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Wilco Live at the United Palace

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: United Palace Theater; Manhattan, New York, United States

Featured

Anatomy Of A Scene – “Our Integrity Sells For So Little…”

“In a film with such great and memorable scenes, one scene portrayed as a flashback stands out amongst the rest.”

V For Vendetta – ‘Valerie’s Letter’ Scene

In a film with such great and memorable scenes, one scene portrayed as a flashback stands out amongst the rest. V for Vendetta is a fictional movie based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore but its focus on what happens when a totalitarian dictatorship rises to power in the fact of domestic and international calamities is relevant to what’s happened throughout history.

To give some background on the scene, Evey Hammond, the secondary protagonist to the masked anarchist and freedom fighter, V, is captured due to her alleged support of V’s activities to overthrow the dictatorial government that has seized power over the United Kingdom. Her hair is shaved, she is forced into a tiny cell, and practically starved for food or water. She is held there until she is sentenced to death by firing squad unless she gives up V’s identity and his whereabouts.

Rather than do so, she stifles their inquisition into who the masked man with the Guy Fawkes mask is leading her to a certain death. As Evey is about to lose hope and give in to her demands, she finds a letter stuck in a small crevice within the jail cell’s walls, written by a young woman named Valerie, not much older than Evey when she was forced into captivity by the government.

Valerie’s written on toilet paper what appears to be her last will and testament before a likely execution, waiting others to know about the injustices that the Creedy-led government has committed against her and why she is sharing her story of what happened to her. Valerie begins the letter describing her normal childhood in Nottingham in England and how she didn’t mind the rain because her grandmother told her that “God was in the rain.”

Valerie discusses how in grammar school as a teenager she fell in love for the first time with Sarah, a classmate, and that she was homosexual. Sadly, Valerie was forced to endure her teacher’s bigotry and disapproval of her sexuality and Sarah breaking up with her as a result. Even more painful for Valerie was introducing her 2nd girlfriend, Christina, and coming out as a lesbian to her father and Mother.

Valerie had to strength to show her integrity and not lie to her parents about who she is as a person, but they did not accept her for who she was and rejected her and even threw her baby picture away. “I only told them the truth, was that so selfish? Our integrity sells for so little but is all we really have.” Valerie’s quote in this scene is what makes it so searing as a quote in that being truthful and showing integrity should be accepted and understood because it is not easy for those seen as ‘different’ to come out as being ‘different’ even though it is what makes us who we are. Valerie’s parents wanted her to be someone who she is not, and sadly refuse to accept her as she is. She kept true to herself and did not sell her integrity as a person, which is more than her parents can say, who abandon their daughter because they don’t accept who she is forgoing their love over something so short-sighted and ignorant of them.

Valerie did not let her teacher and her parents keep her from being who she is and in 2015, became an actress on a film, and ended up marrying her co-star on it. Her partner, Ruth, and Valerie, move to London together, start a rose garden, and begin their lives as a couple, and end up in the throes of the rise of a dictatorship throughout the United Kingdom as Adam Sutler comes to power due to war breaking out around the world. They fear for what their country is becoming as “different becomes dangerous” and Valerie does not understand “why they hate us so much.”

The dictatorial regime that takes power in the UK begins to take away people who are ‘different’ for ‘rendition’ and ‘detention’ without cause or just because they are ‘different’ from others. The Sutler regime uses the false platitude that because of growing insecurity internationally that he must withhold civil and human rights domestically. He consolidates his power and ends up arresting and detaining minorities, refugees, and homosexuals including Valerie’s partner, Ruth. Valerie is all alone and cries for how she will never see her beloved partner again because of this injustice.

“It wasn’t long before they came for me.” Another resonating quote from this powerful movie scene related to the quote of how they come for different groups of people until there is no one else left but me. The ending of this scene has its real-world historic parallels to other genocidal and abusive periods of time where crimes and injustices were committed against ethnic, religious groups and races, just because they were ‘different’, including genocide. Valerie is alone in her apartment when Sutler’s regime’s thugs come for her too. Like Evey, her head is shaved, she is held without doing anything wrong and against her will. Valerie ends up in a small jail cell like Evey and they both are alike too in that they stand for principles that make us humane to each other like equality, justice, and liberty. “For three years, I had roses and answered to no one.

