Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reel People: Matthew McConaughey is Ron Woodroof

The film is Dallas Buyers Club. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, screenplay by debut screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.

Ron Woodroof

Ron Woodroof was born in 1950. He would marry, become an electrician and have a family. In his mid-to-late 30s the heterosexual, homophobic Texas would be diagnosed HIV-positive in 1986. He was given 30 days to six months to live. He started taking the only drug that was approved by the FDA for AIDS/HIV which at the time was AZT.

Woodroof commited to fighting the disease began seeking out non-toxic alternative medicine from all over the world.

As Woodroof began collecting these illegal alternative treatments, others began seeking him out. With the help of a doctor, he created the Dallas Buyer's Club, the first of many that would allow paying members access to the medicine. Woodroof coordinated the smuggling of drugs, working with labs to check for inpurities, and setting prices to factor in all the various cost associated with the operation. Those taking the drugs did so at there own risk, and Woodroof like many others he sold to, created expiremental programs to fight their disease. The buyers club became a center of legal battles between Woodroof, the FDA, and the insurance companies.

Woodroof outlived the original projections, dying September 12, 1992.

Dallas Buyers Club

Press to date on the film, long in the works (various scripts, directors, cast) has recently focused primarily on the physical transformation undergone by McConaughey who lost around 40 pounds to perform the role on Ron Woodroof. Also at the center of the physical transformation conversation is Jared Leto who also underweant his own physical transformation, including the loss of 30 pounds, to portray the character Rayon, a transgendered HIV patient who participates in the buyers club.

The film also stars Jennifer Garner as Dr. Eve Saks the doctor who assisted Woodroof. The film also features Steve Zahn and Dallas Roberts.

Matthew McConaughey will certainly get some buzz for his physical transformation alone, but will his performance take that buzz and translate it into critical attention, and maybe even an Oscar nomination or win for his role as this Real (Reel) Person?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Reel People: Judi Dench is Philomena Lee

The film is Philomena. Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears (The Grifters, and The Queen) brings the story to life with an adapted screenplay by Steven Coogan and Jeff Pope based on the book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son, and A Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith.

Philomena Lee

Philomena Lee was born in Ireland in the early 1930s. When her mother died at the age of six she was sent to a Catholic convent to attend school. Shortly after turning 18 and leaving the convent she became unsuspectingly pregnant.

Unwed and catholic in the early 1950s her family sent her in secret to a country convent in Roscrea in County Tipperay. Her she would finish out her pregnancy and give birth to a baby boy Anthony Lee on July 5, 1952.

The practice of unwed mother's was not unique to Ireland during this time, and the government of Ireland in addition to paying the church for the care of woman and children also gave the church authority in the dealing of unwed mothers and their children.

Philomena Lee, like other's in her position, was forced to remain at the convent with her child after giving birth, given the option to pay a high sum of money for the release for her care or to work off her debt, which she would do over the next three years while also raising Anthony alongside other unwed mothers.

When Anthony was three, the church required Philomena to sign a renunciation document that required her to relinquish her rights to her son, and surrender him to Sister Barbara, Superioress of Sean Ross Abbey. This allowed Sister Barbara to make her available for adoption. She also was forced to agree not to seek out her child in the future.

Christmas of 1955, Anthony Lee was adopted to an American family, Doc and Marge Hess from St. Louis, Missouri. The Hess family had three boys and wanted a girl, and when Anthony ran up to Marge when she was visiting the convent to get a little girl, she became enamored with Anthony and adopted him as well.

The church received the donation (fee) for the adoptions and Philomena attempted to return to her own family, but her father would not accept her due to the shame she had placed on him and the family. Philomena returned to the church were she was sent to work in a home for disadvantaged boys in Liverpool

Philomena trained as a nurse and was married in 1959. She would have two more children, and would not share with her children the secret of their brother.

Philomena would return to the convent in Roscrea requesting information on her son from the nuns for years, but never shared her secret of her child with anyone else. The convent turned her away every time reminding her of her agreement to not seek out her child.

In 2004, Philomena's daughter Jane discovered through a comment her mother made that she had a secret brother, and that her mother had kept it a secret for over 50 years. At a party, Jane sought out reporter Martin Sixsmith at a party and shared what she knew and sought his help to track down her brother.

Through their work they discovered that Philomena Lee was not alone in her situation, that there were many secret adoption records from Irish children adopted by families primarily int he United States through the 1970s. They also, in there search eventually found the fate of Anthony, who's name had been changed to Michael Hess, he himself had traveled to Ireland in 1977 and 1993 to try to find the fate of his birth mother from the nuns. Hess had become a corporate lawyer in the republican party and chief legal counsel for George H. W. Bush during his presidency. Hess was also secretly gay, and had contracted HIV. In August of 1995 he died.

