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Review: We Bought A Zoo (2011)

*****

 This one most likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re looking for a movie to watch on a rainy day. But it’s a good movie for those kinds of days, cloudy days where things just seem hopeless and sad. One of those that you watch to put yourself in a good, optimistic mood. Yep, today’s review is We Bought A Zoo.

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is in a tough spot. His wife died six months ago, he’s having trouble getting back on his feet, and his son has been expelled. So what does an ambitious, globe-trotting journalist and newly-single father of two  do to get himself out of a rut? He looks for a new start, finding a beautiful house on a spot of land that may as well be the Garden of Eden…. animals and all. Indeed, as the title plainly states, the Mee family has bought a zoo.

I will admit, when I heard the premise, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Wow, Matt Damon has stooped this low?’ Little did I know that this film would be one of the most out-of-the-blue little surprises I had ever seen. We Bought A Zoo is an absolutely charming little movie. Though it has its moments of corn-syrupy sentiment, and though the plot is utterly predictable, I discovered that I apparently have a soft spot for earnest, well-made feel-good cinema. And that’s exactly what this is. It’s one of those rare family movies that has a leisurely pace and cool animals for the kids, and some legitimate substance for parents and teens.

Matt Damon has more than earned his stripes. He has co-written an Oscar-winning screenplay, delivered as an adept hero in some of cinema’s best action films, and borne his soul in hard-hitting drama. So it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that he could make for a likable central character in a family movie. Damon’s performance as Benjamin is so delightfully nuanced; what with his totally genuine interaction with his children, his flirtatious relationship with zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), or even his quiet, pained reflection upon the memory of his wife. It’s all there, and we feel it with him. He has always been a pleasure to watch, and his charisma comes across seamlessly to create a character we all love to see: the genuinely good guy.

But his is not the only performance worth mentioning. Obviously, we have Scarlett Johansson, whose Kelly is spunky and likable, even if she is a tad overbearing. She understands the character’s initial perplexity in seeing some random dude buy this zoo when he has no experience, but she also demonstrates the loyalty that grows in getting to know him.

The kids are especially sweet. There’s Maggie Elizabeth Jones as the precocious little Rosie, who sometimes seems smart beyond her years, but is, at her core, an adorable little girl. Colin Ford plays teenage son Dylan Mee with admirable gusto. It takes a lot for a kid to play a realistic kid. Usually they overact  or they are awkwardly reserved. But Ford maintains a careful balance between subdued angst and genuine empathy. The kid has lost his mom, he is having a hard time coping. Through rather morbid artwork and a sense of apprehension, you can tell that he’s in pain. But his good (albeit conflicted) heart shows itself in his interaction with Damon, and especially with Kelly’s 12-year-old cousin Lily (Elle Fanning). Fanning shows off the considerable acting chops that won her praise in Super 8 and Somewhere. Her Lily is the first love that we all had as young teens; kind, understanding, delightful to be around, and bringing a bright attitude to everything she does.

It’s writer/director Cameron Crowe who makes most of the film’s successes as well as its few missteps. The missteps can be tackled fairly briefly. For example, it’s a tad cloying. Crowe has always made sentimental movies, and this tree contains some sap, but it’s not nearly as transparent as the kind-of-mediocre Elizabethtown. And the pace seems occasionally confused, transitioning between leisurely and weirdly rushed. But really, this is all minor.

It’s in the little victories that Crowe’s script and direction shine. First off, the impeccable shooting. The atmosphere is fittingly bright and pensive, and just about every shot is well-framed, the lighting therein executed just so. Crowe seems to have an eye for visual emotion, and that comes across in all of his work. All-in-all, it’s a beautiful film to look at. Cinematography students should watch and learn. But then there is also the story, which tackles grief with sincerity, but doesn’t go overboard. Rather, it handles terrible tragedy with empathy and respectful humor. There are so many scenes that hit home, but a couple are worth highlighting:

-There is a subplot which is quite touching, showing Ben’s refusal to give up hope on an old, sick tiger. Everyone tells him it is hopeless, and that the tiger should be put down. But Ben has come too far for that. Giving up on the tiger is giving up on his new life, giving up on the healing after a great loss.

