Friday, December 05, 2008

The Dark Knight Returns...

Warner Bros. is either assuming it's getting a ton of Oscar noms, or it's morbidly commemorating the one year anniversary of Heath Ledger's passing, but on January 23, The Dark Knight will be re-released in theaters and IMAX nationwide.

Even though the DVD and Blu-rays come out next Tuesday, the re-release is a smart idea. The movie is only $4 million short of the $1 billion worldwide benchmark (a fait accompli at this point) and there are enough Bat-fans out there to justify seeing the flick on the big screen one last time. Also, even if you have a ginormous HDTV at home, nothing beats seeing The Dark Knight in IMAX.

The other reason it's a smart move on WB's part is the fact that Oscar nominations will be announced the day before. And most industry insiders believe TDK will be the Return of the King of comic book adaptations and be bestowed with multiple nominations (Heath's nod for Best Supporting Actor is a given, but there's a good chance for Best Director and Best Picture noms as well). Tacking on a successful theater run might be just enough motivation for Academy members to convert those nominations into statuettes.

If that happens, by the way, I'm going to have to add a special addendum to my "Batman & Oscar" post!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Yes. We. Can.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Batman & Oscar: Third Time's a Charm!

The Dark Knight is only days away, and needless to say, I'm pumped. I'm going nuts over all of the trailers and virals. July 18 can't get here soon enough. That said, early reviews of the flick are actually touting Oscar talk for Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. Maybe Dark Knight will be the Return of the King of superhero comic movies and take home multiple noms and wins. If that happens, my recurring "Batman & Oscar" posts will be very happy indeed! Anyway, I'm updating this again because I recently found out Eric Roberts (Sal Maroni) was actually nominated for an Oscar in the past. Who knew?

Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale -- Batman)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Supporting Actress -- L.A. Confidential (1998)

Halle Berry (Patience Phillips/Catwoman -- Catwoman)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Actress -- Monster’s Ball (2002)

Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth -- Batman Begins & The Dark Knight)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Supporting Actor -- Hannah and Her Sisters (1987)
Best Supporting Actor -- The Cider House Rules (2000)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Actor -- Alfie (1967)
Best Actor -- Sleuth (1972)
Best Actor -- Educating Rita (1984)
Best Actor -- The Quiet American (2002)

George Clooney (Bruce Wayne/Batman -- Batman & Robin)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Supporting Actor -- Syriana (2006)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Director -- Good Night, and Good Luck (2006)
Best Original Screenplay -- Good Night, and Good Luck (2006)
Best Actor -- Michael Clayton (2008)

Danny DeVito (Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin -- Batman Returns)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Picture -- Erin Brockovich (2001)

Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox -- Batman Begins & The Dark Knight)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Supporting Actor -- Million Dollar Baby (2005)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- Street Smart (1988)
Best Actor -- Driving Miss Daisy (1990)
Best Actor -- The Shawshank Redemption (1995)

Tommy Lee Jones (Harvey Dent/Two-Face -- Batman Forever)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Supporting Actor -- The Fugitive (1994)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- JFK (1992)

Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian -- Batman Forever)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Actress -- The Hours (2003)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Actress -- Moulin Rouge (2002)

Heath Ledger (The Joker -- The Dark Knight)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Actor -- Brokeback Mountain (2006)

Burgess Meredith (The Penguin -- Batman: The Movie)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- The Day of the Locust (1976)
Best Supporting Actor -- Rocky (1977)

Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard -- Batman Begins)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Actor -- Schindler’s List (1994)

Jack Nicholson (Jack Napier/The Joker -- Batman)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Actor -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1976)
Best Supporting Actor -- Terms of Endearment (1984)
Best Actor -- As Good As it Gets (1998)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- Easy Rider (1970)
Best Actor -- Five Easy Pieces (1971)
Best Actor -- The Last Detail (1974)
Best Actor -- Chinatown (1975)
Best Supporting Actor -- Reds (1982)
Best Actor -- Prizzi’s Honor (1986)
Best Actor -- Ironweed (1988)
Best Supporting Actor -- A Few Good Men (1993)
Best Actor -- About Schmidt (2003)

