Daily Archives: December 28, 2008

Nazi themes dominate holiday cinema season

AP | Dec 25, 2008

By SANDY COHEN

LOS ANGELES (AP) — ‘Tis the season to gather, be grateful for what we have and share what we can. But for cinephiles, it’s awards season, and that means dreary fare — particularly with a World War II or Holocaust focus. No fewer than six are set for release this holiday season.

In theaters now are “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” which tells the story of a forbidden friendship between the son of a Nazi officer and a Jewish boy imprisoned in a concentration camp; “The Reader,” which stars Kate Winslet as a former concentration-camp guard on trial years after the war; and “Adam Resurrected,” which follows a Holocaust survivor (Jeff Goldblum) living in a mental institution.

cruise-teaserp350x350“Valkyrie,” which opens on Christmas day, stars Tom Cruise as a German officer who heads up a plan to kill Hitler. And two more Nazi-oriented films open on New Year’s Eve: “Defiance” stars Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber as brothers who battle the Nazis from a secret hideout in the woods, and “Good” features Viggo Mortensen as an academic and novelist reluctantly enticed into the SS fold after he’s approached to write some mild propaganda for the Nazi party.

In a recent interview, Cruise joked: “Go kill Hitler on Christmas!”

So why, during what’s supposed to be the cheeriest time of year, this abundance of stories from one of humanity’s darkest hours?

“Much of it is awards-driven,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers, which tracks box-office totals. “Downer movies come out this time of year as a reflection of the fact that people are vying for Oscars.”

Indeed, Holocaust-themed holiday releases have fared well with academy voters for decades. “Sophie’s Choice,” a December release in 1982, earned five Oscar nominations and a win for star Meryl Streep. “Schindler’s List” was nominated for 12 Oscars and won seven — including best picture — after its release in December of 1993. “The Pianist” opened two days after Christmas in 2002. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won three, including best actor for star Adrien Brody and best director for Roman Polanski.

“These movies take you on an emotional roller-coaster ride,” Dergarabedian said. “They’re powerful, moving, and Oscar loves that.”

The Holocaust and World War II are rich landscapes for exploring moral issues and human costs, and such stories resonate with filmmakers and awards voters alike, said Steve Pond, author of the 2005 book “The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards.”

World War II-themed movies have been winning Oscars since the year after the war ended, Pond noted. In 1946, “The Best Years of Our Lives” won seven of the eight Oscars for which it was nominated, plus a special award given to supporting actor Harold Russell “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans” by appearing in the film.

“The Holocaust is such an irredeemable monstrosity, you can’t get more extreme or more evil than that,” Pond said. “For a dramatist dealing in conflict, it’s sort of an irresistible topic to be drawn to.”

The current state of the world inspires continued interest in these themes, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“Here we are, 63 years after Auschwitz, and we can’t open up a paper or read an article that doesn’t involve another episode of man’s inhumanity to man somewhere in the world: suicide bombings, Mumbai, Darfur,” he said. “The Holocaust is a ripe subject for writers and directors to present on the screen issues that resonate even today as we cross into 2009.”

Bears and Packers play coldest Chicago pro football game in history

Northwest Herald | Dec 23, 2008

By NICK HUT

CHICAGO – The Bears and Green Bay Packers made a little history Monday night, playing the coldest Chicago pro football game on record.

The kickoff temperature of two degrees was the coldest since the team began keeping track in 1963. The previous low was a Bears-Packers game in December 1983, with a temperature of three degrees.

That game still has the record for the lowest wind chill, at minus-23. Monday night’s wind chill at kickoff was minus-13.

The wind chill for last seanson’s Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field fell to minus-18 during the game, but it was warmer at kickoff.

“The field was pretty slippery,” kicker Robbie Gould said. “It was frozen. They talk about a frozen tundra usually in Green Bay, but it was frozen here in Chicago for the first time ever.”

The attendance of 54,057 included 8,094 no-shows.

Health check: Mike Brown, the Bears’ safety, left the game in the second quarter with a calf injury. Brown aggravated the injury, which had hindered him a couple of times during the season, on the Packers’ second touchdown play.

Three special-teams players also went out with injuries: Hunter Hillenmeyer (ankle) in the second quarter; Kevin Jones (hamstring) in the third; and Marcus Hamilton (knee) in the fourth.

After further review: In the first quarter, the Bears thought a bouncing punt might have deflected off Packers return man Will Blackmon.

The ball kept rolling toward the Packers’ end zone and Trumaine McBride saved it into Jones’ hands. Jones took a few steps into the end zone for what the Bears hoped was the game’s touchdown.

