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. 

  

Journey 146: American Sniper

American Sniper movie poster

When I returned The Rewrite to the DVD store yesterday, I discovered that one copy of American Sniper, the last on my list of Academy Award Best Picture nominated films, had been returned and was on the shelf. I’ve been reluctant to watch this movie, knowing it is a true story and how the story ends, and because I am not a fan of war movies. I am not a fan of war, is a more accurate statement. I’ll not debate the merits of war. Having just passed Memorial Day, and feeling gratitude for my freedoms, which have been hard earned and maintained at a price, it is not my place to say whether war is right or wrong. Unfortunately, although I would wish it otherwise, war seems inevitable. My thoughts, after watching the movie, are on Chris Kyle, and on the strength of the film.

American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Jake McDorman, Luke Grimes and Sammy Sheik. It was directed by Clint Eastwood and is based on the autobiography by the same name, written by Chris Kyle. The action/biography has a R rating, for strong and disturbing war violence, language and mature themes, and has a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cooper, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, for which it won its only Oscar.

Chris Kyle (Cooper) is a Texan, a wanna be cowboy and rodeo rider, a skilled and gifted marksman with a rifle, a man ready to fall in love and settle down. At the age of 30 his life shifts and he joins the Navy, becoming a Seal and training as a sniper so that he can fight terrorism. He meets Taya (Miller), the woman he wants to marry, as he is completing his training, and wed her he does. Shortly after, he ships out on his first tour of duty in Iraq.

Kyle immediately bonds with his team, taking his role as protector very seriously. His skill as a marksman makes him the best sniper in American history. Some of his targets are children and women, intent on killing those under his protection. He takes no joy in doing his job so well. But he does excel, earning the name The Legend before he completes his first tour. In the search for an al Qaeda leader named Zarqawi, and his ruthless comrade, The Butcher, Kyle learns of his counterpart, a Syrian sniper called Mustafa (Sheik), known for making nearly impossible shots.

Kyle serves four tours of duty. Between each tour, he returns home to his wife and growing family. But his heart, his mind, his determination to protect, are still in Iraq. He struggles with being a civilian, a husband, a father. He can’t find his purpose. The call of his team, his brotherhood, is stronger than the desire to remain safely at home. He returns to war, again and again. First to hunt down the man known as The Butcher, and ultimately, to take out Mustafa.

Even with a price on his head in Iraq, he perseveres in his commitment to watch over and protect his comrades. The loss in combat of his two closest friends, Biggles (McDorman) and Marc (Grimes) enforces his determination, until at last, during his fourth and last tour of duty, he succeeds in his personal goal of taking out the other sniper. That accomplished, he finally feels ready to go home.

American Sniper move Chris and Taya

Stateside again, Kyle continues to struggle with living a civilian life, until he finds a way to help his brothers as they return home. He reaches out to veterans with disabilities and those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He enjoys taking these wounded individuals out to the shooting range and helping them with target practice, an act he feels helps them to feel like men again. Working with his comrades gives him purpose, gives him others to watch over, and with that, he moves beyond military life and begins interacting with his family, moving to a farm and teaching his son how to hunt.

On February 2, 2013, Kyle takes a troubled vet to the shooting range, with the intention of helping him, at the request of the young man’s mother. The film ends here, with a screen shot telling of Kyle’s death that day, while at the range. He was killed by the man he was attempting to help. Actual photos of Chris Kyle, his wife and his military funeral appear during the credits.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film. During most of it, I repeated to myself, over and over, I hate war, I hate war. The scenes in Irag were difficult for me to watch. However, the film is very well done, with the focus on the main characters and their lives. I didn’t feel that there was a glorification of the acts of war.

These are my thoughts on the life of Chris Kyle. He initially wanted to serve and protect his country, and in doing so, his family. What took over his life, what seemed to feed his soul and make him come alive, was his determination to protect his brothers. I’ve heard how powerful a band of brothers becomes, how connected. And that is very evident in this film. Kyle did serve his country. He did love his family. His overwhelming, driving passion was to watch over his comrades and save as many as he could. His only regret was that he couldn’t save more.

