Movie Review: Lion

Today I finally secured a copy of the last Best Picture nominated film on my list. Although I watched movie #8, La La Land, again last week, I didn’t do a second review. You can read my original movie review for this fun musical HERE.

This evening I settled in to watch Lion.

Movie Review Lion
Lion stars Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Priyanka Bose and Abhishek Bharate. Garth Davis directed this biographical drama, based on the book by Saroo Brierley. The movie is rated PG-13, for adult themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 58 minutes. Lion was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Original Musical Score, Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Kidman, Best Supporting Actor for Patel and Best Picture. It did not win in any categories.

Young Saroo (Pawar), is a five year old boy living in a small rural village in India. He often helps his brother, Guddu (Bharate), scrounge for food and coins in empty trains to help support his impoverished family. Saroo’s single mother, Kamla (Bose), is a laborer who struggles to provide for her three children.

Movie Review: Lion
In spite of their dire living conditions, or perhaps because of them, Guddu and Saroo share a close brotherly bond. They find joy in swimming together in the river, catching rides on trains and walking along the railroad tracks.

Against his better judgement, Guddu takes his little brother along for a nighttime job, working in a field. Little Saroo can’t stay awake, so Guddu leaves him at the train station, several stops from their village, and tells him to stay there until he returns. Saroo wakes up disoriented, and wanders onto an empty train, where he falls asleep again.

Hours later Saroo awakens to find the decommissioned train speeding down the track. The boy is alone and locked inside the train. Several days, and almost 2000 kilometers later, the train finally stops in Calcutta. Saroo, who doesn’t speak or understand Bengali, lives for a couple of harrowing months on the streets of that teeming city. He doesn’t know his last name or his mum’s name, and no one recognizes the name of his village. Saroo appears to be another homeless street kid. He is finally placed in an overcrowded orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple, John (Wenham) and Sue (Kidman) Brierley.

Movie Review: Lion
Saroo adjusts to living with his new family, learning to speak English, and slowly the memories of his life in India receed. Until he reaches adulthood.

Older Saroo (Patel) is a bright, privileged young man who has a girlfriend, Lucy (Mara), and a career ahead in hotel management. But memories begin to stir, fragments from his past that bring a flood of emotions and create an ache in his heart for his first home and his first family.

Using dogged determination and a new online program called Google Earth, Saroo begins a painstaking and obsessive five year search to trace his steps back to his home village. He doesn’t want to appear ungrateful to his adoptive parents. But he is haunted by the awareness that his family in India never knew what happened to them and that they have searched for him, screaming out his name daily.

It’s been 25 years since he got lost. Can Saroo find his way home? And what might he find, if he does?

Movie Review: Lion
What a heart touching, and heart rending, film. I deliberately avoid reading reviews or articles about the Best Picture nominated films, so I can watch with an open heart and mind. Therefore, I didn’t know how this true story was going to conclude. I’m not going to reveal the end here either.

I can reveal that this is a powerful and poignant look at the strong desire we all have to find our way home. And in connecting with our place of origin, we rediscover ourselves, and come to know ourselves at a much deeper level.

Movie Review: Lion

As a real life adoptive mother, Kidman brought compassion and authenticity to the role of Saroo’s new mom. Patel was beautifully haunted as the older Saroo. And I was totally undone by young Pawar, who portrays the boy Saroo. Child actors can be so impressive. Pawar was amazing. He reminded me a little too much of my great nephew Kaleb, who is almost five.

The lost children of Calcutta broke my heart. The film’s credits informs that 80,000 children go missing in India each year, and 11 million children live on the streets. What staggering numbers. For the release of this film, the foundation #LionHeart was launched in collaboration between the production companies of this film, See-Saw Films, The Weinstein Company and The Charity Network. It will provide financial support to those millions of children living on the streets of India.

Movie Review Lion
I’ve completed the Best Picture nominated films for 2017. They all spoke to me in some way, deepening my appreciation for life or moving me to compassion for the brokenness of so many people. My top three favorite movies out of the nine nominated were La La Land, Hidden Figures and Lion.

Once again, I am grateful for this yearly tradition. Without it, I would miss some excellent films. They help me to grow, expand my heart, and cause me to see myself and the world through fresh eyes. And that is a powerful return for my investment of spending time watching movies.

Movie Review Lion
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Movie Review: Hidden Figures

I have looked forward to watching today’s best picture nominated film. The rainy afternoon presented the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and view film 7 of 9 on my list, Hidden Figures.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures stars Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst. This historical drama was directed by Theodore Melfi and carries a PG rating for mild language. It has a run time of 2 hours and 7 minutes. Hidden Figures was nominated for three Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Spencer and Best Picture. It did not win in any category.

