Oscar contenders…

I saw a majority of the Oscar nominated films recently. These are my thoughts on them.

Selma: I saw Selma this weekend. It is very timely as today is Martin Luther King Jr day. I have been reading all about people asserting it was snubbed in the acting and directing categories for the Oscars. I went to the film with an open mind and was hoping to be blown away. However, I was not. I was bored throughout most of the film. The acting was average at best. I did not see much transformation by the actors into the characters. It’s a great story and message to tell. However, this movie Selma did not deliver. It could’ve been so much better. I was very disappointed. My grade: C

Foxcatcher: I saw Foxcatcher in the theater with my dad when I was on vacation to Palm Springs. I was incredibly impressed with Steve Carell’s transformation into John du Pont. He was completely unrecognizable which is a testament to his talent as well as the costume department. Channing Tatum did a fine job though I thought he went in and out of his character and wasn’t truly immersed. Mark Ruffalo is always great at whatever he does. As small as her part was, Sienna Miller still delivered. Likewise, Vanessa Redgrave performed well as the disapproving matriarch. The movie was presented with a consistent beat. It kept me captivated in the story the whole time. I was completely thrown by the twist at the end. My grade: B+

American Sniper: I saw American Sniper this weekend as well. The theater was packed to the gills. Bradley Cooper keeps impressing me with all of his work he does. He’s the current heart throb and one would think he’d just be average. His immeasurable talent is what keep people coming back for more. In watching this film, you truly feel like you are with him and you are seeing what he sees through his scope. You feel the gravity of the situations. This is also a testament to Clint Eastwoods amazing directorial skills. When a movie is telling a true story, the filmmakers want to get it exactly right. Especially a movie like this dealing with war. It hits home for all Americans. In this movie you feel the beauty that Chris and Taya have in their love. You feel the tension with her wanting him home and he always having his feet planted on foreign soil. As an American you feel pride for soldiers such as Chris Kyle. You feel the horror when he reaches his untimely death. We as a nation really need to get a handle on how to help these soldiers with PTSD. Walking out of the theater after the movie, my stomach was clenched up and I felt tears pouring all through my body. My grade: A.

Theory of Everything– I believe this is my favorite movie that I’ve seen lately. In the beginning we start getting to know Stephen Hawking and his sharp mind. We see him meet Jane who would be the love of his life. We see them fall fast and deep into love. Then we as an audience and Hawking are jolted when he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease. We see it rapidly progress over time. Jane confidently and assuredly stands by her husband and takes care of him. They have 3 children over the years. Eventually the burden of his disease takes a toll on their marriage. They part ways and both marry other people–though Hawking’s second marriage doesn’t last. His main love has always been his work. He triumphantly proves his disease wrong with all that he is able to accomplish in his career. Eddie Redmayne most definitely deserves Best Actor at the Oscars. Felicity Jones who plays Jane definitely deserves her nomination. My grade: A.

Boyhood- I have always been a fan of writer/director Richard Linklater since the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight films. I knew that I would love Boyhood. Over the span of 12 years, this film follows the childhood of a young boy Mason, played by Eller Coltrane. We also see his parents grow and change. Patricia Arquette plays the mom and Ethan Hawke is the dad. There isn’t anything complex to this story. It is a very natural unfolding of real life: the changes a boy goes through as he ages. In the middle of the story, I admit I felt bored and was wishing for something “to happen”. Then it clicks in me- life isn’t about “happenings”. It’s about the little things. It’s about being present for all the little moments. I definitely want to see Linklater win director of the year. My grade: A-.

Imitation Game- I went to this movie with a friend. It was an engaging film. It has a very interesting story of Alan Turing, the man who invented the first computer. He and his team use his invention to decode what the Nazis were doing during World War II, and therefore help the Allies win the war. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing and he plays it so well. He has excellent timing in his delivery. Keira Knightley did a good job as Joan Clarke. She is always great at immersing herself in the story. The supporting actors did well also. This is a solid film. My grade: A-.

Wild- I went to Wild on Christmas Day. I love everything that Reese Witherspoon is in. She did a fine job in this film, though I feel the standout performance is Laura Dern who plays Cheryl’s late mother. Cheryl journeys through grief as she walks the Pacific Coast Trail. We feel every physical ache and pain she feels. We feel the emotional depth of her heartbreak. I will say the film as a whole moved slowly. My grade: B.

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Huck

On December 21, 2014 it had been One Year.  Remembering my Huck.

In August 2013, I saw a picture of a 4 month old kitty “George” on Mower County Humane Society’s facebook page. I knew then that I needed him as part of my family. When I first met him, I was absolutely smitten. He looked right in my eyes with such hope and love. He snuggled right into me and started his motor. His purr was the loudest I ever heard. His meow was barely a whisper. A few weeks later I brought him home with me and from then on he was known as Huck. (after the character in Scandal). Things were a little intense at the beginning. Grayson did not know what to think of this new member of the family and wanted to make sure Huck knew this was his house! I was both worried and proud when I saw Huck had some of Grayson’s hair in his mouth. Huck made sure to tell Grayson that he wasn’t about to be bullied. He may be small and young but he was a fighter too! After about a week, Grayson slowly begin to accept Huck. Nothing warmed my heart more than the moment when they sat near each other for the very first time.

