Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Great DVDs for Road Trips with Young Kids

This summer we've had a couple road trips and it's clear that my kids (1, 3, and just-turned 6) can tolerate a long road trip in the car with the joy of the DVD player built into our minivan. It's almost genius.

Our trip this past week ended up being about 13 hours each way, and the kids were awesome, largely thanks to the car entertainment. My two oldest especially enjoy a DVD on a road trip.

Some elements that make up good car trip DVDs in our family this summer have been.

TV shows (instead of feature length movies): My experience with my kids has been that what holds there attention and interest best on a trip is DVD's of kids TV shows, rather than feature length kids films. The TV shows are often probably more age-appropriate and also a 15-30 minute episode followed back-to-back by another seems to flow nicely, and many times these DVDs pack the punch with some considerable length (a kids movie might be 70 minutes, but a disk of shows in some cases last over three hours)

Shows they have never seen or seen very little of: If my kids watch TV it is typically going to be something that is part of the PBS kids lineup (Curious George, Super Why, Peg + Cat, Thomas & Friends). But for road trips we've had great success when it's a show they've never seen before. It's guaranteed to be episodes they've seen before and it's special.

Non-Gender Defined Shows: My oldest is a girl who loves Angelina Ballerina, and my three-year-old boy loves Thomas the Train. But I try to avoid anything that screams "that's a girl show" or "that's a boy show" because I want them both happy and don't want to have to go through any type of back and forth on choices.

No Choices - It's Always A Surprise: Because the shows are often things they haven't seen before - I like to bring the element of surprise. When we put in a movie they're curious about what it will be and it makes everything seem like a treat. Similarly I avoid letting them see the movies before hand. The movies are out of sight until my wife or I press play.

Below is a list of favorite DVDs from car trips this summer.

Our 10 Favorite DVDs for Car Trips This Summer:

• Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood: Life's Little Lessons
Franklin: Reading Club
Maya & Miguel: Funny Fix-ups
Little Bear: Rainy Day Tales
Magic School Bus: In a Pickle
Justin Time: Amazing Adventures
Max & Ruby: BunnyTales
Little Einsteins Flight of the Instrument Fairies
Timothy Goes To School: The Great Race
Wild Kratts: Lost At Sea



**Feel free to share some of your favorite DVD finds for car road trips in the comments, and include your child(ren)s age(s) as well.**

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reel People: Timothy Spall is J.M.W. Turner

The film is Mr. Turner. The drama is written and directed by the seven time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh.

J.M.W. Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in 1774 to William Turner a barber and wig maker. He had a younger sister Mary Ann who died at the age of 4 in 1783.

Then in 1785 he was sent to live with his maternal uncle, Joseph Mallord William Turner who lived on the river Thames. As early as this time, young Turner started drawing and his father would sell his pictures in his shop.

Before entering the Royal Academy of Art in 1789 he was busy as doing pencil sketches and water color work as well as working for architects. Turner did all sorts of work at the academy, and exhibited watercolors each year at the academy. In 1796 he exhibited his first oil painting, Fisherman at Sea.

Into the next decades his career as a painter continued to take off and he traveled through out Europe, studied at the Louvre, and became a member of society with friends like parliament member Walter Fawkes and George Wyndham, the Earl of Egremont.

Also during this time he had a relationship with a woman either older widow, Sarah Danby or her neice Hannah Danby. Regarless, he was never married, but believed to have had two daughters with one of these woman born in 1801 and 1811, Eveline and Georgiana.

Also during the early days after the Royal Academy his father would come and live with him. His father would live with him for 30 years working as his studio assistant. When his father died in 1829 Turner was impacted by episodes of deep depression. Turner who's paintings were increasingly respected also had fewer friends and developed increasingly eccentric behavior. Hannah Danby during these years also became Turner's housekeeper.

In 1851 Turner would die at the home of his mistress Sophia Caroline Booth in Chelsea, where his last words are said to have been "The sun is God."

Mr. Turner

The film Mr. Turner tells the story of the eccentric painter in the last 25 years of his life, including the impact of the death of his father, his relationship with his housekeeper, his social life, and his time with his mistress.