This based on true events story follows three amazing African American women as they offer their brilliance to NASA during America’s race to space in the early 1960s. While bringing their intellect to the space program they struggle with racial discrimination, gender inequality, and long hours spent working away from their families.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
Katherine G Johnson (Henson) was a child mathematical genius who graduated from college at age 18 with degrees in mathematics and French. She works with her friends Mary (Monáe) and Dorothy (Spencer) in West Area Computing division, which is segregated from the rest of the Langley Research Center Campus. The women are computers, doing complex math computations and calculations on paper.

Because of her ability to do analytical geometry, Katherine is moved to the Space Task Group, headed by Al Harrison (Costner). He has been charged with the monumental task of getting a man into space as quickly as possible, as Russia is already there. She works closely with head engineer, Paul Stafford (Parsons), who resents Katherine joining the all white, all male team.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures The real Katherine Johnson and Taraji Henson, who plays her. 

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Mary Jackson wants to be an engineer. She is reassigned to work with male engineers as they figure out how to protect the space capsule from overheating upon re-entry into the atmosphere. Her supervisor encourages Mary to get her engineering degree even though there isn’t a school in Virginia that will allow her to complete the classes she needs. Her only option is to petition the court to allow her to be accepted.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures The real Mary Jackson and Janelle Monáe as her

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

And Dorothy Vaughn is working as the supervisor of West Area Computing, without the official title or the compensation. She has frequent conversations with her supervisor, Vivian (Durst), about being recognized for her work and paid accordingly, to no avail. She is told it just is what it is. Dorothy recognizes the threat that the newly installed IBM computer poses to her future at NASA, as well as to her team of female computers, and sets about learning to program the massive machine by reading a library book and studying the computer at night.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures The real Dorothy Vaughn and Octavia Spencer as her

As these women give their best to NASA, they encounter injustices such as having to use “colored bathrooms”, even when the nearest facility is half a mile away, segregated coffee pots, and constantly being told “women aren’t allowed…”. All the while, the clock is ticking as the date approaches when the first American astronaut is scheduled to orbit Earth.

This was a phenomenal story that kept me engaged and hopeful throughout the movie. I am amazed that I had not heard of Katherine, Mary and Dorothy before the release of this movie. I was a wee girl during these events and grew up with a fascination for the space program.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

It grieves me that these incredible women endured so much discrimination because of the color of their skin and their gender. I realize it wasn’t just these women. Sadly, such injustices was directed toward all people of color. I greatly admired the attitudes presented by these female geniuses at NASA. They abided by the “rules” as best they could, while quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, working to bring about change.

And so Katherine challenged the “no women allowed” rules by appealing to her supervisor, whom she knew to be a fair man. She used the bathroom that was half a mile away until an opportunity arose to explain her long breaks, and then she spoke with searing passion.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
Mary spoke up when some thought she should remain quiet. And took her desire to attend a white school, to receive the credits needed to be an engineer, all the way to court. She won that right. Dorothy took it upon herself to step into the future she knew was coming, and learn a new way to compute. She not only prepared herself for what was coming, she secured the future for the other women as well, at last earning the title of supervisor.

I appreciated that at the end of the film, we learn what happened to Katherine, Mary and Dorothy after astronaut John Glenn made his historical orbits around the earth. I cared about these women by then. I wanted to know.

I loved this film. I will watch the final two best picture nominated movies, one of which I have already seen, but I am leaning toward calling Hidden Figures my favorite. I cheered. I teared up. I smiled. This is a powerful film made even more so by being true.

Everyone can learn from Hidden Figures…to be who you are and shine brightly, to allow everyone else to be who they are and shine brilliantly too, to fight against injustice wherever it is found, to see beyond color and gender and perceptions. Hidden Figures is a gem worth uncovering.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
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Movie Review: Fences

I enjoyed some down time this afternoon, engaging in one of my favorite leisure activities…watching movies. Up today was film four of nine in the Best Picture nominated category, Fences.

Movie Review: Fences
Fences stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson. This drama, directed by Denzel Washington, is rated PG-13, for mild language and a few suggestive comments, and has a run time of 2 hours and 19 minutes. Fences was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor for Washington and Best Supporting Actress for Davis. Viola won in her category.

This movie adaptation is based on the 2010 play by the same name. Five of the actors in the play, including Denzel and Viola, reprised their roles in the film.

Troy Maxson (Washington) is an African American raising his family in a poor neighborhood in 1950s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Married for 18 years to Rose (Davis), Troy makes a living as a sanitation worker, toiling alongside his friend and neighbor, Bono (Henderson).

Movie Review: Fences
Life is difficult for Troy, and not just because of the long hours of manual labor. On his own at age 14, Troy struggled to survive as he sought to get a handle on the world. He turned to stealing as a young man, fathered a son, and spent 15 years in prison before meeting Rose. His passion was to play professional baseball, but coming late into the game, Troy couldn’t compete with younger white players.

Disillusioned and bitter, Troy settles into a working class job and raising Cory (Adepo), the son he has with his wife Rose. His older musician son, Lyons (Hornsby), and mentally handicapped brother Gabe (Williamson), come in and out of the family home, adding to the stressful dynamics there.

