It’s Always Sunny in Madison’s World


Madison Moellers, Danny DeVito, and a day in the life of
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

A bunch of adorable kids, the zany cast,  writer/producers, Danny DeVito, the Paddy’s Irish Pub set, and the hilarious story line of this episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. What could be better?

Right: Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, Danny DeVito and Madison Moellers on the Fox lot

 As a native of Philadelphia, just the title of this show cracks me up. But no spoilers here. Just watch the show. You will laugh your sides out loud.

It was a delightful privilege to be on the set this week with rising star 8-year-old actress Madison Moellers and her mother Marcia, to watch happy, smart, funny people at work and meet the comedic icon Danny DeVito (just “Danny”).   So unlike his often belligerent characters, Danny is a kind and gentle soul who was great with the kids and a dynamo to watch on set.  I can’t wait to see this episode when it airs.

Madison is off to her home in Colorado, where she will participate in a travel program hosted by local Fox affiliate KDVR anchor Jennifer Broome. It turns out that Jennifer is a huge Danny DeVito fan, so Madison thought wouldn’t it be great for Danny to give a shout out to her.  Danny kindly and graciously agreed to do the video. See the spot that aired yesterday on KDVR here.

Having already guest-starred on such major TV shows as “The Young and The Restless”, “The Mentalist”, and now “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (repped by The WEM Group)  Madison has created her own online interview show called Influential Women of Hollywood.  As the title suggests, Madison interviews women powerhouses of Hollywood, and literally does her homework, researching the women and writing up a school report on each.

Madison with Robin Tunney and Simon Baker on set for The Mentalist

See her first interview with producer Laura Ziskin (Spider Man, Pretty Woman, As Good As It Gets) :

Good work, Madison. Can’t wait to see you on Colorado TV this summer and back in LA in the fall.

Simple Simon Says: “Oscar Nom”


Swedish comedy Simple Simon by director Andreas Öhman  is shortlisted for the 2011 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. 

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2011 – Reviews

“I’m Simon. I have Asperger’s syndrome. I like space, circles and my brother Sam who always looks after me. I dislike feelings, other people, changes and romantic comedies with Hugh Grant.”

So begins Simple Simon the touching and hilarious comedy from Swedish director Andreas Öhman, submitted as Sweden’s Oscar contender and screened on January 15 at the Writer’s Guild Theater during the 2011 Scandinavian Film Festival LA.  A few days later, the film was shortlisted for the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination.   Not bad for a first feature from a filmmaker who turned 26 today.

Left:  Director Andreas Öhman
(Photo: Kerstin Alm)

The story is about Simon, a young man who is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome, and how he sets out to solve his brother Sam’s love life.  As the Swedish title suggests (loosely translated “there are no feelings in space”) Simon finds comfort in his facsimile space vehicle metal bucket and the regular routines of his life.  Sam, who is the only person in the world Simon seems to trust, finds himself bereft when his girlfriend leaves him, partly due to Simon’s presence in their lives, disrupting Simon’s equilibrium. Simon in his inimitable scientific and unemotional way sets out to alleviate the situation and bring the comforting order back to his life by finding Sam a new girlfriend. In the process, Simon learns about love and everyone else gets a glimpse into themselves and the Simon in all of us who want order in our uncontrollable inner worlds of conflict, chaos and change.   

Besides a terrifically smart, heartfelt, and laugh out loud screenplay by Öhman and co-writer  (and co-producer) Jonathan Sjöberg, the film is carried by a terrific cast, especially Bill Skarsgård, who gives a stellar performance as the complex, difficult, yet likeable Simon.

The youngest of the international acting Skarsgård family and already a well-known actor in his own right, Bill had to convince Öhman to let him play the role. I asked Skarsgård and Öhman about Simon and their working relationship:
 
Andreas: “At first I didn’t want a star to play this role because I wanted the story to be about Simon, the character who has Asperger’s, and not about someone we know. But when Bill came to me with his ideas, I was convinced  he would be good for the role.” 

Bill: “I researched, of course, about Asperger’s and the character became a collaboration between me and Andreas.  I definitely had my own ideas about this character. It went back and forth.” 
  The Brothers Skarsgård:  Gustaf, Bill, and Alexander  
(Photo: Kerstin Alm)

The film accurately captures the reality of Asperger’s, as demonstrated during the Q&A period when a psychologist who was sitting in the audience and who specializes in the field said that the filmmaker was spot on in his depiction of the syndrome. But Öhman’s purpose was not documentary.  Says Öhman about his character, “I want people to identify with Simon.  I wanted to show that just because someone has this kind of problem, there is still humor in their life, there is laughter, and it’s not always just this serious thing.  It’s a character that has Asperger’s but Simon is a character first.”