Jack Palance (Carl Grissom -- Batman)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Supporting Actor -- City Slickers (1992)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- Sudden Fear (1953)
Best Supporting Actor -- Shane (1954)

Michelle Pfeiffer (Selina Kyle/Catwoman -- Batman Returns)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actress -- Dangerous Liasons (1989)
Best Actress -- The Fabulous Baker Boys (1990)
Best Actress -- Love Field (1993)

Eric Roberts (Salvatore Maroni -- The Dark Knight)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- Runaway Train (1986)

Sharon Stone (Laurel Hedare -- Catwoman)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Actress -- Casino (1996)

Uma Thurman (Dr. Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy -- Batman & Robin)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actress -- Pulp Fiction (1995)

Christopher Walken (Max Shreck -- Batman Returns)
Academy Award Winner:
Best Supporting Actor -- The Deer Hunter (1979)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- Catch Me if You Can (2003)

Ken Watanabe (R’as Al Ghul -- Batman Begins)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Supporting Actor -- The Last Samurai (2004)

Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone -- Batman Begins)
Academy Award Nominee:
Best Actor -- In the Bedroom (2002)
Best Supporting Actor -- Michael Clayton (2008)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Where the First Asian American Head Coach Happens

Originally posted at

If MetroDad is the resident baseball expert—with Soccer Dad reppin’…er…soccer—I guess that leaves me as the sole NBA enthusiast at Rice Daddies. (By the way, that Lakers-Celtics Finals everyone’s salivating for isn’t looking too good right about now.)

Anyway, today’s a big day for Rice Daddies with an affinity for professional basketball. As expected all season, Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley resigned yesterday after a disastrous 15-win season. Assistant coach Erik Spoelestra has been hired to replace Riley on the bench. (That's him on the left, next to J-Will). Why is this significant to Rice Daddies? Well, Filipino American Spoelestra is the NBA’s first Asian American head coach. And, if I’m not mistaken, the first Asian American to lead a major professional team in any of the big four sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL). Interestingly, I don’t see this fact getting much play in the sports world.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this historic moment will allow me to actively cheer the Heat as long as they're in the same division as the Wiz, unless of course, Miami is able to trade for Yao Ming or Yi Jianlian. That said, I still wish Coach Spo and the Heat well next season. Represent!

Maybe Wright is Right

I have to respectfully disagree with a lot of the CW concerning Rev. Wright’s latest media blitz.

Let’s start with the notion that Wright has somehow thrown Obama “under the bus” by “dismissing” his Philadelphia speech. Many people are interpreting his remarks about “saying what politicians must say” as dismissive. However, in the Bill Moyers interview, Wright actually praises Obama’s speech as something good that has come out of this controversy. To further the point, Wright means that the only reason Obama has to explain his views of the reverend is precisely because he is running for president. In that context, Wright isn’t wrong. No other parishioner has to defend his or her church attendance.

Moreover, Wright has been preaching for 30 years. If he was such a dangerous, controversial individual, why didn’t the Right and the press go after him in the past? In fact, Wright was considered a respectable pastor and representative of the black church for all of those three decades. Recall he was one of the religious leaders brought in to council Pres. Clinton during the Lewinsky impeachment. So why is he such a controversial figure now? Because he is the pastor to a black man running for president.

And for most people of color, we see these attacks on Obama and Wright as something more than personal or political. They aren’t really attacking Wright for what he is saying (even on Morning Joe, Scarborough and co. were saying that Wright has a lot of good points and truths in his speeches. “We get it, now move on” was the consensus). They are attacking him for what he represents. His speech patterns, cadences, body language are “different” to white audiences. And “different” usually equates to “other” and in Wright’s words, “deficient.” At Too Sense, dnA said it better:

White folks who are offended by Wright are not really listening to the content of his words, they are reacting as much to his body language, cadence and voice quality more than anything else. What they see offends their sensibilities. They look at him and see Louis Farrakhan. Reverend Wright could be speaking Japanese or counting sheep, no matter what he says at this point, he will scare some white people, who could no more distinguish what he is saying than they could distinguish between Young Jeezy and Talib Kweli.

