“The Circle” and a World of Total Transparency

By Kathy Winings

Is it possible to go too far with our digital technologies? Is total transparency a good thing? If the majority of people in the world were digitally connected and our lives were out in the open, could we have a better, safer world? Are people ready to live in a totally transparent, digital world?

The new film, “The Circle,” attempts to answer these questions. “The Circle” focuses on a young woman, Mae Holland (Emma Watson), who lands an entry-level job in customer service at the Circle, a massive, powerful tech conglomerate, through a good friend who works in the company. Imagine Google, Facebook and Amazon all rolled into one company. That’s the Circle.

Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), CEO and co-founder of the Circle, is an energetic and charismatic leader who appeals to the idealism of his employees — all of whom seem to be under the age of 35. With the personality of a Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg, Bailey and his COO and co-founder, Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), emphasize transparency and accountability with each new digital breakthrough they unveil. Much like the practice in today’s big tech firms, there is a regular company-wide gathering in which the new innovative breakthrough of the day is showcased and employees can cheer and marvel as their company pushes the boundaries of technology without questioning it.

Mae is drawn deeper and deeper into the Circle. Bailey is good at coming up with catchy names and phrases and selling the new tech innovations through personal stories that touch the emotions and ignite the idealism of his employees – most especially Mae. In her first week on the job, she is introduced to a webcam the size of a marble that is heralded as a means to a totally transparent world where no one can get away with discrimination, human rights abuses or crime, dubbed “Sea Change.” Bailey’s catchphrase is, “Knowing is good but knowing everything is better.”

Shortly after the launch of Sea Change, a U.S. senator trying to open an investigation against Bailey is forced out of office due to seemingly questionable actions unearthed by Circle technology operating under the guise of transparency.  Mae and her colleagues see this as a reason to celebrate their company’s role in making a change for the better.

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An Encounter with the Holy Trinity: “The Shack”

by Kathy Winings

It is not often a reflective and innovative film that is deeply theological comes to the big screen – and is worth our time and attention. But “The Shack” fits this bill nicely. Not unlike “Heaven is for Real,” “The Shack” reminds us we are never alone, that God is always there with us. And what “Heaven is for Real” did for reimagining the spiritual world, “The Shack” does for the holy trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The movie tells the heart-wrenching story of Mack Phillips (played by Sam Worthington), a family man who must endure the disappearance and presumed death of his youngest daughter and make sense of a loving God.

The film begins with a brief but critical glimpse of Mack as a young boy who witnesses his abusive yet church-going father beat his mother at the slightest provocation. After Mack confesses to the family pastor about the beatings, his father beats him again, pushing the young boy to take drastic action, which turns into a secret that haunts him throughout his adult life. Mack’s wife, Nan (Radha Mitchell), knows he has a secret eating at him but she cannot convince him to talk about it. Nor can his neighbor, Willie (Tim McGraw), a faithful and God-loving man.

As a loving husband and father, it is clear Mack cannot seem to come to terms with a God who is there for us, loves us and to whom we can turn. After all, why did God allow his father to treat his wife and son so terribly? Would an omnipresent loving God really do that? Because he cannot find answers to his questions about God, he forms an uneasy truce with God. At the same time, he feels his wife’s faith is strong enough for both of them for the time being.  What is interesting is his wife’s nickname for God. She calls him “Papa,” with her children following suit.

A catalyzing event occurs one summer when Mack takes his three children camping to their favorite lake while his wife must stay behind. During this fateful trip, his youngest daughter, Missy, suddenly disappears while Mack is focused on saving his other daughter and son who become trapped under their canoe while boating. One moment she is there coloring her pictures and the next minute, she is gone; a parent’s nightmare.

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“Fences” and “Hidden Figures”: Finding Purpose in Unexpected Places

By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileTwo recent films, each nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, help white America understand the challenges and struggles of black America from different perspectives. On the one hand, “Fences” is a story that shines a light on the challenges and issues faced by black families in the 1950s. On the other hand, in “Hidden Figures,” we have Hollywood telling the amazing story of three immensely talented black women who made invaluable contributions to NASA and the American space program.

August Wilson has been called one of the finest American playwrights of the 20th century. His plays have highlighted and brought to life African Americans in everyday roles dealing with everyday issues including love, struggle, duty, and betrayal. The impetus behind his plays was so white Americans could begin to see African Americans in a different light; see them dealing with the same issues that define life for most whites so that whites just might treat African Americans differently. “Fences” was one of his best-known plays for which he received both a Pulitzer and a Tony award.  In 2016, “Fences” came to the big screen directed by Denzel Washington.

“Fences” is the story of Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh.  Portrayed passionately by Denzel Washington, Maxson is a bitter man whose dream of becoming a professional baseball player died early on because he was too old by the time Major League  Baseball began admitting black players. As a result, after spending time in prison, he now struggles with his own ambitions to find success in his job and as a man needing to feel vibrant and loved. Yet, he looks for this, as the proverbial song says, “in all the wrong places.”