One of the film’s strong points is its brilliant use of beautiful animation, which is used to visually represent the various aspects of Simon’s state of mind and thinking processes. This is no surprise as Öhman ‘s production company Naive Film is also an animation studio. (See example still here and clips in the trailer below).
I may wake up tomorrow and have to update this story, elevating this film’s status from “shortlisted” to “nominated”.  There could be worse things.  In any event, we will see this director’s star rising for years to come.  

See film credits below the trailer:

Director: Andreas Öhman
Screenplay: Andreas Öhman & Jonathan Sjöberg
Production: Naive AB
Producer: Bonnie Skoog Feeney & Jonathan Sjöberg
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Martin Wallström, Cecilia Forss, Sofie Hamilton
Director of Photography: Niklas Johansson

Language Globalization in Denmark: English Spoken Here


While following some interesting personalities in Denmark lately on my Twitter feed,  (I have a pretty good online translator and sometimes people write in English), I came across a curious development that probably exists in other non-English speaking countries as well:  American English has infiltrated Danish in technology, business, and education to the extent that now there are movements to protect the Danish language.

New Lene photoOne new Twitter acquaintance is Copenhagen-based freelance journalist Lene Hundborg Koss (pictured right).  Ms. Koss gave me her take on this fascinating language phenomenon, which she often writes about.

JS: What is language globalization? Is this the development of English infiltrating Danish and other languages?

LHK:  When we in Denmark speak of the language globalization it is mainly about Danish being influenced by the American English language.  Denmark is a small country, and it is important that the inhabitants speak other languages than Danish in order to maintain a certain level of competitiveness in the fields of research, business, and more.

Danish universities hire teachers from other countries, and when you are a student at the master level, the lectures in many fields will be in English. This is for good reason as it means that the university has a broad diversity in research and education and that the students are offered highly skilled teachers within their fields. The students in many areas have to write their reports and theses in English in order to build themselves a position in the international research environment.

But with this being the case, some language specialists fear that the Danish language over time will lose its technical/research terms.

JS: When did this globalization start to appear?

LHK:  The Danish language has always been under influence of other languages, for example English, German and French. But the influence of American English is increasing fast–not least because of the globalization.

JS:  Are English words being used only for technical things, like computer culture and the Internet? Or is there a general way that English is creeping into the language?

LHK:  Areas that are mostly affected are science/research, tech, business, PR, sports, entertainment and political journalism.  But yes, it is also coming into the language in a general way.

JS:  How do people in Denmark react to this? Is there a generational divide? Is it mostly in people below a certain age, say people under 40, who use English?

LHK:  Outside of business and education language, as described above, it is mostly the younger population that uses American English terms a lot. In order to communicate with the world–via Twitter for example–you have to write in English. That is a natural evolution and again a fact of globalization.

JS: What has been the effect of American television on your culture? For example, MTV and youth culture. Are there any specific films and TV programs that have influenced the language?
LHK: TV affects the language, but this has been the case for many years, as programs and movies from abroad are broadcast in the original language
with Danish subtitles. The globalization is especially affecting research, tech, and business language. (Business language, however, cannot be regulated easily as one cannot force businesses to write or speak in a certain way. But the education system can be regulated).
Today a teacher who speaks English does not really need to learn Danish in order to work at the university because he or she can also use English socially. This is an evolution that has taken place since the 1990’s. But a teacher that stays for years will still need to learn Danish, if he is expected to lecture the students below the master level as these lectures will typically be in Danish.
Teaching at the master level in English can also be a problem for some Danish teachers, if they don’t feel at home in the English language. This can lead to uninspiring and limited lectures  as the teacher mainly will stick to his or her manuscript without the humor and comments that are born out of mastering the language.
JS: How do people feel about the new influence of English? Are they upset, happy, don’t care?
LHK:  In the field of language research some people are upset, but for the most part I do not have the feeling that the general public is really upset about it.
JS: Is there a concern, as I’ve seen in some of the comments on your blog, that people may lose Danish or their first language and speak English instead?  I find that hard to imagine.
LHK:  In general Danish is not regarded as a language that is about to die, but some people find that we ought to be more careful about preserving the language in all its facets. In 2006 the first International Mother Language Day was celebrated with a special ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters. Goodwill Ambassador and former President of Iceland,  Mrs. Vigids  Finnbogadóttir highlighted the value of languages both as a means of communication and as expressions of culture and identity. Mrs. Finnbogadóttir qualified languages as “humanity’s most precious and fragile treasures”.
JS:  Are there any movements–either cultural or political–to preserve Danish and make sure that this English globalization doesn’t corrupt the language?  If so, what are they?
LHK:  In 2007 there was a political initiative to look into the situation of the Danish language – a committee of experts discussed the issue and in 2008 they published their views in a report called “Sprog til tiden” (“language in time” or “timely language”). This has resulted in a campaign called “Gang i sproget” (loosely translated as “come on, use the language” or “power to the language”), which is now going on.
The committee  agreed it is important that the Danish people are skilled in both Danish and English at a high level (and also are skilled in other languages). Researchers must publish and use their knowledge internationally in order to pay back society for their education. They also agreed on the importance of the universities incorporating language politics that serves both the preservation of Danish (also in research terms) and the use of English and other languages. They could however not unite on a set of rules that could be incorporated in the law about the universities. This means that there is a diversity in the use of English and Danish language at the universities today. The goal of the rules was to secure that the Danish language also in the future will be a full language with, for example, all research and technical terms.
JS:  Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with us on this subject?