Grayson and Huck became thick as thieves. They tore through the house in the middle of the night. They knocked over the reclining chair when I was at work. Huck was definitely very much a kitten. He chewed through two of my phone chargers. There was a night I had a pizza box sitting on top of the garbage to toss. The next morning I found the box on the floor open and Huck eating the leftover pieces. Another day I found that Huck had chewed through a treat bag. After that I had to make sure I kept the treats tucked away and hidden! Grayson and Huck kept me busy at feeding times. They ate different foods (Grayson is on a prescription diet) and yet they both wanted to have the other’s food!

Huck was the sweetest boy ever. He loved to snuggle. He’d sprint from across the room when he was called and jumped right up on my lap. A few times when I took a bath, Huck jumped on me and lay on my chest. He was so small that he could curl up and stay dry. He loved being close to me. At night time he’d sleep next to or on me. He was always super friendly to everyone he met.

In December I started to observe Huck acting differently. His appetite became significantly decreased. Huck had always been such an eater that I knew something was wrong. It really sunk in there was a problem when he stopped playing. He showed complete disinterest in toys and this was not normal for him, or any 8 month old kitten! He started sleeping on the floor in the downstairs bathroom instead of sleeping with me. This complete change in him was so abrupt. I discussed what was going on with a vet tech at the previous clinic we went to. She was convinced it was something behavioral, so I didn’t take him in right away. Finally it sunk in that something was seriously wrong. He was getting worse each day.

I took him to a vet on Dec 20, 2013. We got a diagnosis that no cat parent should have to hear. The vet combined the symptoms Huck had been experiencing: the inability to put on weight (he was 5.6lbs at 8 months old), he had a poor hair coat, and he was now having trouble breathing. The vet did a scan of Huck’s lungs and I can’t get the image out of my head. There wasn’t much capacity in his lungs. They were filled with fluid as was his stomach. Huck was diagnosed him with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

“Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease of cats caused by certain strains of a virus called the feline coronavirus. Most strains of feline coronavirus are avirulent, which means that they do not cause disease, and are referred to as feline enteric coronavirus. Cats infected with a feline coronavirus generally do not show any symptoms during the initial viral infection, and an immune response occurs with the development of antiviral antibodies. In a small percent of infected cats (5 to 10 percent), either by a mutation of the virus or by an aberration of the immune response, the infection progresses into clinical FIP. The virus is then referred to as feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV). With the assistance of the antibodies that are supposed to protect the cat, white blood cells are infected with virus, and these cells then transport the virus throughout the cat’s body. An intense inflammatory reaction occurs around vessels in the tissues where these infected cells locate, often in the abdomen, kidney, or brain. It is this interaction between the body’s own immune system and the virus that is responsible for the disease. Once a cat develops clinical FIP involving one or many systems of the cat’s body, the disease is progressive and is almost always fatal. The way clinical FIP develops as an immune-mediated disease is unique, unlike any other viral disease of animals or humans.” (Cornell University)

I had never heard of FIP before. I was shell-shocked. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything we could do. I still can see the face of another vet in the clinic in my mind. She had tears in her eyes as we walked by her. I couldn’t fully process what I was just told about my beautiful Huck. I couldn’t sleep that night. I brought Huck upstairs to sleep with me. All night, I could hear him struggling to breathe. I was confronted with the toughest decision any animal parent has to face.

I had to work that next day and I was a total wreck. I couldn’t focus on anything I was doing. When I got home, I picked up my precious Huck and took him to Grayson for their final goodbye. I could tell Grayson sensed something was going on. He gave a sniff and a kiss to Huck. I drove my Hucky to the Affiliated Emergency Veterinary Service. We had an amazing and compassionate vet, Dr. Beth Galles. She examined Huck and we discussed the situation. It was the hardest day ever. I knew this wasn’t my Huck anymore. I didn’t want him to suffer any longer. I wanted him to pass with dignity. Huck passed away on December 21, 2013. He was 8 months old.

I know that on that August day Huck chose ME as his mama. We were meant to be family. He filled this house with so much joy. We never know how much time any of us have here on Earth. I’ve learned to live for the moment and count my blessings. I am forever changed by knowing Huck, by losing him. Huck will forever live in my heart.

Dr. Gary Whittaker’s lab at Cornell University is making great strides in FIP research. I hope that someday there will be a cure for FIP and no one else has to go through what Grayson and I did.