-An emotional dispute between Ben and Dylan, where we see that the two are at a disconnect in life. Neither really understands the other very well, which makes a later scene where they both make an attempt at reconciliation particularly moving.

-Throughout the film, various characters state the principle that all you need to succeed in life is “20 seconds of insane courage.” And, in a scene where Dylan finally uses that 20 seconds to pour his heart out to Lily…. I just don’t have words, it is utterly awesome.

There are a lot more moments in the film that are worth mentioning, but I don’t want to spoil the whole thing. Yes, animals and zoos are plot devices, but this is a story about people, and about how people need people. It’s honest and true, sometimes painfully so, but more importantly, it’s ultimately rewarding.

The music is perfect. Seriously, props to indie solo artist Jónsi for his extraordinary work. While his own work on the score is perfectly atmospheric and well-rounded, capturing the emotion in each scene, he also is infinitely smart in pulling select songs from a couple of other artists (Sígur Ros and Motley Zoo) to further emphasize the joy in the story. The music rarely has a dark moment, and it is never boring or distracting. It is everything that a score needs to be: perfectly fitting, and a great listen on its own.

There is a lot to love here. If families are looking for a heartwarming film that isn’t horrendously preachy, I could seldom make a better suggestion. Plus, if you have young kids, the DVD and Blu-Ray both contain a family-friendly audio track, which removes some of the surprisingly coarse language. Seriously guys, it’s a great fit.

Is We Bought A Zoo mind-blowing? Nah. Is it destined to be a classic? My money says no. But when I have kids of my own someday, and I want to show them movies of Yesteryear, chances are that I will stumble across this in a box of old Matt Damon movies. I’ll look at it, smile fondly, and say “Hey kids, let’s have a movie night.” We’ll all sit back with popcorn and delicious beverages, pop this one in, and indulge in some cheerful nostalgia. Someone will probably cry.

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Review: Les Miserables (2012)

*****

When I was twelve years old, I was talking to my aunt about movies (the only subject I seem to be able to talk about), and I remember her saying that she wanted to see a large-scale, multi-million dollar production of  Boublil and Schönberg’s musical, Les Míserables. And, of course, being twelve years old, I did not know what she was talking about. And through the years, I had a passing interest in the play, and I got the soundtrack to the Broadway show and thought that the music was grand. I even saw the 1998 Liam Neeson film (non-musical, but still pretty good), and obtained a better understanding of the story. But, in all of that, I never actually saw the play itself. For that, I should be flogged. But that is for another day. So, I saw the first trailer for the 2012 musical adaptation of Les Míserables, with its potentially stellar cast, tried-and-true director, and general air of majestic awesomeness, needless to say I was excited. And, after finally experiencing the film, I can say that it was worth the anticipation.

Les Míserables, based in part on the Broadway musical and in part on Victor Hugo’s epic novel,  tells stories of tragedy, love, and enlightenment through the eyes of several different characters against the backdrop of rebellion in France following the French Revolution. We have Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a prison convict who has found God, and is trying to make right of wrongs in his life. Then there is the ruthless officer Javert (Russell Crowe), who has devoted his life to absolute justice at all costs, and tasked himself with hunting Valjean down. Of course, we cannot forget Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a destitute prostitute struggling for her life to help her daughter, Cosette (played in adulthood by Amanda Seyfried), who is in the possession of a couple of thieving innkeepers (Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron-Cohen).

Let’s get this out of the way: Les Míserables is not a perfect film. But that does not mean that it is undeserving of being called great. Indeed, the film possesses a lot of quite splendid qualities. But I had a couple of complaints:

-First and foremost, Russell Crowe was miscast as officer Javert. His acting is admittedly affecting and up-to-par, but, to borrow a line from a friend of mine, his singing sounds like he had a loaf of bread stuck in his throat.