LHK: I am a freelance journalist and as such professionally interested in the language for my work. I blog about writing and about language: http://skrivebloggeren.mediajungle.dk. I am also married to a German researcher who is an associate professor and teaches at DTU–The Danish Technical University. This means that I know about using a language, which is not your mother tongue, and have an interest in the debate about using two languages parallel in everyday life, for example at the university and at home. I tweet in Danish under the name @DenMagiskePen.

 P.S. From JS:  If you live in Denmark and have some personal experience of the American English globalization, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below and join the discussion here–in the language of your choice.  Tak!

Denmark’s Paprika Steen Is Ready For Her Close-up…And Her Oscar


On Friday night, I had the pleasure of screening for the second time, the Danish award-winning film Applause at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, Ca.  Applause, directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet from a screenplay by Anders Frithiof August and Zandvliet, stars Denmark’s leading actress Paprika Steen and is produced by her husband Mikael Christian Rieks, founder of Koncern Film.  I had originally seen the film this past January when I covered the Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2010 for Moving Pictures Magazine. The powerful drama impressed me the first time I saw it, and more so this time as I realized that Paprika Steen is in every frame of this film–much of the time in extremely unforgiving close-up–and is captivating throughout.  She was equally appealing in person, with a charming, smart, likeable personality.

Left: my snapshot of Paprika Steen at the Aero Theater, Friday, December 3, 2010. 

Applause, which won both the Bodil (Denmark’s Golden Globe) and the Robert (Denmark’s Oscar) is making Oscar-qualifying runs in America, which started on December 3 in Los Angeles and continue this week in New York City prior to a wider national release by World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation (formerly OTCBB:WWMO), who has acquired exclusive North American distribution rights for the feature. Ms. Steen is here to support the film and her role, participating in a number of the screenings with an audience Q & A.   

Paprika Steen has already won a Robert for Best Actress for her role in Applause and was nominated for Best Actress for the Bodil.

If there ever was an Oscar-worthy performance, it is Steen’s compelling tour-de-force role as the 40-something aging actress Thea Barfoed in  Applause. Shot on 16mm, the film has a grainy, gritty quality and the almost monotone blue and amber tones give the movie an overall somber, dark ambience that underscores the film’s darker themes. At the moment, there is little sunlight in Thea’s life. 

Returning after an 18-month hiatus from her children’s lives and time spent in rehab, recovering alcoholic and famous stage actress Thea comes home to reclaim her life. At the same time that she attempts to re-connect with her children, ex-husband and his new wife as a sober woman, we see flashbacks of her on stage as she plays the booze-drenched Martha in  Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which, in a strange art imitates life situation, is actual footage from Steen’s brilliantly successful role in the play in a Copenhagen production.  Martha mirrors Thea’s inner demons as she struggles to leave the past behind and find the light.  

Using a process that the actress describes as relying more on intuition than method, Steen creates for us a refreshingly naturalistic and nuanced, unabashedly flawed human character that we cannot look away from, no matter how painful the moment.  With raw, honest emotion and intimate camera close-ups, Steen  ably lets us identify with and feel compassion for an imperfect woman who is struggling to recover her life and dignity, not always successfully but very humanly, with all the flaws, wrinkles and mistakes that real people experience.   Like the toys she buys for her sons–plastic Viking weapons–even her moments of playfulness are potentially menacing and emotionally ambiguous.  

