A slightly passing grade for the action movie ‘The Commuter’

The Commuter (2018) is a foray for the new year into a high stakes action thriller taking place on a moving train. The film stars Liam Neeson in the lead role of manipulated hero figure pitted against time and an unknown, unconscionable choice to act after getting laid off with college bills for a son and two mortgages during his commute home from the job he just lost.

The Commuter 2(Liam Neeson)

Neeson, portraying Michael MacCauley, clearly has a set of deductive and defensive skills along with the skills of a former police detective. MacCauley is revealed as a former policeman shortly after he is fired from a long-term insurance sales job when MacCauley meets former police partner Alex Murphy. Murphy, played by Patrick Wilson, mentions a beef with his captain about politics since MacCauley has left the police force. Captain Hawthorne, as portrayed by Sam Neill, provides confirmation of the same. MacCauley then departs for his commute home on the train, wherein the stage for the remainder of the movie has been set.

The Commuter 3(Patrick Wilson)

With the special skills of a movie character played by Liam Neeson, the narrative of The Commuter feels a little bit like the trio of Taken movies that began in 2008, though based in New York City. The movie further feels like the movie Speed (1994), wherein the unfolding drama has a specific set of all-knowing rules following the construct of an external force dangling a bunch of would-be actions in front of a would-be detective.

The Commuter 4(Sam Neill)

The intrigue of the film was legitimate. Largely, the character of MacCauley is asked to carry the film, though I walked into the film knowing much of the things intriguing points that we were likely to see. The adversaries for MacCauley were a number of regular helpers to the mastermind of the larger scheme. The roles of Joanna, played by Vera Farmiga, Alexa Murphy, and Captain Hawthorne were important for the film’s outcome, though to say exactly how is not one that I am inclined to share with a would be viewer of this film.

The Commuter 5(Vera Farmiga)

My assessment of The Commuter is that the advice given by the Rotten Tomatoes fresh meter of 58% fresh based on the 154-reviews presented at this moment is a fair rating. That I paid matinee pricing to see the movie feels appropriate to the entertainment value that I enjoyed. While my estimation would not be to add The Commuter to a top ten movies listing for 2018, allow me a year of movie watching before I make that a firm statement.

Matt – Monday, January 29, 2018

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A playful swim and dance for the film ‘The Shape of Water’

The Guillermo Del Toro-directed movie The Shape of Water (2017) is showing in a theater near you. The tale is a playful, generous of spirit fantasy film that offers a generous outlooks toward disability, sexual expression, and a manner of storytelling that asks many to lighten up about taboos of American culture that were present during the time period covered in the film.

The story take place somewhere in the mid-1950s to early 1960s in and around Baltimore, Maryland. The Shape of Music‘s soundtrack reflects a charmingly playful tribute to these time periods, as does the storytelling of the tale. Soundtrack pieces that help set a sense of time include 1962’s A Summer Place by Andy Williams, 1955’s Babalu by Caterina Valente, 1941’s Chica Chica Boom Chic by Carmen Miranda, and 1941’s I Know Why (And So Do You) by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. The feeling is very jazz, upbeat, and playful.

Vanessa Taylor joined the director, Guillermo Del Toro, in garnering writing credit for a screenplay for a 13-time Oscar nominated fantasy film. The film aims to look back to an earlier time in Hollywood and popular culture, with dance, musical, popular culture, and other references from a previous era. (For plagiarism allegations appearing after the Academy Award nominations last week, see this Rolling Stone magazine piece written by Joyce Chen from January 26th, 2018).

The Shape of Water 2(Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito)

The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor at Occam’s Aerospace Research Center. Mild-mannered artist Giles as played by Richard Jenkins enjoys conversation and artistry as he struggles for companionship, physical and/or interpersonal intimacy, and a stable income for his artistry at a time where his artistry is losing ground to photography. Some ugly realities of Jim Crow and homophobia are expressed at the restaurant Dixie Doug’s Pie, the first subject receiving fuller treatment in the experiences of Zelda Fuller, as played by Octavia Spencer.