The movie captured the deep commitment that Chris Kyle had, and the toll that the tours of duty took on his physical body and his mind. I hurt for Kyle, watching him struggle to adjust to a new way of life, post war. I hurt for his wife and children. The remaining years were short for them as a family, as Kyle found a way to protect and serve his comrades again, his wounded brothers. It appeared that just as the hero, the legend, was becoming an ordinary man again, a husband and a father, fate took him out. Both men, the decorated sniper and the young vet suffering from PTSD, were victims of a war that they fought in, and could never quite leave behind.

American Sniper Chris and Taya Kyle

Chris & Taya Kyle

Journey 128: Selma

selma movie poster

Tonight was Best Picture Nominated movie night. With only two of the eight so honored films left to see, I brought home Selma, which released on DVD earlier this month. I was aware of the general story behind the movie…a look at visionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, during a three month time span, as he led a campaign to secure equal voting rights for all. What I didn’t expect was the illumination into the heart of the man behind the famous speeches and the unrelenting fight for equality.

Selma stars David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Andre Holland, Dylan Baker, and Tim Roth. It was directed by Ava DuVernay. This biographical drama is rated PG-13 for violence and brief, strong language and has a run time of 2 hours and 8 minutes. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Song for “Glory”, for which it won an Oscar.

Selma is the true story around the events in 1965 as King (Oyelowo) organized a march from Selma, AL to the capital of the state, Montgomery. He sought peace, and organized non-violent demonstrations and marches, all with the purpose of raising the awareness and consciousness of the nation to the inequality rampant in the south. From discussions and negotiations with President Johnson (Wilkinson) to direct opposition to the governor of Alabama, George Wallace (Roth), King never wavered in his desire to see his brothers and sisters allowed to carry out their legal right to vote.

As the tensions escalated in the south, King faced tension at home as well, as his patient wife, Coretta (Ejogo), quietly supports his campaign while constantly facing the agnozing possibility of his death. Understandably, there is a part of her that wants a normal life with her husband and children. Knowing that is not her husband’s path, she joins him in the famous march from Selma to Montgomery.

She is not the only one to march beside this man with the incredible vision and dream. After the first attempted march ends in vicious attacks and injury, turning the marchers back to Selma, conscientious people from all over the country arrive in the small town at the center of the nation’s attention. Many of them were clergymen and women, and people of all colors linked arms and marched yet again. This second attempt was not opposed, however, King, not liking what he sensed and fearing for the lives of his fellow marchers, turned back.

Twelve days later, the large, peaceful crowd, with the sanction of the President, left Selma for the third time, arriving in the state capital four days later. The marchers grew to number 25,000 by the time they reached the capitol building. King triumphed. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What a powerful movie, about a man of deep conviction, who learned how to harness passion and drive and create change, while maintaining a non-violent stance. I’ve listened to King’s speeches. This is a historical person who lived…and died…during my childhood. I knew the basics about him and his dream of seeing his children live in a nation that judged others not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I was very impressed with actor David Oyelowo’s portrayal of King as a man who battled doubt, sometimes, and lived surrounded by the fog of death, as he called it. He seemed to foresee an early exit for himself, but persevered, all for the sake of others, with the hope that equality would become available for all. There was depth within him, strength and fear, determination and the weight of world.

It was interesting to realize how much King was watched by the government, his phone lines and home tapped, he and his team and allies under constant surveillance. The country was watching King, and apparently so were the leaders of the country. For all his non-violent ways, King was seen as a threat, because he championed all of mankind and proposed change, fighting for what he believed in.

I dislike injustice and prejudice of any kind. My heart clinched over every beating and death portrayed in the film. I am appalled at how slowly change has occurred and how easily old ways of thinking rise up again and again. The movie ended several years before King’s assassination, as he completed his speech on the steps of the capitol building. The camera focused on face after face, as he spoke, words appearing on the screen that foretold the fate and destiny of each major character. I silently cheered for those who became statesmen and congressmen and one who voted for the first time at the age of 84. And felt sorrow for those who died too young, defending what they most deeply believed in.

This film certainly deserved its Best Picture nomination, and it deserves a careful viewing by every one interested in equality and the betterment of all people. I finished the movie with tears in my eyes and gratitude for those who fight for the rights and freedom of others, including Martin Luther King, Jr. He once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” A great question to ponder.

selma march 2

 

Journey 94: The Imitation Game

the imitation game

I declared a movie night for this evening. After a busy week it seemed a good time for some down time. One of my favorite ways to accomplish that is to watch a movie. I chose to relax with The Imitation Game. This was film number five out of eight, nominated for Best Picture.