Movie Review: Fences

And it is a household under stress. Troy is not a happy man, convinced he missed out on opportunities. He feels wrung out by life, and stuck. His relationship is strained with his older son. And wanting his younger son to have more than he does, Troy pushes him too hard, not allowing Cory to be recruited for college football. Disappointed in his own attempt at a sports career, Troy squashes his son’s hopes and alienates him.

Proud, and possesive, of the small house he has managed to buy, due to compensation for the brain damaging war injury his brother suffered, Troy spends his Saturdays working on a wooden fence to enclose the tiny backyard. The fence becomes symbolic of Troy’s life. As his friend Bono says, “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.” 

Troy is doing both. And a secret he is concealing threatens to constrain his life and damage his relationships even more.

Movie Review: Fences
This was another excellent movie, that was sometimes difficult to watch. It wasn’t because of a war zone where soldiers were slaughtered. No, Fences had moments in which despair created a war zone where Troy and his family were the casualties.

To watch Fences is to watch what a life lived with regret looks like. Denzel Washington gave a poignant performance as a man who longed for more but sacrified his desires to responsibilities. And of course, responsibilities aren’t bad. But giving up on dreams in exchange for a safe and decent life can be soul numbing, and ultimately damaging.

Viola Davis was amazing as Troy’s long suffering wife, Rose. One of the movie’s most powerful scenes occurs when Troy tells Rose, It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve been standing in the same place for eighteen years!” With tears, and snot, running fown her face, Rose cries out, “Well, I’ve been standing with you! I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot as you!” 

Movie Review: Fences

That moment was pivotal for Rose. And heartbreaking. Even in this day, it is so rare to find a couple who can share the journey in a way that supports and encourages both, rather than one sacrificing who they are for the other. Rose gave up on her dreams and hopes too. She felt as stuck as Troy did.

Fences, like Manchester by the Sea, does not have a neat and tidy ending. Rather it left me with much to think about, and an ache in my heart for people who are struggling in their lives with regret and disappointment. There was however, a surprising scene of hope, and Gabe, the mentally challenged brother, got to shine. It seemed very fitting that the character in the movie who most tended to live simply and in the moment, offered most deeply from his big heart.

And that made me tear up…and then smile.

Movie Review: Fences
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Oscar Night 2017

For many people, Super Bowl Sunday is the most anticipated winter tv program. I do watch that sporting event. However, it is not the most keenly anticipated show for me. All my life, the end of December has not only signaled the end of the year, it signals the countdown to my favorite televised event…the Academy Awards, nicknamed the Oscars. 

Oscar Night 2017

I am posting in the blog during commercial breaks, as this award show typically concludes late in the evening. And I am loving the program already. Justin Timberlake performed one of the nominated songs as the opener, a lively number that had attendees on their feet, dancing in the aisles. I applauded as heartily as anyone. 

I confess to a slight trepidation, leading up to the award show. With the highly charged political climate that we currently live in, I felt my anticipation diminished by the concern that tonight’s focus would shift from the movies and spectacular performances to divisive speeches and statements. 

This is what I had to do…let my concerns go. I accepted that everyone is allowed to share their thoughts and opinions. Everyone. And if I reacted to something said, whether by host Jimmy Kimmel or a presenter or an actor accepting an Oscar, that’s on me, that’s something to go within and inquire about. 

Problem solved. Joy restored. 

Oscar Night 2017

Oscar Night 2017Yeah…I take notes.

I needn’t have been concerned. Host Jimmy Kimmel set the tone for the evening with a light hearted opening monologue. “We are going to have fun tonight!” Jimmy promised. I applauded again. 

Here are the six top awards:

Oscar Night 2017
The first winner of the evening was Mahershala Ali, for Moonlight. If Jimmy set the tone for the award show, Mahershala raised the bar for acceptance speeches. He was humble, gracious, sincere. “It’s not about you,” he was told as a new actor, “You are serving the characters, the stories.” My heart was pierced by his words, his tears. Mahershala is an actor to watch, as he tells stories. 

Oscar Night 2017
Viola Davis picked up the Oscar for her performance in Fences. Through tears she shared passionately that she became an actress because this is a profession that knows what it means to celebrate life…not just well known publically recognized lives, but the lives of common everyday people who hoped and dreamed and lived and died. She was asked, as an actress, “What kind of stories do you want to tell?” Viola is answering that question through the characters she chooses to portray. 

Oscar Night 2017
Emma Stone captured this award, her first, for her role in La La Land. She thanked the other nominees for allowing her to stand alongside them. Through tears she said she still has a lot of learning and growing to do, and her Oscar is a symbol, a sign, to continue on her journey. 

Oscar Night 2017

Casey Affleck, humble and searching for the right words, picked up his first Oscar for Manchester by the Sea. His acting career has been inspired by Denzel Washington, whom he met for the first time tonight. 