The Shape of Water 5(Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller)

Michael Shannon stars in the film as Richard Strickland. It is Strickland that one-dimensionally injectsa tamer sense of intrigue and conflict into The Shape of Water with an obsession towards tracking The Cold War asset of a male ampibious human through South America. Strickland is focused on being a decent soldier and a single-minded military discipline aimed at succeeding in his mission rather than any kind of human decency towards the amphibious man. Actor Doug Jones plays the amphibious human hybrid.

The Shape of Water 3(Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland)

The Shape of Water first and foremost seeks to share a love for the place and time it inhabits with a certain sense of nostalgia to time-period. I felt a directorial sense of love for place and time that also aims to wrap its conscience around the larger questions of injustice of the time period. The injustices were expressed for consideration as a gentle nudge towards recognizing wrong where it exists and trying to do better. There was additional asks to lighten up on private matters of intimacy.

The Shape of Water 6(Director and co-writer Guillermo Del Toro)

The entertainment in the film, beyond the appealing visual and auditory style reminiscent of a time roughly 55 to 60 years ago, was The Cold War tension that underpinned a central piece to the larger narrative of The Shape of Water. The central questions that grew beyond nostalgia were in telling the universal feelings of love, communication, and connection in relationships. A central motif was in advocating for a basic decency in matters of interpersonal relationships, whether those relationships be human to human, feline to human, fantastic amphibious creature to human, or self-directed.

The Shape of Water 4(Richard Jenkins, left, as Giles and Doug Jones, right, as Amphibious Man)

There were many explored relationships dealing with the central question of decency that provoke thought and follow-up. The raising of these questions in The Shape of Water were in some ways profound; perhaps the biggest subject to consider would be how the two characters who had the biggest difficulty communicating and advocating for themselves, most pronounced being Elisa Esposito and Amphibious Man with strong support from Giles, Zelda Fuller, and even Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (as played by Michael Stuhlberg).

The Shape of Water 7(Sally Hawkins, left, as Elisa Esposito and Doug Jones, right, as Amphibious Man)

The most important story in the film combined the nostalgia of the past with actual voice with dance. We see Elisa Esposito sharing dance with both Amphibious Man and Giles. The framing of the speaker who introduces and closes the movie’s narration also brings the central messaging for The Shape of Water, with how the effect of water shaped the central reality for the experiences of the characters, should be well received in this film.

Matt – Sunday, January 28, 2018.

Time and Place Transcend in the 2013 book TransAtlantic

Colum McCann weaves a transcendental mediation in the book TransAtlantic. This experiment in time, historical figures, and the stories of a maternal line of one family spans the years 1844 to 2012 in a non-linear way, leaping from era to era in North America (Canada and the United States) and the western Europe (Ireland and England).

The reader is immersed in historical fiction with an insight into two British airmen, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, making the first non-stop aerial crossing of the Atlantic after the first world war in 1919, Frederick Douglass speaking in Ireland with bewilderment at being treated with human dignity while observing the ravages of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849, and finally former Maine Senator George Mitchell helping negotiate the Northern Ireland peace accord between 1995 and 1998. The first movement of TransAtlantic is a meditation on history and identity with two regions connected in spirit and identity.

TransAtlantic 2(Colum McCann)

These disparate events are brought closer together and made more intimate not by any logical connection but by looking around and seeing a single family of ladies on the periphery of Douglass, Alcock, Brown, and Mitchell taking on a larger role in making the world smaller. The second major movement of the book opens with this quote from Wendell Berry‘s poem The Rising:

“But this is not the story of life.
It is the story of lives, knit together,
overlapping in succession, rising
again from grave after grave.”

The historical figures connect to The Rising by being the interconnection of the three threads made by the historical figures. There is Lily Duggan, mother to Emily Ehrlich. Emily Ehrlich is the mother to Lottie and grandmother to Hannah. It is Lily that is moved by Douglass’ words about possibility and freedom that prompts her to head to America with a child who dies in the Civil War. Emily is born of Lily’s marriage to John Erlich.

Emily learns to read and write, and writes a letter of thanks to Isabel Jennings, who had hosted Frederick Douglass in Ireland all those years ago. Emily had asked Jack Alcock to deliver it with his transcontinental flight. Alcock failed in this deliver, and returned the unopened letter from 1919 to Emily ten years later when Lottie with her mother Emily were writing an anniversary story.