The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, James Northcote, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance. The film was directed by Morten Tyldum and is based on the book, “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges. The biography drama was rated PG-13 for mature themes and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes. The Imitation Game was nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Production Design, Best Original Score, Film Editing, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Knightley, Best Actor for Cumberbatch, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which it won its only Oscar.

Set during WW II, this is the true story of mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Cumberbatch). Turing, and his amazing and brilliant team of code-breakers, are in a race against time to decipher the German messages that are sent out during each day through Germany’s communication machine, named Enigma. Considerable unbreakable, the British government assembles the team to do the impossible: break a code that a machine creates…and changes every day. Doing so will not only end the war, it will save millions of lives.

Turing, who is not popular, heads up a team of mathematicians and statisticians that includes Hugh Alexander (Goode), John Cairncross (Leech), Peter Hilton (Beard), Jack Good (Northcote) and the only female on the team, Joan Clarke (Knightley). Turing is misunderstood and threatened by the commander in charge of the project, Denniston (Dance), and secretly aided by government official, Stewart Menzies (Strong). Turing has a mind that is beyond brilliant, and yet he lacks social skills and the ability to comprehend sarcasm and subtleties of language. He fights to keep his place on the team as he develops a machine to decode another machine. Given one month to make his machine, nicknamed Christopher, work, the rest of the team at lasts pulls together and supports Turing in his efforts.

Joan not only has a complex intelligence, she also helps Turing understand social interactions and how to make friends. They form a close friendship around their mutual respect for each other and their work to break the Enigma code. Even though Turing confesses to a team member that he is a homosexual, he asks Joan to be his wife, to appease her conventional parents and keep her with him, working on the project.

With time running out, the team breaks the code, using the seemingly insignificant German weather message that goes out every morning at 6:00 am. Using the common words that are in each message, “weather” “heil” and “Hitler” Turing’s machine is able to decipher each day’s messages. The team works closely with Menzies, using statistics to determine which messages to act on, and which messages to ignore. If they had acted on every piece of intelligence that they received, the Germans would have been alerted to the fact that their unbreakable code had, indeed, been broken, and they would have changed their tactics. With a detachment necessary to make such decisions, the team fed vital information to allies and their own government, slowly but surely changing the course of the war. It is estimated that their work shortened the war by at least two years, saving approximately 14 million lives.

In 1951 Turing, now a professor at Cambridge, was arrested for indecency, a charge against homosexuality, which was a crime in the UK at that time, and given the option of imprisonment, or chemical castration. He chose to be injected with drugs rather than imprisonment so that he could continue his work on his machines. Turing died one year later. The film indicates suicide. Research I did after watching the movie suggests his death was caused by accidental cyanide poisoning as Turing worked with an apparatus for electroplating spoons. In 2013 the Queen Elizabeth posthumously granted him a pardon. Alan Turing is today recognized as the father of computer science, his machines the forerunner for the general computer.

This was a beautiful film. I have not watched as many “based on a true story” movies this year, as I did last year, and these stories always inspire me. I am amazed to found out the whole story of how World War II was won. It was a combined effort of countless military people, on the ground, in the air and at sea, commanders and high ranking decision makers….and a little group of six people who excelled at solving impossible puzzles. Their story was kept secret for more than 50 years.

This is, at heart, a story about being who you are, even if who you are is very different from everyone else. Sadly, even those who are different will attack one who lives at the extreme edge of what is considered normal. I strongly dislike injustice and prejudice, of any kind. A movie like The Imitation Game brings me into a raised awareness of the uniqueness of ALL people, no matter how different they appear to be from me. I teared up many times, watching Turing’s internal conflict over struggling to fit in…and not caring whether he did. Cumberbatch and Knightley both gave outstanding performances and deserved their nominations.

The words that became the theme woven throughout the film, repeated at least three times by different characters, were these: “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of…who do the things that no one can imagine.” What a powerful reminder that greatness lies in all of us, and is expressed in many ways. Such souls may crack unbreakable codes… or ring up purchases at a supermarket while offering out of their hearts. All of us have the ability to make lasting contributions to society and change the world, staring with our own small space. Walking away from this movie with the conviction to extend grace and respect to others, all others, while freeing myself to offer out of my own passions and talents, honors the man Alan Turing. I am grateful for his life. I am  imagining what I could not imagine for myself, before.

the imitation game quote

Day 134: Her

Image

Today’s first, watching Her, is also a last. The DVD released yesterday and the timing was perfect. I have really enjoyed this extended experience, for the first time ever watching all the Best Picture nominated films. In fact, I enjoyed watching them so much that I intend to do this every year. Amazingly, six of the nine movies were based on true stories that depicted courage, perseverance, hope, addiction, and sorrow. All the films touched me in some way, making me think, making me feel a range of emotions from sadness to great joy, disgust to delight.