During captivity, Valerie does not lose that last ‘inch of hope’ that she clings to from her free years of living her life as she wanted with whom she loved. “Every inch of me shall perish, but one. An inch.” Valerie implores that even though she only has a glimmer, or an inch of hope left, she will not let them take it from her despite how long she is locked up for. Valerie implores Evey to never give up, stay true to who you are, and cling to the hope that there is still good in the world worth fighting for.

Valerie, sadly, does not survive her detainment as it is inferred that she is experimented on by the regime and killed, but the letter survives, likely because of V himself. V knows Valerie as V knows Evey and his role in using roses for his victims comes from his own knowledge of the inspiration that Valerie was for him.

Valerie gave V hope to stand against Sutler’s regime and now that Evey has read Valerie’s story afterwards in the same prison cell, she will gain the same last “inch of hope” to keep fighting for herself and the world around her especially if she were ever to get free and leave Sutler’s prison. Valerie ends the letter to the person(s) who find her letter that it is important to have hope that things will change, and the world will get better. However, Valerie ends her last written words by saying that what is most important thing to her is to let that person reading know that she accepts them, and she loves them, whomever they may be. “Even though I do not know you, even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you…I love you, with all my heart. I love you.” -Valerie.

While many people around her sold their integrity by not accepting who she was as a person, disowning her, imprisoning her unjustly, forcing her to die in their detainment, Valerie never sold her integrity and she never stopped being herself, which is an inspiration to us all watching this excellent scene and film.

Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Moorefield, West Virginia, United States

On Duty and Honor

“Two concepts that are not discussed very often today in our culture, but for which go hand in hand to have a purposeful life are duty and honor.”

Two concepts that are not discussed very often today in our culture, but for which go hand in hand to have a purposeful life are duty and honor. Duty is the obligation, either moral or legal, to uphold your responsibilities and to take upon tasks and actions when called upon. Duties are be thrust upon you such as being part of jury or registering to be eligible for military service but also done voluntarily such as keeping your community clean by picking up trash, giving money to a charity, being part of the local school board or town forum.

There are many variations on duty, but what they all have in common is to think of more than just yourself and to be responsible to those people around you. We are duty-bound by law in many such cases, but we are also duty-bound by morals and values that are passed on from generation to generation.

Being dutiful is conscientiously being able to know what your duties in life are, pursue them vigorously, and to conduct them in a moral manner. Duties may not be easy or fun to fulfill, but we have them in place so that society can function at a higher level. If no one was duty-bound to others, selfishness, greed, and egocentric behavior would replace it, which would cause the larger community and society to collapse over time. Lack of duties breeds this kind of behavior whether they are mandatory or not. If everyone is out for themselves and not able to look after others or think of their behavior’s effect on other people, it would create what we know to be as a ‘dog eat dog’ world.

When you fulfill your duties, legally bound or morally footed, you uphold the basic contract as a citizen and as a human being, to help improve your community and the society to some degree. If everyone fulfills their duties, trust, confidence, and belief in each other will be much more assured. If nobody does what is required or expected of them, nothing substantive can get done. The more duties we fulfill and the more we look out for another rather than ourselves, the better off we are to be when we commit to these obligations.

Duties can be granted and often must be enforced to be fulfilled but if we each uphold the duties we are given and see each other as all being on the same page, other duties that we voluntarily take on can be added on if we see that the system is working, and people are putting in their fair share. If a few individuals, especially if they leaders or representatives of their community, are found to be neglectful of their duties, and especially lied about fulfilling such duties, it can easily cascade to where the average person sees this and will unfortunately not find the duties they have been given as being as necessary to commit to if they see those who put them into place or have mandated them do not fulfill them as well.

Regardless of where you find yourself in the overall society, a leader, a citizen, a representative, a voter, etc., we are all held to the same duties and obligations that we commit ourselves to by law or by morality. If we all uphold those duties through acts of good faith and completing tasks that are insured to us, the better off everyone will be.

However, if duties are neglected, discouraged, or done away with even if they are mandated, the whole society will suffer as a result due to a loss of trust, faith, or belief in what upholds this basic sense of equality that we have to be beholden to the same duties as everyone else is regardless of age, sex, race, religion, ethnicity, etc. Now, it is commendable to do your duty, but it is even better to do so with honor.