However, the officials ruled the ball never did hit Blackmon. Bears coach Lovie Smith challenged the play, but the call stood.

The interceptor: The Packers had the ball at their 48 in the first quarter, but nickelback Danieal Manning tipped Aaron Rodgers’ short pass high into the air.

Defensive end Alex Brown snared the ball. This is the third consecutive season in which Brown has at least one interception. He has five for his seven-season career.

Bring it on: After the Packers took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, scattered boos came down from the stands. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher waved his arms to encourage the crowd to boo some more.

It was the same gesture Urlacher made going into halftime when the Bears trailed by 10 points Nov. 2 against Detroit. The Bears rallied to win that game with two second-half touchdowns, so they are 2-for-2 in coming from behind after Urlacher eggs on the fans.

Shanked: Packers kicker Mason Crosby lined up for a 46-yard field goal that would have given Green Bay a 17-10 lead in the third quarter, but missed the kick badly. It was short, low and wide to the right.

The Packers eventually got Crosby a shorter attempt, 28 yards, for a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Inactives: Bears fullback Jason McKie (quadriceps) missed his fourth consecutive game.

The Bears’ other inactives were wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, linebacker Gilbert Gardner, guard Terrence Metcalf, defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, wide receiver Brandon Rideau and defensive end Ervin Baldwin. The designated third quarterback was Caleb Hanie.

The Packers’ injured players included third-down running back Brandon Jackson (wrist), starting fullback Korey Hall (knee) and backup defensive tackle Justin Harrell (hip/back).

Incest may not be best, but marriage bans should be rolled back, scientists say

European countries didn’t ban the practice because there, “the rich and noble were marrying” their cousins, Spencer tells us. “In America it was immigrants and the rural poor — a much easier target of legislation than your monarch.”

Scientific American | Dec 22, 2008

Inbreeding is the source of jokes about British royalty and is associated with increased birth defects among offspring. The practice is so reviled that 31 U.S. states ban marriage between first cousins or allow it only if the couple has undergone genetic counseling or at least one partner is sterile or no longer fertile because of age.

But those laws “seem ill-advised” and “should be repealed,” a geneticist and medical historian write in today’s PLoS Biology. “Neither the scientific nor social assumptions that informed them are any longer defensible.”

The US “cousin marriage” prohibition stretches back to the 1858, when Kansas barred such marriages; Texas was the most recent state to pass a ban, in 2005, write Diane Paul, a political scientist emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Hamish Spencer, head of zoology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. (European countries didn’t ban the practice because there, “the rich and noble were marrying” their cousins, Spencer tells us. “In America it was immigrants and the rural poor — a much easier target of legislation than your monarch.”)

First cousins share about an eighth, or 12.5 percent, of their genes, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Genetic Counseling. Because of that overlap, there’s a 1.7 percent to 2.8 higher risk of intellectual disability and genetic disorders, including seizures and metabolic errors among children whose parents are first cousins than among the general population, says Robin Bennett, a certified genetic counselor and lead author of that research.

That elevated risk is “comparable to a 40-year-old woman having children and we consider that perfectly acceptable,” Spencer tells ScientificAmerican.com. “I can’t imagine a law saying they’re not allowed to have children.”

The father of evolution, Charles Darwin, married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, as did Albert Einstein when he walked down the aisle with cousin Elsa. But while marriage between first cousins occurs often in some parts of the world, and was not uncommon among immigrants and the rural poor during early American history, the practice is rare in the West, Spencer says.

“It’s not an issue because most people aren’t interested in their first cousin,” Spencer admits. “But it does affect some individuals and it doesn’t seem particularly fair.”

It’s worth noting that sex between more distant cousins may actually offer reproductive advantages. Pairings between third and fourth cousins result in more offspring and grandkids than more conventional couplings between folks who aren’t related, the Icelandic biotech company deCODE genetics reported in February.

Alaska interior braces for record cold-snap with lows reaching 50 below zero

The last time Fairbanks had a cold snap in which the low temperature hit 40 below or colder for 10 days in a row was in January 1989, one of the coldest winters on record at the National Weather Service.

News Miner | Dec 27, 2008

Cold snap headed to Interior Alaska

By Tim Mowry

FAIRBANKS — The winter’s first cold snap is about to hit, and it won’t be pretty.

“It could be cold enough to freeze warts,” quipped Bob Fischer, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

Related

Record cold chills out Colorado

A record low temperature for Dec. 15 that had withstood winter’s deepest freezes for more than a century was shattered early Monday as arctic air settled over the state and more snow was on the way.

