Monday, January 31, 2011

The Two Grits

First, I have completed 32 pages of the screenplay for Ghostkeeper 2, by the end of this week I hope to have at least 70 pages done. I tend to write fast, usually about 5-7 pages a day, sometimes as much as 10 pages.

And you'll find that most pro writers all have different habits and page counts, some labor for 2 pages a day, others can do 10 pages. Neither is better or worse than the other.

But for Monday morning, before I start the screenplay I thought I'd share my thoughts on one of the Academy Award nominees, a film that actually was nominated 32 years ago.

Of course I'm talking about True Grit.

Which one is better?

Well, after watching the original version with John Wayne, I have come to the conclusion that they both are good movies. While they are based on the same novel, there are however, differences that show how different and yet how they are same the movies.

John Wayne's movie was released in 1969, with the iconic actor winning his only Oscar. Personally I felt Wayne, an actor more of personality than talent, did a far superior job of acting in two 1950's movies, my favorite film of all time The Searchers and Red River with Montgomery Clift. In each, he portrayed a bitter man coping with his demons and racism.

But it was Wayne's time and the award was basically an acknowledgment of his career. It was also the only film where he cursed "you son-of-a-bitch", which in 1969 was a ground-breaking piece of dialog for Wayne.

Jeff Bridges gave an okay performance, but he seemed to be walking through it and sometimes it was hard to understand his grumping dialog. But he was the only actor around now who could possibly match John Wayne.

The young girl Mattie, was played in 1969 by newcomer Kim Darby, who actually was 21 years old land had just had a baby and a divorce. Compare that to Hailee Steinfeld in the 2010 version who was only 13 years old and an amazing talent. She carries the movie with incredible confidence.  Yet Darby was very good in the 1969 version, unfortunately the movies she did afterwards were not really as good as she was. Today she teaches acting. What lies in wait for young Hailee remains to be seen.

The Texas Ranger, played by Matt Damon in the 2010 version was a part played by Glen Campbell, a singer who once played with the Beach Boys and became famous for his version of "By The Time I Get to Phoenix".

Damon is a better actor and Campbell himself admits he wasn't much of an actor. Campbell also is one of many celebrities who has a police mug shot of himself that you can find on the internet. Damon seems to have a long career in front of him.

Another interesting difference is that the films are shot and edited differently. TG 1969 was directed by Henry Hathaway, and done in the old studio way, with lots of lighting and wide shots and very few close-ups. (Incidentally close-ups were never done in movies up to the late 60's, they were primarily used for television).

The Coen's version has more natural lighting, darkness where darkness should be and many shades of contrast everywhere else. Today's movies allow shadows, which you rarely saw in big studio movies in the 1960's.

Their version also has nuances and ambiguity, which was rarely done in the 1960's and before, except for John Ford, who filled his movies with ambiguous characters and their pasts.

And we can't forget the bad guys.

The Coens used name actors Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin as the two main outlaws. Hathaway in 1969 used one of the best actors of his generation,  Robert Duval and Dennis Hopper and a wonderful character actor named Strother Martin. You might remember him from a line he said that became famous... "what we got here is a failure to communicate", from Cool Hank Luke, with Paul Newman.

So which one is better?  

Maybe the Coen's version is a little better as they followed the book a lot more closer. And their west was a little less romantic than Wayne's. Also Wayne's version was tailored more to Wayne than the story and it was Wayne's movie, not the girl's.

I never saw the 1969 version when it came out as I was busy protesting the war in Detroit and Chicago and John Wayne's right wing conservatism was contradictory to my politics, especially after working for Bobby Kennedy's campaign in Indianapolis the previous summer.

Wayne's last movie, The Shootist, 1976, was a tribute to his many westerns and his last. In the movie, he plays an old gunfighter who has cancer, a battle that Wayne himself would face and eventually lose.

(Thurs: Ghostkeeper progress)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Turkish Food

When we first arrived in Turkey, we asked a local what Turkish food was. We had just arrived off the ferry from Greece (and were already thinking food.. what else is new?). He shrugged it off like it was nothing special and said his country's food was the exact same thing as the Greek food we'd been eating. He said the two countries have long argued where some dishes like baklava and gyros/doners (Greek/Turkish name) originated from, each claiming them as their own. I believed him and expected more of the same stuff we'd been eating the previous few weeks. However, we were pleased to find that Turkish food is original and all its own.

Almost every restaurant we encountered had kebap on the menu (also known as a shish-kebab in America). Sometimes the meat is strung on a stick in cubes, but usually the meat is ground with a bunch of spices and then grilled on a stick. Some restaurants have as many as 20 different kebap varieties-- imagine how long it took me to pick one the first time around. We quickly fell in love with the Adana kebap because its spicy. The kebap always came on a plate with the traditional Turkish fixings- pide flatbread, rice pilaf with a Middle Eastern kick, a big pile of parsley, onion salad sprinkled with sumac (a common Turkish red spice), grilled tomatoes, and a giant long pepper.

One of our other favorites was Turkish pide, their version of pizza. When you hear pizza, you usually think big and round. The Turkish pide, however, is not round. I don't even know what shape it is. Sometimes it looks long, sometimes just irregular. It comes on a plate piled in little pre-cut squares. Usually I like my pizza loaded up with everything, especially veggies. But Turkish pide hits the spot with just ground meat and cheese. The crust alone is to die for. I don't know how they do it.