Being honorable or conducting oneself with honor is taking the duties you are given to uphold or the tasks that come with such duties is to perform such duties with integrity, accountability, and trustworthiness. It is one thing to do your duty and it is another thing to do your duty well.

You can think of someone who is elected to be a representative of a community, town, city, or nation who will use the position for egotistical purposes and to twiddle the time away while doing nothing of honor to make sure the people who elected him or her will benefit as a result. They have been given the honor of representing their community or a nation and have squandered it by neglecting the privilege of having such a position to do good on behalf of others. There is no honor in that even if they are technically fulfilling the duty of public service.

Duties can be bestowed on soldiers, politicians, community leaders, public figures of influence, religious clergy, teachers, etc. and they can perform them because they have been trained or are seen as qualified to fulfill them. However, the question arises is if they are doing their duties with honor? Some will only do the bare minimum and will only think of themselves while having their position of power or influence wrapped up. Others will use their newfound duties to abuse their position for financial or social gain and lie to say that they did not do anything dishonorable to begin with.

Luckily, there will be those people in positions of status who will conduct themselves honorably and seek to uphold that trust bestowed upon them by being transparent, accountable, and forthright. A good leader or example of someone who conducts themselves with honor is that they do not only do their duties as expected of them, but they also seek out those in a similar position or authority who are not doing their duties. They will not only conduct themselves with honor intact but make sure they are holding others in their position accountable and to find out if their honor is there.

If not, that person of authority or influence would work to ensure that the individual without honor even while having done their duties albeit in a lackluster manner are held to account. To uphold that trust across a society where we all must do our duties and to do so with honor, those without honor should lose their given duties when it is found that they are not holding themselves to that standard. When we each hold ourselves to an honorable standard by doing the duties bestowed upon us to the best of our abilities, then the larger community or society will benefit as a result.

Without duties, there is no honor to be had. If duties are being done without honor, no functioning society will result. It is important to understand how much these two concepts feed off each other. One cannot exist without the other and if one concept is neglected, the other will suffer as a result. We all must commit the duties and obligations bestowed upon us whether by law or by creed, but duties must also be performed to high standards, both morally and ethically. Performing one’s duties without honor cannot work and nor can having honor without upholding one’s duties.  

Springtime in DC

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: The Tidal Basin; Washington, District of Columbia, USA

Four Days in São Paulo (A Travel Guide)

“While it may not have the beaches of Rio de Janeiro or the musical and rhythmic vibes of Salvador, Sao Paulo is well worth at least a couple of days of your time when you visit Brazil.”

The largest city in Brazil by population and by size has a tendency to be overlooked by tourists around the world. While it may not have the beaches of Rio de Janeiro or the musical and rhythmic vibes of Salvador, Sao Paulo is well worth at least a couple of days of your time when you visit Brazil. Not only does it have a storied history of immigration from other parts of the world such as Italy and Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries, which does continue to this day, There are also a number of museums and cultural exhibits to check out to learn more about the city’s history and its locals.

However, if you only have four days in Sao Paulo, longer than a layover but shorter than an actual vacation, it is a great place to get away if you want to experience a big and cosmopolitan city on a reasonable budget. It is easy to get around the metropolis due to its affordable metro system ($1) or its bus system, which covers every major neighborhood. As I mentioned, Sao Paulo is probably the most diverse food city in Brazil with cuisines from all over the world being represented. While I am originally from New York, I would rank the Pizza in Sao Paulo up there with my home state and even up there with the pizza I had in Italy. If you have a long weekend, Sao Paulo is the place to go for both cuisine and culture.

Day #1

If you’re flying there from North or Central America to Sao Paulo / Guarulhos International Airport, you’ll likely have the whole morning and afternoon to head to your hotel in the city, drop your bags off, and check-in to your room if possible. You’ll likely be quite hungry but not so jetlagged that you can’t enjoy your first day in Sao Paulo. For a good bite to eat and to check out some of the exotic fruit offerings that Brazil has to offer, let’s start by checking out the Municipal Market (Mercado Municipal) in the center of the city.

The Mercado Municipal is particularly known for its huge mortadella and cheese sandwiches, which can be as big as someone’s face. Along with the ‘bolinho de bacalhau’ (salt cod croquettes), you’ll be in heaven after the long flight. Wash it all down with a nice cold beer in a small glass (chopp) or a nice freshly made juice and you will be feeling ready to go for the rest of your first day. Personally, I recommend going to the Bar do Mane, which is on the bottom floor of the huge market. It might take you some time to find it, but it has the best sandwiches, according to the local gossip and the service was quite quick.

