Movie Review: Lady Bird

Tonight launched seven days of movie watching at my local theater, as I accomplish something I’ve never done before. I am viewing all nine of the Best Picture nominated films, ahead of the Academy Awards, which airs next Sunday evening.

Here is the list of nominees:

The Shape of Water

Dunkirk

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

Darkest Hour

The Post

Call Me By Your Name

Get Out

I saw The Shape of Water and Dunkirk before this amazing opportunity arose, to see all of the nominated movies on the big screen. Tonight, I viewed Lady Bird.

Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet and Jordan Rodrigues. This comedy drama, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, carries an R rating, for adult themes including language and brief nudity, and has a run time of 1 hour and 34 minutes. Lady Bird is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ronan) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Metcalf).

The year is 2002 and Christine McPherson (Ronan), who has given herself the name Lady Bird, is a senior at the Catholic High School in Sacramento, California. Lady Bird is an old soul…artistic, creative, fiercely independent…who longs for more than the life her parents live on “the wrong side of the tracks”.

Her dad, Larry (Letts), a gentle man who has struggled with depression for years, has just been laid off from his job. Her mom, Marion (Metcalf), a tough woman who works double shifts at the psychiatric hospital, seems hard on her daughter. They rarely agree on anything. And Lady Bird’s older adopted brother, Miguel (Rodrigues), has moved back home, bringing his girlfriend with him. The slightly dysfunctional family shares a small crowded house with one bathroom.

Lady Bird wants to get out of Sacramento, a town she finds stifling, calling it the “midwest of California”. She dreams of attending an artsy college in New York City, drawing her mother’s ire and criticism. With the help of her more understanding father, Lady Bird secretly applies to colleges in the east, including several in NYC.

Lady Bird and her best friend, Julie (Feldstein), attend classes in their strict school, audition for parts in a musical, and spend much time discussing boys, life and their futures. The two relationships she enters into during her last year in high school, with fellow thespian Danny (Hedges), and musician Kyle (Chalamet), don’t unfold as she had hoped. She discovers Danny is gay, and fears coming out to his family, while Kyle is so indifferent to her and the things she cares about that she can’t create a deeper connection with him.

At the core of the movie are two more crucial relationships…the one between a daughter and her mother, and the one Lady Bird is creating with herself.

This was a wonderful film, funny on the surface, and heart stirring on a deeper level. Anyone over the age of 20 can watch this coming of age movie and connect with it. The teen years are so hard as we struggle to find our way through school and relationships and figuring out what we want to do next. My heart ached, watching Lady Bird sort through it all.

I’ve been the teenaged daughter…and I’ve been the mom of teenagers. I could relate to both characters. I wanted to hug Lady Bird and sit with her and say “take your time…you don’t have to figure it all out at once…stay true to yourself”. And I wanted to put an arm around Marion and say “ease up on your kid…listen to her and trust her…give her space to grow”. Fear drove this mom to push her daughter, while also attempting to keep her close. She wanted better for her child, and yet she wanted Lady Bird to appreciate what she had and be grateful.

Lady Bird asked her mother if she liked her…not loved her, she assumed that…but did her mom like who she was? Marion skirted the question by replying that she just wanted Lady Bird to be the very best possible version of herself. “What if this is the best version?” Lady Bird asks. Wow.

I realized as I watched the story unfold that Lady Bird didn’t so much hate the town she lived in or the family she had. She was trying to find the place where she fit in. Isn’t that all of our stories? It’s not about what we appear to be running from, but what we are running toward. And when our journey takes us deeper within, to discover who we are and where we belong, then we are headed in the right direction.

Whether we are 18, or 38, or 58…we all experience coming of age moments that shift our lives. I appreciate the movie Lady Bird, for helping me to think about mine.

I’ll See You at the Movies

This is a short story with a sweet little twist to it. I just posted last night about the upcoming Academy Awards and how each year, I watch all of the Best Picture nominated films. I typically watch those movies after the award show airs.

I expressed this hope in yesterday’s post: “My desire this year was to view all of the films before the award show, which airs March 4. Although my local theater brought in the majority of the nominated films, for one or two weeks, it was unfortunately during icy weather. I made it to see The Shape of Water.”

This morning I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on seeing all nine movies before March 4. Doing so would not only be fun for me, it would be a first. I’ve never accomplished such a feat before. I began to search nearby cities, to see which movies were playing where and map out a plan.

A theater in Bella Vista, Arkansas was looking promising, when suddenly the word “Joplin” caught my eye. With a little thrill of excitement I saw that the film Darkest Hour was scheduled to play at my local theater Saturday afternoon. This film had a brief run in Joplin and then disappeared before I could see it. If it was returning…were the others as well?

I pulled up my theater on the Fandango app on my phone and began searching ahead, day by day. All of the Best Picture nominated movies are playing next week, on a rotating schedule. All. Of. Them. Even Dunkirk, that I rented via Amazon last night, is back in the theater.

I know, I know. This is not big news to most people. To me, it is incredible. I don’t recall that my local theater has done this before…re-released all of the Oscar potentials right before the ceremony. And truthfully, I’ve never attempted to see all of them ahead of the show before. This year, my desire aligned with the theater’s intention.

And that…that makes my heart and soul expand. These kinds of seemingly insignificant occurrences show me that nothing is unimportant or impossible. It all matters. Even our smallest desires can be met with fulfillment, often with a little flourish that comes with a “ta da!” These gifts are a delight to me, and reveal the love and playfulness of the Divine. “Oh…you want to see all of the films before the Oscars? You really thought you missed your chance? Well….here you go. Enjoy yourself.”