Oscar Night 2017
Damien Chazelle, La La Land, picked up his first Oscar and is the youngest director in history to win in the Best Director category. He is 32 years old. 

Oscar Night 2017

In all the years that I’ve watched the Oscars, I’ve never seen the wrong winner announced. It happened tonight, for the top award, Best Picture. The presenters were given the wrong envelope, which contained the winner for Best Actress Emma Stone, La La Land. Confused, they hesitated and at last announced La La Land as the winner. During the acceptance speech, one of the supposed winners broke the news that they had actually lost…and Moonlight was the correct winner. I was as confused as everyone else was! I was hoping La La Land would win. But I was impressed with the graciousness of the La La Land cast and the Moonlight group. I wish both could have walked off the stage with Oscars. 

I so enjoyed the evening. There were many surprises, such as a bus full of unsuspecting tourists who got a peek inside the theater, and a funny Mean Tweets segment where actors read trolls’ comments about them on Twitter. And a huge number of firsts occurred: all the major categories were won by people receiving their first Oscars, Amazon had its first big movie nominated, Manchester by the Sea, and it won in two categories, the youngest director in history won, and for the first time a major goof at the end caused the wrong film to be announced as Best Picture. Wow. 

Oscar Night 2017
For me, the biggest surprise (other than the unintentional twist at the end) was finding out what this year’s theme was for the Academy Awards…Inspiration. I didn’t know until the theme was revealed, half way through the show. My mouth fell open. I loved my personal connection with the word, my word for 2017, and that men and women shared throughout the evening about the films, characters and actors who inspired them. 

And there were tears, shed by winners as they spoke from their hearts, and shed by me during those acceptance speeches, during moving performances of the nominated songs, and when Michael J Fox, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, presented for Film Editing. 

Oscar Night 2017
The Memorial segment is especially poignant, as actors who have died in the past year are honored for their contributions to the world, and for their lives. We lost so many bright shining souls, passionate gifted people who devoted their lives to following their hearts. We have been blessed by their dedication. 

I was inspired tonight. I have nine Best Picture nominated films to watch and I made a list of other movies, shorts and documentaries to view as well. In fact, for the first time, I would like to watch all of the winners, in all of the categories, a lofty goal for sure, a challenge I am presenting to myself. 

I appreciated the diversity of the 89th Academy Awards. Although La La Land collected the most Oscars with six wins, no movie overshadowed the others. The winners were from countries around the world including Italy, Syria, Iran, Canada, France and England. All races, colors, genders and ages were represented, celebrated, and honored. 

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, summed up the evening perfectly. She said, “The power of art transcends all things…the magic of movies, that’s what we celebrate tonight.” 


Oscar Night 2017

Movie Review: Spotlight

This evening I completed this year’s list of Best Picture nominated movies, with Spotlight. Watching the Academy Awards, I was surprised when this film won the final Oscar. The movie Revenant was favored to win. I knew little about Spotlight, other than the premise. I settled in tonight, curious to discover what made this film stand out. 

Spotlight stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James and Len Cariou. This historical drama was directed by Tom McCarthy and has a run time of 2 hours and 9 minutes. The film is rated R for adult themes and strong language. 

Spotlight was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Ruffalo, Best Supporting Actress for McAdams and Best Editing. It won for Best Original Screenplay and the coveted Best Picture Oscar. 

Based on actual events, Spotlight is the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered a massive scandal and cover-up of child molestation within the Catholic Church. In 2001, editor Marty Baron (Schreiber) assigns Spotlight, a specialized group of journalists within the Globe, the task of investigating allegations against an unfrocked priest accused of abusing more than 80 boys. 

Editor Robby Robinson (Keaton) leads the team, made up of journalists Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (d’Arcy James). Because of the sensitive nature of the investigation and the involvement of the Church, Robby secures the help of fellow editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (Slattery). What at first appears to be an isolated case soon grows in its complexity and breadth. As more and more victims are found, the team discovers that the number of Boston priests involved may number closer to 90. 

From attorneys who refuse to disclose information, to Cardinal Bernard Law (Cariou), the Archdiocese of Boston, the cover-up is more intentional and more wide spread than the Spotlight team could have imagined. One attorney, Mitchell Garabedian (Tucci), who fights tirelessly on behalf of victims, finally agrees to help in the investigation by securing crucial documents. 

The year long investigation threatens to crack open decades of abuse that has been hidden away, while pitting the Church and its supporters against the credibility of the Boston Globe. In breaking the story, they are breaking the silence. 

This was a very well done film. The subject was sensitive, and painful. However, the movie never sensationalized the story nor did it pull back from the gravity of the investigation. This was not an attack against Faith, or even so much an attack against the Church in general. It was an uncovering of a deep flaw in the system that allowed a horrific injustice to continue while leaders looked the other way. 