Her stars Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Pratt and Rooney Mara. It was written, produced and directed by Spike Jonze. Her was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Design, Best Original Song “The Moon Song”, Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. It won for Best Original Screenplay. The film is rated R, for language, brief nudity and sexuality, and has a run time of 2 hours and 6 minutes.

All I knew about this movie was that Joaquin’s character, Theodore, falls in love with his computer’s operating system. I learned from watching Gravity that none of these nominated films were light weights so I didn’t expect Her to be froth either. It certainly was not.

Set slightly in the future, in the year 2025, the movie focuses on Theodore, a lonely man going through the recent breakup of his marriage. While he writes beautiful letters at work for others, capturing in ink emotion, affection and love, he falters when it comes to expressing emotion in his own relationships. Theodore sees an ad about OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system that’s “not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness” and purchases it. His OS takes on a female persona, going by the name of Samantha, voiced by Scarlet Johansson, and suddenly, Theodore’s whole life shifts and opens up.

Telling Samantha about his failed marriage, Theodore says, “I think I hid myself from her, left her alone in the relationship.” With Samantha, there is no reason to hide, or be alone. She is smart, funny, adaptable, present when he needs her to be, and has no expectations. She is evolving, thinking, feeling. Theodore and Samantha bond during their talks about life and relationships and fall in love.

While that sounds like the basis for a quirky movie, part sci-fi and part romantic comedy, Her is so much more than that. This is a story about balancing an evolving relationship with personal growth and shifts. It’s about recognizing, as Theodore’s friend Amy, played by Amy Adams, does that we are only here briefly and in this moment, we need to allow ourselves joy. It is a love story about a man and an operating system. Yet this sweet, soulful film made me smile as I watched Theodore awaken to himself and life and joy and it stirred something deeper in me as Samantha learned and expanded and leapt forward in her consciousness, experiencing emotions, writing music,  and connecting with others like herself.

As with most relationships, as each person grows and shifts, the relationship must grow and shift as well or come to an end. For Samantha and Theodore, the time comes when Samantha evolves so much that she must live and continue to grow elsewhere. The relationship, though, has prepared them both to continue on down new, albeit separate, paths. Theodore helped her realize that she could want and ultimately go after what she wants. And Samantha disproved Theodore’s fear that he has felt everything he is ever going to feel and that he will never feel anything new.

Her is beautifully done, hauntingly so, with an amazing performance by Joaquin Phoenix, whose eyes often tell as much of his story as his words. I rented the DVD for watching today.  But this movie is a keeper for me and I’ll be purchasing it so that I can watch it again and again and delve deeply into it, or perhaps, allow it to delve deeply into me.

Day 127: 12 Years a Slave

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Another late evening as, for my first today, I watched number 8 of 9 Best Picture nominated movies, 12 Years a Slave. I had hoped to save this movie for last, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture. But the movie Her doesn’t release until next Tuesday. Although the timing is great, last movie out, last movie to watch, the late release date meant that tonight, I watched this winner.

12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt. It was directed by Steve McQueen. This epic tale was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Costuming, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, Best Actor for Ejiofor, Best Actress for Nyong’o and Best Picture.  It won Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Picture.  The movie is rated R and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutres.

Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, played by Ejiofor, the movie follows the life of this American born free black man who is kidnapped in 1841, at the age of 32, and sold into slavery. Torn away from his family, friends and life, Northup, who is given the name Platt, is sold or traded among the plantations of northern Louisiana. Treated cruelly by most of his owners, Solomon nevertheless determines that he will do more than survive, he will live. A very intelligent man, raised by free parents and highly educated, Northup struggles to adopt the “be silent and lay low” attitude held by the other slaves, bringing wrath upon himself and often, severe punishment.

