Day 236: Divergent

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Tonight was movie night, which meant I picked out a DVD of a movie I haven’t seen yet. There are several good new releases out. Based on the recommendations of several people, I chose to watch Divergent.

Divergent stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Kate Winslet. It is directed by Neil Burger and is based on the novel by the same name, by Veronica Roth. This action/sci-fi is rated PG-13, for violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Set in a futuristic Chicago, which is surrounded by a protective wall, society within is divided into five factions. As each person reaches young adulthood, they are tested to see which virtue is strongest, determining which faction they fit in. Abnegations are selfless and serving, Amities peaceful and kind, Candors honest and blunt, Dauntless brave and reckless, and Erudites are intelligent and cunning. The aptitude test determines the virtue and yet the teen makes the final decision about which faction he or she will join. The decision is permanent.

Beatrice, later known as Tris (Shailene Woodley) comes from a family of Abnegations. She knows, before she takes the aptitude test, that she doesn’t have those traits. Her aptitude test shows she has several virtues, making her a Divergent. The test giver tells Tris, “You’re different. You don’t fit into a category. They can’t control you. They call it Divergent.”  She warns the teen to remain silent about her test result or she will be killed. Tris makes the decision to leave the Abnegations, and her parents, played by Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn, joining the Dauntless faction. She and the other newcomers must go through a rigorous initiation and training process before being fully accepted into the faction. The Dauntless, being the warrior group, are charged with protecting the city and its inhabitants.

Tris trains under the instruction of the mysterious Dauntless leader, Four (Theo James) while attempting to keep her Divergent personality hidden. The head of the Erudite faction, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) has created a secret group within her faction whose sole purpose is to hunt down and kill Divergents.  The Abnegation faction hides Divergents, which makes that group come under attack as well. The peace of the society is threatened, and the Erudites blame the Abnegation faction and see the Divergents as dangerous. As Jeanine says, “The system removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will. Divergents threaten that system. It won’t be safe until they’re removed.”

Tris’ secret gets out, Four has one of his own, and the Erudites put into action their own secretive mission. The whole society begins coming apart, all because of fear. The movie concludes, but it is really the springboard for the next in the series, called Insurgent, which releases in theaters in 2015.

This was an interesting futuristic film to watch. Gritty and tense, the acting was well done and the storyline flowed well. Having seen the movie, I’d like to read the books. The central theme of the movie is about being an individual and refusing to fit in, for family, for society, even for the sake of peace. Tris knows who she is not. During the movie, she begins to find out who she is….and what she is capable of. She discovers her gifts, her virtues and the beauty of not fitting in. The secondary theme of Divergent is fear. Jeanine, and the Erudites, fear anyone who is different, anyone who shows strength outside of their faction. Independence is seen as dangerous and destructive. The greater good, in Jeanine’s opinion, is to fit in and be controlled, be safe.

I can’t watch a film like this without thinking about my own journey from fear to freedom. The need to fit in, to stay safe, by conforming to what my particular faction said should be true for me, kept me small. Like Tris, I knew who I was not, long before I was able to know who I am and embrace that glorious self. The definition of divergent is to develop in different directions. That has been my journey the past 4 years. I have cut loose from fear, embraced who I am, and grown, in multiple directions. When Tris tells Four that everyone fears something, Four says to her, “Fear doesn’t shut you down, it wakes you up!” I love that. What an amazing way to respond to fear, to awaken. I am awakening. I am divergent.

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Day 205: Lucy

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What fun this evening, to participate in another movie night! My daughter Elissa and grandson Dayan invited me to see the new release, Lucy. I was delighted to accept. It is always fun to watch a movie at the theater with family or friends. And I was interested in this film also.

Lucy stars Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, and Amr Waked and was directed and written by Luc Besson. It is classified as an action/sci-fi film and carries an R rating for violence. Lucy has a run time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The tagline for this movie is “The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%.” We get to find out! Lucy, played by Johansson, is duped into an illegal drug operation and quickly finds herself forced to act as a mule, carrying the experimental drug, CPH4, within her body. When one of her captors kicks her in the abdomen, the bag breaks and the drug leaks into her body. We watch her evolve during the movie as she uses more and more of her brain capacity. She partners with Captain Del Rio, played by Waked, to settle the score with the drug ring while making her way to a professor who has been studying theories about brain use for 20 years. Professor Norman, portrayed by Freeman, helps and observes as Lucy reaches 100% brain capacity.