His main support is his long-suffering wife, Rose, played brilliantly by Viola Davis, who won the 2010 Tony for best actress in the role and the 2017 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the same role (her Oscar acceptance speech was deeply moving).

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“Jackie”: The Legacy of Camelot

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileThose of us of a certain age will never forget what we were doing on that fateful day — November 22, 1963 — when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.

I certainly remember where I was on that rainy day. I was returning to my fifth grade classroom with my classmates after having attended our weekly religious education class. For the next week, my parents and I followed the television coverage chronicling the events leading up to President Kennedy’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The assassination of JFK will remain one of those iconic moments in American history. All of these memories came back to me while watching “Jackie,” a new film starring Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy and directed by Pablo Larrain.

“Jackie” allows us to get a glimpse of what Jacqueline Kennedy may have been like those first few days after her husband’s death. She tells her story through the lens of journalist Theodore H. White’s interview in Life magazine conducted with the former First Lady shortly after she moved out of the White House.

White had been contacted by Mrs. Kennedy to write her story because of what she believed were unflattering and hurtful news stories written about her immediately after the assassination. The guarded and intensely private woman that the American public saw is juxtaposed with a picture of a very real, very human woman who had just experienced a brutal and violent end to her larger-than-life husband.

Throughout the film, Jackie struggles with finding meaning in what she witnessed while also needing to redefine not only her husband’s legacy but also who she is now that she is no longer First Lady. As she goes about arranging her husband’s funeral while also going through their living quarters at the White House in preparation for moving out, Portman shows a woman on an emotional roller coaster, unable to find her emotional rudder — chain smoking and drinking as a way to cope late at night when no one can see.

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“Collateral Beauty”: A Conversation with Time, Death and Love

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileThe death of a child is probably the most devastating experience a parent can go through. This is made all the more devastating when the child is very young and has just begun to spread his or her wings.

This is the experience of Howard Inlet (Will Smith) in the new film “Collateral Beauty.” Howard’s whole life has been turned upside down with the death of his six-year old daughter. Unable to deal with her death, Inlet, once the creative force behind a successful New York advertising agency, withdraws completely from life. Over the year following her death, he only comes to the office to create massive and intricate domino-like designs that he proceeds to topple once the masterpiece is complete. He retreats so far into his grief that he does not eat or sleep, does not communicate with his business partners and friends, sits alone in a dark apartment, and cycles recklessly through the city day in and day out.

During one of his daily cycling rides, Howard appears to stumble on a support group for parents who have lost a child. He finds himself periodically sitting in on their meetings only to leave if asked to share about his experience. Over time, he begins conversing with the group’s director (Naomie Harris) who also lost a child, a six-year old daughter, to cancer. It is during one of their conversations that she shares a concept that helped get her through her grief. This concept is the phrase “collateral beauty.” As she describes it, collateral beauty is recognizing the possibilities of meaning and beauty that are all around us even in the midst of death and pain. But Inlet cannot move past the pain of his loss and cannot or will not acknowledge what happened to his daughter.

Trying to salvage a now-suffering business and also wanting to reach out to their friend, Howard’s business partners Claire (Kate Winslet), Whit (Edward Norton) and Simon (Michael Peña) take the drastic step of hiring a private detective to follow Howard in the hope of obtaining evidence that can be used to force him to turn over his controlling stock in the agency.

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“Loving”: Outlawing Love and Marriage

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileI am a romantic. Like many romantics, we like to believe that when two people share a deep and abiding love, there should be no problem why they cannot have a happy marriage. Unfortunately, we have come to see this is not always the case – especially when the two people are racially diverse. This is because we still live in a world that is racially charged and racially divided. Racism seems to be one of the most intractable problems to solve. Our inability to see “the other” as an equal, as our neighbor and as fully human, has plagued us since the beginning of the human race.

Nowhere is the challenge of racism more evident than in the movie “Loving,” written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and nominated for two Golden Globes in acting. Loving tells the story of an interracial couple living in pre-civil rights, 1950s Virginia, who ultimately became the center of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that addressed the unconstitutionality of the anti-miscegenation law of Virginia and those of 24 other states (Loving v. Virginia).

Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white construction worker, and his wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga) a black woman, begin their arduous legal journey with the simple act of getting married in 1956 and creating a home in rural Caroline County in northeastern Virginia. Though they are legally married in the District of Columbia, their home is in Virginia and such an act is illegal under Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law.

It does not take long before news of their interracial marriage spreads, resulting in the couple’s arrest in the middle of the night after local police raid their home. When their case comes before the judge, the Lovings are given two options if they want to avoid prison: divorce immediately or plead guilty and leave their home and family in Virginia and not return for a minimum of 25 years. Though expecting their first child, the Lovings plead guilty and move to Washington, DC – leaving behind everyone they love and hold dear.