Philomena discovered the fate of her son when she was in her 70s, but never had the chance to meet or see her child in his adulthood.

Philomena's secret was out and her story was told in the 2009 book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son, and A Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith.

Philomena

The film Philomena, tells the story of Philomena's search for her son. In addition to Judi Dench playing the part of Philomena, Steve Coogan co-stars as journalist Martin Sixsmith.The relatively new-to-the-scene actress Sophie Kennedy Clark will be playing the young Philomena. Broadway star Sean Mahon plays Michael Hess.

The film will be screened at the 70th Venice International Film Festival.

Oscar favorite Judi Dench (6 nominations and 1 win, all since 1998), will certainly gain attention for her performance. Will she receive another nomination, perhaps even a Oscar win for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?

Reading Magic by Mem Fox and a Story Reading Trick

Recently some of the books my kids have liked have been some Mem Fox books. It started with the kids loving Where Is The Green Sheep and my wife enjoying reading Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (it made her cry).

So, I decided I would request every Mem Fox book from the library that they had...and they had a lot.

On my question, I realized one Fox book was not a a kids picture book, but instead a non-fiction book about the importance of reading aloud to children. The book was called Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Thier Lives Forever.

I do read to my kids aloud, and I'm not really likely to read a book on this topic, but I said "sure, why not," requested from the library and when it came in, actually read it cover-to-cover.

It's a quick read, primarily anecdotal and relaxed in it's writing style. And I really enjoyed it. Generally, the book reads more like a motivational speech about why we should read aloud to children, largely with a focus on how reading to kids early can greatly impact their lives. For pre-readers she largely highlights a belief that reading skills are best generated through books as opposed through approaches focused on phonics. This was a methodology and method that I could appreciate.

Again, the general themes of the book is not too complex and more motivational in tone, but if there was a chapter I actually really enjoyed was the sixth chapter of the book which talked about "how to read a kid's book." It taught me/reminded me of one simple trick that has since really improved my kid book reading.

The trick...always...always...always...read the last line of the children's book ridiculously slow. Reading that last line so slow is tremendously satisfying, we're used to slowing the tempo for lines like "and they lived happily ever after." But sometimes I read books to the kids and it seems like they just end and we're all sitting there surprised and feel like we need to read it again. Yet, since be reminded of this simple reading device every story we've read has ended with much more impact and finality.

What a great trick reminder. The book contains some other reminders and tricks about reading to kids, but this one is one I really hadn't thought much about before. Thanks, Mem for the great reminder and for the great books to read to the kids.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Much To Say About Holey Socks

There is nothing worst than having to buy socks. 95% of your socks are hidden. Even in the land of athletic socks it seems like minimizing the sock with ankle socks instead of crew length has become common.

Sock technology is pretty limited. You can buy all sorts of comfortable shoes in different widths, sizes, and features. Socks are relatively featureless. There's usually just a handful of sizes, and heights. The biggest feature is usually a reinforced toe. Beyond that, all you have to choose is color or pattern, and again...these are typically hidden.

Granted, the wrong color sock (i.e. white socks with slacks) will glow like the morning sun, but beyond something that breaks standard style sense it's a relative freebie.

So, it seems to me that socks are something that I'm okay with letting wear out until the washing machine eats them.

Yet, it wasn't that long ago that I needed some new brown socks and splurged. I got a pair of Ralph Lauren Polo socks...they were a little more, but the color was perfect and I thought I could have some Cadillac socks.

Whew, they were so soft, the colors were perfect for my wardrobe and they fit so nice and snug. I wasn't going to look back again.

One of the joys of these socks were that the little pony on the side let me know which sock was the right sock and which sock was the left sock. It was like high class...no longer did I just have two identical tubes to place my feet, but now I had something uniquely left, and uniquely right.

Yet in no time at all, the socks got holes in the reinforced toe. Perhaps they were my go to socks at the beginning but they wore out very quick. I began to wonder if it was because they were always on the same foot (left on left, right on right) perhaps causing it to wear quicker.

But I couldn't help myself, I kept on wearing them. I tried to position to whole in the toe to the top of my foot. They still thightly held my ankle and made me feel classy, despite the hidden hole burried beneath my shoe.

Yet, the toes started to poke out mid-day. I ignored it.

Yet, now instead of being my go to socks, they were my socks of last resort. And now they are typically avoided. But as my fancy socks I still couldn't bring myself to throw them away.

Today, they were my only choice. I analyzed each of the Ralph Lauren socks sets to see which one might be my best bet for minimal announce, and made a selection. But by the end of the day, the wholes grew. It's ridiculous! I think to myself, yet I hold onto them.