Depending on where you’re staying, it shouldn’t be too long of an Uber or taxi ride over to the famous Museum of Football (Museo do Futebol), open from Tuesdays to Sundays with visiting hours open until 6 PM each day. Tickets are about $4 USD and it is perhaps the coolest museum in the city. Located in the upscale Pacaembu neighborhood inside of the Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, this unique museum will tell you all you need to know about the history of the beautiful game in Brazil. From the origins of football in Brazil to historical spotlights on Brazilian legends like Pele and Ronaldinho to displaying signed jerseys of Marta, Brazil’s best female football player, the museum is a wealth of football knowledge and information. You will also learn some Portuguese sayings for football rules and regulations as if that wasn’t enough.

The museum is easy to walk through and you only need about two to three hours there to cap off a great afternoon. Most of the museum exhibit is in English, but you may need to rely on your audio guide to hear in English or another language to describe what you are seeing. Capping off a great tour is being able to check out the views from the stands of the actual football stadium that the museum is based in. On a clear day, you can see some of the Sao Paulo skyline and also see some preparations being made if there is a match going on later that night since the stadium is still being used for club-level games now and then.

Now, your mouth may have been watering from my writing about the Pizza in Sao Paulo, so I am going to give you some good advice on where to go for some of the best pizza in the city. It’s not too far away from the football museum so you can head straight there or maybe relax in your hotel in Pinheiros, Jardins, or Villa Olimpia for an hour or so to take a nap, shower, and get ready for the evening.

Now, there are a number of different locations, but Braz Pizzaria is not a typical chain at all. I recommend the location in Higienopolis since it is within walking distance from Pacaembu where the museum is or close to the metro if you don’t need to go back to your hotel first. With a nice ambience, friendly service, and the feeling that you only get when you’re in legitimate pizza joint, Braz is a great place for good portions and delicious pizza.

Beyond just Pizza, I recommend the pepperoni bread to start off with, a bottle of wine (even if you’re dining alone), and the Caprese pizza is a good choice for the main dish. The pizzas are served in a small or large size and if you’re used to eating with your hands in your country, in Brazil, that’s rather a bit of a taboo! Pizza slices are served to the customer by the server and you are encouraged politely to use a fork and a knife to cut and eat the pizza. As a New Yorker who takes pride in my folding and hand-using skills for pizza slices, this was a bit of a shock but as they say ad-libbing, “When in Sao Paulo, do as the Paulistanos do!”

Your 1st day in Sao Paulo was a massive success and maybe you want to head out for the night. I would recommend saving up your energy for tomorrow instead. Pay your pizza bill, head back to the hotel, and rest up. Your next few days will be both busy yet enjoyable and don’t worry, you will have a caipirinha soon, I promise you.

Day #2

You wake up after resting well and having had a full night’s sleep. You’re ready to enjoy your 2nd day in Sao Paulo. Let’s get a good breakfast first at my favorite bakery in Sao Paulo: The Padaria Boulevard (Bakery Boulevard), which is close to the Higienopolis metro station and has a great selection of cakes, pastries, eggs, sausage as well as a great assortment of juices to choose from including acai, my personal favorite of them all. I highly recommend getting a nice sandwich or a hamburger too if it’s later on in the morning or early afternoon.

If you want to instead stay close to Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue), which is closer to downtown, a great backup choice for breakfast is the Padaria Bella Paulista, which is a lot bigger place, has a huge selection, and has an unlimited breakfast / brunch option for about 45-50 Brazilian Reais. Also, it’s close to the metro and is great if you have a big group of friends or family with you on your trip. If you’re traveling solo, I think Padaria Boulevard is a good option to choose instead.

Now that you have a full belly, walk it off by going onto the famous Avenida Paulista to walk off some of those calories. This famous avenue is known around the world and is the financial center of Brazil. Most comparable to Times Square in New York City or Istikal Caddesi in Istanbul, Avenida Paulista has numerous shops, restaurants, and museums to tide you over for a few hours. I recommend stopping by a juice bar if you get thirsty, but the 2.5 kilometer walk from end to end is a great way to get accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the Paulista capital.