Although the movie is based on a flawed premise, that we only use 10% of our brain capacity, it is an interesting movie that explores what is possible when our focus shifts from having….to being. Johansson delivers a riveting performance, moving from a terrified woman who can barely speak through her tears to an emotionless feral woman whose new abilities border on super powers. The scene where Lucy talks to her mother as she remembers early childhood memories, that should have been impossible to recall, brought tears to my eyes. Lucy can hear thoughts, see phone signals, manipulate matter and learn a new skill in moments. But it is her ability to see the world from a different perspective, from a much larger, more expansive space, that resonated with me.

For me, it is more about increasing my awareness and raising my level of vibration than increasing brain power. As my awareness expands I, too, can see differently, manifest reality, and increase my ability to love and give and accept. I can begin to experience the connection of all things. While those abilities may not be as amazing as manipulating matter, they are still cool! And my journey continues…

Day 204: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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This evening, my sister Linda and I viewed the recently released movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, at the theater. The second in the new Planet of the Ape series, this was a must see since we had not only seen the Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, but also watched the original series years ago.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stars Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, and Nick Thurston and it is directed by Matt Reeves. This sci-fi, action, drama is rated PG-13, for violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Set 10 years later than the first movie, the band of apes, led by Caesar, has established a home and a way of life in a post apocalyptic type world. Most of the humans have died from the ALZ-113 virus that scientists created in a lab and were testing on apes. There is a remnant of humans, apparently genetically immune to the virus, living in the remains of San Francisco. When the two groups of survivors meet, hostilities quickly mount on both sides. Trust is fragilely established between Caesar and the human, Malcolm. But that trust is threatened and both sides are brought to the brink of war by the betrayal of apes and humans. Fear causes those who are weak, or who have not been able to heal from their past wounds, to seek to destroy the other species. This movie closes with war imminent between humans and apes, and sets the stage for the next movie in the series.

Having watched the old Planet of the Apes series, with the actors in ape costumes, it was amazing to see how incredibly real CGI can look. This form of movie making has continued to improve these past few years, to the point where watching tonight, I didn’t think about actors and CGI generated characters. I didn’t think about it at all. I became immersed in a film about humans and apes. And more than that, it was a film about fear and hate and the inability to grow. And a tale about those on both sides who were able to rise above perception and past grievances and offer out of that place of strength. Species hatred is like any prejudice in that it destroys the one who harbors it. It leads to wars and abuse and more fear. Koba, who suffered greatly at the hands of humans as a lab test subject, betrays his leader and distorted by rage and the need for revenge, seeks to destroy the humans, all humans. Caesar tells him “Koba still in cage.”

Powerful words. Powerful emotions throughout the film. Powerful, thought evoking movie.

Day 196: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Tonight was movie night! Feeling a bit tired after working a good part of the weekend and putting in a loooong day yesterday, I decided to stop at the dvd rental store on my way home and pick up a movie. So many movies to choose from, and I only needed one. I had seen the preview for this movie, while watching something else. Its quirkiness appealed to me then and when I saw the movie had released recently on dvd, I decided to go with a fun film. I’ve seen many “based on a true story” movies lately. Something fresh and darkly comedic seemed perfect for today’s first.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has a large cast of well known actors including, Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Owen Wilson and Tony Revolori. This comedy was directed by Wes Anderson and inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig. It is rated R, for language, and has a run time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Set in the European hotel The Grand Budapest, during war time, the story follows the adventures of legendary concierge Gustave H, played by Ralph Fiennes, and his faithful and trusted Lobby Boy, Zero Moustafa, played by Tony Revolori. The film opens in 1985 with a young woman standing before a memorial of Author, while holding his book, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and then backs up to 1968. In this era, we meet the young author, played by Jude Law, who is staying at the decaying, mostly vacant and yet still beautiful Grand Budapest Hotel. He encounters the owner, Zero Moustafa, who agrees to tell him the story of how he acquired the hotel and why he keeps it, even though it does not make him any money.

Over dinner, Old Zero, play by F. Murray Abraham, begins his tale, and the movie backs up again to 1932, where we meet Zero as a youth. He has just begun to work for the famous concierge Gustave. Over the course of the movie, we learn of Gustave’s fame because of his extraordinary care of the hotel’s patrons, especially the blond, wealthy, older women who stay at the decadent palace like hotel. One such heiress dies and leaves Gustave a very valuable painting. What follows is the theft of the painting, Boy with Apple, accusations of murder, and a battle for an enormous family fortune. At the end of this funny and off beat adventure, Zero inherits the hotel.

I liked this movie very much. It was very reminiscent of films by one of my favorite directors, Baz Luhrmann, who excels at quirky movies. The Grand Budapest Hotel was dryly funny, with crucial timing in the delivery of clever lines. Fiennes and young star Revolori played off of each other brilliantly. I enjoyed the cameos by so many different actors. I think I smiled through the entire film. In counterpoint to the humor, which was sometimes dark, was the beautiful, artistic setting for the backdrop. This movie was a joy to watch simply because of the stunning cinematography.