The reality is, I feel like I still didn't get my full utility out of the socks, and yet they're quickly past their prime.

I put them in dirty clothes glad to not have to worry about the toe poking out, but I just can't bring myself to toss them. But I need to. I need a sock support group that has a six step program for sock disposal. A program that tells me that even though the heel is perfect the holes make them trash, and it is okay to move on.

In ages past I imagine people would darn the socks to bring them back to life, and I'm tempted, but don't think I'm dedicated or have the skills to do so, although if there was a class at the local community center I might take it, because, I can't bring myself to throw away my fancy-holey-back-up-socks.

What does this all about. Is it a metaphor? Does it share something deep and meaningful about the nature of things, people, or the world? Hardly, it says nothing at all.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Call The Midwife, Season 1 - Some Quick Thoughts

My wife & I recently watched the first season of Call The Midwife at our house. It's six one hour episodes are relatively compelling.

Call the Midwife is a BBC original period drama...

...Time out...

I feel like recently any time anyone says something about BBC TV series, they feel the need to compare it to Downton Abbey. I am not going to compare it at all to Downton Abbey...my wife and I have watched a handful of BBC series over the years, and every one does not need comparison to Downton

...Time in....

...Call The Midwife takes place in the east end of London following a group of nurses and nuns at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent. It is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth.

The show is kind of girly. I respect these characters for the incredible work they were expected to do as true community nurses, riding their bikes across town delivering babies in people's homes. It's fascinating the think about and some scenes in the first season are simply striking and emotional.

Yet, I say it's girly, not because nursing is girly, or child birth is girly, but because the show predominatly features young single woman who swoon over boys, figure out how to handle tough real world issues, and deal with their mothers.

For that reason, my wife probably (definitely) enjoyed it more than I did. She's a mom, who recently has had children herself. She could put herself in the shoes of these woman much faster than I could. Plus, she liked the swooning female moments (such as when they're sitting playing monopoly together talking about boys).

Jessica Raine as Nurse Jenny Lee does a fascinating job. As a central character, her role is unique because while she is central in many scenes, she is often an observer instead of the center of the action. Perhaps this comes from it's memoir roots, where she might be telling what she saw, not just what she did.

Yet, in terms of performances the true gem is Miranda Hart as "Chummy" the large uncoordinated nurse who arrives in the second episode and who's love story, mother issues,and inspiring nursing really makes the show compelling.

I always appreciate a TV show with good characters, interesting stories, and some unique glimmers into the world. And like many great shows, this one helps us see how much things have changed in just over a half century, but how some other things have also really remained the same. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top 40 Favorite Books at Five-Years-Old

My wife and I had discussed the previous night that we weren't quite sure which of the books our 5-year-old daughter, Linden, would say was her favorite book. We had some guesses, but expected that any given day would yield a different answer.

I was home from work with my daughter today, who in her second week of school had a day off school, already. So I asked her about what her five favorite books were, and suddenly she was hard to works sorting through all the books we had in her house to find her favorites. The task grew quickly. She started by making piles of favorites, maybe favorite, and not favorites. Then we took the top piles and she went to task of sorting them out on the floor in order of which ones she like the most.

Without prompting, I let her lay out her favorites, and before long we had established...at least for today, her favorite books. Certainly, I found myself surprised with some of her selection and order.

So, if you're looking for a gift for, or doing some reading with, a five year old girl and trying to decide what book she might like, maybe this book can provide some inspiration before heading to library or the book store.

The list is low-brow, high-brow, independent, classic, rare and common.

