Friday, March 23, 2012

a few sleep-deprived thoughts on The Hunger Games movie

I went to the midnight showing There were at least five school busses full of college students, mostly women, that helped fill up the nine theatres at Coral Ridge. Amidst the crowd were several Katnisses, none as breathtaking as Jennifer Lawrence on screen but each with a long simple braid draped down a shoulder. Amidst all the magazine covers I’ve seen at the grocery store check-out this week and the altar-Katnisses at the theatre, I was reminded of the irony this blogger writes about as we glamorize and idolize the Hollywood aspect of a story that critiques what is at the very essence of our Hollywood culture. 

But let’s get down to business, i.e. my sleep-deprived musings on The Hunger Games. Here’s what I loved:
Jennifer Lawrence almost doesn’t miss a beat. Her acting is what makes us believe in Katniss. Lawrence plays her mostly just right—Katniss isn’t a sap. She’s not a vigilante or a political reformer. Katniss is a quiet, scared teenager with some serious skills, anger, and basic loyalties, all of which fuel her movement through the movie.

Liam Hemsworth plays a believable and tortured Gale, and the directors do well to direct our attention to him, back in District 12, as he watches the Games. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks resound as Haymitch and Effie Trinket, respectively, providing some humor at just the right pitch.
The musical score, or lack thereof, is right on point, too.  There are many scenes where a score would have absolutely ruined the moment, such as District 12’s assembling for the reaping. The theatre was so eerily quiet as the youth and their mothers lined up to watch Effie host the ceremony.  Silence as Primrose Everdeen’s name is called and the news sinks into the crowd.  Silence as District 12 lifts their hands in a salute to Katniss after volunteering in Prim’s place. In the silence is felt the horror, and a birds-eye view of the assembly calls to mind the cinematic images in our collective consciousness of the standing-to-attention in a concentration camp sort of roll call.

Storyline: With a few exceptions the movie follows the plotline of the book, satisfying expectant viewers and coming to the aid of those who are new to the story:  instead of leaving us in the arena with Katniss the entire time, the film cuts to the Games host Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci like—oh my—he was born for the role) explaining the genetically modified nature of the tracker jackers, for instance, or to Seneca Crane and his roomful of arena operators with their Capital computers as they conspire to harass the contestants with fireballs and muttations.
I need to say more about storyline, and that will veer us into the territory of what-was-not-good about The Hunger Games movie…but let’s go there:

While technically faithful to the book’s narrative arc, each major action of the Games themselves is arranged like a domino, one knocking over the next, causing the story to move at a much faster pace than the book, which of course we expect from a movie adaptation, and yet…

in many ways, the film misses out on developing the emotional desperation and anguish within the storyline, the stuff that rocks us to our core, and I resonate with DavidEdelstein’s review : “The Hunger Games leaves you content — but not, as with the novel, devastated by the senseless carnage.”  Those small details that should sell us on the humanity and complexity of the characters—and in turn cause us more horror at the mounting atrocities done to them by the makers of the Game—are missing:

Katniss finds water relatively quickly, without any indication of a desperation induced by dehydration. The time at which Katniss blew up Cato & co’s stock of supplies to the time she sees Rue die is, in movie-story time, all of three minutes, it seems. There’s no tortured night of hiding in the leaves, with a blown-up ear drum.
Once the rule-change in the Games has been announced, allowing for two victors from the same district, and Katniss goes in search of Peeta, they spend about a day together, if that, in the cave before she goes off to the Cornucopia to fetch his medicine. That means there’re no ravenous and agonizing night-watches while Peeta lies dying.  No nightlock administered to Peeta to trick him into sleep so she can sneak off to get his medicine. Most importantly, there’s no time for what could later be sold as an organic and natural attachment to Peeta to spark. No clear friendship.  It’s difficult to perceive the depth of attachment—platonic or otherwise. Katniss’s behavior in the cave seems to be entirely motivated to please the Gamemakers and Haymitch; Peeta’s attachment to her is difficult to diagnose. 

Also, we miss Rue’s backstory and the story of her district. There’s no bread from 11 sent for Katniss (although the producers do let us see the riot break out in 11 when Rue dies, a smart move on their part). And although Thresh let’s Katniss lives when he has a chance to kill her (“for Rue”)—it’s unclear whether the gesture resonates for Katniss, whether there is any alliance of the heart.  She doesn’t confide to Peeta  (as in the book) that she would hate to have to kill Thresh if it came down to that, and when she hears the boom of the cannon and sees Thresh’s face in the sky the next morning, she stares at it blankly.
Near the end of the movie, Cato’s death is speedy. The Gamemakers dim the lights for the muttation attack; Peeta, Katniss, and Cato run for the Cornucopia; Cato is knocked over and the mutts tear him apart for all of five seconds, at which point Katniss sends an arrow into the dark, apparently killing Cato; the Gamemakers bring the sun back up. What is missing is a long night in the bitter cold, holding an injured Peeta to her, as Katniss and Peeta listen to Cato’s tortured screams.