Here and there, some things did remind us of Greek cuisine, like the yogurt served with many meals. Ayran is a yogurt based beverage that we tasted once and never again. Reminded me of drinking sour milk on accident. I preferred the staple Turkish beverage-- tea. This was often served free of charge, both in restaurants and even in some shops. Every single cup of tea we drank (and we drank a lot in 3 weeks time) was in a traditional tulip-shaped glass with no handle.

The most common desserts were baklava (always a favorite) and Turkish Delight (or Lokum), which I mentioned in a previous post. It's made of gelatin, water, cornstarch, and sugar with added nuts or dried fruits. Istanbul has as many window displays piled with Turkish Delight as Paris has with croissants, tarts, and macaroons.

- Julia

Adana Kebap and the traditonal Turkish plate.
The first time the waiter brought Lavash to our table, our eyes went wide. The enormous bread was too big to fit on a normal plate. We soon found that the bread is actually very thin and entirely hollow. It is served piping hot out of the oven and slowly deflates like a ballon. It's dusted with sesame seeds and sometimes served with butter/cheese spread.
The only reason we tried Raki (or Ouzo in Greece) was because absolutely every table around us was drinking it and we didn't want to miss out. It's an anise-flavored spirit that is distilled with water, and when the two mix, the drink becomes cloudy white. Turns out we weren't missing out on anything.. it tasted exactly like black licorice and although we both took one sip, we couldn't get the dreadful flavor out of our mouth for a hour!
 A Turkish doner didn't match up to dozens of Greek gyros we had.
Honey dipped donut balls off the street. Crispy on the outside and dripping with honey sweetness.
 A typical Turkish breakfast. We ate this every single morning for 3 weeks.
 Turkish pide!
A tasty hot drink, Sahlep, sold on the street. Milk, honey, orchid bud, vanilla, cream, cinnamon, and "special spices". The drink is thick and comforting. I can't imagine how good this would taste on a cold winter day.
Chili peppers with EVERYthing. It's a basic staple on the table like salt and pepper.
Tea and rice pudding.
 Fresh pom juice! 
Fried fish sandwiches under the bridge (recommended by one of our readers). Cheap & filling.
 Must feed sweet tooth anywhere I go.

A delicious seafood dinner at Takanik Balik in the historic Arnavutkรถy neighborhood of Istanbul. As Yuriy loves all things sailing, this place was beyond perfect and bursting with charm.
Famous for their seafood soup for good reason-- it was incredible. 
The free bread bowl had white bread and my childhood fave-- cornbread!
This post wraps up our time in Istanbul. I can't believe how many photos we took there and how long it's taken us to blog it all out! 

On Monday we start off fresh with photos from our next stop: Budapest, Hungary.

For Those Who Like Maps

Our traipsing around Turkey looked something like this...

Bodrum, Priene, Ephesus, Pamukkale (Hieropolis), back to Bodrum, Cappadocia, Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey IV

Hi folks. Big apologies from Yuriy and I for our slacking. We haven't even touched a computer for a week, let alone work on any blog posts. If you follow us on Twitter, you know we were on a boat for 4 days/4nights to do some scuba diving around the Similan islands off the west coast of Thailand. We have a lot of photos (and acquiring more daily) and a lot of catching up to do. After the boat trip, we did a lot of moving around.. from Nai Yang Beach in Phuket, Thailand to Singapore to Jakarta, Indonesia (where we are now). And we had the most wretched luck finding internet everywhere we went! The few places that had it either charged or if it was free, it didn't work.  

Well it was a nice break to disconnect from people and get lost in the world, but its nice to be back and working on a project. You can expect a lot of posting this week. 

Here's another (final) glimpse of the enchanting city of Istanbul.

So many of the city’s streets were organized by what they sold. So for one block, every shop on the street is lined with toilets and sink faucets. Another street has chandeliers and lamps in shop after shop. One street was full of musical instrument stores and fresh juice strands back to back. Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice is even better than it sounds! It's like biting into a fresh pomegranate without all the work of peeling. There was a section of shops devoted to suits and tailors, a few blocks devoted to overly glitzy and awfully cheesy wedding dresses, an area for kids clothes. We found this so peculiar. How are you supposed to get any business with all the competition next door?

Perhaps the most annoying thing about Istanbul was the pushy restaurant and shop owners. Absolutely every restaurant you pass, a guy comes out into your path, shoving a menu in your face and advertising his place. And when you say no, they don’t give up! They call after you, follow you. It’s as if their main goal in life is for you to look at the menu. If you do slow down and glance at the menu, the guy gets really excited and starts with a sales speech about his specials. We never saw a female outside a restaurant. They aren't bold enough for such a pushy sales job. I wanted to cover my ears and run sometimes. A few times after we sat down, we just felt like the sneaky guy had fooled us somehow with his "specials" and was probably chuckling behind our backs at how easy we were to lure in. 

...not that the photos below have anything to do with this. There's a lot more beauty in them than what I just described.

Istanbul-- the city of tea fanatics, rug stores, ancient hamams, prayer calls throughout the day, awe-inspring mosques, colorful culture, and royal history.  You have captivated me.

- Julia

The underground Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century and has the capacity to house 100,000 tons of water! It provided water for the city from ancient to recent times. It is the largest of several hundred cisterns that lie beneath the city if Istanbul.
Two of the giant stone pillars in the Basilica Cistern have a Medusa head at the bottom--one head lies on its side and one lies up-side-down. It's a mystery how they ended up underground or what they mean.