Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hudson

Hudson Taylor, age 21 from From Hudson Taylor In Early Years: The Growth of A Soul by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor; Morgan & Scott; 1911
Tomorrow, my wife and I will be welcoming our third child, Hudson, into the world, as she is having a scheduled Cesarean section.

Hudson is actually a more "popular" American name based on social security data than the names of our other two children (Linden & Shepherd).

In naming our son, certain names we liked simply didn't seem to fit. Until my wife and I found ourselves attached to the name Hudson, which for us we strongly associated with the name Hudson Taylor, the 19th century English missionary to China.

My wife and I read A RetrospectHudson Taylor's autobiography - which is free for kindle download on Amazon). And our interest in the name only grew.

For us we appreciate the values of Hudson Taylor, not only his faith, but also his willingness to follow God. Hudson Taylor to me, is a practical  and faith-filled adventurer. A man who doesn't just go off into unknown world's and territories, but someone who depends on God, and as soon as he felt God leading would begin preparing himself, often by making significant personal sacrifices in his preparation.

For me, the most meaningful part of Hudson Taylor's story is that as he's preparing to go to China, he knows he must depend on God for everything, which means he gives and lives his life in this preparation.

Our prayer for Hudson is that he too will desire to follow God, how God leads, with full dependence. We also trust that he is not our own, but instead entrusted to our care. We too need to allow God to take him on the path he has laid for him, no matter how conventional or not that might look.

William Close Encounter

William Close on America's Got Talent Season 7
Last night after watching Paul Ryan's speech during the Republican National Convention, NBC switches over to a semi-finale show for America's Got Talent. They show a clip from the previous night and suddenly I have a quick flashback.

The performance is by William Close playing the Earth Harp, and instrument and musician I recognized from year's back and discussed here on StrangeCultureBlog.

Over 6 years ago, I saw this musician perform in downtown Fort Worth at their Mainstreet Arts Festival.

It was a pretty neat experience to have that sort recognition and be able to pull up my post to pull together the pieces. William Close is the artistic director of MASS ensemble, and I remember my fascination at the performances, the sound and musical/visual creativity.

I have to say, I wish William Close the best, and commend his diligence to continue his passionate artistry.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Free Book Reports Here (or a rant about the modern value of book reports)

Just kidding! You'll find no book reports here.

Any post I've written on a book is certainly not detailed enough to earn anyone a decent grade, or provide enough details such as quotes, character analysis, or in depth discussions on themes or symbols.

I don't know why it surprised me, but in the first day after writing my post over the book The Wettest County in The World, I noticed some early hits to my blog with searches for "Wettest County in the World Book Report."

So, I'll apologize off the bat for what will likely seem as an unsolicited blog rant that follows about book reports, and how the further I get out of high school the more ridiculous book reports truly seem to me.

I remember when the internet first came into prominence there was definitely a fear and a market for pre-written book reports, not just that, but I remember reading about computer programs that would analyze essays for online plagiarism.

It is certainly a consideration teachers make when reading and assigning writing projects, knowing (hopefully) that if they're not careful their report might be overly added by a Wikipedia entry or an overly detailed amazon book review.

It is clear that in today's world writing is increasingly important. Even this week my wife and I have discussed the variations we see in e-mail writing among different professionals we know.

There's clearly a difference between a book report and e-mail writing, but I can't help but think about how the role of the internet and technology impact writing, and if the internet can help you write (or fake your way through) a book report, can the internet help you do professional writing?

In my world, it seems that the writing I do is different than a book report, it's more like providing status updates, communicating options, choices, or complex information to support a decision. It's often documentation, that includes numbers, reports, and details. Sure, perhaps functions of the modern book report, but more of a distant cousin than a direct relationship.

I'm a fan of literature and think it is valuable, and would never cut it from a modern education. Yet, the value of literature to me rest largely on aspects of understanding other places, ideas, and capturing humanity through the telling of stories. Yet, book report seem to hardly capture this value. Instead, they seem to be more of a test for completing a reading assignment, and the perfect basis for writing the five paragraph essay with thesis, three points, and supporting facts and quotes in-between.