They are not reacting [to] Wright's words, they are reacting to his blackness, and that they find deeply disconcerting. It does not matter that Wright has said over and over "difference does not mean deficient," they see one way to be and they find the suggestion that anything different could possibly be equal confusing. Reverend Wright is as invisible to them as the protagonist of Ralph Ellison's novel. They cannot see him.

Also, about his defense of his “chickens coming home to roost” comments regarding 9/11. He has said in the past that the snippet that is looped on cable news is actually his paraphrase of Admiral Peck’s critique of American foreign policy. In fact, the line in the original sermon that follows the “chickens” one is this: “That’s not me saying this, y’all. That’s an ambassador. A white man, not a black militant.” Also, his position on 9/11 is not that different from Ron Paul’s, so where’s the outrage over that?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Asian Americans and Mainstream Hollywood: 21, Forbidden Kingdom, and Harold & Kumar

[Cross posted at Rice Daddies.]

I’ve wanted to write this for a while now, so what better time than the opening day of the long awaited Jet Li vs. Jackie Chan duel, The Forbidden Kingdom? All opening within a month of one another, three movies (21, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) have significant relevance to Hollywood’s current ideas about Asian American actors and audiences. One movie is a true story about Asian American MIT students. Another features two icons of Hong Kong cinema facing off for the first time. And the third is the big budget sequel to a cult hit about a couple Asian American stoners. The studios’ approaches to—and audiences’ expectations of—these films are quite telling about the current state of Asian Americans in mainstream Hollywood.

The impetus for writing this post was actually driven by seeing TV spots for the Chan/Li actioner. The film, which is a quasi-sequel/follow up to the classic Journey to the West, has been anticipated with bated breath by both of Jackie’s and Jet’s legions of fans. I had followed some of the news about the movie ever since it was announced last year and was disappointed to learn that a major plot point in the flick involves a white teenager (with a kung fu fetish, of course) being transported back to ancient China. On the one hand, I can understand the premise of the time travel conceit: modern audiences need a readily identifiable character to help navigate the “exotic” fantasyland of China (which is problematic in its own right, but that’s for another post). This is a typical storytelling technique that can be found in Alice in Wonderland, The Neverending Story, and The Matrix. My issue isn’t with the framing of the film in these terms. What I find troubling is the notion that said teenager had to be Caucasian. Here’s the plot synopsis according to IMDB:

In Forbidden Kingdom, American teenager Jason (Michael Angarano), who is obsessed with Hong Kong cinema and kungfu classics, finds an antique Chinese staff in a pawn shop: the legendary stick weapon of the Chinese sage and warrior, the Monkey King (Jet Li). With the lost relic in hand, Jason unexpectedly finds himself transported back to ancient China.

There, he meets the drunken kungfu master, Lu Yan (Jackie Chan); an enigmatic and skillful Silent Monk (Jet Li); and a vengeance-bent kungfu beauty, Golden Sparrow (Crystal Liu Yi Fei), who lead him on his quest to return the staff to its rightful owner, the Monkey King - imprisoned in stone by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) for five hundred years. Along the way, while attempting to outmaneuver scores of Jade Warriors, Cult Killers and the deadly White Hair Demoness, Ni Chang (Li Bing Bing), Jason learns about honor, loyalty and friendship, and the true meaning of kungfu, and thus frees himself.