I very much appreciated the flow of the film and the journalistic feel, which was a credit to the director. Rather than make a strong emotional appeal, which would have been easy to do, given the circumstances, the story was presented in a factual way. It was vital that the investigation build its case piece by piece, and that the scope was broad enough, so that there could be no defense against the story that broke. I felt like I got to watch that happen. 

Marty Baron said, “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.” 

The impact was huge, and far reaching, and many, many other victims spoke up. 

This was a somber movie with an important message. As Marty said, there is enough blame to go around. It takes all of us being vigilant to protect our children. Spotlight made me think and made me aware and in my opinion, deserved the Best Picture win. I was left wondering what changes have been made by the Catholic Church concerning abusive priests, since this story broke in 2002. I’ll find out.


Surrender 123: Movie Review: The Big Short

Tonight I watched Best Picture nominated movie number seven of eight, The Big Short, leaving the winner in this Academy Awards category for my final film next week. I deliberately saved tonight’s movie until almost last. Of all the Oscar contenders, I was least interested in this one. I’m a realtor. I’m familiar with the housing market crash of 2008, having experienced the crazy boon before and then seeing the aftermath. I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching a movie that told the bigger story. I was wrong. 

The Big Short stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock. This biographical dark comedy, based on the book by Michael Lewis, was directed by Adam McKay. Rated R for pervasive strong language and brief nudity, the movie has a run time of 2 hours and 20 minutes. 

The Big Short was nominated in five categories including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Bale, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which it won an Oscar. 

Michael Burry (Bale), an eccentric former physician, is socially awkward. However as a Scion Capital hedge fund manager, he has a keen ability to see what others can’t. His scrutiny of thousands of mortgage loans reveals a housing bubble that is about to burst. Burry bets against the continued success of the housing market, meeting with the biggest banks and mortgage holders in the US. The banks are happy to accept his proposal, confident the housing market will never fail. After all, who doesn’t pay their mortgages? 

Jared Vennett (Gosling), with Deutsche Bank, hears of Burry’s plan and shares his beliefs. An errant phone call to the wrong institution connects him with a group of investment partners headed up by Mark Baum (Carell). Baum, who is an idealist disillusioned with the whole financial institution, agrees to join with Vennett. Their combined research further uncovers that most mortgages are overrated by bond agencies, with banks collating subprime loans into AAA packages. 

And lastly, a pair of startup investors working out of their garage reviews a prospectus of Vennett’s and want in on the action. Charlie (Magaro) and Jamie (Wittrock) aren’t big enough players on their own, so they enlist the financial perspective and aid of former investment banker Ben Rickert (Pitt). 

These three groups of investors work from the premise that the big banks are stupid and don’t see the impending collapse of the housing market. As the impossible begins to happen and the market shifts, these men discover how deep mortgage deception goes and how large the negative impact will be. Not only will millions lose jobs and homes when the housing bubble bursts, the economy of the world will be affected.

This was a fascinating movie to watch. I thought I wouldn’t like it because being a realtor I know what the crash of the housing market did. However, precisely because I’m in real estate, this true story had a great impact on me. I found myself exclaiming to the tv screen, as new information was revealed, as the depths of fraud and greed and deceit were uncovered. I can’t lie. Watching this movie made my heart race, in an agonizing way. 

The film was extremely well done, with outstanding performances, especially by Bale and Carell. The tone was quirky, and so were the characters based on real people. I liked how the technical jargon and concepts were humorously explained using well known celebrities who taught by way of concrete examples.

The Big Short amazed me, making me laugh, grimace, cheer and even tear up. I’d like to watch the movie again, to gain an even deeper  understanding of what happened in 2006-2008 in the housing industry. 

There’s a quote that appears on the screen that says, “The truth is like poetry. And most people f…ing hate poetry.”  The Big Short holds up the light of truth and uncovers the mess that deception tried to hide. At the end of the movie, more truths appear as words scroll across the screen. Recent truths. I’m carefully pondering those words, very much impacted by this great film. 

Surrender 117: Movie Review – The Revenant 

Tonight was movie night, with Best Picture nominated film number six of eight, The Revenant. I’ve heard excellent remarks about this movie. And yet, I wondered if the level of violence would be so high that I wouldn’t enjoy this story that many have called the “manliest” film of the year. Or would DiCaprio’s stellar performance win me over? I’d soon find out. 

The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson and Forrest Goodluck. The action drama, based on true events, was directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. The movie is rated R for violence, strong language and intense sequences and has a run time of 2 hours and 36 minutes. 

The Revenant was nominated for 12 academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for DiCaprio and Best Supporting Actor for Hardy. It won three Oscars…for DiCaprio, for Inarritu for directing, and for Best Cinematography. 