Here's her top 40.
Linden's Top 10 Books
1. Fancy Nancy: Oh La La! It's Beauty Day by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2010)
2. Sofia The First by Cathy Hapka and Grace Lee (2012)
3. The Berenstain Bears and Mama's New Job by Stan and Jan Berenstain (1984)
4. The Berenstain Bears Go to The Doctor by Stan and Jan Berenstain (1981)
5. Fancy Nancy: Spectacular Spectacles by Jane O'Connor and Robin Presiss Glasser (2010)
6. Fancy Nancy: Hair Dos and Hair Don'ts by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2011)
7. Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire! by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2009)
8. Madeline's Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans (1953)
9. Meet Molly by Valerie Tripp (1990)
10. Magic School Bus: Gets All Dried Up by Joanna Cole, Bruce Degan and Nancy Stevens (1996)
Linden's Favorites: #11 to #20
11. Fancy Nancy and the Too-Loose Tooth by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2012)
12. Curious George Takes A Job by H. A. Rey (1974)
13. Fancy Nancy's Elegant Easter by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2009)
14. The Princess Twins Play n the Garden by Mona Hodgson and Red Hansen (2011)
15. The Princess Twins and the Birthday Party by Monda Hodgson and Red Hansen (2012)
16. It's Check-up Time, Elmo! by Sarah Albee and Tom Brannon (2005)
17. The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners by Stan & Jan Berenstain (1985)
18. Fancy Nancy The 100th Day of School by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2009)
19. Sleepy Bears by Mem Fox and Kerry Argent (2002)
20. Double Delight: Nursery Rhymes by Mary Novick and Jenny Hale (2011)
Linden's Favorites: #21-30
21. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (1939)
22. Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree by David Korr and Joe Matheiu (1982)
23. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle (1967)
24. Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein (2010)
25. A Very Crabby Christmas by Tish Rabe and Dave Aikins (2012)
26. Mudgy & Millie by Susan Nipp (2008)
27. Wash Time for Wilson by Mark Rader (2011)
28. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (2012)
29. Fruit Salad Day by Gina Gold (2009)
30. Princess Party by Joy Allen (2009)
Linden's Favorites: #31-40
31. Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping by Peggy Parish and Lynn Sweat (1985)
32. Winnie The Pooh: Nature's True Colors by K. Emily Hutta, Carson Van Osten, and John Kurtz (2010)
33. The Magic Hat by Mem Fox and Tricia Tusa (2006)
34. Queen Ester Helps God's People by Zondervan Publishing and Kelly Pulley (2008)
35. Tickle Monster by Josie Bissett and Kevin J. Atteberry (2008)
36. Where Is The Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek (2004)
37. Cinderella by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright (2003)
38. Fancy Nancy and the Late, Late, LATE Night by Jane O'Conner and Robin Preiss Glasser (2010)
39. Alphabatics by Suse Macdonald (1986)
40. Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown (2012)

***Related Post: Linden's Top 10 Books at 1-year-old can be found here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Peter and the Starcatcher


My wife and I had the chance to see the critically acclaimed play Peter and the Starcatcher on the first stop of it's first tour. The Broadway play is an adventure-comedy,that in essence a Peter Pan origin story that is told in a fast past whimsical style.

The play is knowingly presented with la ow-budget feel (i.e. in a scene a ship sinks and a paper ship is torn in half, in a few other scenes a stuffed cat is thrown between characters who meow as they passed, a rope plays essential role in creating place, and scaffolds are often used in a variety of ways).

Yet, like the minimal props and sets, it's the characters and actors who do all the work from start to finish. The cast is all male, with the exception of one central female character. Almost every character is on stage for every minute of the play. 

This is not a song and dance type of play, but the way the characters have to be choreographed to keep the play moving, focused, clearly communicated, and create the setting is incredible. 

The Peter Pan prequel  has some central characters, a brave-can-do-all girl named Molly, her nanny, her father, some orphan boys, a ship captain, ship crew, Smee (the well known Peter Pan character), and a vein spineless pirate named Black Stache.

My wife and I had a fantastic time, I don't think I remember being so consistently entertained through the duration of a performance. And you can't stop paying attention if you want to track with the story, in part because the scene and setting might be changing instantly due to some lighting on a toy ship across the stage, or a characters line reading like narration filling in important gaps.

The play is fun, clean, and while juvenile in it's source material is adult in it's presentation...and not "adult" in the inappropriate sense, but rather the general speed and comedy of the play is probably to fast for a pre-teen to track with, yet for an adult, this pacing is fun and entertaining.

Highly recommended if you get a chance to catch it while touring.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fear, Creature Features & Valley of the Dragons

Still from Valley of the Dragons (1961)
I found myself watching (and tweeting) thoughts on the relatively unknown 1961 film Valley of the Dragons this past weekend.

It's a film based on Career of a Comet, a lesser known Jules Vernes story. But basicly (if I even understand the movie I watched), two men in the 1800s are having a duel in Algeria, and the wind of the comet transports them to the moon. On the moon there were others who had been swept up over time, largely cave people and pre-historic dragons and beast.

I watched this film and wondered...did people watching this 1961 really think there might be dragons and cave people on the moon?

I could criticize the special effects and inconsistent sizes of the beast on the projected screens, but that's not my point.

No, instead, I've been thinking since watching the film about how there was a season in American pop culture when the "Creature Feature" was a primary sci-fi genre. Whether it was King Kong, Godzilla, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, or Forbidden Planet there seemed to be an obsession with the collosal creature that isn't really part of our current film culture.

The alien genre still exist - but the flavor is different. It's not about massive size, it's about unstoppable power, often very smart creatures. Ginormous is not the thing.