I'm not proposing that we throw out the baby with the bath water, but more that a fresh look at the idea of the "book report." I don't run in circles education researchers, but I hope that as academic writing on literature is reviewed, that the role and influence of technology isn't just fought, but that a separation of literature and technical writing can be perhaps separated. Perhaps infusing writing of a technical nature into other disciplines at the secondary level, while relieving literature teachers of the burden of combining literature with technical writing skills.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Wettest County in the World - Book Thoughts

I recently finished reading The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant.

This book peaked my interest because it's a recently written novel (published 2008), is historical fiction, and is being adapted to film (Lawless, due in theaters this week August 29, 2012).

There are a variety of great things about this book. If some were to ask me point blank whether I would recommend this book, to most people I would respond something to the effect of:

"It's a really good book, it's incredibly well written. The connection to the author's family makes this really a unique book. At time's the writing style is almost 'too smart.' There are points were the story get's lost in itself, and I have to imagine that has something to do with the writer's personal goals in this story. Despite this, the setting is captured so well that anyone with the slightest interest in the place or time period should definitely read this."

Here's kind of further break down of some of those thoughts:


  • Well Written: Some of these passages are beautiful and could easily be pulled out in a creative writing class as an example of fine writing. Bondurant, like some other authors has made the literary choice of writing dialogue without quotation marks. I'm not sure how I feel about that choice, but I think can give you an idea of the book's style.
  • Connection to the Author's Family: The story is about three brothers in Franklin County, Virginia during the late 1920s to the mid-1930s. The inspiration for the story is the details from history and family stories of Matt Bounderant's grandfather and great-uncles (Jack, Forrest, and Howard Bounderant)
  • Writing is Almost "Too Smart": Matt Bounderant has chosen to write this book in reasonable size chapters but the third person narration shifts between characters (which there are many) as well as dates and time. This is all purposeful, and I'm sure it was all well throughout in order to keep the story action-oriented without dragging it out connecting the dots. Like many stories like this, readers will often anchor to one question or specific characters. For me, I struggled with the chapters that dealt with Sherwood Anderson, who was the real life reporter/writer who's book Kit Brandon: A Portrait (1936) plays in with this film.
  • Lost in the Writer's Personal Goals: I'm not sure how the average editor would look at this story, but I have to think that some editors might have requested that the story be more focused. Yet, there are sections of the story where I imagine that Matt Bondurant was trying to tie in some family story, family photograph, or historical fact that he uncovered, and the nugget of information became a whole chapter, character, or scene. Even by telling the story of three brothers, the brother's are handled in the book as equal protagonist. None of the three men get significantly more or less attention in the plot. This all makes it seem more like a family history at time, rather than a novel. 
  • The Setting is Captured So Well: There's something special about historical fiction in that the authors of these books have the ability to recreate a place and time from the past. Some do this well, others struggle. This is a case of true success. I've never personally explored Franklin County, Virginia, but I can certainly now imagine what the county and the people may have been like in the later part of prohibition and the great depression. For historical times and places to become real in your mind, is a true treasure, and Matt Bounderant success in setting alone makes The Wettest County in the World worth reading.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Promised Land: A 2012 Contented?

Actor/Writer Matt Damon and Director Gus Van Sant on the set of Good Will Hunting over a decade ago
In 1997, Gus Van Sant directed Good Will Hunting, based on an Oscar winning original script written my Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Gus Van Sant's newest project also features Matt Damon in the lead role, as well as Damon as one of the credited writers (alongside film co-star John Krasinki, based on a story by Dave Eggers). This project is titled Promised Land, and feature Damon as a natural gas sales man coming to a small town, where his pitch meets resistance by local residents.