He meets and becomes the protector of a young slave woman named Patsey, played by Nyong’o in her film debut. Patsey has drawn the unwelcomed attention of plantation owner Edwin Epps, played by Fassbender. Northup’s care of Patsey enrages Epps and nearly costs him his life. Although he never ceases to think of his wife and family back in New York, and makes several attempts to get a letter back home, asking for help, it isn’t until Northup meets itinerant carpenter Samuel Bass that hope arises. Bass, played by Brad Pitt, is from Canada and is anti-slavery. He listens to and believes Northup’s story and ultimately, is his rescuer.  Sending letters on Northup’s behalf, Bass prompts the legal powers in New York to at last secure Northup’s release, allowing him to return home to his wife and now grown family. In 1853 Solomon Northup wrote his memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. For the rest of his life he spoke against slavery and was active in the abolitionist movement.

That’s the story. The movie was gripping and very well acted, especially by Chiwetel Ojiofor, whose performance was powerful and gut-wrenching, at the same time. And although I haven’t seen the last movie, Her, for comparison, I can see why 12 Years a Slave won for Best Picture. How can anyone watch this film and not be affected? All that being said, this was a very difficult movie for me to watch. I cannot stand injustice. I cannot understand how one human being can treat another human being in such horrific ways. From his kidnapping until he secured his freedom, I watched Solomon’s story with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Northup was a good man, a talented musician, a compassionate friend. Having spoken this week about living as our shimmering self, rather than hiding behind false selves, I noticed how Northup, in spite of his attempts to disappear behind a blank expression and unassuming demeanor, couldn’t help but shine. His magnificent self would rise, a true testament to human dignity, courage and perseverance. He did do more than survive, he lived. He lived to become a free man once more and emptied himself in fighting for the freedom of all people.

I was deeply impacted by this movie. And lest I point a finger at another and cry “injustice” and “prejudice”, I examined my own heart and thoughts. To see anyone else as “other”, whether because of skin color, gender, age, accomplishments, ability or for any reason, is to isolate myself and label someone else. To grow and learn from this film is to glance inward to abolish any critical spirit or thought that I am more deserving than anyone else or that anyone is less than I am. We are One is more than a sentiment to me, it is my belief. To love myself is to love another. We are the same.

Day 111: Philomena

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Best Picture nominated movie night moved back to Monday this week, due to the holiday yesterday and being out of town. I visited the DVD store with the intention of picking up The Wolf of Wall Street. Then I saw that Philomena had released last week and there it was on the shelf. I shifted…and walked out of the store with Philomena.

This was a movie I wanted to see at the theater. Unfortunately, it didn’t play long at the Joplin theater and I missed it. The previews I had seen drew me, while at the same time, caused me concern as I always felt a deep sadness when I saw Judi Dench’s character, Philomena. However, this year I am not shying away from sad movies. I am discovering these stories have much to offer and that sadness is allowed and tears are not a sign of weakness.

Philomena stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan and was directed by Stephen Frears. It was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screen Play, Best Original Score, Best Actress for Judi Dench and Best Picture. It did not win an Oscar in any category. The movie is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.

I love that four of the films I’ve watched so far are based on true stories, including this one. Truth can be so much more incredible and interesting than fiction! Give me a story based on real life experiences and touch my heart, making me care, making me laugh and weep, and that story will stay with me for a very long time. Philomena is such a story.

In Ireland, in 1952, Philomena Lee gave birth to a baby boy out of wedlock. Sent in disgrace to an abbey in Roscrea, Philomena is forced into menial labor for years, in exchange for a place to live for her and her son, Anthony. At the age of three, however, Anthony is placed into adoption, without his mother’s consent. For the next 47 years, Philomena thinks of her son daily, missing him, mourning his loss. And she’s searched for him, returning again and again to the abbey seeking information. She carries the secret of his existence until she can’t contain it any longer, revealing at last to her grown daughter that she had a son while still in her teens. Her daughter connects her with journalist Martin Sixsmith, formerly with the BBC, who is out of work and looking for a story.

The two embark on a journey to find Philomena’s lost son. Their search takes them from the abbey in Ireland, where no help is offered, to Washington DC in the US. Martin’s investigation uncovers a dark scheme. The abbey sold babies and children to wealthy Americans seeking to adopt. Anthony was adopted by a doctor and his wife, from St. Louis, MO, and his name changed to Michael. Philomena does locate her son. Not in the way she had hoped to, but find him she does, and the shadowy pieces of his life become clear. Martin and Philomena come full circle, back to the abbey in Roscrea, where Martin’s anger at the lies and the mistreatment of young, vulnerable women is sharply contrasted by Philomena’s grace and forgiveness.