Lottie meets a man that she later marries while conducting the Alcock anniversary interview and photo shoot with her mother. The family fortune for Lottie and her daughter Hannah is comparatively small when measured against the wealth enjoyed by Emily. This partly happened because Lottie’s husband was less well-to-do. Hannah’s son Thomas is killed setting decoys for a hunting event at the cottage where she and Thomas lived. As Thomas theoretically died at the hands of soldiers that would swear by the peace negotiated with George Mitchell, Hannah finds some measure of peace after the loss.

Finances grow devastatingly worse for Hannah. Hannah wants to sell the letter written by Emily since it might reveal something that would damage the reputation of Frederick Douglass. The sealed letter was forthcoming with only the mysterious answer of a slight thank you for services offered while visiting the Jennings household. Hannah’s stay at the cottage was further coming to an end, and she waxes reminiscent of the lives of her lady ancestors who came before her:

“The tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.”

TransAtlantic becomes a contemplation of the endeavors, struggles, and sad tragedies of life. The narrative style of the book will challenge many readers with an intellectualism that almost defies the transcendentalism that it feels like the author, Colum McCann, was pursuing. It feels like this book will mostly be appreciated by bookish, professorial types of readers. As a result, my rating is 3.5-stars out of a potential 5.0-stars.

Matt – Wednesday, January 24, 2018.

 

Freedom of the Press and Feminism in 2017’s movie The Post

The Steven Spielberg-directed movie The Post (2017) is showing in a theater near you. Starring for the first time with Spielberg is actress Meryl Streep as well as co-star Tom Hanks, who works with the visionary director of Jaws (1975) for the fourth time.

The Post 2(Meryl Streep)

The film tells the story of a cover-up of the background for the involvement of the United States in what is known in America as the Vietnam War. In overcoming a cover-up of the background for being in that war, two leading newspapers battle over the political intrigue of U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon in publishing material that we see is documented from the opening scenes of the movie.

As indicated in the current Biography listing for Steven Spielberg for the Biography (1987- ) series and its related website:

“The movie centers on the actions of The Washington Post publisher (Streep) and editor (Hanks) as they attempt to go public with the Pentagon Papers, a trove of government secrets, over the objections of President Richard Nixon‘s administration.”

Streep plays Katherine (Kay) Graham, who takes over publishing responsibilities for The Washington Post after the death’s of her father and former publisher Eugene Meyer and then her publisher husband Phil Graham. Much of the anxiety over gender roles for her generation were central in the story of The Post by design.

The Post 3(Tom Hanks)

That the movie tackled the cover-up that seemingly ends under Richard Nixon’s presidency is due to Kay Graham‘s bravery in choosing to publish the editorial work of Ben Bradlee (played by Hanks) as well as the reporting work of Ben Bagdikian (played by Bob Odenkirk). It was Bagdikian that gets the classified Pentagon Papers after the Nixon Administration successfully sued The New York Times to stop publishing on this subject.

The Post 4(Bob Odenkirk)

The subject of a press free from an over-stepping government concern is topical from a U.S. and world political history. The subject of fake news was a point-of-contention in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Tension between the current administration and the press remain strong, and was a decisive trope raised within The Post. I again stress that the push and pull between the press and the presidents feels topical. That the figure of a strong female example (Streep as Kay Graham) was explored also bears repeating as relevant in today’s political and social American landscape. The presented example was thoughtfully raised.

I was pleased with the movie, and my feeling is that the movie will likely be recognized in the Academy Awards nomination season. This movie definitely examines political subjects, though I find the end product less overtly personal or politically intimate than Spielberg works such as Munich (2005), Saving Private Ryan (1998), or Schindler’s List (1993) felt.

The Post 5(Steven Spielberg)

That there is a thing known as The Pentagon Papers as well as a presence for The Washington Post today, in a sense, tells you something that you should know about how the movie works out. There is a disclosed ruling about whether publishing The Pentagon Papers was legal. There is an outcome for whether Kay Graham and the newspaper survived and prospered under Graham family control. Overall, I found this movie pleasing while close to satisfying without rising to the level of must-see cinema.