Not to worry, Fischer reassured, that’s just meteorological humor. Temperatures won’t reach that of liquid nitrogen — minus 423.17 degrees Fahrenheit — but it’s probably going to be colder than Interior residents have seen it in a long time and for a longer period of time.

Temperatures are expected to start falling today, and by Sunday night lows are expected to be in the minus 30 to minus 40 range. After that, it’s simply a matter of time before clouds move out of the area and temperatures bottom out, Fischer said.

“Once the skies clear, we’re going to see lows in the minus 40s in the Fairbanks area and minus 50s in some of the colder outlying areas with no ice fog,” Fischer predicted, adding that the coldest temperatures will likely be in the eastern Interior near Tok and the Canada border.

There is no end in sight to the bitter cold that will envelope the region, either, according to the forecasting models Fischer and other meteorologists are looking at.

“Current indications are that it will last at least seven to 10 days, or even longer,” Fischer said. “Once it gets cold, it’s going to stay cold. We’re locked into this pattern for the foreseeable future.”

The cold temperatures are the result of a cold air mass over northwest Canada that is moving toward Alaska, Fischer said.

“That air is going to infiltrate slowly to the south and more cold air is going to develop in place over the eastern Interior,” he said.

With little or no warming from the sun at this time of year, daytime highs probably won’t be much warmer than nighttime lows, Fischer said.

“Fairbanks will probably see temperatures of 35 to 40 below for highs and 40s below for lows,” he said. “It probably won’t be more than 5 degrees between the lows and highs.”

Temperatures in the hills also will be cold, though it will be slightly warmer at higher elevations than in town, Fischer said.

The last time Fairbanks had a cold snap in which the low temperature hit 40 below or colder for 10 days in a row was in January 1989, one of the coldest winters on record at the National Weather Service, Fischer said. That cold snap lasted 14 days, from Jan. 5-18.

“Some of the worst cold waves on record have gone on for three weeks,” Fischer noted. “This could turn into one of those.”

So far this winter, Fairbanks has avoided any prolonged stretches of severe cold weather. The coldest temperature so far this winter has been 31 below on Dec. 2, the only time the temperature has hit 30 below this winter.

Cruise’s Valkyrie blasted as “Nazi apologia”

cruise-as-claus-von-stauffenber

Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenber in Valkyrie. Photo: AP

Sydney Morning Herald | Dec 27, 2008

An influential US critic on Friday blasted Tom Cruise’s latest movie Valkyrie as “Nazi apologia” in the sharpest criticism yet of the WWII thriller.

The movie features the US superstar as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, an aristocratic German who headed a group of top officers who hatched a plot to kill Hitler late in the war.

Roger Friedman, film critic for Fox News, said the movie appeared to intentionally minimise the impact of Nazism.

“I’m concerned that Valkyrie could represent a new trend in filmmaking: Nazi apologia. Not once in Valkyrie do any of the ‘heroes’ mention what’s happening around them. Hitler has systemically killed millions,” said Friedman.

“Valkyrie opens the door to a dangerous new thought: that the Holocaust and all the other atrocities could be of secondary importance to the cause of German patriotism.”

Friedman criticised the set designers for minimising or hiding the swastikas that have become symbols of the evils of Nazism, and blasted the portrayal of Hitler as a “doddering fool with a British accent and a nice suit”.

Friedman’s political criticism of the movie may have been the sharpest of US reviews, but it was far from the only negative assessment.

Writing in the Washington Post, Phillip Kennicott blasted the film’s puzzling failure to portray von Stauffenberg’s life before his unsuccessful assassination attempt – when he was untroubled by Nazism and served as Hitler’s loyal soldier.

Kennicott also criticised the movie for failing to point out that the plot was hatched not out of moral objections to Nazism but only when Germany was facing imminent collapse.

Stauffenberg “was not a committed anti-Nazi until very late in the game”, wrote Kennicott. “Many anti-Hitler conspirators weren’t so much against Nazism, with its vile racial and militarist policies, as they were against Hitler’s disastrous leadership of the war”.

Cruise himself came close to distorting the extent of German support for Hitler and his policies.

“It’s important to know that it wasn’t everybody – not everybody felt the way (Hitler did) or fell into the Nazi ideology,” Cruise said during the film’s US press tour.

“The thing that stood out to me was Stauffenburg himself and the amount of desperation and pain for him,” Cruise said. “He wanted a moral country that participated in the world, not one of annihilation and Holocausts and world domination.

“He was a man who was able to see through all the propaganda and see how utterly insane Hitler was, and ultimately he was the one to say, ‘Somebody’s got to shoot that bastard.”