-Though I understand that they had to keep the cameras close to the actors to maintain the quality of the live song recording, I was only slightly uncomfortable with the mind-boggling number of closeups in the film. This is a minor complaint, however. I was not too bothered, though I didn’t necessarily need an opportunity to count the moles on Russell Crowe’s face.

-During the action scenes, I would have preferred a little more steady motion. The battle sequences suffered ever so slightly from Blair Witch camera work, though I also understand that if the violence had been too clear, it may have merited an R rating, which the filmmakers seemed to want to avoid.

You may have noticed that I like to get my qualms out of the way first. And I have. Now for the good stuff.

Hugh Jackman is awesome. I think that much is established. And, knowing he won a Tony for his work in The Boy from Oz, we knew the man could sing. But, even with that pretty firm knowledge, he still manages to surprise as Jean Valjean, deftly combining his more-than-adequate vocal talent with the raw power of his acting ability. Yes, every line sung (and occasionally spoken) is done so with deep understanding, and it shows on his face. We never question what is going on in Valjean’s head. From the very first scenes, we understand the man. And, with that understanding, we experience his epic spiritual journey; every victory, every plunge into the deepest hell, and every moment of joyful enlightenment. If Daniel Day-Lewis hadn’t mopped up the floor with his work in Lincoln, I would say Jackman’s Oscar chances were sure-fire.

Anne Hathaway has done some good stuff in the past, but I never really thought she could sing, and I must admit that I really didn’t think that she could handle the role of Fantine. But I soon felt like a fool for such thinking, as I witnessed one of the most (if not the absolute most) sensitive and heartbreaking performances of this year.  I simply have to note a couple of specifics:

-Hathaway’s eyes say so much. I would say that much of the impact of her performance is due to those big, beautiful brown eyes. In the scenes detailing her loss and despair, they convey the constant state of misery that is her life. But when Valjean rescues her from these horrid depths, her eyes shine with gratitude and love.

-Her singing isn’t what you would expect. She’s not Susan Boyle or Sarah Brightman, but then again, she’s not trying to be. Let’s be realistic, if a starving, diseased prostitute was dying, she probably wouldn’t have the strength to belt it out. Not to say that her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” doesn’t have moments of power. But those moments are sung with more emphasis on desperation, on emotion. So instead of rising crescendo filled with perfect vibrato, we get something more authentic. Fantine is broken. She is crying her last cries, and it comes across in the performance. It’s not what you expect, but it’s good. Very good, even.

It’s not really fair to dedicate so much space to just two actors, especially when the cast as a whole does such a uniformly fine job. But Jackman and Hathaway really stand out. Even so, it is worth mentioning that Seyfried hits a home run as Cosette, with a performance fueled by unabashed sweetness and vulnerability. Eddie Redmayne shows us everything that a genuine, good man is with his turn as Marius. As the men and women of the rebellion, various colorful characters make memorable impressions, especially Samantha Barks as Éponine, the tragically loyal friend and admirer of Marius. Even in the more periodical roles of the Thénardiers, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen make very memorable, if scummy, appearances. Heck, even Crowe gives a good performance acting-wise. Only his singing leaves much to be desired.

My, my. The acting portion takes up quite a bit of room. But the performers earned it.

I love the work of Tom Hooper, even if his work prior to this is limited to an HBO miniseries and The King’s Speech. Hooper’s work displays elegance and grace, always eliciting fine performances and visual potency. And Les Míserables is no exception. The choice to make the actors record their singing live on set is a brilliant move, forcing them to hone in on their acting chops. As a result, the final product feels authentic, sobs and breaking voices intact. Working in tight accordance with his Director of Photography and visual effects department, Hooper brings life and wondrous detail to every scene, from the grand opening number, to the grime and filth of the lower-class world, to the wonder and spectacle of the rebellion’s climactic battle. From towering cathedrals to waste-filled sewers, it’s all there, and it’s right in your face all the time. Exquisite.

