Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Every year after the Academy Awards air, I watch each of the Best Picture nominated films. It’s a tradition, and one I enjoy. And every year, there is one movie on the list of eight or nine that I don’t look forward to watching. I usually get that one out of the way quickly. Most of the time, the movie proves to be stellar and I am grateful that I watched it.

This year, the movie that I didn’t think I would like was Hacksaw Ridge. War movies are at the bottom of my list, genre wise. I rented the DVD of this film with low expectations and a desire to see it and check it off my list.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge stars Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Vince Vaughn. This biographical drama, based on a true story, was directed by Mel Gibson. Rated R for scenes of war time violence, the movie has a run time of 2 hours and 19 minutes. Hacksaw Ridge was nominted for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Gibson and Best Actor for Garfield. It won two Oscars, for Film Editing and Sound Mixing.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge
Desmond Doss (Garfield) grew up with an alcholic father, Tom (Weaving), a WWI veteran, and a Seventh Day Adventist mother, Bertha (Griffiths). A couple of family incidents make a deep impact on young Desmond, causing him to abhor weapons and violence.

Desmond, now grown, has a pretty fiancé Dorothy (Palmer) and lives with contentment. However, as WWII escalates, he decides to join the Army and protect his country, while adhering to his beliefs.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge
The Army, it seems, objects to a conscientious objector. Determined to prevent Desmond from serving as a medic, his superior officers, Sgt Howell (Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Worthington), make military life difficult for him. He endures disciplinary actions, a beating, ridicule and discrimination, and yet never wavers in his decision to serve his country while not carrying a weapon. Killing someone is strongly against Desmond’s beliefs.

During a court martial hearing against him, for refusing a direct order to qualify with a rifle, Desmond at last receives permission to train as a medic and not carry a weapon. Desmond’s father, whose life has been so devasted by war and who did not want his son to join the Army, pulls himself together and pulls in a favor that allows his son to stay in the military.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge
Desmond and his comrades arrive in Okinawa, where the Japanese are entrenched and beating back battalion after battalion atop Hacksaw Ridge. The fighting is intense, bloody and horrific, with many, many casualties.

Beliefs are challenged.

Will Desmond, who has been called a coward for refusing to fire a rifle, be able to endure such a catastrophic battle? Can Desmond hold to his beliefs against using weapons? Can the other soldiers trust a man who would rather die than shoot?

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge
The first half of this film caught my interest and held it. I was sympathetic to Desmond’s story and empathized with his plight. Garfield turned in a superb performance as the gentle, likable young man who had a patriotic desire to serve and an objection to killing.

I started off liking Desmond, and came to deeply respect him. He had a strong belief system, and he honored it, no matter what anyone said, no matter what happened.

The second half of the movie was extremely difficult for me to watch. The Battle of Okinawa was brutal, in every way. While I can appreciate the amazing special effects and CGI and editing, watching the battle scenes was like experiencing rapid punches to my gut. And yet…I could not look away. I had connected with these characters, especially Desmond. I cared about what happened to them.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge
Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge                        The real Desmond Doss 

Historically, no other conscientious objector has ever fought on the front lines without a weapon. Nor has one rescued 75 fallen soldiers, alone, behind enemy lines, without firing a shot. Medic Desmond Doss did both.

I was in tears by the film’s end. And deeply moved. This was a real story, about real people, with real results. I learned about grace and unswerving conviction, courage and trust, compassion and forgiveness. It was a big, messy, agonizingly powerful movie…and it was beautiful.

Hacksaw Ridge. I am so glad that I watched it.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

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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 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.

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? 

  
  
  

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 110: Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

birdman poster

I wanted to save this movie until last, watching the Best Picture nominated films, since it won. I’d rather see the others so as to have a body of work to compare the winner to. However, with the final two films not scheduled for release until next month, I picked Birdman up to watch anyway.

Birdman stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. This dark comedy/drama was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu from the screenplay he helped to write. It is rated R for language, brief sexuality and brief violence and has a run time of 1 hour and 59 minutes. Birdman was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, and won in 4 categories, including Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director for Inarritu and Best Picture.