Some of the best views of Sao Paulo are from the Mirante (Lookout point) at the top of the SESC Paulista building not too far from the Brigadeiro metro station. Going earlier in the afternoon means it’s going to be less crowded at the lookout point but the view of the entire megalopolis at sunset is breathtaking and well worth a try. If you can swing it, you can also have a coffee and a snack there after you’re done taking pictures and checking out the amazing view.

Continuing on with this day’s theme of Paulistano must-sees, there are some great museums on the avenue such as Japan House:A cool cultural center with different exhibits on Japanese architecture, culture, and history; this attraction is a great way to spend some time. You can also browse the bookstore with books on Japanese cooking and culture. I would not forget to drink some Matcha tea at the café and have some Matcha cake too which is delicious. Just a few blocks down the avenue is the Sao Paulo Museum of Art or MASP, which has a renowned collection of portraits, paintings, and impressionist art from around the world.

While this museum is not in the same league as the French Louvre or the British Museum, the collection is formidable, the ambience is quite nice, and you can definitely spend at least two hours here enjoying the art. Another hidden gem of a museum which you can substitute for MASP is the Pinacoteca museum, very close to the heart of the city, and near to Luz metro station. If you are looking to learn more about Brazilian art and culture, the Pinacoteca has the best collection for it in the whole city. You can also spend a few hours there without any issue.

With the sun starting to go down, it’s time to unwind a bit while still enjoying the early evening. It’s time for you, dear traveler, to have a nice caipirinha and enjoy some of Sao Paulo’s famous street murals. The Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley) is a really cool area in the neighborhood of Vila Madalena where local street artists create amazing building-sized urban art murals reflecting on current events, politics, sports and even comic books. Strolling down these streets with a caipirinha in hand or even at an outdoors bar with deck chairs is a nice way to wind down your day after a lot of sightseeing.

Before you head back to your accommodation, it’s dinner time. Let’s keep it light after a big breakfast but I am going to suggest the Z Delicatessen just a few blocks away from the street murals. Owing its existence to both eclectic hipster tastes in Jewish food and the city’s immigration history with the Jewish community in Sao Paulo being among the largest in all of Brazil and South America, this deli’s pastrami fries are exquisite, and the deli sandwiches are well worth the menu price. I would recommend taking an Uber or a taxi back to end the night because you’ve earned after walking a number of kilometers throughout your 2nd day.

Day #3

Hopefully, you were able to get a good night’s rest after a long Day 2 in Sampa. I am going to take it easy on you in Day 3 and you’re also going to eat well. Let’s start the day off by heading to the Japanese district of Liberdade, my favorite neighborhood in all of Sao Paulo. There is an excellent outdoor food market as well as crafts fair going on each Saturday so if you can make it here on Day 3 and it’s a Saturday, please go to Liberdade. You can enjoy different foods like Yakisoba (stir fry noodles), Nikuman (steamed pork buns), or some fried pastels from one of the many food stands.

This neighborhood buzzes on the weekend and it’s a lot of fun to walk around, perhaps buy a souvenir, or even snap a few photos. The vendors are friendly and not too pushy. You’ll enjoy going to some of the Japanese or Asian grocery stores as well to check out some of the imported products and food stuffs for sale. Liberdade has its own metro stop on the blue line and is not too far from the center of the city.

Having gotten your breakfast on the go and maybe having bought a gift for your loved one, it’s time to spend a few hours at the biggest park in Sao Paulo: Parque Ibirapuera. With stunning sightlines, nice picnic areas, and quite a few museums, Ibirapuera is an oasis of calm in a hectic city. While not very accessible by metro, a quick uber or taxi ride from Liberdade makes it a pretty reasonable trip pricewise.

I would walk around, snap some photos, maybe check out the Museum Afro Brazil or the Planetario do Ibirapuera. You can’t go wrong with buying a coconut water from a nice vendor and getting some exercise in by walking through the huge park. If you have a soccer ball with you, kick it around. I also recommend bringing a towel or a blanket if you have one and catching some sun as well while you think about your next stop. Personally, I like to go at an easy pace when I travel for four days so it’s good to have a day in the park where you’re not rushing around. A park is also a great place to maybe meet some locals, join a soccer game, or even do some reading.