Ralph Fiennes character, Gustave, shines. His sense of style and grace and his strong belief in the good in people touched me and then his sudden use of “colorful” language, in the midst of reciting poetry or waxing philosophical would make me laugh. He lived in a slightly different reality than his companions, and I loved him for that. Toward the end of the tale, Zero says of his mentor and friend, “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it – but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace!” May the same be said of me someday!

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Day 178: Winter’s Tale

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This movie played at the theater in February of this year. I saw the preview several times and was captivated by what I saw. Unfortunately, I missed seeing the film on the big screen. I’ve been waiting for the dvd release, checking on it periodically. Tuesday of this week it became available. For my first today, I watched Winter’s Tale.

Winter’s Tale stars Colin Farrell, Russell Crow, Jessica Brown Findlay, William Hurt, Will Smith and Jennifer Connelly. The film, classified as a fantasy drama, was written and directed by Akiva Goldsman and is based on the novel of the same title, written by Mark Helprin. It is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 1 hour and 58 minutes.

Set in New York, and spanning more than 100 years, the story follows Irishman Peter Lake, played by Colin Farrell. His immigrant parents, who were not allowed to enter the United States, secretly send their son to shore in a small boat. As a youth, he learns to survive by stealing. He is a very good thief, combining his desire to live with a knack for manipulating mechanical things, such as safes. He’s had a falling out with local bad man, Pearly Soames, played menacingly by Russell Crow, who wants Peter dead. Peter finds a magical white horse, and together they rob a few mansions to pay for the necessary trip out of town, and away from harm’s way.

In the last house he intends to rob, Peter meets heiress Beverly Penn (Jessical Brown Findlay) a beautiful young woman who is dying of consumption. The course of their lives changes as Peter falls in love with Beverly and hopes that his love for her is so strong that she will be able to cheat death. Beverly, who has accepted her fate, wants to experience love and romance before she dies.

This was a beautiful movie. It doesn’t matter to me that critics snubbed it. Some films I simply enjoy and watch for entertainment. Some I watch because they are inspirational or based on true stories and I learn from them. There are a few that I feel compelled to watch, and as I view them, I am touched deeply. Winter’s Tale is such a movie for me. The opening prologue, spoken by Jessica Brown Findlay’s character, Beverly, so captured me that I played it over and over before letting the move continue. She says, “Destiny calls to each of us. And there is a world behind the world where we are all connected. All part of a great and moving plan. Magic is everywhere around us. You just have to look. Look. Look closely….”

Cleverly disguised as a romance movie, Winter’s Tale is, instead, a movie about the connections we all have and how we offer to each other. It is about the larger picture and our roles in it. Peter thinks he is on the earth to save Beverly, and yet, it is what she offers to Peter that is essential. And on a much larger scale, the movie is about the battle between good and evil. Several of the characters in this movie are much more than they seem to be, including the white horse Peter is so “fortunate” to find.

I’ll be thinking about Winter’s Tale for days to come. It reminds me that I, too, have a role to play in this larger story called Life that is unfolding around me. I have gifts to offer to others and my existence here is purposeful and crucial. This is true for everyone. I want to ponder the story line over the weekend and then watch the movie again. I’m also interested in reading the book the movie is based on. Mostly, though, Winter’s Tale caused me to look inward and contemplate life and how I am connected to others and to God, and how, with raised  awareness, I see the shimmering Light that binds us all, everywhere. That’s no small feat for a movie to accomplish!

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Day 174: 42: The True Story of an American Legend

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My planned first for today didn’t work out, nor did my back up first. One because after a quick trip to Tulsa, a short night and a long day, I didn’t have the energy, while the other was hampered by the rain that chased me home from Oklahoma. Tonight, therefore, was declared a movie night! And I had the perfect film to watch, for the first time. Months ago, Linda loaned me a DVD. I had had the Oscar nominated movies to watch and then a few others to catch up on. I’d been saving this one, until now.

42, subtitled The True Story of an American Legend, stars Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie, and was written and directed by Brian Helgeland. It is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 2 hours and 8 minutes. It is considered a biography sports drama.

42 is the Jackie Robinson story, from his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 to his phenomenal rookie year in 1947 when he broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, is recruited by Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, which incidentally, was Harrison Ford’s first portrayal of a real life character. Rickey created a stir when he brought the first African American baseball player into the major leagues. The deal also put him and Robinson under attack from the press, the public and even other players. Facing racism and threats from every side, Jackie Robinson was forced to demonstrate tremendous courage and draw from deep within himself to quiet any desire to retaliate in kind.

