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Interview: David L. Cook of Seven Days in Utopia

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Sometimes real life feels like a metaphor.  Sometimes it feels like a parable.  David L. Cook is the author of Seven Days in Utopia: Golf’s Sacred Journey.  He told me his story about his own time in the real-life town of Utopia, Texas, how it changed him, and how he has brought its message to others.  Don’t forget to enter my contest to win a copy of his book.

 What does it feel like to have your story turned into a movie?

It’s really special.  You can’t really put words to it.  Life changes on a razor’s edge.  One day, I was just living life in Utopia and the next day I happened to notice a hand-written sign on a half piece of paper on a bulletin board in the cafe that said Utopia Driving Range next to the cemetery and it said, “Come Find Your Game.”  It intrigued me so I went out there and I found this beautiful cemetery with oak trees and a rock wall around it, and about ten steps outside of it were three pieces of astroturf, really bad golf balls, and a bunch of weeds and a pasture on the other side of a barbed wire fence, and this was what they called the driving range.  It was pathetic!

I felt like this was the place where the Lord said, “Write a book.”  I went home, got my computer out, on the porch of an 1874 farmhouse and began to write.  My fingers didn’t stop for hours.  This story came pouring out. One day before, I was just walking around Utopia.  The next day, I’m in the middle of writing a book.  Now, five years later, we’re sitting here talking about a movie with Robert Duvall.

It’s unbelievable how all that happened.  But God has a purpose and a calling and we know that, we step into it and he gets the glory.  It’s a great adventure.

I’m very intrigued by the idea of “Come Find Your Game.”  Tell me more about that.

In the book and the movie, the mentor challenges this young kid who’s shown up having had a horrible meltdown in his life, in the middle of a golf tournament, in front of lots of people, and driving out into the middle of nowhere, this little town of Utopia and he meets this old rancher who says, “Spend some time with me and you’ll find your game.”  He didn’t really know what it meant, but in the end he learns that life is much bigger than golf.  The rancher will teach him about golf but all along he’s really weaving in principles about life.  “I’m going to help you find your life.”  Finding your game really is: What is your true purpose and calling?  Are you allowing your talents to come out?  Are you giving God the glory?

Why are sports such a powerful metaphor for the things that are meaningful to us in life?

People love sports because of the competition, because there’s a tangibility — success, failure, there’s a score.  You can see improvement.  And they like it because it takes them out of their everyday life.  In the midst of sports you see these stories unfolding that mimic life.  It’s kind of a microcosm, a way to look at life through a two-hour game or a World Series.

Is golf especially spiritual?

No.  God created the universe and all its elements.  Nothing is more spiritual than anything else.  But you find that when you walk with God in every aspect of life, the parables that unfold in front of your eyes — God goes with you into that, whether it’s bowling or golf or curling or football.  When we take Him with us and use the gifts and talents that He gives us within that, it’s all a spiritual experience.  Every moment, every step we take, every breath we take is an opportunity to move closer to God or away from God or to help others move closer or away from Him.

What have you heard from those who have been influenced by your book?

Someone’s life is literally touched by the words that come through someone else’s hands.  I scribed this.  I’m not smart enough to write some of the things I’ve found embedded in this story.  I’m just scribing it.  When other people say it means something to them and affects their life — that’s pretty amazing.

There’s a women’s prison in Ohio where a lady was teaching a Biblical Principles class.  She took the lesson of the “buried lie” from the book to ladies who have never played golf, never will play golf, probably never step on a golf course.  They went out into the recreation area with the plastic spoons from their lunch and began to dig holes for their lies to change their lives, give all their false identities away.  She said a revival broke out with all the other inmates around them, singing praise songs and crying.

Golf is unusual because there’s no referee.

Golf is supposed to be that place where we self-police and you do get those characters who put down the wrong score or kick the ball with their foot.  That is just hilarious.

How did a small town in Texas get the name Utopia, which means an ideal community?

A guy named Captain William Ware started this town and named it after himself.  The cemetery is still called “Waresville.”  It’s in a valley with a crystal clear river that flows through here and mountains in every direction.  They’re Texas mountains — they’d be called hills anywhere else!  It’s just a really, really beautiful spot.  After Ware died, it began to be called Utopia.  I don’t know if that meant they didn’t like him or they just liked the name.  It’s close to Utopia — except that it’s 104 degrees today!

Are many people afraid of success?

Yes, yes.  There’s two fears, one’s the fear of failure and the other is a fear of success.  You look at Tiger Woods — who would want to be that?  Media sets up the superstars for the great fall.  A lot of people at every different level shy away from being all they can be because they know the perils of the limelight.

Who have been your greatest teachers?

