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: Moonlight

With thunderstorms in the area all day, bringing heavy rains, it was the perfect afternoon to watch another Best Picture nominated film. I prefer to save the Oscar winner in that category until last. However, when I visited the DVD rental store, only Moonlight was available. So Moonlight it was, film 6 out of 9.

Movie Review: Moonlight
Moonlight stars Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Janelle Monae, Trevante Rhodes, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and André Holland. This drama, rated R for language, sexuality and violence, was directed by Barry Jenkins and has a run time of 1 hour and 51 minutes. Moonlight was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Ali, Best Supporting Actress for Harris and best Music-Original Score. It won in Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Chiron, known as Little (Hibbert), is a young boy growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. He lives with his single mom, Paula (Harris), who drifts in and out of Little’s life in a drug and alcohol induced haze. Other than his friend Kevin (Piner), Little has no one to help him navigate through challenges such as bullying at school, being left on his own, and feeling different.

Movie Review: Moonlight
A rescuer shows up, literally, as Little is hiding from his pursuers in an abandoned house. Juan (Ali) forms a frienship with the quiet boy, filling the role of father for Little. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Monae) provide stabilty and a sense of family for Little. He opens up enough to ask Juan questions, including how would he know if he was gay. Juan tells him, “You will know when you know.” 

Little is slowly gaining confidence in himself and in Juan and Teresa, until he finds out Juan is a drug dealer, selling to his mother. Both Little and Juan are devastated by this revelation.

Movie Review: Moonlight
The second segment of the film follows Chiron (Sanders) as a troubled teen. His relationship with his mother continues to deteriorate, Juan is gone and although Chiron occasionally visits Teresa, he is more and more isolated until he reconnects with his childhood friend Kevin (Jerome).  Sadly, shortly after their relationship begins to grow again, Chiron feels betrayed by Kevin. This sensitive, thoughtful young man snaps, with horrific consequences.

Movie Review: Moonlight

The film’s final segment finds Chiron grown, going by the nickname Black (Rhodes) and living a much different life in Atlanta. What dreams he had have been replaced with harsh realities. Black has made himself into a new man, a hard man. And yet he is just as alone in his life as he always has been, until his old friend Kevin (Holland) calls unexpectedly, offering an apology along with a glimmer of hope.

This was an incredible film, very much in alignment with the majority of the Best Picture nominated films. It was beautifully filmed with an amazing musical soundtrack. And it was heavy, bleak, dark.

These movies this year have made me ache with compassion, and Moonlight was no exception. I felt especially protective of young Chiron, when he was called Little. He possessed such promise, had such a sensitive heart and spirit. And there was no one to help him grow into that promise. He longed to be different from his schoolmates. But his differences only brought him pain and grief.

Without guidance or the freedom to live fully as himself, Chiron lost his way, and ultimately became the very person he did not want to be. His journey was heartbreaking to me. It is crushing to realize that there are so many children and youth like Chiron, struggling and alone in life. Rather than fighting against what I was feeling, I stayed open and allowed the tangle of emotions to pass through my heart and sort themselves out.

Moonlight was powerful and painful and sobering. Was it the best of the nine? I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know after I watch the remaining three movies.

Was it thought provoking and heart expanding? Most definitely.

Movie Review: Moonlight

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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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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. 

  

Surrender 72: The Martian

It’s time…post Academy Awards…to watch each of the Best Picture nominated films. There were eight movies up for this top award in the film industry. I haven’t seen any of them. With great anticipation, I selected The Martian as my first 2016 Best Picture nominated movie. 

  
The Martian stars Matt Damon, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig. Ridley Scott directed this drama/adventure/sci-fi, which is based on the novel by the same name, by Andy Weir. The movie has a run time of 2 hours and 24 minutes and has a PG-13 rating for strong language, injury scenes and brief nudity. 

The Martian was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Damon. It did not win in any category. 

During a severe storm on Mars, the crew aborts its mission, leaving behind astronaut Mark Watney (Damon), who is presumed dead.  Mission Commander Lewis (Chastain) is devastated by her decision to leave a crewman behind, but she must protect the rest of her crew. 

After the spacecraft Hermes has departed, Mark awakens, injured and abandoned, the sole inhabitant of the planet Mars. To survive, he must use all of the knowledge he has, plus ingenuity and strength of will. He is initially unable to communicate with Earth. He must come up with his own survival plan. 

  
Back on Earth, NASA realizes that Mark is alive, after studying satellite pictures that show the Mars Rover moved from its last known position. An international team comprised of Teddy Sanders (Daniels), Mitch Henderson (Bean), Annie Montrose (Wiig) and Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor) must come up with a way to keep Watney alive until he can be rescued. 

From rationing supplies, to growing food on a hostile planet, to learning how to communicate, to running possible rescue scenarios, Watney and NASA discover that it takes a world united to bring a man home from Mars. 

 

This was a great, edge of my seat movie. The nerd within me loved all the science in the film. Watney is a botanist. And I enjoyed the use-the-resources-on-hand-to-survive plot that showcased brains and logic and creativity.  
Matt Damon gave an excellent performance as a man faced with impossible odds. The majority of his scenes were acted alone. He played the character with the right blend of seriousness over his situation, and humor in facing the inevitable and making the most of life anyway. Matt deserved his Best Actor nomination. 

  
Having had a year of firsts, I appreciated Watney’s remarks about how everything in his  Mars experience was a first. How true when you are the only person on an entire planet. True as well, for anyone who desires to move beyond his or her comfort zone and experience life in fresh ways. 

I also loved the reference to The Lord of the Rings, especially since Sean Bean, who played Boromir in the Fellowship of the Ring, was not only in this movie, but in the scene when it was mentioned. I tried to catch a smirk on his face. 

I have to admit that I was very on edge watching this movie. I deliberately avoided learning much about the storyline before viewing, and I didn’t know how it ended. I could see several possible outcomes. I really only wanted one. I won’t spoil the movie for those who have not seen it by revealing the ending. 

I can, however, highly recommend The Martian to anyone who enjoys a great mix of science and sci-fi or appreciates Matt Damon and the directorial skill of Ridley Scott.  Can they bring him home? Find out!