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is an aging actor, best known for his role 20 years ago as super hero Birdman in a series of films. Determined to break from that stereotype and be known as a true artist, Riggan writes, directs, produces and stars in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. His venture is fraught with mishaps and teeters constantly on the brink of failure. He fires one inept actor, replacing him with crowd pleasing but unpredictable and hard to work with, Mike Shiner (Norton). Riggan’s leading lady, Lesley (Watts) is a wanna be Broadway star but is untried. His girlfriend and play co-star, Laura (Riseborough) just wants to have a child while his best friend and attorney, Jake (Galifianakis) feels he is the only person grounded in reality and keeping the play afloat.

On the homefront, Riggan’s daughter Sam (Stone), who is working as his assistant, is fresh out of rehab and confronting life challenges, while his ex-wife Sylvia (Ryan) pops in and out of the St. James Theater, checking on Riggan and their daughter. Mike is as explosive to work with as his reputation suggests, money is always an issue, and the previews can’t seem to go without at least one minor hitch or major disaster. The most well known critic in New York City despises Riggan, seeing him as a celebrity rather than a true actor. She threatens to write a review that will destroy his play. Riggan’s own daughter seems to support the critic’s view of him. She blasts him for being out of touch with the world, with reality, and what’s important and relevant to people.

In the midst of all this swirling chaos, which is sometimes dark, sometimes humorous and most of the time, gritty, are Riggan’s intense battles with himself. His alter ego, Birdman, constantly talks to him, in a complaining, derisive voice that seeks to cajole Riggan into returning to his only meaningful role. That battle rages during the entire film, as Riggan desperately tries to rise above that role, wanting to prove to himself as much as others that he is so much more talented than Birdman, that he matters, that he is loved for who he is, really.  At his worst, Riggan loses himself in that other self, displaying signs of telekinesis and exhibiting the ability to fly, without the costume. On the opening night of his play, Riggan gives the performance of his lifetime, leaving a lasting impression on everyone, including his co-stars, his family and the critic.

This was an interesting, if somewhat difficult, film to watch. The director shot the film as one continuous shot, with very few edits, contributing to the film’s grittiness and realism. The narrow maze of corridors in the theater plays as big a role in the movie as the actors do, as much of the film takes place in those shadowy hallways, the bare bulbs overhead highlighting many of the poignant moments in the story.

I felt sadness and compassion for Riggan, and indeed, for all the characters, portraying over the top versions of struggling actors, poking fun at Hollywood and the very roles actors become famous for. I admire film and television stars for following their passions and excelling at what they love doing. This film cracks that rosy perspective a bit for me by showing the stark difficulty in pursuing such passions, in always seeking approval and admiration, in breaking free to be seen as more than the last role. Sylvia, Riggan’s ex-wife, tells him that he is doing what he has always done….confused admiration for love. At the heart of it, this movie is about love, seeking it, anxiously, in all the wrong places, while not being able to find it within. And ego’s attempt to find and take love, or a shallow version of it, wherever it can, at whatever cost. It’s so bleak, yet real, hard to watch, yet the same egoic attempts happen outside the movie.

I haven’t seen Selma or American Sniper yet, but I can see why Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture. I’ll be thinking about this movie for a while, pondering the possibilities in the ambiguous ending. I’ll end this post less so, with the opening words of the film, which are actually on the tombstone of author Raymond Carver, who really did write the short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”:

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself Beloved. To feel myself Beloved on the earth.

birdman scene

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

Journey 82: Whiplash

Whiplash

Tonight I watched movie number four, of the eight nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. I had seen enough clips of this film to feel edgy about viewing the movie. I was thrilled that J.K. Simmons, a fine character actor, was nominated for best supporting actor. However, could I endure watching a film that depicts a man who bullies his students into giving their best…or breaks them in the process?

Whiplash stars Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, and Paul Reiser. It was directed by Damien Chazelle. This drama carries an R rating, for strong language, and has a run time of 1 hour and 47 minutes. It was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons. It won in the last three categories.

Andrew (Teller) is a student at Shaffer Conservatory of Music, the finest school of music in the nation. His passion is to be a great jazz drummer like Buddy Rich. Being a first year student, he barely has the chance to prove himself to his jazz instructor, much less catch the attention of Terence Fletcher (Simmons), who has the best, most competitive jazz band in the school. Only the most talented play in Fletcher’s rehearsal room.