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Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge

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By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileAt a time in which we see horrific images of atrocities committed in the name of religion, the new film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” provides us with a different story. It is about a young man who, because of his faith, refuses to kill and commit atrocities. “Hacksaw Ridge” is director Mel Gibson’s new biopic film that tells the story of Pfc. Desmond Doss who became the first person to win the Congressional Medal of Honor without firing a single shot and without even holding a gun.

Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, is a conscientious objector during World War II who enlists because he believes it is his patriotic duty. However, rather than enlist as a soldier, his plan is to enlist and serve as a medic so he can save lives rather than take them. While his plan seems simple and straightforward, Doss faces two clear obstacles. One, to serve as a medic, he has to pass basic training, which requires handling a rifle. Second, he has to survive basic training with the intense attitudes and feelings of the other soldiers and commanding officers who simply do not understand someone willing to enlist but not willing to kill the enemy during war.

After Pearl Harbor, many young men were filled with rage and extreme patriotism. As we are introduced to Doss’ fellow soldiers, we see young men eager to respond to the threat posed by Japan and Germany, men eager to prove themselves in battle. It is this type of bravado that makes it hard for soldiers to understand or respect anyone who doesn’t feel the same way. As Gibson’s film makes clear, at a time when many Americans wanted revenge for that fateful day in December 1941, it was hard to believe that an able-bodied American did not want to fight and show the world that he was a true patriotic American.

Through the first half of the film, Doss’ constant battles for acceptance among his fellow soldiers are interspersed with flashbacks that give insight into how a simple young man from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia became a conscientious objector.

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“Steve Jobs”: A Film Really About Heroines

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By Mark P. Barry

Mark Barry Photo 2When Steve Jobs died in 2011, his authorized biography was rushed to press, quickly followed by the low-budget, independent film, “Jobs.” Fans of the Apple CEO had to wait until last October for the full Hollywood production, “Steve Jobs,” featuring an A-list cast and team, to reach the big screen.

Audiences were disappointed in the film because it bombed at the box office. Expectations surely were for a depiction of Jobs’ stellar technology and business achievements. But the truth is: this movie is more about its heroines than its hero.

For her performance in “Steve Jobs,” Kate Winslet won the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Oscar this year as well. She plays Joanna Hoffman, long-time marketing chief at Apple and “right-hand woman” to its co-founder. Known as the one person who could stand up to the difficult and temperamental Jobs, in the film Hoffman calls herself his “work wife.” Winslet, as Joanna, is the moral center of the movie.

Very loosely based on the Walter Isaacson official biography – a book Apple and Jobs’ family were not happy with – “Steve Jobs” is written by Aaron Sorkin, who won the 2011 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Social Network” and this year’s Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for “Steve Jobs.”

“Steve Jobs” was lucky to get made. It was originally produced by Sony Pictures, but after North Korea hacked its computers in late 2014, divulging embarrassing executive emails, Universal Pictures acquired the film. A who’s who of actors and actresses were considered for parts. Oscar-winning director, Danny Boyle, chose Matthew Fassbender — despite looking nothing like Jobs — for the title role (he was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award).

Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell-Jobs, encouraged Isaacson to write his book, but her eventual dissatisfaction with it, as a less-than-flattering portrait of her husband, led her to reportedly block the film’s production. However, there may have been a more underlying reason.

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“Concussion”: David and Goliath

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by Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2I am not a football enthusiast. It’s because I simply do not understand the sport.

This may sound strange since I grew up in Indiana and Hoosiers love football and basketball — especially on the collegiate level. As a young girl, I enjoyed watching basketball because I understood the game. But football was another matter altogether.

As a member of my high school marching band, I had to play at all football home games. Imagine sitting there in the stands cheering our football team to victory yet not having a clue as to what was happening on the field. Tight ends, quarterbacks, safeties, wide receivers, centers, first and down; and what about those numbers that a player is shouting out before everyone goes head to head in the scrimmage. It was all Greek to me. Football just did not make sense to me.

And of course, my brother and father camped out in the living room on weekends rooting for (yelling, more like it) their favorite collegiate or professional football team. Needless to say, I had no clue who was winning or how they could win. My freshman year at Indiana University was much the same. All I learned about football that year was that the late John Pont, the head coach for IU’s team, was one of the top college coaches in America and that the varsity football players received special meals every day and drove around in brand new sports cars.

Though I still don’t understand football, I do know it has captured the attention and loyalty of millions of fans. I also understand there are billions of dollars tied up in the game and thousands of people earn their living from the sport, one way or another, and that football means millions of dollars in revenue for the cities that host a professional team. This does not begin to scratch the surface of the popularity and economics of the Super Bowl, where television advertisers pay millions to promote their product.

I also understand the furor caused by a quiet, unassuming forensic neuropathologist from Nigeria when he discovered what came to be called “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” or CTE, after conducting autopsies on several former NFL players beginning in 2002.

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