The decision to cast a Michael Angarano as Jason is part of the Hollywood tradition to—as The Cinematical’s Peter Martin puts it, “experience an exotic locale peopled entirely by "others" through the eyes of a Caucasian character.” As I said earlier, I have no issue with the “fish out of water” premise. However, I think the producers of the film would have been smarter to make the role of Jason an Asian American character. Not only would that have given an opportunity to a young Asian American actor to star in a surefire hit, it might have given the movie a more nuanced message. Again, Martin:

If the producers had dared to cast an Asian, Asian-American, or African-American, that could have opened up all kinds of interesting twists: the young Asian not acquainted with his own cultural history, the Asian-American torn between two cultures, the African-American similarly -- but differently -- torn.

From a marketing standpoint, many execs still believe that audiences won’t flock to a movie unless the lead is white (more on that later). They’d argue that money, not political correctness, is the motivating factor when casting roles that could otherwise go to actors of color. After all, it’s said that the only color Hollywood sees is green. Therefore, making Jason a Caucasian is viewed solely as a financial decision. Even if that were true, which is debatable, it’s interesting to note that much of the marketing materials for Forbidden Kingdom make little or no mention of Angarano’s participation in the film. Instead, many of the TV spots I’ve seen, as well as the film’s one-sheet, play up the martial arts aspect and focus on the iconography of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. So if shoehorning a Caucasian teenager into the plotline is necessary to attract that demographic to the theaters, why leave him out of the marketing? Well, probably because “Jackie Chan Fights Jet Li—For the First Time!” kinda sells itself. Which brings me back to my original point: how unnecessary it is to make Jason’s character Caucasian, and thus, denying an Asian American actor a plum part in a big film.

Alas, at least Jason is a fictional character; which can’t be said for 21, another movie with ramifications in the Asian American community. Based on Ben Mezrich’s 2003 book Bringing Down the House, the movie follows a group of MIT students as they use their indomitable math skills to take Vegas casinos for millions. In Mezrich’s book, the students were a multicultural bunch whose leader was revealed to be an Asian American named Jeff Ma. In fact, one of the plot points in the book dealt with how the group used ethnic stereotypes as part of their cover when suckering dealers at the blackjack tables. Apparently, the studio thought a true story about Asian American MIT students would not appeal to mainstream (read: Caucasian) audiences unless the leads were white. Therefore, rather than find a hot, young Asian American actor to portray Jeff’s character, Columbia Pictures cast British Across the Universe star Jim Sturgess. In an article published in 2005, Mezrich discussed the studio’s thought process when casting the movie:

During the talk, Mezrich mentioned the stereotypical Hollywood casting process--though most of the actual blackjack team was composed of Asian males, a studio executive involved in the casting process said that most of the film's actors would be white, with perhaps an Asian female. Even as Asian actors are entering more mainstream films, such as "Better Luck Tomorrow" and the upcoming "Memoirs of a Geisha," these stereotypes still exist, Mezrich said.

Like the casting of Forbidden Kingdom, Hollywood’s conventional wisdom is that Asians—and more specifically Asian Americans—cannot open big at the box office. This self-fulfilling prophecy, in a strange way, is reinforced by 21’s actual success at the box office (opening at #1 and so far earning over $70 million). Due to the movie’s success, star Jim Sturgess is Hollywood’s latest it-boy and is seeing his star on the rise. Even Jeff Ma, the basis for Sturgess’ character, sees nothing inherently wrong with his story being trans-racialized for the movies. In an interview with AICN, Ma revealed:

For me it wasn’t a big deal, because for about three years people had been asking me who I wanted to play me in a movie and I never was saying like “John Cho” or “Chow Yun-Fat” or “Jackie Chan…” I really wasn’t and I mean if I asked you who you would want to play you in a movie, you wouldn’t be thinking “I want the most similar person,” but you would be thinking ”Who’s cool?” or who do you think would personify your personality or who is a good actor or who is talented, so as much as I think people like to look at it at face value like that, the reality is if you ask anyone who they wanted to play you, it wouldn’t necessarily be “Who’s the most ethnically tied to me?”