Perhaps it's the agony and torture in all the waiting in between peaks in the plot, so easy to render in the book, that helps us readers register the horror and devastation of the Games? 

But those are just initial thoughts on not-much sleep.  I hope to see it another time in theatres at a more wakeful hour, and I"m curious to see how my initial impressions may have changed or solidified.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Raven Street Notes #10

I'm in the camp that says it's creepy for strange men to videotape your children while they walk to school...

And run along beside them, trying to covertly slip into the pack.

Even if they are from the local Fox affiliate news station.

Newscasters notwithstanding, today was the first day of Garner Elementary's first Walking School Bus pilot program.  Oldest and Middle got in line behind twenty or so other kids from the neighborhood and marched to school following a child wearing a lightweight plastic "school bus."

Some have already asked me what a walking school bus is, other than the obvious part--walking.  Here's the scoop.  The walking school bus has a "driver," my neighbor in fact.  There are also what you might consider "bus aides," neighborhood parent volunteers or Johnson County Health/Americorp workers.  There are bus stops and bus times and when Oldest and Middle got on the bus today, my neighbor Amy (the driver) "checked" them in on her bus roster.   Tiny and I, already planning on a stroller ride/walk, decided to tag along on what turned out to be something bigger than I had ever anticipated. We weren't a block past our stop when Fox news pulled up, and the cameraman asked the kids to "not look at the camera" while he panned back and forth on the line.  Soon, KGAN and KWWL joined the ranks, holding up traffic a bit on Front Street.  And all along the way, our school bus line grew, the stragglers way down at the end with the last Americorp volunteer.  When finally our bus made it to the front of Garner Elementary, we were greeted by about half the school's teachers, the guidance counselor, the principal, and a bunch of people wearing suits (who I found out later were from Johnson County Public Health and the school district's supervisory board); the children arrived to applause from all grown-ups present. My neighbor says that this is the first walking school bus in Johnson County and Public Health officials are super excited, considering childhood obesity and all.  I'm giving the walking school bus a thumbs up for it's first day. It was fun, amusing (thanks to the Fox cameraman), and the organizers were well-prepared.


In other news, I just went through my closet and weeded out cold-weather wear. My spring and summer clothes are now piled on the shelves and I found myself staring at a stack of gauchos with a mildly irritating conviction that gauchos were so 2008 and 2012 is the year of the (skinny) capri. I think my gauchos will work if I plan to go fishing a lot.  Or attach a woven basket to my bike before I ride to the farmer's market. Or grow my hair long and call myself Sunny or Rainbo. Darn. I really am such a hippie sometimes.


If you haven't already, please check out our Mozambique story here!  Una and I have raised $1500 of the $7000 we need for our trip!  Yay! And thank you to all who have helped.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mozambique 2012

For those of you wanting more details on our Mozambique adventure in 2012, please see a modified version of our fundraising letter below: 
...I’ve thought about how to tell you this story for the last three months, and I think the simplest place to start is at the beginning.  There was a woman named Heidi who, along with her husband Rolland, traveled to Mozambique, Africa, in 1995 to see about helping the poor within the country. Within a few days, Heidi was offered by the government an orphanage that no one else could support and that no one else wanted. The 80 children who lived there were impoverished and underfed. The building was dilapidated and neglected.  With a great measure of faith, Heidi and Rolland accepted the mission to take on the care of these children, bringing in teams to care for them and help build up the orphanage again, slowly but surely. When the number of children in their care reached 320, however, they were evicted by the government. The children and Heidi and Rolland were marched off the property without a home to go to. 
But quickly, provision flowed in from all over the world, allowing Heidi and Rolland to continue to care for the children. Land was donated by a nearby city for a new space, tents by the country of South Africa. Soon, they had enough money to build dorms for the children. In the midst of these difficulties, coupled with devastating floods of 2000, the children thrived and actual miracles broke out in their midst as well as in the neighboring bush.   A church spontaneously came together, and then hundreds, and then a thousand churches:  today, there is a safety net of church-based orphan care in the 10 provinces of Mozambique. In addition to care for multitudes of children, ministries to widows and single mothers are in place to help families stay as in-tact as possible. Heidi and Rolland’s ministry bases all over the world are today known as Iris Ministries.  They are staffed and supported by natives as well as long-term and short term foreign missionaries.
That is their story, but here is my own:  I first heard Heidi’s assistant speak about the work they were doing in Mozambique many years ago.  Something inside my heart leapt when I heard of the children and the way those who served them in the most distressing of environmental and economic circumstances witnessed provision, joy, and love become the fruit of their prayers and efforts.   I also understood how much help and support was welcomed and needed for an operation like this. A year ago, when a friend traveled to the base at Pemba where 200 children reside, I felt the same stirring, and I felt I should get ready to go someday soon.  The opportunity has presented itself to go this year for three weeks, in July, with my daughter Una (she’s excited to play with the children and love on them), along with a team from the Kingdom Sending Center in Elgin, IL.  The KSC team will be preparing us thoroughly on the nuts and bolts of traveling to Mozambique and all of the factors we need to prepare ourselves with in regard to travel to a foreign country and to Mozambique, specifically. 