I've heard a lot of talk about the social themes in the film Elysium that was just released, and it's clear that this sci-fi films plays off social fears (class issues, health care, immagration).

Where perhaps over a half century ago, the unknown of space could only contain the unimaginable beast who's only desire was to recklessly destroy.

I wish I had an amazing theory of why big aliens, animals, people and beast appear so often in cinema of the past, but not today. But perhaps it comes down to sci-fi technology and the possibility of early Honey, I Shrunk The Kids style film stunts?

I wish I knew, but in all honesty, I have a hard time getting into the giant creature from outer space genre, and any attempt to relaunch the genre seems like it would fall flat.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

App Thoughts: Police Scanner Plus (and The Ketchup and Mustard Girls)

Sometimes in the evening, when I need to quiet my mind, am stressed, or need to clear my mind a bit I find myself strangely relaxed by listening to a police scanner app on my phone.

It's sort of like white noise, especially if I listen the suburban police channel for the area where we live. There's a light static, police talking in emotionless voice with description of traffic stops, addresses for welfare checks, and regular announcements of the time in military time for various reasons.

Listening to an urban city's can have the same effect, but of course the stories sometimes are more interesting and pull you in, for better or worst. It's a little voyeuristic, but also somehow makes me feel connected to where I live, makes me feel like my life is boring, and makes me feel still.

Last night, I listened to the scanner for a few minutes while my wife was getting ready for bed, and I could tell that summer was coming to an end and school was around the corner and some people where looking for some last minute trouble.

There were some teen traffic stops and tickets for speeding, but there was also a great hunt...a group of four girls who from the sound of it, were tagging driveways with ketchup and mustard. The police were after the ketchup and mustard girls.

Not sure if they were found, I turned it off and went to bed, wondering about the fate of these ketchup misfits.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Reel People: Michael B Jordan is Oscar Grant III

The film is Fruitvale Station. The film is the premier feature film of Ryan Coogler.

Oscar Grant III

Oscar Grant was born February 27, 1986. He lived in Hayward,  California. Oscar dropped out of school in the 10th grade and eventually earned his GED.

He had several jobs at Kentucky Fried Chicken before becoming a butcher at a small local grocer in Oakland.

In 2007 Oscar Grant was pulled over at a traffic stop and he had to be subdued with a stun gun. Grant pulled a gun out and fled the scene. He was sentenced to 16 months in state prison for the offense.

A few months after his release from prison, he was celebrating on New Years Eve January 1, 2009 in the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Returning with a group of friends on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train he was detained by police on Fruitvale station where he was returning after the night of celebrating with friends. The police had been called in with a report that there was fighting on the train from a group who was intoxicated.

Upon exiting the train, Police Officer Johannes Mehserle was one of the officers restraining Grant. Grant was resisting arrest. Officer Mehserle pulled his gun and shot Grant in the back, in what would be ruled involuntary manslaughter in 2010.

The event was captured on cell phone video and put online where it received millions of views.

Fruitvale Station

The film Fruitvale Station captures the last 24 hours in Oscar Grant's life, incorporating real video images from the events in the film. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival where U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize as well as the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award.

The film stars recent Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as Oscar's mother Wanda.

Will the young breakout actor Michael B. Jordan gain some critical momentum, and maybe even Oscar attention for his role as this Real (Reel) Person?

Monday, August 05, 2013

Reel People: Emma Thompson is P.L. Travers

The film is Saving Mr. Banks. The film is directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blindside), with a screenplay written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith.

P. L. Travers

Despite the name by which she is known, P.L. Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff August 9, 1899. Her family called her Lyndon. She was born in Queensland, Australia to her English-born Irish father, Travers Robert Goffm and and her mother Margaret Agnes Goff.

As a banker, Travers Goff moved his wife and three daughters to Alora, Australia in 1905. He would die a few years later of influenza at the age of 43. Lyndon Goff and her mother and sisters moved to New South Wales were they lived until 1917.

Lyndon Goff adopted the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers as she entered the world of acting traveling with a Shakespearean tour group. At the age of 24 she would move to England to pursue her acting career. During this time she also was writing, something she had begun as early as her teenage years.

For her writing, she adopted the pen name P.L. Travers. In 1933, in Sussox, she began writing Mary Poppins. The book would be published in 1934. P.L. Travers would continue to write, many of the stories were sequels to the popular Mary Poppins books including books such as Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary Poppins Opens The Door, and Mary Poppins From A to Z. She would continue to write these books into the late 1980s. Many of which were published by the Peter Davies, son of J.M.Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.