Of course, the story packs a serious punch. With deep religious and moral themes, we see characters who truly find God by treading through Hell and finding each other. As the cast sings in the end of the film, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” This is shown in many moments throughout the film; Valjean first feels loved when The Bishop sees the good person within, and urges him to do the same for his fellow men. Valjean wrongs Fantine, and repays her  by devoting his life to caring for her daughter. Valjean has Javert at his mercy, and extends mercy. He treads through the sewer to save Marius’ life, so that Marius and Cosette may share in God’s greatest gift. In Valjean, we see a man who has done wrong, living his life as righteously as he can, by sharing the gift of love extended to him by a merciful clergyman.

From the breathtaking first scene to the soaring final moments, Les Míserables is a triumphant achievement. It brings back the epic movie musical in spectacular fashion, hearkening back to the days of The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, and The King and I, giving us that once-every-twenty-years experience that must be seen to be believed. I think I’ve said enough.

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Movie of the Week: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

*****

A reboot sounded like a horrible idea, didn’t it? After Sam Raimi redefined the superhero genre with his adaptation of a particular comic book superhero, Spider-Man (2002) became the standard that all comic book films had to live up to. And when he released Spider-Man 2 (2004), it seemed that the genre could not be bettered. And then came Spider-Man 3 (2007), a great disappointment to fans and critics alike. It seemed that the Godfather trilogy of superhero films had been achieved. So why would it be a good idea to reboot the story only five years later? Well, as 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man has shown us, it was not only a good idea, but a great idea.

If you are familiar with the story of Marvel’s nerdy, double-lifing arachnid hero, or if you remember the general arc of the original Spider-Man, then the general story of this new take on the hero will be very familiar.When Peter Parker was a young boy, his father and mother left him to live with his aunt and uncle, while they ran off into the unknown, all because of something related to a file that Peter’s father kept in his desk. As Peter grows up, he develops into a sort of rebellious geek, picked on by everyone at school… until one day, where a bite from a spider in a laboratory changes everything.

Like I said before, if you have seen the original, it is impossible to avoid comparison here. Indeed, there are many scenes and situations that will echo similar scenes from Spider-Man in one’s mind. But changing little details– Gwen Stacey being the love interest instead of Mary Jane Watson, Peter having to build web-slingers instead of a seemingly infinite amount of naturally occuring web– makes the general flow of the film feel fresh and different. It’s an undeniably fun film, as well, and the team which was assembled for this venture executes a faithful adaptation beautifully.

Aussie-born Andrew Garfield is born to play the punk nerd. He is absolutely terrific as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, perfectly channeling
the character we know and love from the comic books  and animated series. He plays Parker with a brooding vulnerability and inquisitive, experimental nature that makes him so easy to relate to, and has the youthful charm to make us love him. But we could not have a Spider-Man movie without a spunky,  beautiful leading woman. And there is literally no better choice than Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey. Emma Stone is wonderful once again, showing us that drive and determination expected from a kick-butt comic book girl, while also exhibiting an absolutely beautiful awkward charm in her interactions with Garfield. She’s spunky, but she’s also sweet, and never goes to extremes.

Martin Sheen had some big shoes to fill as Uncle Ben Parker, shoes previously worn by the late Cliff Robertson, who uttered the famous line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” in the original Spider-Man. Now obviously, that line isn’t repeated verbatim in the reboot, but the idea is definitely there, in Uncle Ben’s explaining to Peter that “If you have the ability to do something good for someone else, then you have a moral obligation to do that.” And Sheen plays that out very well. He gets a little worked up and angry, especially in one heated scene. But he is a good man at heart, and always makes sure to fulfill his obligations to his family, and to those who he sees in need of help. All of his good makes Ben Parker a tragic character, as you may remember from the original story… and that particular point in his story doesn’t change here. Sally Field holds her own as Peter’s Aunt May, but an actress of her caliber should be given more to do in a film like this, even if she’s a minor character.

