“ A Private War ”

The philosopher Albert Camus once wrote that “Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph, and the signs of horror are still in the air.” 

The bio-pic “A Private War” introduces most of us to Marie Colvin, an American war correspondent who wrote for London’s “The Sunday Times” and ultimately lost her life in Syria. There is evidence that she was targeted by the Assad regime, but “ A Private War” is more of a character study then a dramatic thriller, though it has harrowingly frightening  war scenes.

Rosamund Pike carries the film. She is always on the screen. Her husky voice letting us know she believes in her mission to bear witness to the suffering of civilians in war ravaged places, especially the women and the children. Yale educated, Colvin covered conflicts all over the world for twenty-seven years in places as diverse as Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Chechnya, and  Sri Lanka.  She lost her left eye while reporting on the battlefield in East Timor. Feisty, yet suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and alcoholism, Colvin is surrounded by friends, ex-husbands, and loyal colleagues. Nikki-Anika Bird is a natural at playing the no-nonsence, Rita, while Jaime Dornan is more leaden in his admiration of Marie. Stanley Tucci captures the more wanton edges of fame and opportunity. 

Director Matthew Heineman makes sure that “suffering is part of the record”, and the film is exhausting in both the personal and in the national tolls. At fifty-six, Colvin’s flak-jacket is still in use. She is disfigured, British Correspondent of the Year, and suffering from nightmares. One of my favorite scenes is when she lies to a border guard that she is a nurse. She uses her health gym card and points to the word “health” to parlay her way closer to the action. More tender scenes like when Marie comments that during war “ the fragility of the human body never leaves you,” are well-placed.

The film written by Arash Amel, sticks to its premise that journalists are truth-seekers who care, and through their writing and with photo-journalists as partners, they work to make us care. Colvin was driven in her belief that truth-telling journalists could save lives. Grim and provocative, she made her mark. She was addicted to war zones. A favorite line is “ Don’t be English-be honest. Get me back in the field.”

Amel’s flashback use is jumpy, but I can’t see chronology working as well either. Homs, Syria 2012 does not flow easily into London, 2001. Along the way, we see her interviews with Muammar Gaddafi after U.S. planes bomb Tripoli. We see Colvin’s toughness and her charm. The film’s title is taken from a Vanity Fair article written by Marie Brenner, “MC’s Private War”. It is a good one, and I am glad it was used. 

A new book by Linsey Hilsum, “In Extremis: The Life and Death of War Correspobdent Marie Colvin” summons up other similar insights. I will add this biography to my collection of female journalists living abroad and reporting their stores and their truths. Suzy Hansen’s “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World” ( 2017) and Deborah Campbell’s “ A Disappearance In Damascus” ( 2016) are well-worth reading in the spirit of Marie Colvin. And, who knows, maybe their films will follow.


“Beauty and the Beast”

The VHS tape of  “Beauty and the Beast” ( 1991) is still on my cellar shelf even though we no longer have a recorder.  I love this animated film, and  I don’t wish to let it go. It was the first animated movie to be  Oscar nominated for “Best Picture”. Disney’s up-dated ” Beauty and the Beast” (2017) will have its next generation of fans, too; but, it is hard for me to get used to its mixed animation. The new musical numbers by Alan Mekin and ,this time, Tim Rice add only length without enhancing the tale. And, it is  Angela Lansbury’s voice as Mrs. Potts, that I hear when I start humming  ” story old as time…”.  Given these disclaimers, I came home from my latest movie-theater viewing as happy as a seven-year-old.

The current re-do is lovely, so worth seeing, and a smash hit for Disney. Who wouldn’t love a romantic, Parisian legend where provincial life is expanded through books and love is taught as something to hold on to? Throw in lessons about beauty being inside, too; and we have a magical banquet and a few sensuous scares. Turrets, garrets, and cages all confine, but spell breaking and freedom are won.

There are few changes in the dialogue, and  the script stays almost identical to the award winning 1991 version.  Scriptwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos  add  “Never going to happen, ladies” and having a “fearless mother”, and ” hero-time” as linguistic twists for the times. The line getting the most press is Josh Gad’s . As Le Fou, his “You can ask any Tom, Dick, or Stanley, and they will tell you which team they prefer to be on.” caused one intolerant country to squeal, and one section of the populace of Alabama to recoil. For my part, inclusiveness makes all the merrier.

Added vignettes like the bibliophile Belle ( Emma Watson) praising a young girl beginning to decode words is praiseworthy. Reading teachers need every boost they can get. The fact that books truly allow one to escape is further underscored when the Beast tells Belle that his library is hers. Belle asks her captor, ” Can anyone be happy if they aren’t free?” The Beast understands that the wiser he becomes the more unsure he finds himself. Could he be Shakespeare’s ” winged Cupid painted blind” ?

Gaston ( Luke Evans ) has a meaner spirit in this version. Yes, he is narcissistic, but not quite the buffoon. He steps heedlessly on cabbages and throws mud-splatters on pink-frocked hopefuls, yet his line, ” A great hunter doesn’t waste his time with rabbits.” points to a more strategic planner of the ” me first” variety.