Rickey faced pressure as well, from other major league teams and managers and his own staff and players, many of whom planned to quit the team. His belief in the game and his belief in Jackie provided strength and resolve when cruel taunts and the unfairness of life threatened to bring his star rookie down. Together, Rickey’s unwavering support and number 42’s talent for baseball won over fans and teammates, silenced the critics and changed the world by changing the game.

There were so many reasons to love this film. It was wonderfully acted, with Harrison Ford and his slightly goofy look bringing many a smile as his character stepped up and held firm against prejudice and ignorance. At the same time, Chadwick Boseman brought tears as his character defined himself in a field where no definitions yet existed. There are many sports heroes, and yet this was a time of extreme heroism as these two men stood against a tide of old beliefs and deep seated fears. I cheered for Jackie Robinson, along with the fans in the stadium, over every victory, in the game and in his life. Jackie tells his wife, played by the lovely Nicole Beharie, “I don’t care if they like me. I didn’t come here to make friends. I don’t even care if they respect me. I know who I am. I’ve got enough respect for myself. I do not want them to beat me.” He wasn’t referring to striking out at bat. He didn’t not, would not, allow who he was to be beaten down.

Toward the end of movie, Robinson faces a pitcher who beaned him in the head during a previous game. Stakes are high, as the Dodgers move relentlessly toward bringing home the pennant. The pitcher throws three foul balls, nervously avoiding Robinson, but also avoiding the strike zone. With quiet strength and determination, Robinson faces the man without flinching and softly asks, “C’mon, what are you afraid of? What…are you….afraid of?” The next pitch flies in, hard and low, and Robinson knocks it out of the ballpark. That scene moved me deeply . What am I afraid of?  Facing all that life throws my way, without flinching, can I too say “bring it”…. and then knock it out of the ballpark? Yes…..I believe I can!

Day 163: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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It’s been almost a month since I had a movie night at home. After weeks of watching the Best Picture nominated movies, I took a break. But tonight it felt right to bring home a DVD. I loved the trailers for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which released in theaters in December of 2013. I missed it at the local theater, so this evening, I was excited to watch this film for today’s first.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty stars Ben Stiller, who also directed the movie, Kristen Miig, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn and Adam Scott. It is rated PG and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes. It is classified as an adventure-comedy-drama.

Walter Mitty, played by Ben Stiller, is an average, unassuming man, living an average, anonymous life. He works at Life Magazine, which is about to publish its last print magazine before becoming an online publication. He is a daydreamer, often going into “the zone” where he lives out the life he’s afraid to live in the real world. In his imagination, he is an explorer, a lover, a hero. He’s interested in his co-worker, Cheryl Melhoff, portrayed wonderfully by Kristen Miig, but he’s afraid to engage her beyond casual chit chat.

Walter’s job is tedious but important. He’s the negative assets manager, with the job of preparing the negatives of the famous Life photos for print. He has had a long working relationship with independent photographer Sean O’Connell, who had mailed Walter his last batch of negatives for print. Included in the package is a note stating that negative #25 is intended for the cover of Life’s last magazine. It is his best work. Also in the package is a gift for Walter, a wallet, as a token of appreciation for all the collaborative work between the two.

Negative #25 is missing, however. With downsizing taking place in the company, Walter’s job and reputation are at stake. He must find the negative. A search begins to find the elusive photographer, played by Sean Penn. Driven by his need to find Sean, and locate the missing negative, Walter overcomes his shyness to form a friendship with Cheryl, who has offered to help him figure out where the photographer might be. Walter must step out into the real world and embarks on an adventure that is so much more amazing than the fantasies that occupied his mind.

This was a wonderful film, funny, touching, thought provoking. I loved the quote that Sean tucked into the gift wallet for Walter. It is the motto for Life Magazine (the movie version, not the actual motto for the actual magazine….I like the fictionalized one better!).

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.

Walter has only seen the world vicariously, through Sean’s photos. He’s afraid of dangerous things, afraid to draw closer. He’s afraid to feel. He lost his father at a young age. As a result, he gave up his individuality, his creativity and his desire to travel, to work in mind numbing jobs. I enjoyed the transformation of the hesitant daydreamer into the self confident journeyer. He found his courage, both to really live, and to draw close enough to love.

I enjoyed too the use of synchronicity throughout the film. For the characters, these were clues to discover the whereabouts of Sean. But they were more than that. These signs and wonders and connected events opened the way for Walter to not only find the photographer, but to find himself.  Negative #25 and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty are about the quintessence of life, the fullness and richness of life. It’s important to dream, and dream big.  Even more important is to find the courage to actually live those dreams, one step, one adventure, at a time.