One of the unique things about the film season, particularly as it relates to the Oscar awards season is that as the year pushes forward the potential list of players adjust as film schedules adjust. Typically you experience a few disappointments as films get postponed and are taken out of the equation. This year we've seen potential film-players such as Gravity or The Great Gatsby pushed to 2013.

In the situation of Promised Land we experience the opposite, were it has just recently been given an awards eligible run during the last week of the 2012 calendar year, making the film and it's performers worth considering for potential award's traction.

Glenn Whipp for the LA Times mentioned in his recent article how this gives Focus Features four marketable award films this year (in addition to this film, Anna Karenina, Hyde Park on Hudson, and Moonrise Kingdom), where he calls into question either the quality of this film and perhaps the potential bust of some of these future releases that might not have the gusto needed for a best picture nomination.

Either way, I hope that the release schedule and reuniting of part of the Good Will Hunting team holds a promise of a quality film. Matt Damon's film schedule continues to be full and agreesive, and perhaps this film will help him receive another invitation to the Academy Award red carpet, if not as an actor, perhaps again as a writer.

Is Flight a Return to the Zemeckis We Love?

I've been hard previously on director Robert Zemeckis. I'm hard on Zemeckis because after doing great work in the 80s and 90s (Back to the Future, Contact, Forrest Gump), and then suddenly after doing What Lies Beneath and Cast Away in 2000, his work became devoted to just a few projects, all overly done 3D efforts (The Polar Express, Beowolf, and A Christmas Carol).

And now, it would appear there's a chance he might turn the corner with his simple titled film Flight, coming out this November.

Flight brings Denzel Washington to the big screen in a roll that looks well suited to the leading man. Denzel plays a pilot who does an amazing landing and saves a crew. But the preview indicates that something else might be going on. Something about this story seems simple, yet compelling. The same type of compelling that makes it a friend of movie theater chairs, popcorn, and soda. I'm not ready to say it's the next big film, the Oscar winning endeavor, or anything of that nature.

What I'm saying is that it looks interesting, light on gimmick, and not available in IMAX or 3D.

As an aside, this is another high profile film for 2012 featuring John Goodman, along with Argo and The Trouble With The Curve).

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Campaign - Ruined by Vulgarity

Comedy frequently chooses to be "edgy" in the name of laughs. And while, I fully acknowledge that I'm more apt to be offended by off-color humor and profanity than others might, I also find it lazy.

When it comes to comedy, to me the mastery comes when it can connect with people by doing more than just making them uncomfortable or asking "Did he really just say that?"

Unfortunately, The Campaign screenplay (written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell), while writing on a topic with plenty of room for comedy, chooses sex, profanity, and body-part humor. Truly, in my eyes, it was a complete cop out.

Will Farrell as Cam Brady is believable, and there are moments you think it will perform in a role that rivals performances in favorites such as Talladega Nights. Similarly Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Baker (as Marty & Mitzi Huggins) have some nice on screen chemistry as well, particularly when there life is put into upheaval by the campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott). But all that is wasted and lost. The jokes are cheap, below the belt, and unmemorable.

I wish the studios would have sent this script back to the drawing board for a non-R re-edit. If they wrote this to get the laughs without the common taboo subjects, they might have created something memorable and worth watching.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Review by Margie: We Bought a Zoo (2011)


Margie Cracken is a guest blogger for StrangeCultureBlog.com, her style & taste are not typical to the Film Blog Community. You can read more about Margie here. 
Colin Ford, Matt Damon, Maggie Elizabeth Jones & Leon the Beagle
I don't know what my late husband would have done if I had died, but I can promise you he would not have bought a zoo. I watch the frantic scenes at the beginning and couldn't help but try to imagine what type of lunches my husband might have packed for son. Probably send him to school with the left-over pizza still in the delivery box.

I certainly claim no expertise on parenting, as I know that there is certainly a fair dose of controversy. I even remember as a child my mother having discussions with other ladies about the childcare methods proposed in Dr. Benjamin Spock's books. How the times have changed. There are certainly some spacey parents out there now days. Poor parents, poor children, I don't know where this world is going.