As our villain, Dr. Curt Connors (aka The Lizard), Rhys Ifans does the best he can with what he is given, but I’m afraid that the character as a whole suffers due to a bland sense of purpose. Yes, he wants to restore some part of him that was lost. Okay, he wants to create a superior race, a plan which, of course,  Spidey has to make sure to stop. But somewhere, a bit of the passion of villains like Dr. Octopus from the first series is lost. He’s not an original villain, but that is not the problem. He’s just not that fun to watch. I mean, he is by no means boring, but he doesn’t give Spider-Man enough of a challenge, physically, emotionally, or psychologically. In a summer season where we were presented with villains like Bane of The Dark Knight Rises, the talent behind The Amazing Spider-Man left a bit to be desired.

Director Marc Webb (Ha! Get it? That can’t be a coincidence) made a critical splash with his debut feature, (500) Days of Summer, a film which I personally adored. So, when I heard that he was going to be placed at the helm of The Amazing Spider-Man, I had to wonder if he could do it. Remind me never to underestimate him again. Turns out the man can direct action. And he directs it darn well. All of the free-falling and swinging sequences in this film are tense and exhilarating, and the fights are slick, well-paced, perfectly choreographed and extremely well-shot. But what struck me most of all was how well Webb’s skill in the romantic comedy genre transposed over to the world of comic books. Namely, I am referring to the offbeat, awkwardly funny romance between Peter and Gwen. There is so much of Marc Webb’s signature stamped all over the flirtatious scenes between the two leads, with whip-smart lines that aren’t outside the bounds of believability. These two teens are people who feel like they could definitely exist in any High School, and audiences may in fact find that they see bits of the characters in their own friends, or in themselves. In the hands of a director who didn’t understand the characters, or have a clear respect for their history, the relationship could have crashed and burned. But in the able hands of Marc Webb, this Spider and his mythology are safe.

The whole film is filmed beautifully. Every shot is framed clearly and concisely, and gets across what it needs to without lingering too much. The special effects are some of the best you’ll see this year. And the new look of the Spider-Man suit is appealing to the eye, without meandering too far away from the look we know and love. It’s a nice, practical, almost natural design. And you are bound to have fun with the action sequences, each one being rip-roaring fun, but never overbearing. And, perhaps most importantly, this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. This isn’t The Dark Knight Rises. It isn’t Road to Perdition. This film knows that it inhabits a silly concept, and it has a spectacular amount of fun with the general geekiness of the plot.

I was actually surprised that the music here was composed by James Horner. While it’s not a surprise that James Horner composed a great score (Titanic, I don’t care what anyone says, I love you), the score for The Amazing Spider-Man is more upbeat  and heroic than Horner’s normal ventures, more along the lines of John Powell’s typical work. But when you actually give it a serious listen, it makes sense that it’s composed by Horner, especially in the climax of the film, where our ears are graced, and the imagery complimented, by Horner’s trademark emotional chords and a great buildup that only a veteran composer can really accomplish. It’s a fun score, and I must say that it compliments the rock/indie sound of the film’s soundtrack.

The acting and direction are top-notch.   The action sequences are perfectly paced and intense. The music is fast-moving and powerful. Do I have qualms? Yes. But not many. I mean, I’ll just say it again. This film is a boatload of rip-roaring fun, and definitely worthy of carrying on its name. The Amazing Spider-Man earns its stars, and gets four out of five.

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One of Those Great Little Scenes: Rocky (1976)

If you haven’t heard the story of how Sylvester Stallone’s knockout came to fruition, it’s a story as epic as the film itself. In many ways, Stallone wrote the film about himself; he was a nobody whose wife left him, who was so poor that he had to sell his dog for food money, and came out of nowhere to write one of the biggest films in history. Indeed, Rocky is a story of proving to yourself and the world that you are more than a nobody. And the end scene of this film is what makes it so famous.

 

 

The line, of course, is immortal. And, while it is a bit cheesy, it is still affecting all these years later. But moreover, the iconic and incredibly uplifting music (recorded by a bare-bones orchaestra) adds to the impact in an almost life-changing way. And the little moments, like Adrian losing her hat, which was unscripted, but worked beautifully. And the writing as Apollo says “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.” And Rocky replies with, “Don’t want one.” It shows us the character of Rocky. He didn’t come to win. He came to prove that he could go the distance. And Stallone wants to show us that we can to, and that no one should stand in our way.