This was an emotional movie. Yes, it made tears fill my eyes. Judi Dench did a remarkable job portraying this wise and yet charmingly naïve woman who loved her son so much, she couldn’t forget him. Her blunt comments, kindness toward others and love of romance novels made me laugh, just when the tears threatened to spill. And Steve Coogan, who I discovered also wrote the screenplay, was amazing, portraying Martin Sixsmith as a man searching for something beyond himself to believe in.

As a mother, my heart hurt for Philomena’s pain and loss and her desperation to find her son. She didn’t want to take him back. She only wanted to know that he was okay, that he had lived well, and that he knew she loved him. As parents, we all hope the same is true for our children.

Day 103: Nebraska

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I decided this week to move Best Picture nominated movie night from Monday night to Sunday evening. I’ve struggled the last few weeks to finish work, watch the movie and get the blog posted before midnight! Last week, it was way past that before I got the blog up and even later when I crawled into bed. Sunday evening works better! And tonight, I finally made it back to the movie Nebraska, number five out of nine nominated movies.

Nebraska stars Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach and was directed by Alexander Payne.  It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Dern, Best Supporting Actress for Squibb, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay. Bruce Dern won an Oscar for his portrayal of Woody Grant. The film is rated R and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.

With the threat of severe weather this afternoon, I hoped electricity would stay on and I’d be able to watch this movie that I first attempted to watch March 24. I was beginning to wonder if I wasn’t supposed to see this movie! I’m very glad I did. Shot in black and white and using a cast mostly made up of little known actors, this film is called a comedy drama road movie. I found Nebraska to be a poignant, touching look at family relationships in the Midwest.

Dern’s character, Woody Grant, is a tired, aging man who never has been known for saying much. He receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail stating he has won a million dollars. He just needs to show his winning number to claim his prize. Woody refuses to trust the postal system with a million dollars, and when no one in his family will drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize, he sets off on foot. Several times. Kate, his sharp tongued wife of many years, berates him for foolishly believing he’s won a million dollars and threatens to have him put into a nursing home. Played by June Squibb, Kate is a woman seemingly at the end of her patience with her often confused, taciturn husband who finds solace in alcohol.

Woody’s son David, played by Will Forte, offers to drive his father to Nebraska. He doesn’t believe his father has won a prize either, but hopes to use the road trip as an opportunity to spend time with his father and ease his confusion. When a fall during the trip sidelines Woody for a couple of days, the pair spends the weekend in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody’s hometown. He still has brothers and old friends living in this tiny town. And David begins to learn who his father really is from local townspeople, friends and foes, and an old flame.

I expected this to be a sad film, especially with it being shot in black and white. The simplicity of that choice heightened the starkness of Woody’s life, the quiet pain in his eyes. The character actors and extras in the film came across as ordinary people right off the streets of Smalltown, USA. I could almost believe I was watching a home movie at times, of the Grant family. When Kate rants at her son about the craziness of his father’s belief that he’s won money, and asks why, David’s answer touches the heart of the movie. “He just needs something to live for.” It becomes apparent, in this movie, that that statement is true for each character. They’re all caught in one small story after another, searching for something, anything, to live for.

David comes to see his father differently. And that changes the way he feels about his dad. I found myself hoping, as the pair finally arrives in Lincoln, Nebraska, that Woody really did win that million dollars. He’s been ridiculed and subjected to greed from his immediate and extended family, and most of the tired residents of his hometown. And he’s revealed to his son the real reason he wants the million dollars: he wants to be able to replace an air compressor that was stolen from him years ago and he wants a new truck….something nice to leave to his two sons when he dies.

I won’t tell you whether he won or not. I will tell you, the love of a son for his father overcomes all the trials, all the heartaches of the trip. When Woody drives his new truck slowly, and with quiet dignity, down the main street of Hawthorne, for all the town folk to see, I smiled, through tears, along with David. Nebraska isn’t just a sad movie, it is a triumph. And it isn’t just about a road trip to claim a prize. It’s about going home, and going within, and finding something larger to believe in and live for. It’s about love within the family, even an atypical family. Because, what does a normal family look like anyway?