In addition to Timothy Spall playing the part of the famous romantic landscape painter, his father is played by Paul Jessen, his housekeeper Hannah Danby is played by Dorothy Atkinson, and his mistress Sophia Booth is played by Marion Bailey.

Timothy Spall already won the Palm d'Or for his role in his film will he also get an Academy Award nomination or perhaps even a win for his portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Reel People: John Lloyd Young is Frankie Valli

 
The film is Jersey Boys, in which John Lloyd Young reprises his Tony Award winning role on the big screen. The feature-length film of the Broadway play is directed by Clint Eastwood. The screenplay is written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice based on their musical book.

Frankie Valli

Francesco Stephen Castelluccio was born in Newark, New Jersey on May 3, 1934. He developed the dream of being a musician at an early age after his mother took him to a Frank Sinatra concern at the Paramount Theater in New York when he was seven.

Until Frankie could support himself as a singer he followed in his father's footsteps as a barber.

His singing career started in 1951 singing with the Variety trio  (Nickie DeVito, Tommy DeVito and Nick Macioci). The Variety Trio would disband, and Frankie and Tommy DeVito would become part of other groups together. His first single, My Mother's Eyes" came out in 1953 under the name Frankie Valley (the last name adapted from a favorite singer "Texas" Jean Valli).

While auditioning as background singers he was identified along with former Variety trio (now in a group called The Varitones) members by RCA and they formed a group called The Four Lovers. The group would undergo some changes in the late 1950s and by the 1960s the group was renamed The Four Seasons. The group featured Franki Valli as lead singer, Bob Gaudio on keyboard and tenor vocals, Tommy DeVito on lead guitar and baritone vocals, and Nick Massi (formerly Macioci) on bass guitar and bass vocals.

The set up on the group gave them the opportunity to have solo artist tracks and group tracks giving them wide appeal and versatility. By 1966 Valli attempted his own solo release.

In the 1970s Valli suffered from Otosclerosis, an abnormal growth of bone by the ear that causes hearing loss. This required Valli to sing from memory until his hearing was restored in the 1980s with surgery.

Valli continued to release albums, with his most recent studio album released in 2007 (Romancing the '60s).

Frank Valli was married 3 times, first to Mary Mandel (divorced in 1971), MaryAnn Hannigan (Married 1974, divorced in 1982), and then Randy Clohessy (married 1984, divorced in 2014). Valli is father of three daughters, Antonia, Francine, and Celia, a son, Francesco, and twin boys, Emilio and Brando.

Jersey Boys

The film Jersey Boys is the feature film version of the Tony award winning Broadway play about The Four Seasons.

In addition to John Lloyd Young playing the part of Frankie Vallie, the other members of The Four Seasons portrayed in the film are Erich Bergen (as Bob Gaudio), Vincent Piazza (as Tommy DeVito), and Michael Lomendo (as Nick Massi).

The film also features Christopher Walken as mob boss Gyp DeCarolo, Mike Doyle as producer Bob Crewe, Renee Marino as Mary Delgado (Frankie's first wife), and Joey Russo as a young Joe Pesci.

Will John Lloyd Young repeat his Tony success and earn himself an Oscar nomination, or perhaps an Oscar win for his portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reel People: Amy Adams is Margaret Keane

The film is Big Eyes. Tim Burton directs the film with a screenplay written by Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karszewski.

Margaret Keane

Margaret Keane was born in Tennessee in 1927. Margaret Keane was an artist who would become famous for her large eyed paintings of children.

Margaret married a man named Frank Ulbrich, they had a daughter named Jane. In 1952

Margaret Ulbrich met another artist, Walter Keane, while she was doing art at a fairground in 1953. Margaret would divorce Frank and marry Walter in 1955.

Margaret, Walter and both of their daughters (Jane from her first marriage, and Susan from his first marriage) did art shows together selling their work.

In 1964 the couple would separate. The divorce would be finalized in 1965.

Margaret would move to Hawaii, and at this time also became a Jehovah's Witness.