Set in the 1820s, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his son Hawk (Goodluck) are members of a hunting party led by Captain Ashley (Gleeson). As the large group of wilderness men are preparing their bales of hides for shipment back to Camp Kiowa, they are ambushed by the Arikara tribe. Only ten men survive the attack. Stashing the hides for later retrieval, the survivors’ priority becomes making the long trek back to camp, without horses and in harsh wintry conditions. 

Dissension among the men threatens the bedraggled party as much as the weather. John Fitzgerald (Hardy), wild eyed and traumatized by a previous tribal attack, strongly opposes every decision Captain Ashley makes. He especially resents Glass, who because of his keen tracking abilities, naturally assumes leadership of the group. 

When a brutal bear attack leaves Glass severely wounded, Fitzgerald seizes the opportunity to rid the group of the man’s expertise. Ashley commissions Fitzgerald and the young Bridger (Poulter) to remain behind with Glass and his son while the rest of the party pushes onward. No one believes that Glass will survive for long, so grave are his injuries. Bridger and Fitzgerald are charged with giving the man a proper burial and then catching up with the group, bringing Hawk with them. 

Further tragedy results in Glass being abandoned, left for dead, suffering from his severe wounds. He is without food, water or weapons, unable to walk because of a broken leg. Camp Kiowa is 200 miles away, over rugged terrain, in the middle of a relentless winter. 

But the desire for retribution drives Glass to undertake a journey that is fueled by fierce determination and memories of a woman he once loved and lost. During his lowest moments, he hears her voice softly urging him onward, reminding him that as long as he draws breath, he must fight for life. 

I was right that this would be a difficult movie for me to watch. At times I chose to look away, from bloody woundings or battle scenes that were very graphic. These were brief, thankfully. Overall, The Revenant was a powerful film depicting a man who fights against all odds for survival. 

Warring tribes, French hunters competing for hides, animals, the terrain, his own men and the frigid cold and ever swirling snow all sought to destroy Glass. His life became as fragile as the wisps of breath that wheezed through his parched lips. And yet, this man refused to accept defeat, surviving by way of knowledge accumulated from years of living in the wilderness. 

While Hardy gave a remarkable performance as the crazed betrayer, this film belonged to DiCaprio. I physically hurt, watching his struggles. I groaned with him when yet another challenge threatened to end his journey. I looked up the film’s title word. 




a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.

The word perfectly describes DiCaprio’s character. Not dead. Not defeated.  Not finished with his mission or his life. This is a man who has returned from the dead and has nothing to lose, much to the dread of his enemy. 

Intense and starkly beautiful, look away from some scenes if you must, as I did, but experience this incredible film that honors the human spirit and the ability to endure for the sake of justice. Watch The Revenant, and Leonardo’s role of a lifetime.

Surrender 109: Movie Review: Brooklyn

At last, I got to watch the Best Picture Nominated film, Brooklyn. I’ve attempted to rent the DVD multiple times, yet it was never available and I would go home with another movie from my Best Picture list. Checking on availability when I returned Bridge of Spies, I was told once again that all copies of Brooklyn were checked out. But, Richard at Crown Video, my favorite DVD rental store, offered to hold the next copy that came in and call me. He did as promised. On this rainy afternoon, I had the joy of settling in to watch this much anticipated movie. 


Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan and Julie Walters. The romantic drama, based on a novel by Colm Toibin, was directed by John Crowley. The movie is rated PG-13, for brief strong language and one scene containing sexuality, and has a run time of 1 hour and 55 minutes. 

Brooklyn was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. It didn’t win in any category. 

Eilis Lacey (Ronan) is a young Irish woman with no future in Ireland of the 1950s. Her older sister, Rose (Glascott), makes arrangements through a priest in America, securing a place for Eilis in Brooklyn. With no prospects for marriage or a full time job, and knowing that Rose will care for their aging mother (Brennan), Eilis makes the heart wrenching decision to leave her homeland and immigrate to the US. 


With Father Flood’s (Broadbent) help, Eilis takes up residence in a boarding home run by the firm but kind Mrs. Kehoe (Walters). She is also hired as a clerk at the Brooklyn department store, Bartocci’s, and enrolls in night classes at the local college, to learn bookkeeping. 

Yet in spite of all the good that is present in this fresh start in the land of opportunity, Eilis is extremely homesick, missing her family. Her life feels as empty and cold as her first New York winter. Until she meets Tony (Cohen) at one of Father Flood’s Irish dances. 


Tony, who comes from a large Italian family, brings joy and love into Eilis’ life. He is kind and sweet natured, attentive and fun. Tony takes Eilis to restaurants and movies, to Coney Island to swim in the ocean, and home to meet his parents and brothers. He encourages Eilis to continue her studies, which she is excelling in.  For the first time since she arrived in America, Eilis feels happy and content. 


She shares her happiness with her sister back in Ireland, through long letters detailing her new life. Eilis anticipates introducing Tony to her Irish family, but that hope is destroyed. Father Flood brings sad news that Rose has passed away, unexpectedly. Devastated, Eilis desires to return to Ireland for a short stay. Before she leaves, Tony persuades her to marry him, in a simple and secret ceremony at city hall. 