It’s telling that Ma, as many Hollywood execs are wont to do, conflates Asian actors (Chow and Chan) with an Asian American actor (Cho). Since 21 is designed to be a star-making vehicle for its leads, it makes sense that Columbia would want a “cool” actor for the role. The assumption, though, is that there isn’t any “cool” Asian American actor (other than John Cho, of course) capable of playing Jeff on screen. Never mind actors such as Masi Oka, Parry Shen, Dante Basco, Roger Fan, Sung Kang, Ken Leung, or James Kyson Lee, just to name a few. Not to mention the thousands of up and coming actors of Asian descent who are still waiting for that big break. (It must be said, though, that 21 features two Asian Americans—Aaron Yoo and Lisa Lapira—in the cast. However, their parts are minor at best, and according to's Youyoung Lee, “buffoonish” at worst.) If any of the above mentioned actors had been cast as the lead in 21, it’d be safe to say that the myth of Asian Americans being unable to open a movie would be officially rendered moot; which brings me to Harold & Kumar.

The 2004 stoner flick, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, was a modest success in theaters. Grossing over $23 million worldwide, more than doubling its production budget, White Castle went on to make millions more on DVD, in the process, becoming an instant cult hit and ultimately leading to the buzzed-about sequel that’s set to open on April 25. The revolutionary thing about Harold & Kumar was its ability to portray its Asian American leads as real, complex individuals—who happen to really love pot. John Cho, in an interview with Angry Asian Man, summed it up thusly:

I think there's something, from a racial standpoint, an attitude that feels accurate... And I think it might be the fact that it addresses race as we do--as people of color do--that we're aware of it, that we live with it, but it doesn't consume us. And sometimes, white media thinks that we're obsessed with it, and then Asian American films... we make films that obsess over her our race. It's an hour and a half of people talking about what it means to be Asian.

But Harold and Kumar addresses it, then doesn't, then addresses it, then kind of addresses it, then laughs at it... and then somebody smokes pot.

To New Line Cinema’s credit, the studio bet against Hollywood conventional wisdom and backed the movie with a significant marketing push and theater saturation. And while the stoner comedy as a genre is known for featuring people of color (see Up in Smoke and Friday), Harold & Kumar proved a major motion picture starring charismatic Asian American leads could be successful. Thanks in large part to the film’s success, which by all accounts entered the pop cultural zeitgeist on a speeding cheetah, Cho and co-star Kal Penn became household names able to translate their popularity into mainstream success. Since White Castle, Penn has starred on the TV hit House M.D. and Cho recently landed the coveted role of Sulu in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot.

All three of these films demonstrate in different ways where mainstream Hollywood is in regards to Asian Americans, and where it still needs to go. With Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay poised to out-gross (in more ways than one, natch) its predecessor, the hope remains that Hollywood’s ill-conceived perception about Asian Americans will change. Though I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Obama: The First Asian American President?

Like many other Asian American Barack Obama supporters, I too was upset to learn that Asian Americans overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday. I know a lot of that has to do with name recognition (or if CNN is to be believed, Asians' innate racism towards blacks), but if more Asian American voters were aware of Obama's Asian roots, maybe they'd be able to better identify with the junior senator from Illinois.

First of all, if Obama wins the nomination (and hopefully, the presidency), than America will have not only its first African American nominee, the White House will have its first resident with Asian family members visiting for the holidays. Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, is hapa (Indonesian/White) and identifies as an Asian American. Her husband (Obama's brother-in-law) Konrad Ng is Chinese Canadian. Moreover, his stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was an Indonesian student studying at the University of Hawaii.

Not only that, but Obama knows what it's like to grow up the son of an immigrant. His story is not that different from the typical Asian American coming of age story (being branded "the other," explaining your exotic name to adults who should know better, etc.) These experiences, along with the fact that Obama grew up in Hawaii and Jakarta, give our next president a perspective that many Asian Americans can identify with. He may not have Asian blood, but if Bill Clinton can be the country's first black president, then why can't Barack Obama be our first Asian American one?

Be sure to check out the official AAPI for Obama website.

Find me on the Internet