At the age of 40 P.L. Travers had never married or had children of her own. She adopted an Irish boy named Camillus Hone. Travers refused to adopt his Camillus' twin brother Anthony based on the advice she had received from her astrologer.

During WWII, P.L. Travers moved to New York working for the British Ministry of Information. Roy Disney had contacted her during this time regarding selling the Mary Poppins story to Disney. This began a series of years where Travers would tell no to Roy and Walt Disney, as well as other film studios as well.

Travers finally accepted a $100,000 advance with a deal to receive five per cent of the film's profits and the chance to approve the script personally. But she disliked many aspects of the script, such as casting Julie Andrews who she found too attractive, Mary Poppins being too nice, the songs, and the animated film sequence. As a result of her distaste in the adaptation she refused to allow any future adaptations of her books.

In her 90s, Travers eventually agreed to allow there be a stage adaptation of her book and movie, on the condition that only British be involved with the adaptation. Specifically, no Americans. This excluded the Sherman Brothers who wrote the original songs for the film producing additional music for the stage adaptation.

P.L. Travers had an epileptic seizure in her old age. She died in London on April 23, 1996 at the age of 96.

Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks focuses on P.L. Travers negotiations with Walt Disney in 1961 regarding the making of the film Mary Poppins as well as a portrayal of Travers life in Queensland.

In addition to Emma Thompson playing P.L. Travers, Tom Hanks plays the part of Walt Disney

Paul Giamatti plays Ralph (Traver's chauffeur), Jason Schwartzman & B.J Novak play composer brothers Richard and Robert B. Sherman, Colin Farrel plays Taver's father, with Ruth Wilson playing the part of her mother. Rachel Griffith's plays Aunt Ellie, Margaret's s sister. Other cast includes Kathy Bates, Bradley Whitford, Victoria Summer.

Emma Thompson's last Oscar nomination was in 1996 (Sense and Sensibility). Will she receive another nomination, perhaps even a Oscar win for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Your Help Is Hurting, A Response: Part II - Widows, Orphans and Drive Thru Jesus

The other day in my post Your Help is Hurting, A Response I shared some initial thoughts about the Jerry Boyer interview with Peter Greer in Forbes.

In the article a major premise stems from the mindset that instead of throwing money at those in need, Christians/churches should use there money to do micro-finance instead of the efforts that have been done previously.

In continuation of my response article, I wanted to take the discussion a step further.

In many ways, Peter Greer and I would probably agree (we've never talked before) - but I see how money in itself, or even short term trips focused on building projects, or other such efforts often are not problem solving.

At the same time one of the things that strikes me in the article in the feeling that micro-fiance, or small loans to help local entrepreneurs create their own industry is not always a universal solution to the cause of the Christian calling.

I think in terms of creating a grass-roots system that helps address the needs of developing nations, that micro-finance could certainly be part of the solution. Yet, the cause of the gospel is not to establish a certain level or metric of developed status.

In my college education as an international economics major we would talk about Less Developed Countries (LDCs) regularly, and we would discuss different metrics and plans that have hurt or hindered countries. We looked at the "Asian Tigers" and the way that they fostered strong export led growth through things like semiconductors in Taiwan, or how import-led growth in south America had not created the desired effects. We talked about corruption, natural resources, and metrics surrounding families, pollution, GDP, and income inequality to evaluate development.

In many ways, efforts to bring micro-loans to the developing world can have a very positive impact on economic growth, which in turn leads to positive impacts in many other parts of a country, such as health factors, democracy, and other social factors. In many ways, I feel like the Christian should care about these results of economic development such as the removal of human rights abuses, improvements in health, and even the availability of basic necessities to a wider range in the population.

Yet, when I read the Bible, I think that in many cases the call of the Christian at the indivual level is clear to take care of people who are in need. The group of those in need can extend beyond the category of widow and orphan, but the call to care for these groups specifically is certainly called out in the Bible (such as James 1:27). The poor are also included in these categories as well.

I believe God desires us to to use our creativity, and so helping achieve economic development in "LDCs" can be of great value, and Christians should want to help lead and assist in these efforts. Yet, in continuation of some of my thoughts from my previous post,

  1. I don't thank that Christian's should settle on thinking one method (micro-fiance, or any other method) is the single solution to fulfilling the Gospel mission in the world
  2. I don't think Christians should think that the problem is so big or complex that we are individual exempt from the call of helping the poor, the widows, the orphans, the "least of these"
Drive Thru Jesus
Where I think my heart is, and the heart of Peter Greer in the article regarding micro-finance, is that if there is an opportunity for the Christian community to develop is in figuring out a way in our modern world to not just "do" missions or simply "give" money as a one-time act that doesn't have the opportunity to bear lasting fruit.