Yet, this Matt Damon character Benjamin Mee is out of his mind. What is he thinking we he buys that zoo. His son is clearly having a problem getting over the death of his mother, and that cute little girl is just so precious she would jump off a building if he asked her.

I'm very confused why this is called We Bought a Zoo. It should be a called He Buys A Zoo, at best, or if it were up to me the long title should be An Irresponsible Father Waste His Inheritance Buying a Zoo.

I must say, I related and sympathized to the zoo inspector in this film. He clearly only wanted to make the zoo safe before giving the family the certificate to open the zoo to the public. Benjamin seems to think that he has some sort of entitlement as a widower that he should be able to put not only his own children in harm's way but also unsuspecting strangers.

I wondered at times if the director of the film was trying to make the zoo inspector into the film's villain, but zoo safety seems very important.

Speaking of safety, that scene were the boy lets the snake's out of the box gave me nightmares for days. I don't do well with snakes in any circumstances and to see those crawling all over the yard gave me a start, that for whatever reason I just could not shake.

I'm not sure in the end how I feel about this film. I appreciate that the main character, Ben, wants to walk a different path. And as a widow myself, I understand you never get over the one's you love and share life with, even if they sometimes drive you batty (especially when they never seem to be able to put their clothes in the hamper, or put the toilet seat down). Yet, this film takes it to far.

In my opinion a far better film with similar themes is Sleepless in Seattle. Tom Hanks is splendid in that movie, and even though Meg Ryan seems to have some problems, Tom Hanks' character (Sam, I believe), really seems to get it together. He finds someone else and moves on. Just think how crazy it would be if Tom Hanks bought a zoo. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bane on a Plane, Tom Hardy's Other Hits & Career Direction

Bane on A Plane. Tom Hardy as Bane in the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises
From the opening sequence of The Dark Knight Rises it is clear that comic book villain Bane is going to be a villian to be reckoned with, with a powerful combination of deep seeded dedication, intellect, financing, and a moral disconnect to acts of brutality, death and violence.

Oh yes, and that mask and voice manipulation is scary in a modern Darth Vader sort of way.

Since the release of the movie I've observed an extreme uptick in traffic to this blog with people looking for images and information about Tom Hardy's role in the film Inception (taking them this post: What's in a name? Eames in Inception).

I have to think that one of the questions people end up asking ending the movie is "Who was that guy? I'm not sure if I've seen him and something before?" With Inception being Hardy's other biggest hit, the webcrawling begins.

Tom Hardy

Here's some pictures of Tom Hardy's in his other major film roles, presented below in chronological order. He has also had appearances in TV movies and miniseries (including Band of Brothers, The Virgin Queen, and Wuthering Heights) not including in the picture presentation that follows.

Twombly, Black Hawk Down (2001)
Shinzon, Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Raumont, Marie Antoinette (2006)

Charles Bronson/Michael Peterson, Bronson (2008)
Eames, Inception (2010)
Tommy Conlon, Warrior (2011)
Ricki Tarr, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Career Direction

Tom Hardy's year to year line up continues to seem quite full with the type of roles that aren't usually the headline role, but are still high billed. And it's here that I question whether Tom Hardy's career will go one of three ways.
  1. The Headline role in low budget independent films.
  2. Critically appreciated supporting roles in studio prestige projects
  3. Supporting action star in successful box office popcorn flicks.
Hardy's career seems to dip back and forth between these three genres, over the past couple years, and I'm sure he's glad for the work and opportunity to land spots in all three of these categories, I question where it will fall.

Clearly the Batman role falls in category 3 (supporting action role), but later this year we will also see him as Forrest Bonderaunt in Lawless, a role I would consider in category 2 above (supporting critical role in a prestige project).

And all that to say, next year he enters a fourth category, as lead role in an action film, playing Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road. I have think his opportunity to head down this path to stardom occurs here if the film is a box office success. Here is where I question if Hardy is wanting to be the action star or the award winner. Or maybe both.
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