Andrew spends long hours practicing on his drums, avoiding social interactions and dating. His only consistent connection is meeting his father (Reiser) once a week at the movie theater to catch a film…and to flirt mildly with the pretty girl at the concession counter. He eventually asks the pretty girl out. But then he gets noticed by Fletcher, and Andrew’s world narrows down to intense drumming sessions, listening to great jazz drummers, and trying to earn Fletcher’s approval. Fletcher is more than a tough instructor and conductor. He is brutal in his treatment of his students, who stare silently at the floor whenever he enters the practice room, fearful of receiving his attention and his wrath. If too many mistakes are made, the offending band member is dismissed.

Andrew’s desire to be one of the greats overrides his dislike and fear of Fletcher. When Fletcher pushes him, he tries harder, practicing until his hands bleed. At last Fletcher makes him the core, or main, drummer, and Andrew heads to his first competition. Delays in transportation make Andrew late arriving at the performance center, where he discovers Fletcher has replaced him. When Andrew verbally fights for his right to play the drums during the competition, Fletcher allows it….except Andrew has left his drumsticks at the rental car facility. Rushing against the clock to make it back in time to take the stage, Andrew drives carelessly and is involved in a horrific car accident, just two blocks from his destination.

Undeterred, he stumbles to the center and onto the stage with moments to spare. Bleeding, injured, probably concussed, he begins the set, but falters, fumbles, drops a stick. Fletcher casts him out. It’s over. In pain and in a rage, Andrew attacks Fletcher physically before he is dragged away.

The once promising drummer loses his sense of purpose, his drive. He is dismissed from school for attacking Fletcher. He moves back home and packs away his drum set. Andrew is approached to testify, anonymously, against Fletcher after one of his former students commits suicide. Andrew agrees, thinking he will never see his old instructor, his tormentor, again. But fate would intervene. In a downtown club, Andrew watches Fletcher perform, with grace and passion, with a jazz ensemble. After the performance, before Andrew can get out of the building, Fletcher calls out to him and they have a drink together. Fletcher confesses he was fired. Andrew plays dumb. Fletcher tells his former student that he knows no one understands what he does. He pushes people beyond what they think they are capable of, to bring them into greatness. He says the two most horrible words in the English language are “Good job”. No great jazz player became who he was by doing a good job. He learned to move beyond his perceived limits. Andrew questions whether there is a line that gets crossed, where the pushing can instead discourage someone from becoming great. Fletcher counters that the great won’t get discouraged. He will keep going.

As the two part company, Fletcher invites Andrew to perform with a jazz band that he is conducting. The songs are the same ones he used at the conservatory. Important musical people will be in the audience, so it is an opportunity to get noticed. He needs a better drummer. Fear flashes across Andrew’s face, but that old desire for greatness arises as well. After a weekend of considering, and dragging his drums out again, Andrew shows up to perform. As the set begins, Fletcher turns to Andrew and says, quietly, “I know it was you.” And then calls up a song that Andrew doesn’t know and doesn’t have the music for. The band begins the musical number and Andrew fumbles, struggling to join in, throwing off the other band members. Fletcher has his revenge, humiliating Andrew in front of the crowd, in front of his father who showed up to watch his son. As the song at last comes to an end, Fletcher takes pleasure in sending Andrew away once again, telling him, “I guess you don’t have it.”

Andrew’s dad meets his stricken son backstage, urging him to come home. And then, something shifts in Andrew. Head held high, he returns to the stage and the drums, just as Fletcher is announcing the next musical piece. Andrew begins a drum solo. A startled Fletcher and the just as surprised band members look to Andrew in confusion. “I’ll cue you,” he instructs the band. They move into the piece Caravan, which features the drums, and which was always beyond Andrew’s ability to perform. That shift continues in Andrew….and suddenly, pushed up against his limits, taking himself to the edge, he does it. He breaks through. He gives an amazing performance that pulls every ounce of strength and talent from him. Hands bloody, soaked with sweat, exhausted, he smiles at his teacher. Fletcher acknowledges the young man’s accomplishment with a beautiful smile.

This was, indeed, a very difficult movie for me to watch, as the way I encourage others is so very different from the methods Fletcher uses to inspire greatness. I couldn’t bear for a child or grandchild of mine to be treated with such harshness, such spirit breaking meanness. Was it worth it, to Andrew, to be pushed so hard? Those who want to be good, who want to enjoy what they do, become casualties under such an assault on their hearts and souls, useless to a man like Fletcher who winnows out the good to preserve the very best. To one who wants to be great, who has that as the ultimate goal in life, the harshness might ultimately prove worthy, but at what cost to his soul?