After the divorce, Walter was called out by Margaret for taking credit for art that was done by her, particularly the large eyed portraits. After Walter compared himself to Rembrandt and El Greco. Margaret challenge Walter to a paint off in San Francisco's Union Square, but Walter did not attend.

This feud escalated in the 1980s, specifically in 1984 when she claimed Walter "couldn't learn to paint at all...let him paint or shut up." Walter responded in USA Today article, to which Margaret responded with a slander suit. truly done by Margaret, and that she was the artist who had painted the famous large-eyed portraits.

During the 1986 jury trial there was a paint-off in which Margaret produced a painting in less than an hour, while Walter declined to paint due to medication for an injured shoulder. Margaret also produced similar pictures she had drawn as a child. Margaret won the lawsuit and was awarded $4 million in damages and emotional distress.

Currently, Margaret Keane lives in Napa County, California.

Big Eyes

The film Big Eyes focuses on the relationship and story of Walter Keane taking credit for Margaret Keane's artwork, including their divorce and court room battles.

In addition to staring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz headlines playing the part of Walter Keane.

The film also features Terrance Stamp (as art critic John Canaday), Krysten Ritter, Danny Houston, Jason Schwartzman and Jon Polito.

Amy Adams has been an Oscar regular over the past decade, will playing this contemporary artist earn her an Oscar nomination, maybe even a win, for portraying this Real (Reel) Person

Reel People: Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing

The film is The Imitation Game, which is directed by Morten Tyldum. This is the first feature length screenplay by Graham Moore and is based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing was born June 23, 1912 in London, England, the second son of Julius Turing a member of the Indian Civil Service. Early on in his childhood, Alan was identified to be a genius by both his parents and teachers. He was observed to be atypically astute at mathematics and science.

As a student, he developed a close friendship with a peer named Christopher Morcom. Morcom died in 1930 of bovine tuberculosis, and the event caused Turing to become an atheist.

In 1931 Turing began studying at King's College, Cambridge. And by the age of 22 had been elected a fellow at King's College. His studies largely were based on computation and arithmetic-based formula language, which would form the basis for the devices later known as Turing  machines.

When WWII broke out, Turing shifted efforts and became involved with the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). Here Turing was largely involved in breaking the code of the Third Reich's principal crypto-system done on the Enigma Machine. During this time one of the primary accomplishments was Turing provided much of the original thought involved in the creation of the Bombe machine that would be used to break the naval Enigma.

Following the war in 1945 Turing worked on the design of the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at the National Physical Laboratory, which became the first design for the stored-program computer.

In 1948 he was appointed Reader in the Mathematics Department at the University of Manchester, and then in 1949 the Deputy Director of the Computing Laboratory. Also at this time he was writing papers on artificial intelligence, developed what became known as the Turing test to assess between human and artificial intelligence,  and designing a computer Chess program with a colleague for a computer that did not yet exist.

He also developed the decomposition method used for solving matrix equations.

In 1952 he shifted his studies towards biological mathematics.

During this same time he also began a homosexual relationship with Arnold Murray, a  19-year-old unemployed man. After Turing's home was burglarized in 1952 by an acquaintance of Murray, Turing went to the police and in that time disclosed his relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time and both Turing and Murray were both charged with gross indecency. Turing pled guilty and was given the choice of imprisonment or hormone therapy.  Turing chose the therapy. The conviction also led the to the removal of his security clearance and limitations to his ability to travel, including to the United States.

On June 8, 1954 Turing dyed of cyanide poising and although not fully investigated, it was believed he committed suicide by poising an apple that was found lying beside his bed. Although alternative theories exist that would not be suicidal, such as fumes from a gold electroplating apparatus that used cyanide in a spare room in his home.

He was cremated on June 12, 1954 at the Woking Crematorium.

The Imitation Game

The film the imitation game focuses on Turing's work in WWII to crack the Enigma code, and was a popular script with a bidding war between many studios. The film, which will be distributed by The Weinstein Company in the United States and Studio Canal in the United Kingdom.

In addition to Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing the film will also feature Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke another code breaker for GC&CS at Bletchley Park during WWII. Clarke and Turing had a relationship and short lived engagement in 1941.