Half-American, the 46-year-old actress was born in Denmark to the American actress Avi Sagild and Danish musician and conductor Niels Jørgen.  Steen is looking forward to returning to her mother’s roots and working in  America. When an audience member asked her when she would be coming here, she  was delighted to answer candidly that she’s currently in talks with people in the States.

So, we may be seeing more of  Paprika Steen in  America soon, maybe  as soon as February…at the Oscars.

(Photo right: Steen with  screen/real life son (left) Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks and child actor Noel Koch-Søfeldt)

Production stills courtesy of World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation.
See more about Paprika Steen at: http://paprikasteenofficial.com
See more about Applause at: http://applausemovie.com

The New Jazzhus Montmartre: “Come Happy — Bring Warm Heart”



Something is Hygge in Denmark

The club had been noisy and dimly lit. Heavy wooden chairs and long tables placed end to end beer hall style in long rows, filled the large room. The jazz was good, the wine was good…We were crowded together shoulder to shoulder. One had to turn and stretch one’s neck to see the stage. The music was hardly audible above the hollow din, but the overall atmosphere was cozy…I had been aware of smiling often at my neighbors, and the smiles had been contagious. Laughter permeated the air as thickly as the smoggy cigarette smoke, which hung like a forgotten cloud over our heads…

So begins the introduction to “that jazz club” in my novel, The Metal Girl, which takes place in the late winter of 1974 in Copenhagen. While I did venture to Denmark that winter and spent a delightful time at Jazzhus Montmartre, I didn’t actually write the book until 1992-1993, when I lived in Brooklyn, NY.  What was it about one famous yet intimate jazz club  that enabled me to recall that scene so vividly almost 20 years later in another continent, another city?

Perhaps the narrator offers the best explanation, the night she returns for a second visit:

I went back to that club, Montmartre. I had liked it. I had always liked jazz clubs. This one was friendly and had made me feel at ease.

If there was one outstanding quality of the original Jazzhus Montmartre–besides the obvious attraction  of world-class jazz music–it was that the “overall atmosphere was cozy” and made one feel at ease. The club’s ambience embraced the Danish cultural idea of “hygge” [HOO-geh]–a cozy, warm tranquility that gives you a general good feeling of life.

This and great jazz made Jazzhus Montmartre an international landmark and a special place for Danes and visitors alike. The club was started in the late 1950’s and prospered until 1976, when it finally closed. That is, until now.

In May 2010 the club opened its doors as a nonprofit jazz venue and cafe in the exact same space it occupied originally at Store Regnegade 19A.

“Serial entrepreneur” and jazz lover Rune Bech teamed up with Danish jazz pianist Niels Lan Doky to co-found the new Jazzhus Montmartre.  The launch of the nonprofit Jazzhus Montmartre realizes the vision of reviving the jazz club as a place for all to experience the wonderful legacy of the past as it meets the exciting artists and technological advances of the present.

rune_bech_may2010

Left: Rune  Bech, CEO and Co-Founder of Jazzhus Montmartre

The new club is a unique, inspired and inspiring music organization. Jazzhus Montmartre is a nonprofit jazz club, an organic cafe run by Michelin chefs, and an online record label (with Sony Music) called Montmartre To Go, which offers downloads of live concerts from the club.

But the Jazzhus Montmartre strives to create something more, as laid out in the Montmartre Manifesto and its Eight Guiding Principles. These include not only a commitment to make the Jazzhus an international landmark of great jazz and discover new talent, but also to create “a paradise for life lovers…with a cozy and sincere ambience”, and most notably embody #8 — “A warm and special spirit: Montmartre should be known for its warm, welcoming and homely atmosphere attracting good people that follow their heart in life”.

They had me at “life lovers”.

While wishing to provide the best in jazz music and fine cuisine, the Jazzhus Montmartre’s organization also want this cultural richness to be affordable and available to all. The club’s nonprofit status allows them to keep the prices low and the quality very high.

Besides the generous support of corporate sponsors, an esteemed advisory board of media and jazz music notables, patrons and individual donors, the club depends on a talented and dedicated staff of volunteers, who were instrumental in getting the club off the ground and continue to keep it running.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with co-founder and Jazzhus Montmartre CEO Rune Bech, who told me, “We have 15 volunteers who have been working with us since February without pay. Everyone is working hard to make this a success”.