The last ten minutes of this film were almost unbearable. I wanted to look away….I couldn’t. I was afraid Andrew’s heart would burst from his frenzied drumming…it didn’t. And then the break through….filmed so well that I knew the moment he did it, I saw the change come over him ….and I could not look away. Andrew’s brilliance exploded through his pain, sweat and blood. He was destined for greatness, and he knew it. For the first and only time during this movie, I smiled. I teared up. I said, “Wow” very softly. Would I ever watch this movie again? No. However, I might watch the last ten minutes again before I return the DVD. And ponder the breaking of limits.

Journey 57: Boyhood

Boyhood

First up, in the best picture nominated movies, after The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I watched pre-Oscars and already blogged about….Boyhood. I had not even heard of this film until its nomination. The primary piece of information that I picked up was that the same actors were filmed over 12 years to create this coming of age epic. That in itself is an extraordinary cinematic accomplishment. However, that being said, I wasn’t sure if I would like this film. I decided to view this movie first, and get it out of the way!

Boyhood stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelei Linklater. It was written and directed by Richard Linklater. This drama is rated R, for language and scenes with teen drinking and drug use, and has a run time of 2 hours and 44 minutes. Boyhood was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Hawke, Best Supporting Actress for Arquette, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Editing. Arquette picked up the only win.

Filmed over 12 years, Boyhood follows Mason (Coltrane) as he grows up, from early childhood to the beginning of his freshman year in college. Not only do we watch Mason mature, but we watch his older sister Samantha (Linklater) grow up too and observe the changes in life for his divorced parents, Mason Sr. (Hawke) and Olivia (Arquette). In many ways, Mason is a typical boy, oft times plagued by his sister, wishing his parents would reconcile, more interested in video games than school.

As he matures, his intelligence and curiosity about life emerges. He’s just not that into school and sports. He does discover that he loves photography and has a gift for creating art. Not only does Mason mature, going through rites of passage, disappointments and the excitement of first love, his sister and parents journey through life with struggles and triumphs of their own. Boyhood is a poignant look at how a family interacts, supports and sometimes undermines each other as they journey.

I was a little concerned when I read the run time for this film. Granted, capturing 12 years of life for a film would translate into a lengthy movie, however, I wondered if there would be enough of a storyline to capture my interest once the novelty wore off of watching the actors actually age up with their characters. And, that was fascinating, to see each person age, sometimes  from one scene to another, rather than bringing in different actors for each age progression or using prosthetics and make up to achieve the aging affect. What a novel idea and monumental undertaking by Richard Linklater!

The story moves a bit slowly, early on, although I found my heart touched by Mason and Samantha, who were impacted greatly as their young mom and dad each struggled with life while attempting to parent well. The dad dreamed of being a singer and song writer and had a hard time holding on to a job. He loved his kids though, and made the supreme effort to be with them every weekend. The mom moved through a series of relationships while she continued her higher education, seeking a better life for herself and her children. As the movie progressed, the story got better and better.

I enjoyed watching the transformation of all four of the major characters. The dad settled down, giving up on his music aspirations to sell insurance, marry again and father another child. The mom finally came into a greater awareness, freeing herself from one bad marriage after another, focusing on her life as her children headed off to college. There was sadness in her as her youngest, her son, leaves for college. “I thought there would be more,” she sobs, referring, I believe, to how quickly the years passed and her longing for a bigger life.  The sister, Samantha, blazed a trail for her brother, moving away first from home to attend college, the bond between the siblings forged through all the years of looking out for each other.

And Mason, as he grew up, captured my attention most of all. I loved his questioning mind, his different view of the world, his lack of concern for what other people thought of him. He allowed his perceptions to become a way of creating art, and a way of life. There was such soulfulness in his eyes that others sometimes mistook for melancholy. At the end of the movie, as Mason sits with a new girl friend in the beautiful canyons of Texas, they discuss the phrase “seize the moment”. Perhaps, they conclude, it is really the moments that seize us, for this moment is all we have.

Boyhood was a powerful movie with an intriguing format and a great cast that committed to a lengthy project to tell a compelling story. Rather than being relieved that I’ve crossed it off my list, I am thoughtful tonight as I head to bed. I like it when a movie stays with me and makes me think.

Boyhood Mason ages up

Ellar Coltrane as he aged up portraying Mason.