MOLLY’S GAME

Some people learn the hard way.

 

I know I do…but is there really any other way?  How do you really know the depths of your integrity or the dimensions of your heart unless you bump up against life in a way that tests it?

Although her story is extreme, the experiences of Molly Bloom (the so-called “Poker Princess”) really started me thinking about lessons and motivations in my own life.  Well…that’s when you know you’ve seen a great movie, when it reaches in and gets you pondering like that.

Insanely well-written (by the great Aaron Sorkin) and barreling along at high speed, we follow the trajectory of a woman who was seemingly raised to train hard, push herself, achieve excellence, and go for the gold.  Literally.  And she ends up applying those skills in the dice-y arena of high stakes (VERY high stakes) poker.

Ah…but there’s more to the story.

Not just the “HOW?” but the “WHY?” is fully explored here, and I was reminded that there is a lot more going on in life than just the surface events.  Not everyone has a taste for these deeper motivations, but ya know what?  They are there, and they are RUNNING THINGS, whether you choose to examine them or not.

Every level of gambling is explored here:  financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, and of course, addiction.  You may start out risking just money, but at what point does it turn and you are wagering your very soul?  I’m not kidding.  It both captivated and scared the bejesus out of me.  (Some of the poker game scenes got me so nervous I wished I had one of those fidget spinner things to take the edge off.)

As the character of Molly, Jessica Chastain is on her best game (pun intended).  Whip-smart and intense and mesmerizing to watch, she is believable both as a sharp, opportunistic young woman who goes too far down the rabbit hole, and also one who painfully learns who her friends are, what she stands for, and where she draws the line.  She gets my vote for a Best Actress Oscar.  Especially this year, when women all over the country have been wrestling with much the same thing.  #metoo

Ultimately Molly must answer this question:  I may be able to gamble with and destroy my own life, but can I do that to others?  Under enormous pressure, she has to dig deep for the answer, and no bluffing this time.

When you leave the theater ask yourself, honestly, what would YOU do?

 

 

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The Revenant

Uncompromising.  That’s what they say about this film.  What I say is “They sure don’t make Westerns like they used to.”

 

More terrifying than any horror film, the challenges faced by The Revenant’s protagonist are relentless.  The story is inspired by a real-life frontiersman and takes place in the early 1800s in the northern Louisiana Purchase territory, which is now Montana and South Dakota.  (I tell you this, but I had to look it up.  The film-makers don’t bother with the usual informative titles like “This is Where” and “This is When”.  They just throw you into the snow and dirt and start moving.)

Uncompromising?  You bet.  The story, the landscape, the acting… just WOW!  It absolutely delivers.  From one ordeal to another, it is masterful film-making that draws us subtly and imperceptibly into this dramatic adventure.  At one point I realized that I was completely invested in this character’s harsh odyssey, and that I was literally on the edge of my seat.

I happen to really like movies like this:  tough and gritty.  It’s you, the land, the elements, and whatever your idea of God is.  Which even that is a bit indulgent:  these folks are too busy in an “Extreme Outward Bound” situation to trifle over such issues.  But there IS an underlying spirituality to it all… mother nature, life and death, and the painfully transcending experience of grief.

Oh dear.  I’m afraid you’ll think this movie is a grind.  “Two and half hours?” you may think.  “Of snow and dirt and terror??”

Actually, it is extraordinarily beautiful and richly expansive, IF!… you have a taste for such intense films.  I was deeply moved and completely engaged throughout.

Inevitably, I was reminded how completely spoiled we are.  With our ya know, ELECTRICITY, and our of course, RUNNING WATER.  And, it randomly occurred to me while watching this outdoorsy freeze-fest, “Thank God for blow-dryers!”  (If you see it, you’ll know why.)  But I actually started being grateful for a ton of stuff while I was watching.

And I thought about that word uncompromising, how in this time in history we CAN compromise with life and even death, if we want to.  Whether it be through science, modern medicine, or just communications technology, we have so much more control over our experiences than these folks did.  And yet the universal truth that The Revenant focuses on is:

“Life is definitely one damned thing after another… But ultimately we are redeemed by the strength of our character and the purity of our inner souls.”