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Movie of the Week: Smoke Signals (1998)

*****

We all love indie movies, right? Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and the like. And of course, there is the iconic Napoleon Dynamite. But all (or just about all) of these films were made within the last decade. What about before the Indie movement? When small-studio films didn’t get any attention? I’d like to take you back to the 1990’s (1998, to be exact), to show you a film that existed before Juno got pregnant; before Olive went across the country to go to a beauty pageant; before Napoleon won Pedro the election with that iconic dance. One of the original indie films: Smoke Signals.

Imagine Napoleon Dynamite on an Indian reservation, and you’ve got Smoke Signals, the story of two Coeur D’Alene Indian boys who have seen very different walks of life, even for living in such a small community. When they get word that one of the boys’  estranged father has died, they embark on an awkward (but often hilarious) life-changing journey in the form of a good old-fashioned road trip.

Really, this film and Napoleon Dynamite have quite a lot in common. Both are defined by their incredibly dry humor, memorable characters, and quirky story and development. But while Napoleon Dynamite was a relatable reflection on the politics of an everyday high school, Smoke Signals is a serious reflection on family trauma and self-realization, with a bunch of heavy questions and statements along the way. Is this film funnier? Debatable. Is it better? I would definitely say so.

The two boys, Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) are both impressive and distinct characters, and are acted to a tee as such. While Thomas is blissfully obtuse, telling elaborate stories with his eyes shut and wearing a tacky suit with long black braids,  Victor is a brooding, serious, abrasive teen, constantly walking around with a chip on his shoulder. But while their types seem fairly typical for their age group, below them lies an examination of emotional structure and how it is built overtime. Does this sound like a classroom lecture so far? Probably. But that is definitely not how this film plays out. The acting is so offbeat, so wonderfully fresh, that every time you see the film, it’s like meeting the characters for the first time.

The heart-wrenching truth of the writing is part of the enormous impact here. Victor’s emotional turmoil comes from the abuse and abandonment of his father. That much is obvious after only a few minutes. But actually seeing the trauma unfold in flashback sequences (which are cut beautifully, by the way) is truly hard to watch. Victor’s dad is an abusive alcoholic, and yet when he actually does walk out on the family, Victor cannot stomach the grief. He never finds a way to deal with it. So when Thomas starts to rant and spew musings about Victor’s dad, as if he knew him so well, Victor lashes out. He has nowhere to go with his anger… until his father dies. Then it begins: a road trip with Thomas that will end with different boys.

Victor’s journey to finding out where his father ended up is one to behold, with a lot of change along the way. Thomas’s stories are annoying to Victor, and full of supposed inconsistencies, but every one has some sort of point, some reason that he tells it. They help him understand the world and how it changes around him.

There are a lot of scenes where Thomas and Victor discuss what it means to be a real Indian. Both have vastly different ideas. Victor is of the opinion that you must be cold, stoic, and brooding, like his father. But Thomas believes that it’s about embracing your heritage, who you are, that being an Indian is much less about how other people label you, but who you truly are. In these scenes, we see a real poignancy in which these boys ask themselves not only what it means to be an Indian, but what it means to be a man, a human. But at the same time, we also see the struggle that is going on inside both of the boys. The fact of the matter is, neither of them really know what a real Indian is supposed to be. That makes their ideology muddled; if they don’t know who they are supposed to be, then they will have a hard time figuring out who they are. That causes some very visible conflict, and this statement on young people’s reliance on social norms also adds to the richness of the characters.