Memory Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IpY8XrugZM&list=UUhc7bVnk14pv0pq6s9Bg7MQ

“WALTER”

walterInstead of getting together over Christmas this year, my family decided to take a trip to Palm Springs, CA over New Years. There were 10 of us total (my brother and his wife were unable to make it). We planned to do some sightseeing around town and just spend time together as a family. In my research of activities around the Palm Springs area, I discovered that the Palm Springs International Film Festival was going to start at the end of our stay there. I spent time reading about and watching trailers for all the films scheduled to show on January 2 (the only day I would be able to attend). The film “Walter” immediately grabbed my attention. Obviously the fact that William H Macy is in it piqued my interest. (because let’s be real, who doesn’t love him?) More than that though, it was the story that intrigued me. Here was a guy, Walter, who believes he is a son of God and has the power to determine if people were going to heaven or hell.

When January 2 arrived, I was so excited. This girl from Minnesota has never done anything like a film festival before. I love all types of movies, but especially ones with unique story lines. I headed to the Camelot Theater early to get in line. The evening air was cold to the native Californians. For me, though, the 57 degrees felt great! When it was time to proceed in, I was incredibly psyched.

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I tagged along with two other girls that were near me in line and sat with them towards the front of the auditorium. I scurried back out to the lobby to make a quick bathroom stop. In the hallway I was awestruck to run into Amber Stevens West and Andrew J West (who plays Walter in the film). They were very pleasant.  After going back into the theater and telling the girls who I had just seen, I went back out to the lobby with one of them to get autographs and pictures with them. It was so so thrilling!

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Then it was time for the film “Walter” to start! So exciting! In the movie, we are introduced to Walter (played by Andrew J West), a theater ticket taker (say that 10 times fast). He is an odd character that has difficulty with social interactions. He shuffles his feet as he walks and keeps his eyes glued to the floor. Walter has a crush on Kendall (played by Leven Rambin), a girl who works concessions. Unfortunately, Walter cannot find the way to express how he feels to her.  Vince (played by Milo Ventimiglia), another theater employee likes to call Walter names like “stupidfuck” and give him crap for his inability to interact. The shift manager at the theater, “Corey” (played by Jim Gaffigan), gives off the impression he would rather be anywhere but there. Walter’s home life consists of a strict routine. He does not get out of bed until all three of his set alarms go off. His mother Karen (played by Virginia Madsen) makes him eggs for every meal. She helicopter-mothers Walter, always asking if he feels okay. She washes, irons, and lays out Walter’s clothes every day.

One day when taking tickets (in the process telling the customers if they’re going to heaven or hell), Walter notices Greg in line (played by Justin Kirk). We find out that Greg is a ghost. He comes to Walter to find out if he’s going to heaven or hell. Walter is unable to get a read on Greg. Supposedly Greg shot himself 10 years prior and has been in limbo ever since. Greg continues to ‘stalk’ Walter and takes him to a church where his wife Allie (played by Neve Campbell) is rehearsing for her wedding to a man named Darren. (played by Brian White). Walter and Allie seem to recognize each other. In a flashback we see a young Walter (played by Nathaniel Semsen) in a hospital waiting room with his dad, Jim (played by Peter Facinelli). Young Walter watches Jim talking to a nurse, who happens to be this Allie. Because Walter is troubled about seeing a ghost, he starts going to a therapist. He goes to Dr. Corman (played by William H Macy). He is an unconventional therapist that seems eager to label Walter as crazy, asking “what kind of crazy are you?”

Through his interaction with Greg, Walter discovers they have a connection. Without revealing too much, the audience then sees Walter come to terms with the past. He goes on a journey of emotions. We see Walter become less isolated and more a part of the world. Walter no longer shuffles as he walks. He becomes more confident and sure of himself. He is able to easily communicate with Kendall. It is also through this transformation that Walter ceases to “judge” people he comes in to contact with.

As a viewer of this film, I found myself laughing many times throughout the movie. When the change in Walter occurs, I found myself crying with empathy. The whole cast is remarkable in this film. While Walter is the lead character, the rest of the supporting roles hold just as much depth and substance. It is through the people around him that Walter is able to go through his transformation. Director Anna Mastro does an incredible job of depicting this story in an authentic way. There is nothing forced. The music selections by Dan Romer also plays a significant role in showing us the story of Walter.

I appreciated that there wasn’t constant swearing throughout the film. The writer, Paul Shoulberg, doesn’t resort to the adage that “sex sells”. This movie soars by having a unique storyline and witty lines. In this day and age of cinema, it takes courage and guts to not rely on cliche elements.  “A film is, or should be, more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” (Stanley Kubrick). This is what I take away from Walter. If you’re not afraid to feel, then you too would love this movie.

After the credits rolled at this screening, there was a short Q&A session. Director Anna Mastro, several of the producers, actors Virginia Madsen, Andrew J West, Pamela Shaw, and Nathaniel Semsen answered questions from the audience.

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After the Q&A, I HAD to go meet Director Anna Mastro, Virginia Madsen, and talk to Andrew J West and Amber Stevens West again. They were all so nice. It was the coolest experience ever. I can’t wait for Walter to be released to theaters and hopefully it will come to Minnesota! Everyone involved with Walter did such an amazing job. It is truly something special to see great art in its purest form.

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(this is just an account of my experience seeing this film. I do not profess to be an expert movie reviewer)

link to movie trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW3eDVmsrkA