  

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Iris

I gotta be honest… Getting older freaks me out. All the clichés you’ve ever heard start to ring in my ears:

“Getting old…it ain’t for sissies!” and

“Youth is wasted on the young!” and

“My get-up-and-go just got-up-and-went!” and so on.

*Bleah*

I start to wonder how I’ll survive that seemingly long, difficult period that heads inexorably towards…well, let’s just say it: Death.

Then I went to see the dazzling, life-affirming movie “Iris”, which is about a woman… IN HER 90s… who has been kicking ass all over the fashion world: magazines, museums, runways from New York to Paris, and now of course, a documentary by a super-influential filmmaker. Hello! Not bad for someone who was apparently “discovered” only about 10 years ago!

Iris Apfel is being celebrated for her extraordinary style, but it goes much deeper than that. It is also who she is, and her unique-yet-straightforward approach to life. It’s also a look at the culmination of all the experiences… all the influences… which have made her so fabulous and have caused such a stir.

This is an audacious, accomplished woman and watching her made me realize not only is it OKAY to follow the beat of your own drum, to be truly creative you MUST do so. How rewarding and fun life can be when you stop trying to please everyone else and just start suiting yourself!

Iris Apfel may be one-of-a-kind, but the film’s message about her bold spirit and willingness to continue to say YES to life is inspiring to anyone and at any age.

Now, the filmmaker himself is no Spring Chicken, and perhaps it took his OWN age and experience to capture her unique vitality. He has since passed away, but I wish I could thank him because THIS is the quote about aging that I believe now:

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

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Unbroken

Ugh!  My sister-in-law said “Well THAT was certainly the FEEL-GOOD movie of the Holiday Season!”  (She is a Brit, and quick with the dry humorous observations.)

The fact is, the real-life hero of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini, led a truly extraordinary life.  It’s a shame that it became a mediocre movie.  And a grinding, unrelenting one as well.  Don’t go see it if you are hoping to experience the full arc of his exceptional story, or even to learn exactly HOW he overcame his traumatizing experiences and had a book written about him.

The film is marketed as a inspirational-albeit-tough story.  But it is l-o-o-n-g on the Tough and short on the Inspirational.  And that is a big mistake because it ends up being emotionally unsatisfying.

You know what I think happened?  Angelina Jolie, the director, wanted to focus on the parts that really resonated with her.  You know, certain BIG EVENTS, the suffering and unspeakably cruel stuff.  I get it.  You get it.  We all get it.  But a good director is a STORYTELLER, and never forgets that this is a MOVIE, and that we really don’t need to be hit over the head, and anyway she’s not very good.  (Please see Oliver Stone or Martin Scorsese, who are better.)

Unbroken is broken….and doesn’t work.

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The Trip to Italy

My husband surprises me with the movies that he enjoys.  Please realize that he has not seen ANYTHING.  (For example:  He just watched Road House on cable, and was transfixed.  I thought to myself “I know he lived in Hawaii for a long time, but did he spend the 80s and 90s in a frigging yurt?”)

Now we go see everything, and honestly he has the most discriminating, thoughtful, excellent taste in movies.  I am such a movie buff that it is ridiculous, so I take him to black & white indie films that would be a stretch for most people and he is delighted.  Just laughs, cries, and thoroughly enjoys himself.  Thank God!

My husband LOVED The Trip To Italy.

Granted it is a charming movie, with great scenery, and discussions of great food.  But the two stars verge on the annoying, and then…just when you wish you could reach up and SMACK them silly, they do a “bit” that makes you laugh right from your belly.  They have captured that elusive thing:  a long, close, complicated friendship.  And the delights and frustrations of traveling with someone.  It just feels frank and true and at times unedited…hence the occasionally annoying part.  Close friends are annoying at times!

All their little foibles and adventures, (and moral failings) on this trip become completely absorbing.  When the lights came up at the end, I realized I had been totally drawn in, and that I forgot I was in that stuffy little theater.  I felt like I had taken a trip to Italy.

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