an NC-17 rating for “some explicit sexual content” (it’s pretty well-publicized that there is full-frontal nudity).  The rating isn’t terribly surprising to me.  The MPAA has had its collective head buried up its tailpipe for years and movie theatre chains treat the ratings as marketing tools.  I knew since the project was announced I’d have to wait and catch Shame on either Netflix or just buy the DVD because, although I live in a pretty progressive college town, both large theatres are owned by chains and we don’t have a good indie/art house movie theatre (the Bijou on the University campus does it’s best but it only has one screen and limited seating).  Y’all have seen this rant before back when Jane Eyre released.

What surprised me, and I completely applaud McQueen and Fox Searchlight for the decision, is that the rating will stand.  They aren’t appealing or re-cutting the movie to get it down to an R.  The movie is what it is – a raw, unflinching portrait of a successful, polished man with a secret whose world comes crashing down when his sister winds up moving with him.  It can’t be told with innuendo and still get the same emotional impact.  Besides – and get this, movie theatre chain owners – in no way do I want to watch this movie with a pack of immature teens.  This is not a movie you watch just to see some hotties in the buff* (and if that’s the reason you want to see it, I think you’ll be bored).  McQueen’s earlier film Hunger (also starring Michael Fassbender) is also a raw, unflinching film with a good deal of male nudity but it’s also violent, brutal to the point of savagery.  Watching naked men getting beaten and violated (and staving themselves to death) is not sexy.** has a great interview with Carey Mulligan (she plays Fassbender’s troubled sister) where she expresses irritation over the NC-17 rating – not because the film has nude scenes, but because those nude scenes aren’t “sexy”:

“You know, so many of the teen movies will have so much sex and so many people walking around in bikinis and bare-breasted and that all seems to be okay. And then the minute you show it and its not funny, and it’s not sexy, and it’s actually unattractive, then it becomes a problem, which seems so odd.”

The article points out that Shame has no more physical nudity than Forgetting Sarah Marshall which earned an R rating.

So, bring it, NC-17 rating.  I am totally down with it.

*Er, I will grant you that Michael Fassbender nude is a plus in my book.  He is easy on the eyes.  But that’s not the reason to see either Hunger or Shame.  Sort of like Daniel Craig in Love is the Devil where he played Derek Jacobi’s boyfriend – yeah, he’s in his birthday suit for a few scenes, and he’s got a good body, but the scenes aren’t titillating.

**However, violence against women – especially sexualized violence – always seems to get a pass.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (curently not yet rated) will probably get an R rating even though Lisbeth experiences a horrific rape scene (if you’ve read the books you’ll know what I mean).  That movie ought to be an NC-17 for the violence alone.

news in review

Tsk, tsk, they never learn, or do they?

This week Twitter lit up with the revelation that a new, well-received spy novel – QR Markham’s Assassin of Secrets – was heavily lifted from other spy novels (including James Bond, to which the book was compared).  Little, Brown recalled the entire print run (The Book Bench blog at the New Yorker summarizes and muses on the situation well).  Ed Rants went on a hunt for the lifted passages and found so many from different sources that the plagiarised novel is looking more and more like a collage.

My question is, how did Markham think no one would ever find the lifted sections?  It’s not like he ripped off an obscure, out-of-print-and-copyright novel that few would remember.  He lifted from Geoffrey O’Brien, Charles McCarry, and John Gardner (according to Halford a whole six page stretch was lifted from a Gardner novel).  People obviously still read and are fans of those authors.  Pulling stupid stunts like this really gives both the author and publisher a black eye.  The editor and publisher especially for not catching the plagiarism beforehand. 

Conversely, is Markham doing this on purpose?  An article he wrote for HuffPo (which has since been pulled) was largely cobbled together from an O’Brien work.  The Paris Review ran one of his short stories in 2002 which has since been found to contain passages from a Graham Greene book.  It almost seems like he was testing the system, dipping a toe to take the temperature and see if he could slip an entire novel collated from existing novels.