Also featured are Matthew Goode as cryptanalyst and chess champion Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander; Charles Dance as head of of the GC&CS, Commander Alexander Guthrie Dennison; and Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies, Chief of MI6 during WWII.

Benedict Cumberbatch has been very active in TV and film the past couple years but has never been nominated for an Oscar, can playing this WWII code-break earn him an Oscar nomination, maybe even a win, for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Real (Reel) People Win Oscars: 2014 Edition

When it comes to win an Academy Award, recent years have shown that not any bio-pic performance means a guaranteed nomination, but if you get nominated for your performance playing a real person, then there is a good chance you will win.

Of the past 10 years (20 Lead Actor/Actress winners), 12 of these winners have won for playing real life people. That's 60% of winners since the 2003 ceremony.

• In 2013 Matthew McConaughey played AIDs drug smuggler Ron Woodroof and won the Oscar for Best Oscar.
• In 2012 Daniel Day-Lewis played Abraham Lincoln and won the Best Actor award (his third Oscar win)
• In 2011 Meryl Streep played the well known British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and won the Best Actress prize (her third Oscar)
• In 2010 Colin Firth played King George VI, stuttering British royalty at the dawn of the radio era and won for Best Actor.
• In 2009 Sandra Bullock played a surprise hero as the Southern mother Leigh Ann Tuohy and won for Best Actress.
• In 2008 Sean Penn played controversial politician Harvey Milk and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
• In 2007 Marion Cotillard played French singer Ediath Piaf and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2006 Helen Mirren played Queen Elizabeth II and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2006 Forrest Whitaker played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and won the Oscar for Best Actor
• In 2005 Reese Witherspoon played country music celeb June Carter and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman played author Truman Capote and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
• In 2004 Jamie Foxx played musician Ray Charles and won the Oscar for Best Actor.

The non-biopic winners from the past 10 years: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Kate Winslet (The Reader), Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby).

I wouldn't expect 2014 to be different. As a result we can almost plan on either Best Actor Oscar winner or Best Actress winner going to a performer who played in a biographical film as a "Real (Reel) Person."

2014 Real (Reel) People Performances:

Reel People: Amy Adams is Margaret Keane
• Reel People: Steve Carrell is John du Pont
• Reel People: George Clooney is George Stout
Reel People: Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing
• Reel People: Matt Damon is James Rorimer
• Reel People: Dakota Fanning is Effie Gray
Reel People: Timothy Spall is J.M.W. Turner
• Reel People: Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz
Reel People: John Lloyd Young is Frankie Valli

Click the following links to see the previous Real (Reel) People projects from 201320122011201020092008 and 2007. Or check the reel people archive.

Surprisingly Deep Thoughts After the Viewing of the Shallow Movie "The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz"

Last week I watched the ridiculous and not-that-great film The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz directed by George Marshall. This was not a planned viewing, but I was home, it was on, and I said: "why not? watch a comedy about an East German Olympic hopeful pole vaulting over the Berlin Wall."

This 1968 comedy has some typical comic elements, a little slapstick, a little situational irony, and a little dose of coincidence, not to mention a love story where the principal players go from not-interested to interested.

[So knowing that you're not going to watch this film, I still will say at this point "spoiler warning" and encourage you to read on from here.]

What struck me watching this file was the whole time, the main character, Paula Schultz (Elke Sommer), was essentially being exploited. She was first exploited by the soviets, and when she was fully exploited by her nation, the propaganda minister Klaus (Werner Klemperer) tries to save her by essentially setting her up in a penthouse to be used for sexual gain. But before this can occur, Paula escapes -- and the tone of this film is that her escape and this situation is funny.

Further into the film she is in West Germany where a black market operator Bill Mason (Bob Crane) hides her with a friend who works for the CIA. Yet, while Bill is interested in saving Paula, he also is willing to negotiate with the Soviet government and the CIA to see who can give him the best deal for Paula and in the end she's sent back to East Berlin with the Soviet's offering a higher bid and she is again potentially under the control of Klaus and the Soviet government.

In the end Bill Mason realizes he is in love with Paula and goes into East Germany to save her.

