Lion

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Once, when I was about 4-years-old, I got up one morning at 6am, wandered across the street to a neighbor’s house, and sat in their backyard sandbox playing alone for roughly 2 hours. About 20 minutes after I’d started playing, I heard my mother calling for me.

I listened to her calls for an hour and a half before eventually deciding that I should probably head home. When I emerged from behind the house, on my front lawn were state police, my father who’d come home from work, my grandparents, and my mother in absolute shambles. I walked right up to her and, dropping to her knees, she asked, “Did you hear me calling you?”

I nodded. I don’t remember what happened after that because I’m pretty sure I got a well deserved clock cleaning.

Lion isn’t the story of some little digbat running off. It is far more profound. Living with his mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), sister, and Brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), in a dilapidated home in India, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and Guddu spend most days robbing coal trains to get food and milk for the family. When Guddu is set to leave for a few days for work, Saroo insists on joining him.
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Reluctantly, Guddu decides to bring Saroo along on a long train ride. Upon arrival, Guddu attempts to wake his snoozing little brother to no avail. Telling him to wait right there, Guddu disappears into the darkness.

Stirring from his slumber some time later, Saroo realizes his brother is nowhere to be found. In his frightened state, he boards a nearby train and after calling for Guddu for probably as long as my mom called for me, he falls asleep and wakes to find the train moving and he is unable to get off.

Taken two days travel from where he last saw his brother, Saroo must now navigate back home in a place where he doesn’t speak the language and predators are lurking.

Eventually entered in a school for orphaned or even forgotten children, Saroo’s image is printed in a newspaper in an effort to help his family find him. While his mother and brother don’t locate him via the article, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, respectively), of Australia, see his story and adopt him.

Moving along 20 years, tormented by the thought of his mother and brother still looking for him, Saroo (played by Dev Patel as an adult) struggles to lead a normal 20-something existence. He finds work as a hotel manager, meets his girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara), there, and the two attempt to build a comfortable life around his constant longing to find home.

I was missing for two hours. To this day, I still feel terrible for what my family went through that day. To be lost for most of your life, unable to assure your own mother that you’re alright is an agony that I can only imagine.

This movie is sublimely well done. Based on ‘A Long Way Home: A Memoir’ written by Saroo himself, and adapted to screen by Luke Davies, Lion tells the story of the brave little boy who spent his life adrift. Directed by Garth Davis, the film illustrates the total destruction of a man in a perpetual state of unrest.

Done properly, the viewer is enveloped in the total breakdown of a character with genuine interest in their well-being. Lion executes this perfectly, giving the audience a glimpse at the pain experienced in going missing, the hesitant joy of finding people to love and care for you, and the exquisite sorrow lying just beneath the surface all along.

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Not only is Lion poignant and divine in its direction and storytelling, but cinematographer Greig Fraser invites us into the picture, generously bringing our collective subconscious into his brilliant vision. His breathtaking views of little Saroo’s world lend to the magic being created through the lens. Coupled with Dustin O’Halloran’s riveting and — at times — energetically melancholy score, Lion is one of the best movies of 2016 by a landslide.

Lovely, endearing performances from Patel, Kidman, and Mara, but that little Sunny Pawar is just a gem; cripplingly adorable and a very fine actor.

A picture destined for many well deserved accolades, Lion needs to be seen. Thoroughly seen. I implore you — go see this movie.

Hidden Figures

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The last time a man told me I couldn’t do something, it was in regard to the last chunk of a brick of cheese I’d put away. He said, “Bet you can’t finish it,” and do you know what I did? I picked up that whole hunk and shoved it in my mouth. Took about 8 minutes to chew it up, but damn it, I did it.

Hidden Figures is vaguely similar to that story, yet far more poetic and eloquent with much higher stakes.

Today — right now — women everywhere of every race are fighting the good fight for feminism and everything that means. This film takes place in the 60s, making it even more empowering and motivational for women folk everywhere to stand up, grab that last chunk of cheddar, and cram it in their mouths proudly and with gusto.

Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) were three of the most extraordinary minds working at NASA in the 1960s when the US was in a race with Russia to get a man into space. Living in a still segregated Virginia, these sharp, fiercely driven ladies were subject to the tortures of such a life; belittlement, harsh and unnecessary criticism, and maybe worst of all — limitations on what they were allowed to do due to their skin color and gender.

I will say this word only one time and it is merely to express my deep and utter hatred of it: they fell victim to being “colored”. Don’t worry, fellow enraged masses, there’s an incredibly cathartic and gratifying moment, regarding that word in the film.

Moving right along.

A gifted mathematician since she was just a wee one, Katherine is promoted when the director of the Space Task Group, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), is in need of someone who can do some seriously complex geometry stuff that would make my brain melt. Walking into a room full of white men after being told that no one like her has ever entered that room, Katherine is intimidated, but prepared to take on the challenge.

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Dorothy Vaughan — stuck in a tiny, segregated part of the campus with about 20 women — is doing what so many of us have done once or twice before; she’s performing all the duties that a supervisor would, without the title or the pay. Bringing it up with her brusque, standoffish supervisor, Vivian (Kirsten Dunst) goes about as well as you’d expect, and she’s sent back to her office, dejected.

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Mary Jackson. Saucy, outspoken, impassioned Mary Jackson. After being reassigned to assist the engineers working on the vessel that will take a man into space, she’s encouraged to become an engineer herself. However, nothing in life comes easily. Especially for these three women. That said, she will not be stopped.

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Together, the three face their own day-to-day trials and tribulations; supporting one another with unwavering love and honesty. What else can one do when faced with unbridled oppression?

Together, they would go on to make history.

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I can’t recall the last time I was so profoundly moved and personally motivated by a film. While I’m not jumping the same kinds of hurdles they did — not by a long shot — I think this film speaks to what women can do in the face of rejection.

THAT SAID. I was seriously disheartened to read this article, and I recommend you proceed only if you can handle the truth: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

When it’s all said and done, the film is quite good, even with some wavering truths interjected. Hollywood does love to pander, though. If they didn’t, the shark would not have been blown up and Hooper would have been dead at the end of Jaws. That doesn’t get butts in the seats, though. Gotta blow up that shark.

Backed by a fitting score composed by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin Wallfisch, and written by Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder, and based on the book by the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is a lovely film with just a couple of alternative facts. That doesn’t take away from the superb performances by Henson, Spencer, Monae, Mahershala Ali, Costner, and Dunst.

I can’t wait for the sequel; Hidden Fences 2 — where Taraji blasts Denzel Washington into space!