If Markham is “punking” the literary world, no one is laughing.  Least of all Little, Brown.  I just want to know why – was it Markham’s intent to deliberately put this book out there and see if anyone would notice or was he honestly hoping it would go under the radar so he could make more money off the series contract?

movie star drool · news in review

Oscars 2011: Not as bad as it has been

I love watching the Oscars with my friends: good food, gossip, drinks.  However, I cringe every year when the production team comes out ahead of time and tells everyone that they have tried to make the broadcast “shorter” – which is code for “We do crappy things to very grateful people because they are not movie stars.” 

The hosts:  I do have a soft spot for Anne Hathaway.  She is a genuinely goofy person and that has to be hard in the Hollywood fish tank.  She’s not afraid to be a fan-girl.  I thought she was funny and looked happy to be hosting, she had fun with it.  Plus, nasty black dress aside, she looked beautiful.  James Franco, on the other hand, perpetually looked like he smelled something bad, had an eyebrow stuck in the “raised” position, and mumbled like he was going for a spot in the Dazed and Confused remake.  They should have had Anne host by herself (loved her dig at Hugh Jackman).

The montages:  There were fewer montages, thank goodness.  The “genre tribute” montages of years past seemed odd and never really corresponded to a person or milestone anniversary.  Also, I really liked how the producers did one montage of all the Best Picture nominees with Colin Firth’s voice-over from The King’s Speech.  Soooo much better than ten montages – boring.

The dancers:  The producers get a “fail” for not having dancers.  That was always one of my favorite parts of the broadcast.  So booooooo on you (also, Florence aside, I wasn’t that impressed with the singers for the Best Original Song).

The set: The designers really did a fantastic job with the set.  It was lively and interactive without being overbearing.  Also, sparkly thanks to Swarovski.

The awards:  I really wasn’t surprised by any of the winners (although I did think that Biutiful was going to win Best Foreign Language film, which it didn’t).  Hooray for The King’s Speech because I am a huge fan of Colin Firth (ol’ hottie-pants himself) and it’s such a wonderful story (the one area of history that always draws my attention is the British Royal family).  I loved Melissa Leo’s acceptance speech and Natalie Portman looked absolutely gorgeous.

The Please-wrap-up music:  I really hate that the producers allot like 30 seconds to winners of categories like Best Sound Editing, who have at least 3 people per category who all have to get their people thanked in that time period, but let the actors/director ramble on for several minutes.  The behind-the-scenes people are responsible for the look and sound of that movie we all love so much – like Inception which, cool idea aside, would not have looked half so interesting if the effects and editing guys hadn’t worked their butts off.  They’re just as important as the actors.  At least the producers scrapped that TERRIBLE idea from several years ago where they brought all the nominees in a category up on stage and pretty much went “Here’s the winner, thanks for coming.”  That was pretty awful, as well as the idea to have them accept the award in the aisle to save the “time” it takes for them to get up to the stage.  Tacky.  If you’re saving time by cutting the montages, at least let people get their thanks out appropriately.

Funniest part of the evening: A three-way tie between Kirk Douglas, the “musicals” segment, and Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law.  Kirk Douglas is such a tough guy and for him to come out on stage at the Academy Awards and essentially do a little stand-up and draw out the suspense when presenting an award, I take my hat off.  He was so funny and sweet.  The “Auto-tune” movies segment was hilarious and so great for the Twilight sequence (“He doesn’t own a shirt”….”Why doesn’t he own a shirt?”….”She likes it that he doesn’t own a shirt”).  Downey Jr. and Law were hysterical channeling their Sherlock Holmes characters witty, bickering style when presenting (PS, can’t wait until their new SH movie comes out).

Least funny part of the evening: Pretty much any time James Franco told a joke.  Or tried to look “cool.”

The clothes:  Strangely, no one wore anything hideous requiring a comment from me.  Everyone was “safe” to stunning and it was a pleasure to see a teen dressed age-appropriately at an awards show – Hailee Steinfeld’s pink vintage-looking ball gown was perfect.

One last thing I missed:  There wasn’t an end-of-show montage of upcoming releases.  There usually is one during the last commercial break before the credits.  Isn’t there?