Yet it really bothered me that he was going in to save her, not for her safety/dignity/human respect but because he loved her -- an interest that in essence is selfishly driven.

So, in all of this exploitation portrayed in this 1960s film (in the name of comedy), it really got me thinking. I don't have any huge insight, and I do want to be measured in my response, knowing it's just a film (and not a very popular one at that). But, it is interesting how often we like comedy that pushes the envelop, and yet social/political comedy might be funny because it is a little awkward or gives us the sense "I can't believe they did that" (I mean, hello, it's a cold war comedy about pole-vaulting over the Berlin wall). Yet, it's a pity to think about how at this time people might watch this film without a sense of how much exploitation was going on.

Paula in this film in essence is able to be saved from much of the exploitation due to her personality, her personal confidence, her ability to escape situations, and a script who keeps her out of true harm. Yet, exploitation of people is real, and hardly comedic. And yet we have this film, and certainly others that paint government and leaders who misuse their power and men who are weak to stand up for truth and instead look towards their own financial gain.

I watch a film like this and wonder, knowing people continue to be exploited -- whether we ignore these things, and although knowing I am not exploiting people in the way of Klaus or the soviet government of the 1960s, yet, am I part of situations like the army buddies Bill Mason and Herbert Sweeney who fail to stand up for Paula for fear of their own position in society or their own potential lost financial gain? I hope not - but it's worth considering and mindful of. I would hate for something I do today that seems "common" to in the future be something I look back on as "unfortunate" in this regard, particularly if I was allowing people to be exploited, say by virtue of my financial choices, ignorance to what was happening in the world, or lack of interest in standing up for the rights of those who are exploited.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I Wonder...a thought on Period Piece Television

I was thinking today about shows like Mad Men which are period piece dramas. And thinking about how the original crew (maybe screenwriter, director, producer) might have had a vision of the show and was patient about telling a story that takes place in a particular time/era. The first episode had the setting of March 1960.

Yet, the final season (season 7) started with the show taking place in 1969 - a very different time period after a very interesting decade in American history. I wondered if some of the original team (attached or unattached to the project by Season 7) perhaps found themselves less excited about portraying these characters in this different time period.

Granted, I'm sure that people are excited when a show is successful but it's interesting to think of these period piece dramas changing over time simply because the setting is forced to change by the way they propel the passing of time. Mad Men could have avoided this by keeping the story static and moving along at a snails pace through time - if 24 can have a whole season take place only in a day, a season of Mad Men theoretically could have been written to span only a month or two, keeping the film grounded in the early 1960s, as opposed to years at a time. Although, this probably wouldn't have truly suited the shows plot or it's fanbase.

Similarly, some other period dramas I've been watching are the BBC Masterpiece classic shows. The first episode of Downton Abbey took place in 1912, but by the end of Season 4 (the Christmas special to be precise), it was summer of 1923. Again, different time periods, by nature making it a different story -- to the show's betterment or disaster, and similarly I wonder if original creative crew members find 1923 less inspiring than 1912 based on their initial creation of the project.

Mr Selfridge another BBC show I enjoy has season 1 in 1909 and follows up season 2 in 1914.

It's interesting to think about time changes setting and plot, but the story I've wondered about is how time period changes impacts the energy, creativity, and ultimately the crew members involved in telling the stories in successful period drama.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Wrestling Anonymous Me

One of the good decisions I feel like I have made in blogging here is remaining anonymous. I remember when I started a friend of mine suggested that by not using my name I made this space less genuine.

At the same time, protecting my current self from my future self was my primary goal. I'm fortunate that today people are not Googling my name and finding who knows what I said 8 years ago on this blog.

That said, tonight in meeting with a group of people discussing and praying about what it might be for us to take a more active role in the work of our city I had interest in posting some of that information here. But at the same time, I thought it was important to at a minimum share the name of the city I lived in, maybe even my real name (just my first name, let's not get crazy!). And create a slightly more genuine place for a slightly more genuine conversation.

Strike that - the conversation is not necessarily more genuine - at time, I imagine the anonymous nature here has allowed me to me more honest. Granted friends and family know they can find me here - but I (the real I) cannot be found without some nudging.

