“She led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, and served as the only woman at the highest level of the Civil Rights Movement — witnessing every march and milestone along the way. And even in the final weeks of her life — a time when anyone else would have enjoyed their well-earned rest — Dr. Height continued her fight to make our nation a more open and inclusive place for people of every race, gender, background and faith.” President Barack Obama
Dr. Dorothy Height died today at age 98. She was a part of almost a century of progress for African-Americans and for women. As a teenager, she protested lynchings. As the leader of the National Council of Negro Women, she stood on the stage with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. She is an icon of courage, dignity, vision, and inspiration. In her memoir, Open Wide The Freedom Gates: A Memoir, she wrote about her “ministry of presence,” starting with small, inter-racial meetings of women for Bible study and fellowship.
Dr. Height liked to quote the words of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass: “Agitate, agitate, agitate.” But she was never shrill or harsh; her personal example of grace was one of her most powerful and compelling weapons. I hope all of us honor her memory by working a little harder for education, equality, and justice.
Jeff Bridges does not portray Bad Blake, a broken-down, once-successful country singer; he inhabits the role, showing us not just what is happening to the man on screen but everything, every success and every failure, every love and every loss that the man has had in his 57 years.
Blake once played arenas and was a mentor to Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), who is now a huge star. He once had money, and his own band. Now he is lucky to get a one-night gig at a bowling alley, with a pick-up band for back-up.
Bridges makes us feel that Blake is someone we have known and listened to all our lives, as though just last week, driving in the car, one of his old songs came on and we said, “You know, I really used to like that guy. Whatever happened to him?”
Like the songs Blake sings (from Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett), the story feels completely authentic and fully lived. We know at the very beginning, as soon as Blake pulls up to the bowling alley parking lot that he is destined to disappoint everyone, and that he knows it, too. And yet, he still has the power to surprise us, to beguile us, to make us think, against our better judgment, that things might be different next time.
Did this happen because he drinks too much or does he drink too much because it happened? Probably both. Substance abusers, even those who have some self-awareness, maintain their denial by compartmentalizing so they can reassure themselves that there is some part of their life they are not messing up. We see what’s left of that with Blake when he is on stage. He may spend the rest of his life hiding from others and even himself how much of his energy goes into obtaining and drinking booze and recovering from drinking booze. But he holds onto what was precious to him. He may skip rehearsal and duck off stage to throw up in the middle of a big number, but he will do everything in his still-considerable power to deliver to the audience. He can still muster some grace on and off stage.
Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother and aspiring journalist, interviews Blake for an article. There is a strong attraction between them, her for what he has been and him for what he sees of himself in her eyes. An unexpected setback gives them a break to explore what they might be to each other, and Blake’s genuine connection to her son makes Jean even more vulnerable. But anyone who’s ever listened to a country song knows why Blake’s first name is Bad.
And anyone who sees this movie will know why Bridges’ first name should be Good. One of our finest actors has been given one of his finest roles, and that makes this a very good film to see.
“The Young Victoria” is the story of a teenager who became a queen. Before she reigned for a record 63 years and gave her name to an age, she was a girl who was sheltered to the point of claustrophobia. Famously, her first order as queen was that her mother no longer sleep in her bedroom. Like all in power, she was beset with those who tried to pressure and manipulate her, but she proved herself to be wiser and more adept than many far more experienced when it came to staying true to her ideals and her commitment to her subjects. And perhaps even more rare among royals, she married a man with whom she was deeply in love, and was so true to him that after his death she wore mourning for the rest of her life.
Sarah Ferguson, who knows a great deal about being a young royal because she married and divorced the son of the current queen and is the mother of two of her grandchildren, has produced this sumptuous biography, making it respectful without being at all stuffy. Emily Blunt (“The Devil Wore Prada,” “Charlie Wilson’s War”) plays the young queen as naive but with a lively, curious mind, surrounded by corruption but able to recognize honesty and with the courage, even in an era when women were far from equal, to insist on her full authority as monarch. When she plays chess with her handsome distant cousin Albert (Rupert Friend), he tells her she should find a husband who will play the game of political intrigue with her, not for her. And she knows that he is someone she can trust.
It is very satisfying to see the young queen triumph over her enemies, especially the cruel bully who has dominated Victoria’s mother and hopes to rule as regent (Mark Strong). But it is even more satisfying to see her learn from her mistakes and especially to see her allowing herself to be vulnerable with Albert. She is not just a monarch but a young bride very much in love with her husband. Blunt is simply radiant and the film is stirring, touching, and inspiring.
Peter Jackson, whose film versions of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy could be a textbook example of how to adapt a literary work for screen, could find his latest film, “The Lovely Bones” as the example on the next page of how not to. His sincerity and artistry are there, but unlike Tolkien’s triology, Alice Sebold’s book-club favorite is not essentially cinematic. What made the book successful with critics and the public was not the story but the language. Jackson’s efforts to translate the graceful, lucid prose into images loses all of the story’s delicacy and becomes cloying and dissonant. Instead of a poetic meditation on life and the human spirit it becomes more like “CSI” if one of the detectives was dead.
As in the book, we know right from the beginning that Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan of “Atonement” and “I Could Never Be Your Woman”) is dead and telling us her story in a tone of calm, slightly distant regret. She was 14, the oldest daughter in a happy, loving family. She had a crush on a boy named Ray (Reece Ritchie). She and her father made meticulously constructed boats in bottles. And then, one night, walking home from school , a neighbor invites her to see a cool clubhouse he dug beneath the cornfields, filled with candles and snacks and board games. And he kills her.
In the movie’s best scene we and Susie both think that she has escaped the killer (Stanley Tucci) as she bursts out of the underground room and races through the streets. But then we realize just before she does that it is only her spirit that survives. Susie has been murdered. She will watch the rest of her story from a personal heaven, an in-between place for a soul that is not ready to let go.
But the lyricism of the book translates on screen into under-imagined images that look like stock photos used for screen savers or the discreet artwork of a mid-range hotel. Leafy trees, aquamarine skies, fluttering fields, and of course spa music (from Brian Eno) and quavery voice-overs.
Ronen is breathtaking, and Susan Sarandon adds some life as the boozy grandmother who steps in when the parents are devastated by Susie’s loss. The script softens the brutality of the story and irons out some of the sub-plots. But it gives us too much information about the less interesting parts of the story and not enough about what we really care about. But we are never sure whether we are there to see justice done or to put Susie’s soul to rest and by the time Susie meets up with her murderer’s other victims and returns to fulfill one last human longing, it feels more like a campfire ghost story than a meditation on love, loss and the enduring human spirit.