Well, that’s it for me!  My go-to-the-theatre movie watching was woefully poor this year – I blame a combination of Marcus Theatres’ selection, Marcus Theatres’ exorbitant movie ticket prices, and my work schedule/buying a new house.  Must do better this year.

news in review · random

Sales of Wuthering Heights are up!

Thanks to Bella’s comparison of the co-dependent Bella/Edward death-dance to the Heathcliff/Catherine co-dependent Yorkshire moor grudgematch sales of Emily Bronte’s only novel are skyrocketing according to The Telegraph.

Apparently sales have quadrupled in the last year.  Who’da thunk?  I don’t mind.  Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite novels so if one book character inspires teens to read another book (especially one I think is fantastic) I don’t have a problem with that.

I do have a problem with the Twilight tie-in marketing

This edition is not annotated (it also has some asinine relationship quiz or something in the back).  As much as the cover art says “Buy me if you like Twilight” there are no notes to explain Joseph’s ramblings or the nineteenth-century vocabulary or to help with the plot-within-a-plot multiple point-of-view first person narration.  The cover says that Wuthering Heights is written at the same reading level as Twilight.

It’s not.

I was a pretty advanced reader as a child and read Wuthering Heights for the first time in my early teens without too many problems (the first edition I read may also have been abridged because on a re-read I realized I didn’t remember much religious grumbling).  Some teens don’t read at an advanced level.  I’ve had tweens and teens come back to me, with this edition, complaining that they have no idea what is going on in Wuthering  Heights – the language is hard for them to understand.  I’m usually able to keep them from hating the book by giving them a leg-up summary and the Sparknotes website to help with the ramblier aspects of language and plot.

I really do like how HarperCollins is introducing readers to great literature – the other tie-ins include Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice – but I think these editions do young readers a disservice.  They need the extra information to make the leap from Twilight to the 1800s and beyond.  I regularly point readers to Barnes and Noble, Penguin, Oxford, or Norton editions of Wuthering Heights because I think those editions will help younger readers (and older, too, if they don’t regularly read non-21st century books) through the rough bits; they may not have slick red and black covers but the additional information is a definite plus.

news in review · reflection

The PW "dudes-only" list kerfluffle: seriously? only men?

If you read blogs – book blogger, industry, or otherwise – you’ve probably heard of the Publisher’s Weekly Best of 2009 list comprised solely of male authors.  The intent was to eliminate bias by not considering the authors’ genders…right.  I’ve got what amounts to a minor in biostatistics and I can tell you that unless you draw the names out of a hat there’s going to be bias, conscious or not (I’ll ignore the irony of a “Best of 2009” list that is published two months before the end of 2009).

Statistically speaking, if you ignore gender then the male/female ratio in the final list would be proportional to the male/female ratio in the longlist (which I guess numbered in the thousands).  But we’re not talking about random assortment here, we’re talking about a list generated by a value judgement made by humans.  Gender will bias the outcome unless you can find readers who know absolutely nothing about the novels under consideration (i.e. a group of blinded subjects), have them read each book under consideration without information as to who the author is/what gender the author is, and then make the final list based on the blinded group’s opinion.  That’s absolutely not going to happen – it is unrealistic.

A few people have brought up the “devil’s advocate” position that there would be outcry if the “Best of 2009” list consisted of all female authors.  I’m sure people would cry bias on that instance, too, even if claims were made about the non-gendered consideration of the list.  PW also claimed to ignore genre, too, and in that instance they did hit a 50-50 split between fiction and non-fiction (conveniently enough).  But….is the publishing world split 50-50 between fiction and non-fiction?  I don’t think so.  And did they consider YA or children’s books?  Those books do consitute a genre based on age.

Personally, I find several titles on the list inferior to critically acclaimed titles released this year.  In particular, I am disappointed that The Help by Kathryn Stockett is not on this list; anything that is a “word-of-mouth” bestseller and very highly praised critically deserves “Best-of” recognition.  Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize but neither she not Stockett even made the fiction longlist.  Brad Gooch’s biography of Flannery O’Connor failed to make the history longlist, too. 