See, the Divine knows me. The Divine not only gets the strong connection that I have with films, and understands how I receive deeper messages from within the story, El-le designed me this way. I am simply being me. And I didn’t give up. This desire to catch the films on the big screen before March 4 came from somewhere. I don’t understand all the significances of that desire, yet. But when it appeared the opportunity had passed me by, I looked to other options, without getting hung up by it. Open to everything, attached to nothing. I think that’s when the Divine likes to surprise me the most, when I’m in that fluid space of being open, without making demands.

Beginning Sunday, I will be watching a film a day, for the next seven days. I will be not a movie critic, but a movie reviewer, looking for and sharing the messages and ahas in the films. In another amazing synchronicity, I recently joined Movie Pass and just received my card. I can watch up to 30 movies a month at the theater, for a monthly fee of $9.95. Without a hint of guilt, I can go to the theater every day next week, without it costing me extra. You can find out about Movie Pass HERE. They currently have a special running.

I am ridiculously excited about watching these movies, in the theater, as they were intended to be viewed. I may even watch Dunkirk again, on the big screen this time. I am humbled once more to know that no sincere desire of mine is too large…or too small.

I’ll see you at the movies!

Movie Review: Dunkirk

It’s that time of year again. The Academy Awards is fast approaching. And with its arrival, I enjoy a tradition that I have observed for five years. I watch each of the Best Picture nominated films. My desire this year was to view all of the films before the award show, which airs March 4. Although my local theater brought in the majority of the nominated films, for one or two weeks, it was unfortunately during icy weather. I made it to see The Shape of Water. Dunkirk is so far the only film currently available to rent. I watched it tonight via Amazon Prime.

Dunkirk stars Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, Tom Hardy, Tom Glenn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Cillian Murphy and James D’Arcy. This historical drama, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is rated PG-13 for war scenes and mild language, and has a run time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. Dunkirk is nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Original Musical Score.

This film depicts the true story of the evacuation of allied forces trapped on Dunkirk Beach in France, during WWII. Approximately 400,000 French and British men have been driven to the sea where they await rescue by Destroyers. The situation is exceedingly grim, as German aircraft pelt the beach with gunfire and bomb the few big vessels that make it to the beach. Many of the injured who are evacuated first end up perishing in the sea after their rescuers are hit.

The story is told through four perspectives. We follow young Tommy (Whitehead), a soldier trapped on the beach who forms alliances with other groups as they all seek a way off the beach, two RAF fighter pilots, Farrier (Hardy) and Collins (Lowden), Commander Bolton (Branagh) and his right hand man Colonel Winnant (D’Arcy), and a group of civilians on a small vessel, Mr. Dawson (Rylance), his son Peter (Glenn-Carney) and Peter’s friend George (Keoghan).

Hope appears to be lost, as the men stand in long lines peering toward the horizon. The large Destroyers are being picked off before they arrive or bombed as they depart, spilling men and oil into the choppy sea. Commander Bolton knows with a sinking heart that his troops are too exposed on the beach, and that they must get as many men home as possible to protect England. He fears that if they fall at Dunkirk, England will fall next.

Newly elected Winston Churchill puts out a plea for small vessels to cross the channel and bring the stranded men home. More than 800 fishing boats, yachts, leisure craft and small boats set out on the rescue mission. Mr. Dawson, having already lost a son in the war, captains his small boat, Moonstone, himself, with the assistance of his younger son Peter and seventeen year old George, who fears he will never do anything important with his life. Their bravery and compassion compels them to rescue a soldier on the hull of a boat who is suffering from trauma (Murphy) and fighter pilot Collins when his plane crashes into the sea.

The other pilot, Farrier, becomes pivotal to defending men caught on the beach and protecting those fleeing by boat. Tommy struggles to get off the beach. His first two attempts to leave, aboard a Destroyer and then a small Scottish vessel, are both thwarted by enemy fire. He is at last picked up by the Moonstone, just as a downed German plane sets the oil covered sea aflame.

Dunkirk’s movie subtitle is so appropriate. 400,000 men couldn’t get home, so home came for them. Ultimately, 338,226 men were successfully evacuated.

War movies are not high on my list of favorite genres. And yet, invariably, each year there is a film depicting war on the list of Best Picture nominated films. I typically watch them first, to get them out of the way. I am grateful that I made a pact with myself to watch every movie on the list, in spite of my perceptions or personal preferences. Because…I would have missed some excellent films otherwise.

Dunkirk is no exception. I found it to be a compelling watch, full of hope and courage. As war films go, this one is not overly violent. It is instead, tense and dramatic. The musical score is wonderful and helps to keep the storyline taut.

My heart clenched over the despair in the situation. The trapped men were portrayed as being so young. My eldest grandson is 18, the age of many these soldiers, and I can’t imagine the agony of having him in battle. How truly incredible that help came from home. What astounding bravery and determination those civilians had. Without them the war might have gone differently.

I noted with interest the reactions of the rescued troops as they arrived home by boat and then train. This morning I spent time writing on the subject of shame. The young men were so grateful to get home. And yet, they expected to be jeered and spit upon when they returned. They felt like they had failed their country in having to be rescued. They felt shame. “Wars are not won by evacuation”, Tommy laments.

But the crowds welcome the men home, with expressions of gratitude. And Churchill himself praises the evacuation. I like that the story ends on a high note. Dunkirk is a cheer worthy movie, made all the more poignant in knowing it actually happened and was a turning point, historically. As a result, I made a promise to myself tonight that I will never complain again about watching a war movie, especially one nominated for an Oscar.

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.” 

Yes…yes!

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. 

rev·e·nant

ˈrevəˌnäN,-nənt/

noun

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.