Of course, we cannot do a review without talking about a couple of key bits. For example, the script, penned by Sherman Alexie, pretty much speaks for itself in its humanity, razor-sharp humor and well-rounded and complex characters. But even a good script can be ruined by poor direction. But you need not worry here, because director Chris Eyre , also a Native American, knows how to handle these characters with a good balance of sensitivity and humor, while also handling their story with respect and insight.  The score by BC Smith is fitting to the film, but in truth, is not that memorable. That may well be the film’s only flaw. Near the end of the film, however, Jim Boyd’s song, “Farther and Farther,” is heard, with lyrics that illustrate the powerful themes of father-son relationships that are explored here (the song is taken directly from a poem which is also written by Alexie, so it is apt to use it).

All-in-all, I have had a hard time finding flaw with this one. Whip-smart, funny and very deeply moving, Smoke Signals is an adventure of the spirit, and an insight into the relationships between generations, as well as a beautiful illustration of the personal battles that we all have to fight every day. Be ready to laugh, be ready to think, and be ready to cry, even up until the film’s final breathtaking scene. Smoke Signals gets a five out of five, and earns it well.

 

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An Unfortunate Occurance

Hello, my dear readers!

 

I want to let you know that I recently had my computer crashed. So I have had to furnish a new one, which I still have yet to get fully running. I want to apologize for the break in posts. It’s been a long time since I could post, but you can expect a movie of the week consistently, starting next week!

 

-Errol Teichert

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Heroes

On the midnight of July 19th-20th,a terrible tragedy occured in Aurora, Colorado. At the midnight showing of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, a sadistic man named James Holmes stood up and opened fire on the theater audience. The massacre lasted only minutes, yet in those minutes, 12 people died, and 59 were seriously injured. But we have all heard this story. It’s old news. What many people haven’t heard (and what many news networks failed to cover) is the heroism and charity that resulted from this tragedy.

On the topic of those who are no longer with us, me must not take for granted the heroism displayed, even in the theater that night. Indeed, you may also have heard on Facebook of the four men who died protecting their girlfriends from the gunfire that night. In my mind, there is no greater love than that shown when someone gives their life to protect the life of someone they care for.
Jon Blunk, a former member of the Navy, reportedly pushed his girlfriend Jansen Young to the ground before receiving the shot that would end his life. Young told the story to reporters, saying, “Jon just took a bullet for me. He knew and threw me on the ground, and was like, ‘We have to get down and stay safe.’” She later related that she crawled over to him and tried to get him to wake up before she realized that he was dead. “I guess I didn’t really know he had passed, up until I started shaking him and saying, ‘Jon, Jon, we have to go … It’s time for us to get out of here.’”

Matt McQuinn, a man of 27, died protecting his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, and her brother when the gunfire erupted.McQuinn’s attorney said, “When the gunman started shooting, Matt and Nick… pulled Samantha to the ground and shielded her.” Nick escaped without injury, while Samantha was shot in the ankle, and Matt was shot three times, killing him almost immediately.

Alex Teves, 24, shielded his girlfriend in a valiant effort that ended with his death. He reportedly intended to hit the floor himself, once she was down, but never made it alive. He put her first. And, according to his academic advisor at the University of Denver, his “top priority was his relationships. His loyalty is admirable and he always put his friends first.” In today’s world, a lot of that is taken for granted, or overlooked. But the safety of his friends, and ultimately, his girlfriend, came before his own.

John Larimer, 27, a sailor for the Buckley Air Force Base, was killed when he was defending his girlfriend, Julia Vojtsek. She told press that he “immediately and instinctively covered me and brought me to the ground in order to protect me from any danger. Moments later, John knowingly shielded me from a spray of gunshots. It was then I believe John was hit with a bullet that would have very possibly struck me. I feel very strongly I was saved by John and his ultimate kindness.”

These four men are heroes. They died protecting the people they loved. That kind of thing isn’t seen a whole lot nowadays, and I think that it is important to honor that. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the movie theater in which this horrible shooting occurred should erect some sort of monument, in memory of the victims of the shooting, dead and alive, to help us remember that we are not without hope, and that people can be noble and brave as these men were.