Matt – Monday, January 15, 2018.

The redemption stories of 1986’s Hoosiers

It was 1986 when the notion of an underdog upset in the NCAA basketball tournament came to the foreground when little known 14th-seed Cleveland State University of northeast Ohio defeated the Big Ten powerhouse Indiana University Hoosiers in the first round of that tournament. The Indiana Hoosiers had won the national championship under Bob Knight in 1976 and 1981; the Hoosiers would do so again in 1987. In 1986, the little known Cleveland State University Vikings would win twice before falling a pair of games later to a Navy team that included NBA champion David Robinson.

Hoosiers 5

That same year, a fictional account an of underdog story came to movie theaters with Hoosiers (1986). While the movie felt more like a redemption story for a visionary coach with a checkered past in Coach Norman Dale as played by Gene Hackman, the redemption of Dennis Hopper in Hollywood and in his role as Shooter in Hoosiers landed Hopper the Academy Award nomination this year. The character Shooter had a redemption story of his own in this movie, though Hopper himself said in a DVD-interview for Blue Velvet (1986) that his role in Blue Velvet deserved the Oscar-nomination. The role of Shooter at least echoed the effort in coming back from alcoholism.

Hoosiers 2

While you are suspecting that redemption and underdog tales are the story of this movie, you definitely get the story of an outsider (Coach Norman Dale) coming into town at the behest of Hickory High School principal Cletus Summers. Sheb Wooley plays Summers, bringing Dale into small town Hickory while knowing Dale’s backstory of having coached in college in Ithaca New York. Dale was banned from coaching in the NCAA after punching a player on his team; Dale then shipped out to the navy for ten years because he couldn’t coach anywhere else, either. That is, until the opportunity offered by Summers came up when the previous coach died unexpectedly.

We join the movie immediately after the deal between Dale and Summers was reached by way of Dale driving across country. Dale arrives at Hickory High School his story with Myra Fleener is introduced. Barbara Hershey plays Fleener, whose role in the film survived as a benefactor for star player Jimmy Chitwood, acting principal when Cletus takes ill, and marginally told love interest for Coach Norman Dale who speaks as the small town interpreter between Dale and the community of Hickory, Indiana. The love interest between Dale and Fleener could have included further embellishment.

Hoosiers 3

Much of the further story of Hoosiers first included the building-up of a basketball team. Second, the story was that of an outsider coach gaining the confidence of a small-town who values its high school basketball with unquestioning passion, devotion, and say over how things get run. This includes getting to know the high school kids, learning about who they were and who they could be. Further, this was a sports movie that focused on practicing, learning, discipline, and then seeing the real thing when all the competitive stakes were presented.

Hoosiers was not ranked in the Matt Lynn Digital listing of top 20 movies prior to this review. The story of redemption in the face of adversity is strongly American and followed the well-established formula. Life lessons were strong and endearing. The closing quotes as a young man shoots hoops in front of this image as the films end are a positive uplift.

Hoosiers 4

From these perspectives, you will complete a viewing satisfied. If you like basketball, sports, and an underdog tale, then seeing Hoosiers will make sense for you.

Matt – Saturday, January 13, 2018.

Vladimir Nabokov’s joke in 1955’s ‘Lolita’

It might sound funny to learn that the first thing that prompted me to read the book Lolita by Russian Vladimir Nabokov was a song by the British pop rock band The Police. The shoddy technique used to rhyme cough with Nabokov starting at the 2:13 mark in Don’t Stand So Close to Me prompted me to go to a 63-year-old book 38-years after the release of the lyric that sparked the interest.

Lolita 2(British pop rock band The Police)

The foreword to the book Lolita by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. makes it clear that you are about to get into morally objectionable, taboo subject matter of sexual relations between 37 year old Humbert Humbert and 12 year old Dolores “Lolita” Haze. In admiring the execution that Nabokov had in developing something he deems commendably executed, Ray excoriated Humbert Humbert, or H.H.

“No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. Hr is ponderously capricious…A desperate honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman.”