After a rather “spoon-fed” beginning where Audra McDonald’s operatic voice gives way to the prince’s transformation, we see our beast slashing out at his princely portrait in symbolism like Dorian Gray.  Saws like ” You can’t judge people by who their father is” and ” People say a lot of things in anger. It is our choice to decide to listen” are adages for our times. Mrs. Potts ( Emma Thompson) and her son Chip ( Nathan Mack )  serve up lots of these aphorisms. “Learn to control your temper” is another didactic lesson.

The irony in the script is more fun. When the question of love is broached, we are given, ” You will feel slightly nauseous.” When Gaston is overwrought, his side kick Le Fou says, “Breathe breaths, Gaston”, “Breathe happy thoughts; Go back to war”. Many will recall “show me the meat”, as Gaston yells ” show me the Beast” in the same incantation. These writers are having fun!

Director Bill Condon gives Belle’s father, Maurice, ( Kevin Kline) lots of play. Kline looks the part, but his singing is weak. Still a caring father, who adores his daughter, Kline is always welcome on the screen. The backstory grounds us with a touch of sadness and sacrifice. The other man in Belle’s life can belt it out. Dan Stevens’ Beast’s voice is deep and sonorous. I loved both the bathing Beast and the slurping soup animal. His song ” Come wake me up” seemed rather lusty.

Fear and fighting play a larger part in the newer version. The wolves are terrifying and the Beast’s leaps from rampart to rampart are heart-stopping. I can see young children on their parent’s laps. The use of psychological fear is well mapped by the tally-ho of villagers’ torches. The Gaston and the Beast face-off is more action-packed than the original, and Gaston is meaner. He shoots the Beast twice. Gaston is more than vain; he is a liar exemplar, who tries to kill his competitor.

On the more joyful side, the culinary cabaret with all its accoutrements delight. Luminere ( Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan ) as candlestick and mantle clock are engaging. Their ormolu glistening, both are dusted by the cleaning cockatoo ( Gigi Mbatha-Raw), with the wonderful name, Plummet. Silver trays transform into spotlights and all proudly present quite an animated showcase dinner. Furniture dances and chifforobes and barking footstools help welcome and celebrate. “Be our guest” becomes the loveliest of words. And, ” Here ‘s a thought: There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

Little girls will be twirling lovingly for another two decades! And everyone will remember that the sun rises in the east. Enjoy.

“Spotlight”

See “Spotlight” for its incredible cast. Stanley Tucci should get an Oscar, Liev Schreiber does incredible understated work,too. The question of why every major news organization will not pay for a permanent investigative team should be asked. This is journalistic drama that seeks to spotlight the truth.

Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton shine a bright light on the sullied reputation of the Catholic Church and the lawyers that try to protect its coffers and its dark secrets. Bully Crudup and Jaime Sheridan play these  legal types well for more great casting.

Investigative journalism is being lauded at the same time that it is currently dwindling. This film shows us hard-working and passionate truth-seekers. Their spirit is invigorating, their service admirable and their success redemptive.

Directed and co-written  by Tom McCarthy, the film’s copy machines,  water coolers,carts of hanging files and  office clutter  can get drab. The golf  and baseball and running scenes ditto. Where this film shines is in the showing of abuse of power: both physical and spiritual. Though the heavy  gold cross worn by Cardinal Law ( Len Cariou )  over his black cassock is over the top and more akin to a Hip Hop rapper.

The cast lets us see just enough of their own pain when interviewing the now grown victims. One of the most touching scenes was Ruffalo’s face as he enters a Catholic Church to see children singing “Silent Night”. He morally can not keep this story quiet, even  when 53 per cent of the Globe’s subscriber base is Catholic. They will be interested. They will have their stories.

One of these interviews is with Fr. Paquin,who rationalizes that he never got pleasure from his actions. He is whisked off the front porch like a dim-witted child by his protective sister. With steeples in the background, we learn this dottering man was himself raped. More rationales like “people need the Church” are spouted. It is even stated that the new Jewish editor of “The Globe” doesn’t care about the city of Boston like we do. Ties and loyalties are strained. Excuses like “I was doing my job” are snidely answered with “Yeah, you and everybody else !”

Lifting the seal of documents when  “The Church thinks in centuries” is key to the case. Twenty grand for molesting a child makes a cottage industry of priestly abuse for attorneys. Private mediation leaves no paper trail and horrific abuse stays under wraps. Tucci plays an outsider, Mitchell Garabedian,an Armenian.He says that many are culpable: “it takes a village to raise a child, and a village to abuse one”. Tucci is so good at his part that we want to research this man and celebrate him as pure, not just eccentric! Recent articles have him “robbing the Church” as if it was an ATM machine.

The film ends with three scrolls of world cities where child abuse by priests were found. The systemic metric of six per cent of all priests as abusers is documented on the big screen,and the words of the psycho-therapist ex-priest (Richard Sipe) who studied pedophilia and its scandals for thirty years begs for the Church to get on the right side of its systemic problem by either rethinking celibacy or at least halting phony official designations in transferring recalcitrants. The resignation of Cardinal Law and his placement in Rome to an honored position tells us that more change needs to come in the institutional Church.