I think there are churches, missionaries, Christian-indivuals and organizations that have their hearts on this aim.

This problem isn't just a problem relating to developing nations, in can exist locally as well. About four years ago I wrote a post called "The Tuohys, Drive By Service, and Thoughts on Giving" where I responded positively to the long-term investment made by Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy with Michael Oher as potrayed in the film The Blindside. Sean and Leigh Ann were a powerful force for true and genuine life change in Michael's life, a change that took time, personal sacrifice (time and money). In many ways, this sacrifice is infinitely harder than writing a check, or even, taking a short-term mission trip.

Don't get me wrong - there is still often value in writing the check or taking a short-term trip, but I think that amazing things happen when we give in a way that is at least willing to see our service/love/giving through to completion. 

I think of the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) in this regard. In Jesus' parable of "who is our neighbor" he shares of a traveler who is beat up along a road and when many people pass, one man, a Samaritan helps him. The way the Samaritan helps is not complicated (no big plan, no pre-arranged program, no micro-finance scheme, etc), instead he helps him in need, takes him to an inn, gives money for the traveler to be cared for, and even gives the inn keeper a blank check so to speak telling the inn keeper he will reimburse him for other expenses in caring for him. This portrayal of the ethic of Jesus should be compelling and challenging in how we live. This parable comes with an individual mandate to the believer in how we give and serve. 

It is a very comprehensive style of giving that is not always quick, easy, or cheap. And yet it is meaningful, and in addition to bringing the life giving truth of the Gospel, it should also care for the needy and afflicted. 

This style of giving is much harder, and I speak in a way that desires to not be the type of person who is part of a Drive Thru Jesus schema, but instead is responsive and willing to make a sacrifice.

Coming full circle, I do feel like there are many times where we can do better at this, and I applaud the Forbes interviewee, Peter Greer and his organization Hope International for applying their skill and heart to this work. Work that has a long-term goal in sight. Yet, I feel a sense of caution to the thought that "this is it," as there is hardly a single solution for living out the good news of Christ. There are those who need care, love and help and an entrepreneurial approach to economic development might not be able to assist one who is young, old, sick, or handicapped. They might just need help, and they might not be able to wait for the general rise in per capita income to sweep them up into a better life. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Your Help Is Hurting, A Response


My friend Adam recently shared an article with me via Twitter, called "Your Help is Hurting: How Church Foreign Aid Programs Make Things Worse." The article is in interview format between Forbes contributor Jerry Boyer and Peter Greer, President and CEO of Hope International.

The article is interesting, in the sense that it deals with this theme of "your help is hurting," with Peter Greer making a plug for serving developed countries through micro-loan programs instead of simply giving hand outs. Peter is not just talking about financial aid here, he is also talking about broader aid even in terms of rebuilding efforts that are a common mission trip experience.

I don't want to put words in Greer's mouth, because I think what he is doing appears to be very good work. I largely support the idea of microfinance. My wife have financially contributed previously through kiva.org to support microfinance efforts in various parts of the world, I've shared about this previously (see 2008 post, Giving: Construction Entrepreneur in Togo and 2009 post, Giving & Global Peace: Adjo Akpan).

While I found a lot of value in Greer's message, I think his message could be either off putting, encouraging, or contribute to malaise or apathy on Christian giving.

Generally, Greer is critical towards the Christian philanthropy system - he rightly says (my paraphrase) that in order to raise funds for philantropic programs it takes positive stories, but the consumers of the aid (the people being helped) do not have much say in which organizations raise funding. The effect is the organizations with "the best stories" often get the most money. This creates a disincentive for organizations to be forthcoming about lessons learned, challenges, and failures because these less-than-positive stories could hurt an organization.  

The reason I suggest Greer's message could be off putting is because in addition to being critical towards the Christian philanthropy system - he could be offensive to the efforts and work of many Christians who have passionately raised money, served, and been a part of work in less developed countries around the world. In making generalizations these "best stories" are discounted. I personally have heard many good strories and experiences from missionary friends of mine, and people who have done short term efforts that might fall into this bucket. I do not discount them, although the message of the article here does.

The reason I suggest Greer's message could be encouraging is because what he is presenting is certainly not reinventing the wheel as there is an emphasis on micro-finance outside of the Christian sphere (for example, in 2006 I shared some about Nobel Peace winner Mohammed Yunus who won the Nobel Peace prize for micro-finance work in Bangladesh). Yet it is encouraging and excited to see that Greer is mixing micro finance and his faith to create something that might provide new avenues for both the life-transforming message of the Gospel and providing and caring for those with tangible needs.