A gentleman named Johnny Arreaga was my childhood mentor and golf pro.  He would hit a really great shot, and he’d turn and put his club back and say, “Picasso.”  One day, when I was 14, I asked, “What do you mean, Picasso?”  So he says, “Cookie, for every shot you’ve got a blank canvas.  You’ve got to create a masterpiece in your mind’s eye before you ever take the shot.  When I hit a shot, I sign it: Picasso.  You have to make up your mind.  If you don’t create a masterpiece in your mind before everything you do in your life, you will have a lifetime of unfulfilled stick-figure outcomes.”

 

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Nickelodeon Explains 9/11 to Kids

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Linda Ellerbee’s news programs for kids on Nickelodeon are some of the best journalism for any age available today and very important for family viewing and discussion.  Tonight, she explains what happened on September 11, 2001 to children who were not born when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked.

She will give kids their own forum to talk about the events of that day, address some of their misconceptions and answer their questions, in “What Happened?: The Story of September 11, 2001,” premiering Thursday, Sept. 1, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon. The special will air commercial-free and is being complemented with an online discussion guide for parents, educators and caregivers, specially created through a partnership between Nickelodeon and the American Psychological Association (APA).

To help address kids’ questions and misconceptions, “What Happened?: The Story of September 11, 2001,” tells the story of that day and features first-hand accounts from young adults who were kids at the time, including: Lucas, 10 years old when he watched the Towers fall, one block away from his home; Magee, 11 when she ran from debris and was evacuated from her home five blocks away from the World Trade Center; Alexis, 7 when her father, a NYFD paramedic, was one of the first responders; Sarah, 14 when her sister was a passenger on hijacked United Airlines Flight 93; and Jaimie, 7 years old when he was in the second-grade classroom where President Bush was first told of the attacks.

Nick News also assembles experts to take on kids’ questions about 9/11 and its aftermath. Tackling kids’ queries about who was responsible and their motives, sentiment toward Muslims in America since the attacks and the significance of Osama Bin Laden’s death, among others, are: Aaron Brown, principle anchor for CNN’s original Sept. 11, 2001, coverage; Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary under President George Bush; Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security; Tom Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission; Akbar Ahmed, American University’s Chair of Islamic Studies; and Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University Professor and author of Inside Terrorism.

Nick News will end the program with a montage of cards and letters written by kids following the 2001 attacks, displaying, as Ellerbee notes, “under the most horrific circumstances, the triumph of the human spirit.”

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Elementary School Parenting Television

The Debt

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violence and language
Profanity: Some strong and offensive language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, injured, and killed, some graphic images, references to Holocaust atrocities
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 31, 2011
Date Released to DVD: December 6, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B003Y5H4Y8

Stories are linear.  Part of what gives them their power is that we jettison the details that are distracting or unimportant.  But real life is messy.  That may not be as compelling, but is honest.  As we are told in “The Man Who Shots Liberty Valance,” “When the truth becomes legend, print the legend.”  And sometimes the legend becomes the truth.

That is the story of “The Debt.”  It begins in 1997, when a woman is celebrating the publication of her book, which tells the story of her parents’ daring capture of a Nazi war criminal named Vogel in East Germany three decades before.  Her parents, now divorced, are Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) and Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkenson).  Rachel still has a scar on her cheek from the prisoner’s attack on her when he tried to escape.  She shot him to keep him from getting away.

Then we go back to the 1960’s, when Rachel (Jessica Chastain) passes through the Berlin Wall on her first assignment as a Mossad agent.  The man they are looking for was responsible for atrocities that were a grotesque version of medical experiments during the war.  Now he is a gynecologist under the name Bernhardt (the Danish actor Jesper Christensen), and Rachel is assigned to visit him as a patient, posing as the wife of another agent, David Peretz (Sam Worthington), under the direction of their leader, Stephan (Marton Csokas). The first time through, we saw the story they told.  Now we see what really happened, and then we will see how the three of them, in their 60’s, finish the story.

It is a tense thriller with some action and a lot of suspense, especially the war of nerves as Bernhardt and the three young agents are stuck in a grimy apartment for days, essentially prisoners of each other.  The young agents are rattled by Vogel’s coolness and manipulation.  And then, decades later, their story starts to unravel and they have to finish what they started.

The movie works very well as a thriller that benefits from some ambitious aspirations and superb performances from Christensen, Wilkenson, and Mirren.  But it spins out of control in the last 20 minutes, sacrificing story for action and losing much of its gritty momentum.

 

 

(more…)

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Hasbro Makes Your iPhone 3D!

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You can turn your iPhone (or iPod Touch) into a 3D console with the MY3D Viewer for iPod touch and iPhone, a very nifty new gadget from Hasbro. It comes in black and white.

According to CNET:

Apple’s App Store currently offers eight Hasbro 3D titles that can take advantage of the new gadget, including My3D Presents, a look at movie trailers and demos of 3D apps; My3D 360 Sharks, a game that lets you explore the ocean’s depths through the eyes of a shark; and My3D Sector 17, a 3D shooter game in which you defend the galaxy.