Also helping towards that end is Jazzhus Montmartre’s new Chairman of the Board Michael Christiansen, who will be directing the organization’s fundraising efforts. Mr. Christiansen is the Chairman of Denmark’s national public radio broadcaster, Danmarks Radio (DR) and was formerly the managing director of The Royal Danish Theatre.

The latest ground-breaking development of the club is the live broadcasting of concerts, which are being audio streamed in stereo from the Jazzhus over the Internet in collaboration with Noonan Media (UK) and LiveRec (DK) and accessed by the club’s Facebook page and website, which has been an overwhelming success.  So, if  traveling to Copenhagen is not on your current agenda, just turn on your computer and be a guest at one of the best jazz clubs anywhere. How great is that!

Fortunately for jazz lovers, in Denmark and everywhere else, Jazzhus Montmartre invites us to experience a new era of world-class jazz music and first class ambience, offering the best of Danish culture then and now.

Hygge to go, please.

For more information see: http://jazzhusmontmartre.dk
Join them on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/jazzhusmontmartre
Follow them on Twitter:  @montmartrejazz
Photographs by Massimo Fiorentino (Copyright: Massimo Fiorentino)
Photos courtesy of Jazzhus Montmartre  (Thank you!)

A Writer Friend Finds Me On Facebook And Reviews My Novel


Ah, my love/hate relationship with social networking websites.  But I have to admit, when it comes to my novel The Metal Girl, Facebook and Twitter have become magical, almost mystical forces. 

A writer friend popped up the other week, whom I haven’t seen in over 15 years.  (We knew each other in New York City, and I left 10 years ago).  She found me on the Facebook page of someone I don’t even know, but who wanted to “friend” me and seemed interesting, another writer.   Jeanne is a wonderful writer, and I was delighted to hear from her.  She promptly downloaded the Kindle version of my book and read it.  Here is her lovely and very kind review:

“I met Judy Sandra in the early 1990s at the East Village apartment of writer/translator Ursule Molinaro. There, we sat around a table and read our stories – mostly tales of transgression and youthful exploration – aloud. Our workshop was more intimate than those held at The New School, NYU or the 92nd Street Y. We drank wine, smoked Gauloises, and got personal. The group eventually broke up, as writers groups do, and all we went our separate ways.

Now, almost 20 years later, a name pops up on a distant “friend’s” Facebook page. A name and a title. Memories return. I can barely wait to download Judy Sandra’s The Metal Girl on my Kindle. As I read it, I vaguely remember the night we critiqued one scene or another, or the night Judy hit on the book’s resonant title. Rather, I’m immersed in this story I remember as good, really good. Yet, it’s changed somehow – with time, it’s gotten even better.

The Metal Girl is an intriguing story, simply told, about a young woman’s wandering in a foreign country at an age (and in an era) when every meeting or confrontation was a clue to piecing together the essential self. The book is strikingly different from much of the other memoir/fiction I’ve read in that there’s not a single false note, not a moment of empty showmanship, self-mythologizing, or gratuitous sexuality. I notice after, not during, the writer’s command of language, how skilled she is at drawing me through Copenhagen, seeing it through the narrator’s eyes as I ache for her dilemmas. I think its pleasure lies in this character’s exploration of truths about human nature that are not just personal, but universal. Her internal life blossoms within me as I read it.

For a moving story-within-a-story, go to the writer’s website (https://jsmedia.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/the-reverend-the-house-church-the-novel-the-resurrection/) and read about The Metal Girl’s resurrection in a church basement. I highly recommend this book whose time, I feel, has finally come.”

To read Jeanne Dickey’s wonderful short stories, go to:  http://www.fictionaut.com/users/jeanne-dickey

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Santa Monica/Malibu Community Raises $1 Million To Save Their Schools–But It’s Not Enough!


In a daunting campaign to raise enough money to save their school system from further teacher and program cuts, the residents and local businesses of Santa Monica/Malibu went all out and beyond reason in an economic downturn and have raised $1 million dollars. This is absolutely an amazing race, but wait, it’s not over and is heading to a breakneck finish as they still need another $300,000 before August 15. 

How did they get to this?  Well, the June primary referendum on teacher funding failed to pass, and the Democrats, after months of stalling from the other party, passed the $26 billion jobs bill only today.  For a more in-depth analysis on the continuing public school funding issues in California, see John Merrow’s 2003 report in the previous post.

This time the Santa Monica/Malibu residents’ fundraising campaign was aided by an outstanding PSA “Open Doors: Save Schools”, which was written, produced, and directed by Varda Hardy with actors Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.  See it below. To make a donation to the Save Our Schools campaign go to www.smmef.org.


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