The reason I suggest that Greer's message could contribute to the malaise or apathy on Christian giving starts with my personal perception that Christian's in developed nations as a whole care less about giving than they should. I think the lack of giving or heart towards making a difference with their position of financial privileged comes from all sorts of sources (such as lack of knowledge/ignorance, a lack of recognition for true wealth we have in the developed world, and skepticism regarding the work people and organizations are doing abroad). In some ways, Greer creates a case that disregards a large majority of work that many missionaries and churches are doing. Suddenly when we give financially to work in another country Greer's case presents a suggestion that our financial giving could actually be doing harm (such as the example of the Rwanda egg producer who's business is displaced by a church who provides eggs for a short period of time to support health in the area). So, Greer can either create inspiration to do it better, but in many cases I fear this type of argument creates a skepticism that encourages people to give less to others and consume more. I completely understand that this is not Greer's case, but I think teaching giving is a challenge as it is, without creating fear, doubt, or skepticism in the heart of the giver.

Overall Take Away: . Generally, I am typically interested in the work people do internationally that equips local people to serve. Whether it's equipping local people to care for babies, raise animals, be pastors in their own community, or teach people ways to care for themselves. This requires human resources, and the answer is not always micro-finance. But it can be. 

I am interested in the work that Hope International is doing, but I think micro-finance is a great addition to the work that Christian's ministries and missions are doing, it is not an exclusive option and path for aiding the developing world.

When people do mission work or give financially there are so many different things happen - in people's hearts and lives, domestically and abroad and it can't all be measured. I think there is great value is research, transparency, creativity, and detailed evaluation of work that is being done to ensure that it maximizes benefit. But it's all more complicated than that, and often those who make the biggest impact are surly rarely applauded. But I can appreciate the honest conversation and heart Peter Greer presents in his work - I also read it with caution because this problems and hopes for the developed world are something that requires resources and creativity - and to apply a "one-size-fits-all" solution to world aid (coupled with bringing the Christian message) is surely complicated. But it is my hope that complication does detract Christian believers from being involved in attacking issues of the developed world.

Follow Up StrangeCulture Blog Post:
Photo credit: Picture above Missions of Love blog post by Lacie LaRue

Thursday, August 01, 2013

56 up: Recommendation and Lessons

Jackie, Sue & Lynn holding a picture of a picture of picture of themselves taken over every multiple of seven years of their lives.
I love the Up Series. In 2007 my wife and I watched the entire series (up to 49 up).

For those who are not familiar with the series, the up series is now a 8 film documentary series that started in 1964 when Paul Almond directed a film about 14 British children in the UK of different neighborhoods and life situations. Almond interviewed them with the premise that it was a picture of Britain's future based on the expression "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." Michael Apted, a researcher on the project, went to direct each subsequent film by finding the 14 children and re-interviewing them and following up on where they have been since the last episode.

Almost all participants have appeared in each video. 56 Up which came out most recently features 13 of the original 14 (Charles hasn't appeared since 1977's 21 up).

For those who find themselves online stalking old friends online, the up series gives you the same sensation because it is personal, fascinating and insightful.

I highly recommend the investment in watching these films - they are really incredible, and my wife and I found ourselves so fascinated watching 56 Up. It had been about seven years since we watched the last one, so we're watching it saying "Oh, yes, Suzy." Or for us, we were most interested in seeing what was going on with Tony's who's story we often find the most fascinating of all.

In fact, I think I've learned some valuable lessons from this series (I regularly sight the lesson I learned watching people's lives change from 28 to 35 to 42 in the series...perhaps I will share someday here, my "35 Up" observation).

So, in short, I highly recommend this series.

Here are some lessons from 56 Up...

In watching 56 Up, the lessons I learn in this series is that it seems like in your 50's life slows down, and the life of your children typically are far more dynamic. It also seems like both joys and pains are more muted. The participants in 56 Up seemed less excited about things in there life that previously gave them joy, but in the same way there troubles also seemed to be perceived through a lens that was less tragic.

Additionally, my wife and I both noticed that people seemed surprisingly more candid in the episode of 56 Up. We've often commented before on how people seem to loose their filter as they get older, and we saw that in 56 Up as well. It seems that perhaps the participants felt as though they had less to lose, relative to other times when they were far more guarded in their words.

Another lesson that continues in this series that I've seen in other episodes, is that the loss associated with divorce and broken families seems to carry out throughout someones life, and while many people create a second life or family post-divorce, there is still a loss. And this is not portrayed in the words of the divorced, as much as in the beauty of the stories of the families and couples who have stuck together for years. Long marriages, even rough ones, have a beauty as people age.

Again, I highly recommend this series. I think it's very much worth the time, and there really isn't anything quite like it.

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