“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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“Bridge of Spies” and Teachable Moments

By Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2I was just a small child when the Berlin Wall and Cold War took center stage in the news. Though my parents did not speak of such things while I was growing up, my father did talk about the “Red Scare” and “those Communists.” Of course, I would not understand what that meant until I was much older. I could not even imagine the level of fear that many people must have felt during this period of American history with its talk of spies and counterespionage.

I do remember hearing about a pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down and captured by the Russians. But I did not know the full story and had no idea of the maelstrom that surrounded this episode in history – at least not until I saw “Bridge of Spies.”

Director Steven Spielberg, together with writers Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen, has captured the intense feelings of the Cold War era and the issues surrounding the trial of a real-life Russian spy, an American U2 spy plane pilot, and an American student caught on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall in his latest movie.

This excellent film tells the story of a successful Brooklyn, NY, insurance attorney, James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), who is asked by the U.S. government to defend captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, who was tried for espionage in 1957. In the minds of many Americans, Abel is the personification of all that was evil in the Soviet regime. In this post-atomic bomb era of fear, the average American citizen is certain their government will do the right thing and simply sentence Abel to death, teaching the Russians a lesson they would never forget.

However, the American government sees it differently. As a potential powder keg, it is believed Abel should receive the best defense possible, or at least have the appearance of a strong defense to guard against any retaliation from Russia. What the government does not account for is Donovan’s strong sense of right and wrong. Though it is a foregone conclusion Abel will be found guilty, Donovan has the foresight to convince the presiding judge to sentence Abel to prison rather than condemn him to death.

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“Still Alice”: Holding on to Who We Are

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by Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2When we were younger and just beginning to study Principle concepts concerning the purpose of life and about the nature of our lives as children of God, many of us tended to think in simple, basic terms.

In terms of our life journey, we often taught that we were conceived and nurtured for nine months in our mother’s womb as our first stage of existence. Our life continued as we burst on the scene and embarked on a journey through this earthly existence for our second stage of life, hopefully looking forward to a long and healthy life. Ultimately, we would pass into our eternal home to live with God and rejoin our loved ones who had gone on before us. We learned in those early days that in the grand scheme of things, our physical life would be but a passing moment, as it were, when compared to our eternal life. Yet how we lived in this second stage of life, how well we loved and how well we lived according to God’s life-giving words were of prime importance. Most of the content though was fairly theological and did not deal with the practical dimension of our daily life.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I did not give much thought to the numerous physical challenges that might make our life on earth difficult. I was too busy going about the work of God to think too long or hard about such things other than to perhaps feel that somehow we might be shielded from some of these challenges because of the importance of the work we were doing.

However, I was reminded of this overly simple view of life while watching the sobering and powerful film “Still Alice.” Julianne Moore, in an Oscar-winning performance, masterfully portrays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Columbia University and sought after guest lecturer, who, just after celebrating her 50th birthday, is diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that manifests at an early age. An intelligent and active woman, and mother of three adult children, this diagnosis cuts to the quick. Here is a woman whose life is defined by words, language and a life of the mind now rapidly being deprived of her thoughts and ideas as well as her memories.

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“American Sniper” and Moral Injury

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By Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2Clint Eastwood’s powerful film, “American Sniper,” dares to bring to public consciousness the hidden side of war. This hidden side is the tremendous toll war takes on the moral and psychological dimension — the soul — of the men and women who serve on the front lines. The film is based on Navy Seal Chris Kyle’s autobiography by the same title and follows his experiences as one of the most lethal snipers in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills.

Posted in Iraq, Kyle, brilliantly played in the film by Bradley Cooper, served four tours of duty before being honorably discharged in 2009. On coming home, like many returning veterans, Kyle had the difficult task of adjusting to civilian life in Texas as a husband and father to his two children. In 2013, he and fellow veteran, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed by another veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, while at a practice range. Routh, who had been recently discharged from a mental health facility and been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), had arranged to meet with Kyle, who was trying to help him with his depression. The poignancy of the film was heightened when Routh’s trial began as “American Sniper” was being shown across the country. Routh was convicted of the murders two days after the February 22nd Oscars telecast, and immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The film brilliantly and poignantly presents the personal turmoil that a soldier faces when holding a life in the crosshairs of his or her rifle. One particularly heart-wrenching scene shows a moment of decision when Kyle has a small Iraqi boy and a woman, who we assume is his mother, in his gun sights. The young boy is given an anti-tank grenade by the hijab-clad woman and begins to walk toward the column of approaching American soldiers. Kyle is praying for the child to stop or at least indicate he means no harm. But the boy doesn’t, and Kyle must do what he is trained to do  —  shoot him. When the mother then rushes to her child, picks up the grenade and runs toward the soldiers, Kyle must shoot her as well.

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‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’: God versus King

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By Andrew Stewart

AndrewStewartIt’s been a good year for biblical movies. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is the last major biblical film to hit theaters this year, with “Son of God” and particularly, “Noah,” making waves earlier on. The first two films met many expectations, yet surprisingly, the third falls short.

Advertised as a biblical epic, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” has issues with characterization, pacing, as well as wardrobe. In contrast with 1956’s “The Ten Commandments” (starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner), “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is shorter, covering less of Moses’ life. Directed by Ridley Scott of “Gladiator” fame, it takes a much more unconventional approach to a well-known story. So which does “Exodus: Gods and Kings” resemble more: Cecile B. DeMille’s epic or Scott’s 2001 “Best Picture” Oscar winner?

“The Ten Commandments” is the standard by which any film about Moses should be measured, and is probably the best known religious film alongside the 1959 “Ben-Hur.” “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (not to be confused with the 1960 film “Exodus,” about the founding of the state of Israel) like “The Ten Commandments,” focuses on the extra-biblical side of Moses’ life. There are a few themes present in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” that might be a homage to those same extra-biblical themes, such as an exchange where Moses asks Ramses to improve the lives of the Hebrews and pay them wages. But that is where the similarities end, with even some biblical story elements missing. The question of why they were not included is that they probably are not realistic enough to fit into the feeling of the movie. The film tries very hard to be faithful to a realistic approach, becoming a battle between Moses and the Hebrews versus the Egyptians. The film attempts too much, and ends up not progressing much in any one area it tries to tackle.

It all begins with a prophecy, that God has not forgotten his people. After a few epic CGI renditions of Memphis at the height of its glory, Moses (Christian Bale), Ramses (Joel Edgerton), and his father, Seti (John Turturro), are sitting around a table, arguing about going to war with the Hittites.

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