I would love to share my new blog with you here, in part because I think it speaks to a new chapter of new adventures, and at least a new part of me. But this was not the place for that story. Not because of the content, but more than anything else, I felt like it was important to (1) be genuine about my location - it will help tell the story better and also help stay out of vagueness (2) I want those who I share the project to reach our community in be able to engage there without other random musings or thoughts I might place here.

And so - this post is to share that I won't be sharing. Odd, that way?

I referenced the book Alone Toghether by Sherry Turkle a few times here and multiple times in my own real-life life with others. This book is striking and important in how we talk and experience life in a real and virtual world - in my opinion, often to our harm. But one of the thing that strikes me even writing this now is that Sherry talks a fair amount about our "Virtual Self" and that we present ourselves virtually in a way that differs from who we are, or in a way that's at least different than how we present ourselves outside of the virtual world.

I've come to accept this dichotomy, and not sure how important it is me to try to always bring my real self and virtual self together. In many senses I think it makes me want to kill my virtual self -- virtual self suicide if you will, the part of me that considers never posting on Facebook or instagram ever again. And yet, I always come back.

In the same way - I continue to write here. And now, the virtual suicide is thwarted further with a new side of me. Yet, that side of me is one that can't collide here. Perhaps, it's me that's making it too complicated. Managing all the different parts of me and how I extend in the virtual space in a way that is a schizophrenic virtual me. I worry is it worth maintaining the facebook me, the instagram me, the linkedin me, and the blog me?

I try to not make these all different personea's but it's impossible not to. Not to mention, it seems to me (maybe it's a false assumption) that the risk is to high to collide all the parts of me into one virtual self.

When I think about it, sometimes I'm okay with, and sometimes it disturbs me. Yet, I can't kill the virtual me and I can't seem to make them fully collide either.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nitchification of Maledom

A little over a year ago I went up to the mountains with some friends from church on a "men's retreat." A type of activity that I honestly would typically shy away from.

In fact, I would typically say I shy away from most "men's activities" -- largely because I feel like I'm typically not the "man's man" that is attracted this type of event. Yet in 2013, I said "yes" to attend one of these events, incidentally encountering a handful of people on the way that year who were reluctant to attend for what were probably similar reasons on my part.

In a group discussion there was a moment where I started talking and spit out a phrase where I used the phrase "the nitchification of maledom."

Now believe me - this is not a real term (thank you, Google for allowing me to confirm this terminology is 100% pure original thoughts when I search it and return 0 search results), but conceptually let me explain the thought that I presented.

As men, we often relate to each other best through our hobbies, interest, and various affinities. It seems to me that often many women, particularly those who are part of a similar life stage can quickly connect whether it's discussing their children, their jobs, their spouse, their shoes, or a past event. One conversation leads to another and a conversation that started about someone's shoes leads to a life story about their career path, past relationships, hopes for the future, and everything in between. Men struggle in this way.

Yet, if are initial connection point, or even reason to hang out together is going to be these hobbies and interest, there's really nothing bad about that -- except it seems like there are so many different hobbies and interest that men have that you through 30 guys together and you might feel like no one shares your interest.

There's no need to connect stereotypes to people or hobbies, but in many cases I find that someone who is into hunting is likely not into surfing, or someone who is into video games is also not reading the financial times.

Just think about the potential for hobbies men have: golf, fishing, hunting motocross, mountain biking, jeeping, skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, surfing, animal husbandry, investing money, playing video games, sports collectibles, attending concerts, playing guitar, running marathons, weight lifting, and home improvement. When it comes to sports, particularly watching sports some men don't watch sports at all and others are absorbed in sports. Yet even those who are absorbed might be more interested in college sports or professional sports. Sports can range from baseball, basketball, soccer, football, boxing, golf or NASCAR. Participation in sports might vary in certain groups, and try to pull a group together to play baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, bike racing, ultimate Frisbee, golf or ice hockey and your group will shrink quickly.

The availability of various forms of male leisure (granted that leisure exist for both genders, but seems particularly expansive for men) creates this nitchification of maledom.