I’ve sent this letter to friends who are people of faith, in the traditional sense, as well as friends who have faith in simply the impact that love and practical help can have on a life, many lives, a village of children, and an entire nation. I’m telling you Heidi’s story and my story because I want to invite you to partner with me and Una as we prepare to go to Mozambique, most recently ravaged by cyclones in February of this year when over 400,000 people lost their homes.  In the base at Pemba, our team will work on repairing the roofs on the widows' homes. Una and I will also serve in whatever ways we are needed—digging ditches, playing soccer with the kids and rocking babies (all of whom crave mothering and fathering from those who come to stay even short-term), building things, cooking, cleaning, etc.  If you are a person of prayer, then we are in need of much prayer for the many aspects of our travel, as well as financial provision for the trip, which I’m told will total nearly approx. $7000.  Thanks for taking up the adventure with us!

 If you want to get in on supporting our service trip, you can make a donation here.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Notes from an Election-Year Observer

Isn’t it fortunate I’ve got such an imagination?” said Anne. “It will help me through splendidly, I expect. What do people who haven’t any imagination do when they break their bones, do you suppose, Marilla?”  --Anne of Green Gables

I’m not an expert on politics; I’m not thinking like one these days. I ruminate like the mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter that I am--a person who generally cares about the well-being (physical and spiritual) of all people.
I can safely say that the election-year discourse is killing me.

Facts about me: There is no political party in this country that perfectly matches (or ever has) my own array of moral convictions. Every four years I’m tormented by choices between lesser evils and greater goods. Sometimes the candidate who, on paper, presents the lesser evils is easily identifiable. But he (and yes, I’ll say “he” for simplification’s sake tonight) might act like an ignoramus (or worse, a jerk) half the time he’s on camera. This induces doubt as to his viability as a competent president.
Character matters to me more than anything else, but by “character,” I don’t mean that a candidate can check off a list of values on which both he and I agree; rather, I’ve been reduced to watching the way a candidate responds to interviews and attacks. Is he sarcastic? Derisive? Dismissive? Disrespectful? Hostile? Arrogant? Does he play the blame game? Are his rebuffs simplistic and/or full of holes? Does he comprehend (intellectually, morally, emotionally) the opposing point of view?  Does he demonstrate compassion and goodwill despite disagreement? Does he, instead, vilify his opponents?   

Evidence of good character can also, of course, be ferreted out in the examination of a candidate’s history: How has he treated his employees? his children? his marriage commitment(s)?

I'm worried about a few things: about a president who, in a television interview of all small things, cannot hold his peace and dignity. About a man who could not keep one, two, or three lifelong vows to a single individual and yet wants to woo an entire nation to trust him with the next four years of our livelihoods, our environment, our health.  And I’m worried about any man who is incapable of empathy because, truth be told, the most important things going forward don’t hinge on either party’s political platform or agenda in 2012; what matters are those actual grueling days in office where executive-branch decisions are made in response to crises that were never forseen, were never made a part of public discourse during election year.  What matters is how our next president responds if and when we encounter the next Katrina, the next 9/11, the next stock market crash.
And while I hope it is a resolute compassion among other goods that drive the speech and actions of the man sitting in the Oval Office at that time, I doubt compassion is achieved in the absence of a vivid imagination. And imagination is what I find utterly lacking in many of the GOP* spokespeople, congresspersons, and presidential candidates this year.  

