Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize winning novella, The Sense of an Ending, was my reading pleasure from this past weekend. It's been a bit since I read a novel (or novella in this case), and certainly some time since I tore through a book cover-to-cover in a single weekend.

In some ways, a book like this is my favorite type of book. I hardly know how to describe this type of book that I enjoy so much other than to say it's the type of book that somehow manages to be incredibly interesting to read while having hardly any real plot at all. For me my best description here is a book that is so enjoyable, yet you know would make a horrible film.

Books I have enjoyed that have fallen into this category that quickly come to mind are books like Ian McEwan's Atonement, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Kazou Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

In the book The Sense of an Ending the author writes in an interesting voice, a voice that wants you to disassociate it from being a novel including lines like: “This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature."

The narrator Tony Webster tells this story first by telling us about a period of time in his childhood amongst a core group of four friends who's lives diverge as they head off to university. A series of events that occur during that time are then revisited as Tony is in retirement and he revisits his past.

The central thought of this book to me is captured in an early quote that is referenced a few times in the book, which is: “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

It's interesting to me, because on a personal level this quote and the thoughts presented in this book have stuck with me past my reading. The way we look at our life does have a tendency to be in the form of narrative and certain key messages and tracks that play in our mind about the past, but these memories are imperfect, and the documentaiton behind our own past and the past of others is often limited by our memories and the documentation that get's left behind.

I very much enjoyed this book, it far exceeded my expectations. It's a wonderfully thought provoking and well crafted story.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wow...Robin Williams...Farewell

I can hardly believe it. You never really expect to hear certain celebrities have died. Robin Williams is definitely not someone who I'd expect to hear was dead.

Robin Williams is like a pop-culture institution.

Beyond shocked, I am truly disappointed to hear that he had died.

I've blogged about Robin Williams before, and strangely enough my last post from almost three years ago was called "Robin Williams - Will You Come Back?" In this post, I lamented his lackluster career in the 21st century, after already declaring him the most disappointing actor of the first decade of the 21st century..

That said, I must say, after writing that post, I did find myself enjoying episodes of The Crazy Ones, and maintained hope for Robin Williams second (or third) life.

In 2007, I posted my Top 5 favorite Robin Williams roles. This post was met with a flurry of comments. Here is that list I posted:

1. John Keating, Dead Poets Society (`1989)
2. Genie, Aladdin (1992)
3. Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting (1997)
4. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
5. Parry, The Fisher King (1991)

One of the things that I digested after writing this post is how each of these characters tells the story of a person (or genie, as the case might be) who is interested in inspiring others to change their life through interconnected relationships.

Maybe it's in light of these themes in Robin Williams roles, or perhaps his comic persona, that his death is extra shocking.

In light of the early reports that this might be a suicide, likely the result of his depression it's hard to reconcile how to reflect on Robin Williams' life and death.

There's a message in there somewhere - or maybe it's more of a warning, or even a reminder. A death that says you can have the whole world but still somehow be missing something, to feel incomplete, or at a minimum be battling a very serious disease.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reel People: Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed

The film is Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer's Club). The film is written by Nick Hornby based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed was born in Spangler, Pennsylvania on September 17, 1968. At the age of 5 her family moved to Minnesota. Her parents would divorce, and her mother would remarry. She would later move again to a rural community of Minnesota in a house that there family built after they used an injury settlement to buy 40 acres of land. That home for some time did include electricity or indoor plumbing. At 17 she would graduate from high school having been involved with track, cheerleading, and was homecoming queen.

She would go to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota for one year, with her mother also attending classes with her at that time. She would later transfer to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where she would eventually earn her double major in English and Women's Studies. During her college years she got married and for a period of time they traveled in London and Europe before she returned to Minnesota to finish school. In Cheryl's senior year of college (her mother's as well), her mother, Barbara Ann "Bobbi" Lambrecht was diagnosed with lung cancer. Bobbi died of lung cancer at the age of 45 during Cheryl's senior year.

After college, while writing and traveling throughout the United States Cheryl held a variety of jobs (youth advocate, waitress, emergency medical technician). Her step father also disengaged from her at the time and she became isolated and addicted to heroin. During this time she also divorced her husband Paul.

In June of 1995 she began a solo journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with a plan to begin in Mojave, California and end in Ashland, Oregon. While going on her soul seeker journey she occasionally altered her travel plans by talking a bus and hitching a ride for a short portion. She also traveled with companions she met on the trails as well. As she traveled she also adjusted her path to trek the Oregon-Washington boarder as well. She would end her journey of around 1100 miles at the Bridge of the Gods on the boarder of the two states.

took a  In 1999 she married documentary film maker Brian Lindstrom. They would go on to have two children. Cheryl also went on to get her Masters in Fine Arts at Syracuse University.

In 2006 she would publish her first book, Torch, a novel loosely based on her own experiences facing the death of her mother.

In 2012 she would publish her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found On Pacific Crest Trail, which was a best-seller, assisted by being the first book for Oprah Winfrey relaunched book club in 2012.

Wild

The film Wild was optioned by Reese Witherspoon for her company Pacific Standard three months before the memoir publication.  Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay. In addition to Reese Witherspoon staring in the lead role, the film will also feature Laura Dern as Bobbi (Cheryl's mother).

Reese Witherspoon, won an Oscar for her first and nomination for her 2005 performance in Walk the Line, and director Jean-Marc Vallée recently brought Oscar success with his stars in Dallas Buyer's Club. Will Reese Witherspoon earn and academy award nomination or perhaps win a second Oscar for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sherlock Season 3 - As Wonderful As Ever

Bennedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock (Season 3, Episode 2: "The Sign of Three")
There is all types of TV shows. While some are wildly entertaining and original, others can be more mindless or unoriginal in a cookie-cutter type of way.

Yet more than original or entertaining, the television show BBC's Sherlock is something even more. It's intelligent and artfully prepared. Artful from it's cinematography, editing, writing, and overall creativity.

My wife and I finished the third season (each season has had three 90 minutes episodes), and it is as enjoyable as ever. This is a true delight.

In season 3 not only does the three episode answer the mysteries the season 2 final let linger, but it also introduces and incredibly entertaining character, Mary Morstan (Dr. John Watson's girl friend/wife played incredibly well by Amanda Abbington).

Of every episode in this entire series, one of my favorite episodes to date was the 2nd episode called "The Sign of Three." This episode is based off of Arthur Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes book The Sign of the Four. The majority of this episode is framed with a very long, funny, and awkward wedding toast by Sherlock Holmes (Bennedict Cumberbatch). This episode has a wonderful complexity to it, mixed with amazing humor, beautifully intriguing filming, and something that I really think is a truly unique television experience.

The fact of that matter is, that the way these episodes are crafted each episode is stand-alone-amazing.

Martin Freeman does a wonderful job playing Dr. Watson, Bennedict Cumberbatch will always be the modern Sherlock Holmes, and I hope this series continues season after season with high caliber writing and filming.

In addition to each episode being a perfectly packaged TV event, each of the three episodes did a great job progressing an overall plot as well with some very exciting surprises and story resolution that unfortunatly I can hardly write about without being spoiler free.

Creator/writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done something wonderful here, that truly deserves recognition and more than that I highly recommend tracking each of these seasons down and watching this wonderful series.

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: Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed
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. 
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