What’s my point?  This is all subjective.  Publisher’s Weekly should have said this is the list and not tried to say they avoided gender and genre; because the list-makers are human and there will always be bias.  Better to acknowledge the bias as it is than try and dismiss it.

news in review · prayer · reflection

Dr. Ignacio Ponseti (1914-2009)

The University of Iowa community lost a colleage and friend when Dr. Ponseti died of a sudden illness on Sunday; he was 95. Dr. Ponseti developed a groundbreaking treatment for clubfoot using only casting and braces, not surgery, to train the foot into normal alignment. He persevered in his work even when the orthopaedic community disregarded his findings; through peer-reviewed research the Ponseti method has been shown to have a success rate of nearly 98 percent without the risks of a surgical procedure (the method is also inexpensive and popular in poorer areas of the world). Dr. Ponseti’s method was championed by parents, eventually culminating in founding of The Ponseti International Association in 2006 at the University of Iowa.

From the UI HealthCare news release:

Ignacio Ponseti, MD, whose pioneering, non-surgical, low-cost clubfoot treatment has benefited hundreds of thousands of children worldwide, died today at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa, at age 95 following a sudden illness. Ponseti’s gentle methods and soft-spoken compassion were a hallmark of a six-decade commitment to helping children, and belied a sometimes tumultuous, even dangerous, early career in medicine.

Ponseti was born in 1914 on the Spanish island of Minorca. As a teenager, he worked summers in his watchmaker father’s repair shop. Hours spent learning to make and replace tiny, delicate watch parts were lessons in patience and precision that would serve him well in the years that followed.

Ponseti entered medical school in Barcelona in 1930 and completed his degree in 1936, just before the start of the three-year Spanish Civil War. Volunteering to serve as a medical officer with the Loyalist army, he spent the war in the Orthopedic and Fracture Service treating battle wounds. By 1939, General Francisco Franco’s fascist army had gained control, and Ponseti, fearing imprisonment or worse, chose to leave Spain.

His escape was not a solo effort, however. Ponseti also arranged a risky evacuation for the nearly 40 wounded men in his care. He worked for three days and nights to set their fractures, and then, with the help of local smugglers, he transported the wounded by mule over the Pyrenees mountains to safety in France.

Finding himself with no home or citizenship, Ponseti left France for Mexico, where he served as the community doctor for Juchitepec, a small town south of Mexico City. There, he successfully treated typhoid patients with hydration and bean puree.

While in Mexico for two years, Ponseti met Dr. Juan Farril, a professor of orthopedics at the University of Mexico who had trained in the United States. With Farril’s assistance, Ponseti arranged to study with Dr. Arthur Steindler, then chairman of orthopedics at the University of Iowa. In 1941, Ponseti moved to Iowa City.

Ponseti’s limited English and lack of a medical school diploma (due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War) almost stymied his entry into Iowa’s residency program. Fortunately, he was able to explain the situation – in French – to Carl Seashore, then dean of the UI Graduate College, who helped resolve the problem.

After completing his residency in 1944, Ponseti joined the orthopedics faculty at UI Hospitals and Clinics, where he remained for the next four decades treating patients, teaching and conducting research. He retired as professor emeritus in 1984, but returned to the University in 1986 to a consultative practice in orthopedics until he fell ill last Tuesday (October 13, 2009).

Ponseti’s work on clubfoot started very early in his UI career in the 1940s. It was obvious that without treatment, children with clubfoot faced a lifetime of debilitation, and even possible amputation. But the surgical treatments used at the time had significant limitations. With nearly 200,000 children born each year with the condition, the need to find a more effective treatment was imperative.

During his first year as a graduate fellow, Ponseti reviewed the outcomes of Dr. Steindler’s clubfoot surgical treatment used between 1921 and 1941. Analysis showed that surgical treatment often resulted in stiff, fixed ankles. Moreover, although the treated children could walk, they almost always had a limp.