Even if a group of men want to talk about their interest outside of these more basic hobbies the group will likely find interest split, or people that are on the outskirts of the conversation. I experience this when friends discuss photography equipment, cars, camping, wine tastings or home brewing, the NBA draft, video games, military strategy, home repair projects, meat smoking technique, types of snowboards, firearms, contemporary male fashion, or favorite places to go rock climbing.

Putting a list like this together makes me feel like there's so many things I cannot discuss -- and frankly the effort it would take to even fake it half of these conversation would be life-consuming and frankly not worth it. I'm going to go buy a new set of water skis, rush home to watch world cup soccer while I watch youtube videos of John Deere tractors during the commercial breaks.

In the context of the retreat one of the solutions I made to men dividing along their interest is to avoid doing this by identifying with our core identity first. In terms of our church, I pitched the idea that our identity be in Christ not in fly fishing or our college football team's recruiting class. These secondary interest are good, but can't keep us from connecting with one another over areas of our foundational identity. In some cases, this might mean an identity shift from a life focused on stocks and bonds, gardening or the latest Call of Duty video game.

Practically -- there's something there, but it's a challenge, and even still the broad spectrum of possible interest can just easily bring us together as separate men from getting to know one another. And if we agree that there is something valuable in friendship and relationship among other men, then figuring out to connect in this midst of this nitchification of maledom is something I truly believe is worth working through. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Adventure Hobby Thrill Season

For all sort of reasons (new and recent) which I intend to outline in more detail, I have found myself recently willing to pursue an adventure, find a new hobby, or seek out a thrill.

And believe me...I am not a thrill seeker. In fact I often feel like I don't have many hobbies -- especially those ripe for small talk. And when it comes to adventure, outside of the fun of three kids and the fun we enjoy together as a family, I'm not sure that I seek true adventure.

But with that in mind - in having some conversations today with some dear friends (conversations I've had in part before, but in a much more action minded manner today), I decided now is the time for adventure and I said to these friends "If you say do it, I will say yes." Now these of course, friends I trust to not lead me into danger, but rather just push me a little bit. But I was serious - because I was ready for an Adventure Hobby Thrill Season.

To be continued...


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dear Blog

Dear StrangeCultureBlog,

I am not ignoring you. Not entirely.

Sure I've spent very little time with you but you haven't entirely escaped my thoughts. I suppose the main reason I've thought of you recently is because I realize I haven't posted. Similarly, there are certain blog series I typically start working on this time of year and well...it hasn't happened yet.

I'm not really sure what that means for the blog. One of the challenges of this blog is that over time things have changed. For starters there's been changes with my reader base (not just ups and downs, but changes in source - there's been seasons of dedicated readers, seasons of blog feed responses, and certain times where google searches seem to flood certain pages with readers). Even still with daily hits quite high (to pages, through search primarily), the task of generating new content is interesting if you're not sure you still have real readers that are touching base regularly.

Similarly, the tone and topics have shifted through the years, but one of the consistent themes have been films. There were some years were I was seeing movies opening weeks in the theater regularly, and eagerly anticipating upcoming releases.

With the additions of babies in my life, and changing family and work demands my interest in films have shifted. I'm not completely uninterested, but have a lost of degree of relevancy when it comes to discussing the top films the moment that they come out. I'm okay with this, but it is been a challenge I've faced in the years past. I've made adjustments to my content a number of different ways, but I've began to wonder if some of those adjustments are at this point adjustments to keep the content coming as opposed to fulfilling writing experiences on my part.

Layered on all of this, there are times recently when I feel like if I have a moment of personal time in the evening or on a weekend, I'm not always sure this space is how I want to fill the time.

Yet, here's the rub, part of my lack of interest in filling the time and space here is because in the name of consistent content what I wold write here might be a diversion from natural thought. I am finding more and more that this space is not a home to share my thoughts of film/culture/media. Largely because those things might not need a place to put them, because I might not be thinking about those things outside of this space some weeks.