It’s an updated version of the stereopticon and it works the same way. The program shows you two pictures, one slightly to the left of the other, and as your two eyes turn them into one image, it appears to have depth. 

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Interview: John Madden of ‘The Debt’

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John Madden, director of “Shakespeare in Love” and “Proof,” came to Washington, D.C. to talk about his newest film, “The Debt.”  It is a remake of an Israeli film about three Mossad agents who are revered as heroes for capturing a Nazi war criminal, who was then killed trying to escape.  The film moves back and forth in time between the capture in the 1960’s and 1997, when a book about it, written by the daughter of two of the agents, is published.  We spoke about the challenge of casting a villain,

How did you become involved in a remake of an Israeli film?

An agent called Ari Emanuel, the brother of Rahm represents Matthew Vaughn and the producer of the original film.  Because it was in Hebrew it did not get a release anywhere else, but they thought it was an interesting project to reconsider or adapt for a wider audience.  So Matthew wrote a script that was faithful to the original story but it was structurally a little different.  The original film cross-cuts more between the two time frames.  He sent it to me, so the first way I came across the material in that form.  I thought it a very compelling and interesting story which I immediately wanted to unravel.  I did watch the original film — it’s the raw material and I wanted to honor that.  But I hoped it would not be very good!  It would be easier.  But it was good, very arresting.  It didn’t daunt me or arrest me.  It excited me because I could see it was a very powerful piece.  We inevitably developed the story in different ways, with different emphasis.  The material is sufficiently strong and charged and complex that as a director you need to find your own way through it.

I’m always interested in what goes into casting the villain, especially in this film where you have an actor who is unknown in the US and who gives a spectacular performance.

Jesper Christensen plays the villain.  He’s Danish and fantastically highly regarded and respected actor with a very long list of stage and movie credits.  I didn’t want an audience to be able to say immediately, “Oh, here’s the villain.”  The preoccupations of the story is about moral responsibility.  I didn’t want the ground to be completely solid.  One of the things you wonder as the Navy Seals must have wondered as they came into the compound in Abbottabad not knowing if the person there was Bin Laden.  You do find yourself thinking even once he’s in captivity, “Have they got the right guy?”  He is clever enough to exploit the weaknesses in the scenario to his own advantage.  A Nazi doctor is about the apotheosis of villainy in a certain kind of cinematic literature and that’s a trap, a danger of two-dimensionality, and Peter  Straughan and I were very conscious of not wanting this character to cooperate with the script, not wanting him to be this monstrous presence.  He does say things that are monstrous, but even that you have to contextualize that he’s a man fighting for his life and looking for any advantage.  He can be quite charming when he says he would prefer to be fed by Rachel, who had, he says, the makings of a nurse in another life.  There’s something beguiling in that sort of wisdom and you find yourself agreeing with him when he says that.

We were under a lot of pressure to change the title at one point.  It’s somewhat of a negative signifier in this modern age though I always thought it was a marvelous title.  In the interest of collaboration, I said, “Well, if we can come up with another one,” and one we thought of was “Another Life.”  He is a man who makes another life for himself, or tries to.  Watch for the moment when he starts speaking in English.  And there’s Rachel, looking out behind sunglasses which are supposed to protect her eyes from the sun but she’s looking out at a life she should never have had, that is a false life, that seemed a provocative and interesting idea.

It is very Israeli to have such an international cast.  Israel is even more of a melting pot than the US.

I’m slightly conscious of the fact that other than the Israeli actors, the principals are not by in large Jewish.  That wasn’t by intent.  But the internationality of the cast gave me a kind of latitude.  I don’t think anyone watching the film would know where Jessica Chastain or Marton Csokas was from.  He’s actually half Hungarian.  And Jesper is a Dane who blessedly is completely fluent in German and English.

Did you have the actors who played the younger versions of the characters work with the actors who played their older selves?

Only Helen and Jessica.  That symbiosis is necessary for the story and I set higher standards of physical affinity.  I wanted Jessica to be an unknown but she’s less of an unknown now!  I looked at the photos of the men side by side.  But David is almost unrecognizable to himself, one of those situations where you might say, “I saw him the other day and you wouldn’t recognize him.”  So resemblance was less important.

It is a story about stories, isn’t it?

There’s a lot of thematic richness in the film.  It’s about a need for heroes and the way we mythologized them.  This country’s whole political discourse and movie culture is based on the idea of the hero. It’s a very potent idea to deconstruct.  And we all mythologize our own histories with an unconscious editing of our own behavior.  You know you’ve got a good story when it starts talking back to you and revealing things that you haven’t foreseen.  It’s the daughter’s unawareness, the way she is enveloped in a lie — the mother has to do something truly heroic, to immolate herself in order to release her daughter from the contamination of the lie.

 

 

 

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