Ponseti’s extensive examination of the anatomy and biology of infant feet, led him to believe that physical manipulation and casting might be a more successful approach. In 1950, Dr. Carroll Larson, head of orthopedics at the University of Iowa, put Ponseti in charge of the clubfoot clinic, where he developed the eponymous method that would slowly but surely revolutionize clubfoot treatment.

Known as the Ponseti method, it involves the careful manipulation of muscles, joints and ligaments held in a series of casts and braces to reposition the foot back to normal. It has become the “gold standard” for clubfoot treatment, after decades of positive follow-up results and numerous international peer-reviewed studies showing success rates as high as 98 percent.

However, for the first 40 years after developing the technique, only Ponseti and a handful of orthopedic surgeons used the method, treating more than 2,000 children. Frustrated by the under-use of his technique, Ponseti and colleagues who had used the technique began making a concerted effort in the 1990s to communicate the method and its successful results to as wide an audience as possible.

Ponseti’s book, “Congenital Clubfoot: Fundamentals of Treatment,” published by Oxford University Press in 1996, describes his experience with the method and includes patient studies confirming the success of the approach. A string of peer-reviewed articles, including multi-decade follow-up studies, also helped raise awareness and professional acceptance of the method.

By early 2000, the Web became an effective grass-roots medium, especially among the parents of successfully treated children who advocated the Ponseti method to other families searching for the best treatment for clubfoot. Over the past decade, these educational and advocacy efforts have resulted in the Ponseti method being considered the mainstream treatment for clubfoot in North America today. The technique is increasingly used to help children with clubfoot from underdeveloped regions of the world. In August 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the Ponseti Method.

Even though he was in his eighties and nineties, Dr. Ponseti continued to train physicians in his method, many of whom came from around the world to learn the technique. You could see the gaggle following Dr. Ponseti down the hallway. Dr. Ponseti’s 1996 textbook, Congenital Clubfoot: Fundamentals for Treatment, has recently been reprinted. In 2006, Helena Percas-Ponseti, herself a professor emeritas of Spanish literature, wrote Homage to Iowa: The Inside Story of Ignacio V. Ponseti, a biography of her husband. I have a copy of this book, signed by both Dr. Ponsetis, on my bookshelves at home.

Rest well, Dr. Ponseti, you gave hope and happy life to so many.

Booker Project · news in review · Nobel Project

Herta Muller: 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature

I’m always excited for literary prizes (conveniently the Man Booker and the Nobel were within two days of each other this year). I have to say I’m a little surprised the Nobel committee did not choose Adonis, a Syrian poet whose name has been tossed around as a contender for years. I know even less about winner Herta Muller, a Romanian-born German-language writer, than I did JMG le Clezio (2008 Laureate). Muller has won numerous awards in Germany, including the Kleist Prize and the Kafka Prize, so it’s not like the Nobel committee picked a dud.

At this point I could get back up on my soapbox like I did when the Booker longlists/shortlists were announced and again complain that it sucks to live in the US and not have access to new and/or quality work coming out of the world literature (can’t even get the good UK titles in a reasonable amount of time). Like flogging a decayed pack animal. Tangential to this argument is the insinuation that Americans are too insular and don’t read world literature; I’ll throw that right back at you and note that we can only read what we can lay our hands on. If publishers are unable or unwilling to negotiate for the translation and publication of non-US work then it’s really hard to read world literature. So we read what we can even if that’s our own corner of the world. Admittedly, I would have loved to see Kurt Vonnegut awarded the Nobel, a truly wonderful writer, but when you only give out one award per year for the entire world…you lose some of the good ones.

With the goal of “reading more world literature” in mind, I’m going to formally announce two long-term projects: the Nobel Project and the Booker Project. I’m sure other bloggers do this, too, and the goals are similar to my Newbery Project. I’d like to read at least one work by each Nobel Prize for Literature laureate and each of the Booker Prize-winning books…by the time I die. I figure that gives me a good long time to get that accomplished because each project will grow as the years pass. Obviously, I have some winners on each list covered so I might throw those in as “pre-blog” retro posts unless I really want to read the book again (it gives me an excuse to re-read Possession in any case).