See, it’s imagination that unlocks for a man the raw and vulnerable experience of a woman’s unwanted pregnancy. Imagination pulls back the curtain on a lesbian alone in a hospital room without her best friend, her partner, there to hold her hand, handle affairs of state, make life and death decisions that no other family member can make with the same intimate knowledge of the patient’s wishes. Imagination guts the superhero illusion of our 9/11 first responder volunteers who are now suffering from cancers and other terminal conditions and whose livelihoods and families bear up under the economic stress of a lost income and lost fathers and mothers. And imagination multiplies broken levees by a million residents of New Orleans and comes up with dehydration, hunger, homelessness, disease, rape, murder, mercenaries, racial profiling, the Superdome.
Despite his ethics, despite his secular or Biblical morality, my faith is in the power of imagination to pave the road to compassion, and compassion can out-think the politics box, it can work with people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints; compassion will burn the candles at both ends to get the job done. But if, say, imagination is not to be found in the next president (incumbent or otherwise), how will we heal when America breaks another bone?

*The Democrats aren't all off the hook in my book, either, but they're also not center stage at the moment, making any absences of imagination easier to ignore.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Raven Street Notes no. 9

I think about this blog like twenty times a week, and I think about what I want to write.  And then the phone rings, or the baby wants milk, or it’s time to make dinner.

So here I am on a Friday night with nothing on my mind, or rather  a million things on my mind, not one crowning all the rest. Truly, I have been taking notes and I’ve written no essays on any of my studies or subjects:
We have one girl going through a new stage. She’s writing letters regarding her discontent and delivering them to me or Mark.  We are terrible parents, she says, because we have not taken her to Disney World. Everyone else in her class has been there.  We don’t do anything fun (like Disney World) or go anyplace fun (like Disney World). And I make terrible food, like quinoa and sourdough bread and black bean soup when she’d rather be eating hamburgers or French fries or pasta. The cumulative weight of these grievances are great indeed, and yet we have no plans for Disney World, and I made her eat all the quinoa salad at dinner.  Some she spat into the garbage can, and I’m almost certain a spoonful was flushed down a toilet.  But mostly, she ate it.

I told her sister that they would thank me someday.
Someday,her sister agreed. But not NOW.

Now that Tiny is well (she’s well! She’s well!), the rest of us are still flirting with headcolds.  But it warms me to watch a healthy Tiny sport around the house like she owns the place. In spite of our warnings and admonitions, she keeps climbing up on this low, wide coffee table in our sunroom, standing up, arms wide open,  a little Leo-DeCaprio-I’m-the-king-of-the-world.

Until this week, I haven’t had any trouble understanding Tiny’s words. They’ve been solitary, stand-alone expressions related to context. Her meaning was obvious. But now, she’s taken a turn into sophistication, with “I’ll get it,” “clean up,” “here you go,” “here it is,” “Evvy’s” (note the use of the possessive), and “change you” (which really means “change me”). In addition to all of that, she’s trying to tell me other things I don’t understand yet, language that sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook, but insistent, purposeful gibberish. She’s staring at me, she’s holding out her hand, she’s looking at something. She’s repeating the same phrase over and over. But I don’t know what she wants.
At the same time, we’re weaning her off her moment-to-moment use of the pacifier (aka “Paci”).  It’s been a little bit like a death in the family, her frequent asking for paci and my having to explain that Paci is “taking a nap right now” or that Paci is “all gone” and that we’ll see Paci “when we go to sleep.”  I get a bit heartbroken over it all, wondering what that comfort really means to her and how we should make up for it. Does her need for Paci speak to some deeper level of need for security and comfort that I need to provide in another form?

Oops. I wrote all of the above two weeks ago before I got sicker and before a round of Zithromax. We’re healthy now, all of us. And today I’m grateful for a mild March walk around the pond in our neighborhood, two ducks in sight, and Tiny crying out to “Touch it! Touch it!” The sun lingered long enough for me to trim one of the overgrown evergreen bushes in the front yard.

I was also grateful for the checks that arrived by mail in support of our Mozambique trip.  We’ve raised almost $900 of the 7K we’ll need.  I’ve been humbled by the responses from those near and far. Even my chiropractor slipped me an envelope yesterday and then confided that he was particularly moved by the prospects of our upcoming adventure. I haven’t had a chance to thank each one personally (YET), but if you’re reading this, you know who you are. Thank you.

In spite of the outpouring of support, we are still far from the total sum we will need. But every time I open one check in the mail, I'm thankful for the person who sent it and for their gift. 

And I remember the loaves and the fishes.