While obscene terms are not used in this book, the story tells of criminality and obscene thinking and behavior. The fact that this is so clearly the language and thinking underpinning the moral depravity of the subject matter is clearly deliberate from the authorial perspective. As pointed out by reviewer Ian “Marvin” Graye on Goodreads, emphasizing the initials of Humbert Humbert (H.H.) in German initiates the concept that we as readers are the subjects of a joke.

“To this day, I cannot look at Humbert’s initials “H.H.” without pronouncing them in German, “Ha Ha”, and wondering whether the joke is on us.”

The framing of the narrative of Lolita has it that Humbert Humbert was due to stand trial so had the luxury of time to prepare a defense with his lawyer. The detailing of the death of Dolores “Lolita” Haze’s narcissistic mother Charlotte, the ongoing sexual contact between a predatory H.H. and a wayward Dolores across state lines, and H.H.’s murder of Clare Quilty for subsequent sex with Dolores are all tales of confession that we as readers are ostensibly cast as jurors, thus allowing us the “joke” of dignity for working through the moral objections of reading difficult subject matter.

I came to the book Lolita because of a remembered lyric from a song by The Police. The investment in the song was one of less than four-minutes in the random times it would come to the radio. The book prompted an emotional and intellectual investment of a measured duration closer to 12-hours worth of reading. While ostensibly both deal with inappropriate relations, the book feels like it has taken a fuller measure of hurt for prolonging the investment.

Lolita 3(Humbert Humbert words to Dolores “Lolita” Haze)

If the investment truly was one of a joke on the reader, than I feel poorly played as a receiver of the joke. In execution, I must indicate a well-played articulation of language, structure, and the aims of executing sympathy for a character I fully want to consider unsympathetically. That H.H. dies in prison as a part of the novel feels almost satisfying.

I give the book a rating of 3.25-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Offering a Song of Love

Three times before today, we at Matt Lynn Digital have offered a firsthand experience with the speaking and leadership organization called Toastmasters International. This organization has helped me grow personally in confidence, vision creation, voice, and many areas professionally and personally.

There was the time where in this blog where I compared my early experience in confidence finding to peeling back the layers of an onion. There was another time where I was excited to hear the current president of the Toastmasters organization speak to members of my district. There was the time where I mentioned cultivating the relationships formed in Toastmasters to help me land a new career opportunity following a layoff with my employer of more than 16-years.

As you might tell from the opening two paragraphs, my heart wishes to offer a feeling of gratitude for the growth and bridge of friendship that I found during my time there. One of the ways I have given back to Toastmasters is in service to the district where I experience the organization. Stated another way, I aim to give back by sharing my talents and willingness to support others taking or supporting similar journeys themselves.

Finally, I bring myself to the example that brings me to my bigger point. I was giving a speech to my home club on a night when Lynn, the better half of this blog team, visited the club after a rough day at home. Sensing an opportunity to entertain my Toastmaster colleagues and wife at the same time, I chose to sing in public for one of two times I had in my entire public speaking career.

Modifying the lyrics to Bette Midler‘s song The Rose, I sang the song of love to our then 11-year-old dog to my wife. The dynamic of the singing as well as the dynamic of an interplay through unaccustomed presentation style was less than award-winning music while being full blown emotionally dynamic and groundbreaking for a group that had previously seen me take a less pronounced public speaking style.

The Toastmaster Rose 2(Bette Midler)

The speech itself professed my love for Kayley, included visual images of Kayley for the audience to share, and included some precious moments of love and cuteness. The subject matter even included the speech title, which included the simulated barking of the letter R five-times in rhythmic succession.

The entertainment value and coherence of the speech brought itself together in the end by tying the “puppy love” of my affection for our dog into a telling of how it was that my first introduction to our four-legged friend that began to build the affection my wife and I would build from infatuation, to something mature, to the very real decisions to act together as one in marriage. In five-to-seven minutes, I had taken my club and my wife on a journey of puppy love, song, and vision to the mature dynamic of a love story that was unwrapped for everyone to see.

At least, that concept of unwrapping is how I tell myself in my head the speech went. The striving for something that compelling was there. I had given this speech to the members of my club at a winter meeting in December 2016. The time to share it here, with you, was today. Happy new year.

Matt – Saturday, January 6, 2018