Director Christopher Nolan Issues A Statement On Behalf of His Team

In the aftermath of the tragedy, we have seen people go out of their way to reach out to the people of the Aurora community, and, in the opinion of this writer, express true heroism. A number of the people involved in the production of The Dark Knight Rises, including its director and lead actors, have commented on the incident. Director Christopher Nolan commented, “Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community.” Anne Hathaway also commented, saying, “My heart aches and breaks for the lives taken and altered by this unfathomably senseless act. I am at a loss for words how to express my sorrow. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” While these seem like produced and scripted statements (and indeed they may be), you have to give the filmmakers credit for not mentioning the impact of the shooting on ticket sales, or the public outlook on the film, which many filmmakers today may have done, were it the case for them.

Christian Bale Visits With a Victim of the Shooting

But of course, we must recognize the actions of the Batman himself. Star Christian Bale has shaken up his public image a bit, with his profanity-laced outburst at a member of the light crew on the set of Terminator: Salvation. Personally, I lost some respect for him when I heard that, respect which I never thought could be earned back. But in the shadow of this massacre in Colorado, he has displayed some true heroism, going above and beyond his call as an actor. In an interview, he was reported to have said, “Words cannot express the horror that I feel. I cannot begin to truly understand the pain and grief of the victims and their loved ones, but my heart goes out to them.” In recent photos released on the internet, the Dark Knight Rises star has been shown visiting the victims of the shooting who remain alive in several hospitals. He visited each of them personally, and expressed his sorrow,  reminding them that someone cared and that there was hope. And when he was finished with that, he payed his respects to those 12 who had died in the shooting.

Bale and Wife Sibi Blazic Visit a Memorial to Those Who Fell

This is being a hero. Understand that, while it does make for good press, there was nothing and nobody that said that Bale had to do this. While other members of the cast and crew simply issued statements, Bale
personally showed these people kindness and charity. He actually visited the graves of those who had fallen. Not to bash or understate the importance of sympathy, prayers and “our hearts go out to” and all that, but not everyone would do this. Many people in this world wouldn’t think it necessary to pay their respects to people whom they didn’t even know. And Bale did. He went out of his way. And that, I believe, is heroism.

Hans Zimmer at the Premiere of The Dark Knight Rises

Another act that really resonates with me comes from another member of the Dark Knight Rises team, none other than legendary screen composer Hans Zimmer, who composed the powerful score for the film. This man would be payed millions for composing even one song for any film, and he has done masterful work in the past, with an Oscar under his belt to show it. But I must say that he has also displayed heroic affection for the victims of the shooting, as well as their families, and the Aurora community in general. Zimmer composed a piece simply titled, “Aurora,” a beautifully haunting piece that captures the emotion and essence of the tragedy, and the hope that Zimmer strives to inspire. It’s a moving, sweeping, and even heartbreaking piece. And what’s more, it is available for sale, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the victims and the families.

The song is available for download here: https://watertowermusic.moontoast.com/estore/embed/1336

Members of the American community have reached out to the victims and community of Aurora, donating a total of $2 million to the cause of helping the surviving victims heal, in conjunction with money donated by Warner Brothers Studios. With the assistance of this money, three hospitals in Denver who are caring for the victims have come out with the declaration that they are going to limit the medical bills for patients affected by the shooting, or wipe the bills out entirely, as many of the patients are without insurance and would be crippled financially due to the costs. Dr. Howard Brody, director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said this on the matter: “Many of these people I assume will need prolonged and expensive rehabilitation after their immediate injuries are dealt with, and that seems precisely what hospitals today are less and less willing to cover out of their own funds, and no law requires that they do so, as far as I am aware.”  And he is right. No law requires them to help these people. But out of charity and genuine love for the people of their community, they are doing everything they can to make sure that the victims and those affected can lead a healthy life someday.

Heroes. Nothing less. The actions displayed by these noble people have shown us that, even in the darkest of times, the light of hope, love, courage and valiance can shine through. With these events in mind, we can see that people can be good. People can care for each other and can better each others’ lives. All it takes is that courage to go the extra mile. I write this article in hopes that people may remember that message, the message that four good men died to prove, and that it may live on in their memory, and in the lives of every person who lived through that fateful night.