Back in Ireland, everything has changed. Rose is buried and Mammy has aged and feels alone. Eilis, who is now perceived as glamorous and successful, is offered a temporary job that could become permanent. And reconnecting with her former friends, she meets Jim (Gleeson), a handsome young man from a prominent family in her hometown. 


Confused, and wishing circumstances would have been as promising before she left Ireland, Eilis enters back into life in her home country, a life that strangely echoes her existence in Brooklyn. In Ireland she now has the promise of a future that includes a good job, a man who loves her, and family and friends who want her to stay. Her life, her heart, is torn between two countries, and two men. What will she choose?


Oh, this was a great film to watch, full of depth and challenges and growth. I had never heard of Saoirse Ronan, but she gave a wonderfully rich performance, and well deserved her nomination for Best Actress. 

I teared up many times, over Eilis’ parting from her family and the emotional pain of her homesickness. One of my favorite scenes, that evoked the greatest stirring of my heart, was during the Christmas dinner served to poor Irish men of New York City. These men who had once worked hard, building the infrastructure of the great city, were now destitute, and weary of life. As the meal concluded, one man stood and sang softly in Gaelic, as a thank you. Eilis’ eyes filled with tears, as did every man’s eyes in the room. As did mine. I couldn’t even understand the words. But I didn’t need to. That beautiful song called deeply to my Celtic roots. My soul recognized the meaning, even if my brain couldn’t. 

Listen to Frankie’s Song HERE


Brooklyn was gorgeous to watch, with wonderful 1950s clothing and the depiction of simpler lifestyles. However, the story was not simple. 

Brooklyn showcases the decision Eilis must make, of choosing a comfortable past or an unknown future. The past holds tradition and familiarity, predictability and patterns. It can also limit and stifle and become too routine. The future is fresh and exciting, full of promise and opportunity. It is also unpredictable and risky and can create fear. 

The broad decision that Eilis faces is one that I have faced before and will face again. Indeed, each of us at some point in our lives will stand at such a crossroads. Cling to the past or look to the future? The old country or the new? There are things to love about both, things that nourish our souls and call to our hearts. It’s always our choice. What will I choose? What do you choose? 


Surrender 105: Bridge of Spies

This evening was movie night, as I watched the 4th of 8 Best Picture Nominated Films. I once again hoped to watched Brooklyn, holding Bridge of Spies in reserve as my second choice. I came home with the latter. 

Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell and Will Rogers. This historical drama, based on true events, was directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 22 minutes. 

Bridge of Spies was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Writing – Original Screenplay, Best Musical Score and in a couple of technical categories. Mark Rylance won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. 


In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, a Russian man, Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is arrested and charged as a Soviet spy. In a highly publicized show of receiving a fair trial, Abel is represented in court by Brooklyn attorney Jim Donovan (Hanks). Although the trial goes as expected, with Abel found guilty on all counts, Donovan takes his responsibility very seriously, desiring that his client truly receive a fair trial. 

Donovan’s honesty, and growing respect and compassion for Abel, draws judgment and anger from the across the United States. Even his senior law firm partner Watters (Alda) and his wife Mary (Ryan) don’t understand or support Jim’s desire to see Abel treated fairly. 


Although Donovan can’t prevent a guilty verdict, he does convince the judge to sentence his client to prison rather than give him the death penalty. Jim feels that Abel may serve a future purpose, should the need arise to exchange prisoners of war.  

And indeed, the need arises. For while Russians are spying in the US, Americans are doing the same over Russia. U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is shot down while on a covert mission and captured. The United States Government asks Jim Donovan to act as a non-government representative to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers. 


Donovan finds himself in Berlin, as the dividing wall is being built, negotiating with the Russians for the release of Powers, and with the newly formed East Germany government for the release of American college student Frederic Pryor (Rogers). The CIA doesn’t care about obtaining Pryor at that time, only Powers, as he knows critical information. But Donovan refuses to make the exchange unless both Americans are released. 

The lives of three men and the relationships between three countries all rest on the negotiating abilities of one very honest, and honorable, man. If he is successful, the exchange of Abel for Powers will take place across the Glienicke Bridge, more commonly referred to as the Bridge of Spies. 

This was a very good movie. I confess that I tend to lean toward James Bond type movies,  when watching films with the Cold War as the subject, full of action and cool gadgets and humor. I wasn’t excited about this Best Picture Nominated movie at all. I’m grateful for my tradition of watching all of the films. I would miss great stories and performances otherwise. 

Tom Hanks was superb in the role of the conscientious attorney, who was ruled by his heart and his sense of honor, rather than being swayed by popular public opinion. I enjoy movies based on true events. Jim Donovan later successfully negotiated on behalf of thousands of captive men, women and children. 