And yet, I miss the opportunity to express myself in relative anonymity, to those who are either clearly seeking out what is written here or stumbles upon it accidentally. If it were up to me I would trade in hundreds of accidental Google hits for a few dedicated followers.

Similarly, I would trade in some run of the mill blog post for a chance to say something meaningful that might connect with people in a meaningful way.

In that vein, instead of abandoning this blog I am very open to writing new content. I'm not sure if it will fall in line with previous post or themes, or completely divert from that.

I'd like to turn my recently blasé feeling about this blog into something I can re-channel into something fresh for me in my current life stage, current interest, and current fascination.

Will that mean I may never talk about movies here again? Maybe, but probably not. But more so, I'm opening myself up to a new season of freedom -- perhaps even a different level of personalization.

We'll see what happens - but I want to say, thanks for following. I hope that in my permitting myself to go new directions with this space you are open for taking the journey as well.

This post will be the 1,790th post on the blog. Those hundreds of post are certainly a mixed bag of content, but I hope to mix it up some more - who know's what might happen.

Thanks for joining in this journey,
RC of Strangecultureblog.com

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Hunt

There's certain films my wife and I like to watch together. Dramatic and heavy-themed foreign films is not one of our typical "watch together genres," although, it's a subset of films I find myself enjoying. So this week I watched The Hunt with my wife only tuning in absently to the final 15 or so minutes of the film.

In the final minutes of the film, I will say (without giving any spoilers away), she watching me watch the film with a sense of stress and anxiety, particularly for the main character, Lucas (played by Mads Mikkelsen).

The Hunt is a well written film Danish film that tells the story of a lonely teacher who is falsely accused of sexually abusing a young student.

Unlike other films that deal with this subject, I think specifically of the recent critically acclaimed film Doubt, the nice thing about this film is that the viewers do not watch with uncertainty of the innocence of the protagonist - instead this innocents is clear and not up for debate. At the same time the actions of the other characters who either spread or dispute this lie are believable and well written.

The other thing I found myself enjoying (if that's the right word) in this film was the way that the story told more or-less in three acts (maybe more considering the final scenes) takes a different path than one might suspect. The presentation and story telling here is fantastic -- the tale is simple and yet not always predictable.

Mads Mikkelsen does a fantastic job in the role, and as an actor who performs in both American and Danish works, I certainly hope he gets similar opportunity to top line in powerful and meaningful roles like this again.

The film was an Academy Award nominee for foreign film this previous year and is currently ranked on imdb.com as one of the top 250 films (one of the films I previously had not seen on my list), and I'm curious to see if this film is able to establish and maintain a level of longevity as a notable film in time. But for now, it is certainly a notable contemporary foreign film and I attribute to it's lead actor and a script that directs with with sensitivity, power, crafted story-telling, and thoughtful pacing.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Short Term 12

Brie Larsen and Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12
 With South by Soutwest (SXSW) kicking off, it seemed appropriate to discuss last years winner of the Grand Jury Narrative Feature Award and Narrative Audience Award. That film, Short Term 12 is a film that missed out on mainstream success, but in my mind is one of the true gems of 2013 film releases.

The film which focuses on a home for at-risk teenagers, and it's young front line staff with challenges of their own. The young-adult staff includes stars Brie Larsen, John Gallager Jr, and Rami Malek. The students in the spotlight include Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, and Kevin Hernandez. Every one of these six performers do a fantastic job in their performances.
Rami Malek, Keitlyn Dever, and John Gallager, Jr., Short Term 12
The film is certainly challenging - not because the film is overly manipulative but because it deals with a subset of society that it's hard to know how to help in a very vulnerable state and time in their life. Similarly the film presents such real and compelling characters that it creates an incredibly powerful narrative. The narrative has highs and lows and it is not a completely depressing film, but instead one that challenges viewers on so many levels. Not to mention, tells a great story.

This is the type of film that I wouldn't recommend to everyone, but one I wish everyone would watch. 

One of my observations of the 2013 critical films is that these films portray stories of people that are alone, and what I really enjoy about this film is even though many of the characters have reason to feel alone, what ultimately makes a difference in their life is their ability to reach out to others and rely on their community of broken people.
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