It was Rylance’s performance as Abel that was most riveting. He well deserved his Oscar. Artistic, thoughtful, an honorable man himself, Abel did what he was supposed to do, and was willing to accept the consequences. He maintained a peaceful demeanor, never expressing fear or worry. I smiled every time Jim asked him, “Don’t you ever worry?” and Abel replied calmly, “Would it help?” The friendship that grew between the two men, from radically different worlds, was heart warming. Abel affectionately called Donovan “the standing man” in his Russian language, recognizing the values that he stood for. 

I loved the messages contained within Bridge of Spies. The Cold War is over. The Berlin Wall has come down. And yet people are still divided and so ready to judge the differences they perceive in each other.  I choose to have compassion. I want to be honest, and honorable, in my dealings with all people…those who are similar to me, and those who are very different. I willingly offer up any prejudices held captive within me, in exchange for the freedom to love and care deeply for others. 

Being me, fully, I can let others be who they are, fully. We can build a bridge, step by step, toward each other…and meet there, in the middle. 


Surrender 95: Room

Tonight I had the opportunity to watch the third of eight Best Picture Nominated Films. Although I had intended to select Brooklyn for movie night, it wasn’t available. So I came home with Room. I admit I was a bit apprehensive about watching this movie, being familiar with the premise. But I didn’t want to back down from watching any of this year’s nominated films. I’m glad I surrendered to the moment, and to the movie. 


Room stars Brie Latson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, Tom McCamus and William H Macy. This drama, based on the best selling novel Room by Emma Donoghue, was directed by Lenny Abrahamson. It is rated R for language and has a run time of 1 hour and 58 minutes. 

Room was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress, for Brie Larson. She won in that category. 


Joy (Larson) is Ma to her five year old son, Jack (Tremblay). She does her best to protect him, nourish him, and educate him, reading him stories and playing games with him. They watch tv together, and sleep cuddled together at night. Jack and Ma exercise daily, cook together and observe a schedule. 

Jack is a bright and imaginative boy, articulate and curious. Their lives are familiar, in many ways. Except that life unfolds, daily, in an 11×11 foot room. 

Joy was kidnapped when she was 17 years old, by a man she calls Old Nick (Bridgers). She has been held captive for seven years, calling the shed that she lives in Room. She tells Jack often that he saved her, by being born. She does her best to create an environment that Jack can thrive in. 

But Jack is getting older, and the blurred lines between pretend and reality are creating confusion for him and desperation in Ma. 

Ma plans a daring escape, dependent on a boy who has never seen beyond the skylight in the ceiling and can’t imagine that anything exists outside the walls of Room. The plans works, and Ma is reunited with her mom (Allen) and dad (Macy), bringing her little son home at last. 

But the world has changed, while Brie was confined. Her parents are no longer married. Joy finds a new man named Leo (McCamus) in her mother’s life and home. And Joy’s father can’t bear to look at Jack.

For Jack, Outside is a confusing place, full of noise and bright light and Other People. His mother isn’t happy. She’s angry and sad and has Gone Days. Everyone is in a hurry and there’s not enough time. He misses Room and the safety of the familiar schedule that he and Ma followed. 

For Ma and Jack, their greatest difficulty may not have been escaping from Room. It may be living in the real world. 

This was a beautifully done film. I feared it would be heart wrenching to watch. But the difficult part wasn’t the life lived in Room. As horrible as that situation was, Ma created a haven there for Jack. She guarded his life, and his heart and mind. Of course, as a viewer, I wanted them to escape and I was relieved when they did. 

For me, the hardest scenes to watch were those depicting the struggles that Joy had coming back into a world that had moved on without her. She grieved for the life she lost. She became angry at her family for teaching her to “be nice”, feeling that led to her kidnapping. And she felt guilt, for keeping her young son with her in Room, rather than attempting to convince Old Nick to take him to a hospital after birth. Brie Larson well deserved her Oscar for a role full of protectiveness and imagination, angst and self doubt. 

It is little Jack, whom Jacob Tremblay portrays brilliantly, who is the heart of this story. I love how he inhabits his world completely, not realizing the smallness of it. His inventive language and his daily rituals are charming and heart touching. He misses his old life, while gingerly feeling his way into a much bigger reality. And in the end, he saves his mother a second time. 

The deeper message is evident in this film. We all have a Room, a safe place we have created to inhabit, in the midst of the challenges we have been given. We don’t notice the smallness at first, how limiting that space is, how confining. But once we choose to leave that space, leave the Room we’ve so carefully arranged, the world opens up to receive us. 

It can be scary, leaving Smallness and living  in Bigness. But there is no going back, as Ma and Jack so poignantly discover at the end of the movie. What once seemed enough and safe, becomes too small to live in, fully. Like Jack, we will know when it’s time to say goodbye to Room, and hello to a world of new experiences. 

If you aren’t certain which space you are currently living in, watch Room.