Now, you’ve definitely worked up an appetite for dinner and it’s Saturday night, do you know how lucky you are? I hope you are ready because it’s time for Feijoada. The Brazilian national food dish is mouth-watering, scrumptious, and so delightful. I miss it a lot now that I am away from Brazil. It is prepared around the Portuguese-speaking world, but the Brazilians go all out in preparing it. Primarily, it is a stew of black beans with beef and pork, but you are also adding rice, fried kale (couve), along with some sweet plantains (bananas).

To cleanse your palate, the restaurant will also offer you some orange slices to help with the digestion. It is an amazing dish and I personally like the Star City Restaurant in Santa Cecilia, which has been serving feijoada and other dishes from the region of Minas Gerais since 1953. There are dozens of options to choose from for having Feijoada on a weekend in Sao Paulo, so it depends on how far or close you want to go. I do recommend having it before you leave Sao Paulo or even Brazil in general. I can definitely say you have not experienced Brazil until you have eaten feijoada once or even twice if you’re a big eater like I am.

Before we close out Day 3, I want to mention a wild card option before you head back to the hotel. If you’re visiting in-season, please do consider checking out a Brazilian football match as Sao Paulo is host to three teams competing in the national league. Whether it is Corinthians, Sao Paulo FC, or Palmeiras, you cannot go wrong with buying a ticket for yourself to check out an amazing atmosphere and seeing some amazing football players show off their skills. If you have had too much Feijoada though, it may be best to watch a game that night at a local bar where you can have another caipirinha or a cold bottle of beer. Saude! (Cheers!)

Day 4

Your trip to Sao Paulo is coming to an end today but you can still make the most of your 12 hours in the city before your flight leaves in the mid-afternoon or in the evening. I highly recommend checking out one of the best coffee shops in the city: Coffee Lab, which sources its coffee from all over Brazil and whose pastries and desserts are also phenomenal. Whether you are a fan of drip coffee or of a nice cold Frappuccino, Coffee Lab has some of the best coffee and you can even take some home with you as they do sell their coffee beans in bags where you can see both the highlighted aroma of the coffee itself, and where in Brazil the coffee beans came from.

If you are still craving a last-minute museum, I would recommend the Museum of Japanese Immigration, which is also in Liberdade and only takes about two hours to get through and is highly educational. Continuing with museum options about immigration, though I never made it there, I have heard good things about the Museum of Immigration of the State of Sao Paulo to get a full overview of the history of immigration in the city and the state. Millions of immigrants have made Sao Paulo their home and the museum does a good job of highlighting all of the different groups who came over and for what reasons.

Now, before you head off to Guarulhos, if you’re still hungry and prefer a full meal than the airport food court or the airplane food later on, I seriously recommend taking a taxi for a late afternoon visit to the churrascaria. Unlimited meats, an open salad and pasta bar, and dessert offerings, what’s there not to like? Similar to feijoada places in Brazil, churrascarias can be found all over Sao Paulo but I am definitely going to recommend Angelica Grill in Higienopolis, which is open not just at night but in afternoon too, which is perfect before you head on your flight. Don’t be afraid of the chicken hearts, go for the picanha piece of beef, and remember to not overdo it at the salad bar and it will be a great send off for an amazing four days in Sao Paulo!

Remember to follow these recommendations as you see fit but a lot of these places are ones that I grew fond of during my time in Sao Paulo. I hope that your visit brings you much enjoyment and joy as a tourist and a traveler. Boa sorte! (Good luck!) and Aproveite! (Enjoy!)

Fort McHenry National Monument

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Fort McHenry National Monument; Baltimore, Maryland, USA

‘The Whale’ – Film Review and Analysis

“‘The Whale’, directed by director Darren Aronofsky shows us how low someone can go when things go wrong in life but also how our lowest lows can also bring out the best of us when it is most important.”

2022 may be over but I am still thinking about the most emotionally impactful movie of the past year, which deserves its own review and analysis. Likely to be nominated for a few Academy Awards at the least an Oscar for Best Actor nomination for Brendan Fraser, ‘The Whale’ is a powerful film about a man’s desire to try to right past wrongs in some way before it is too late. ‘The Whale’, directed by director Darren Aronofsky shows us how low someone can go when things go wrong in life but also how our lowest lows can also bring out the best of us when it is most important.

Aronofsky’s filmography from ‘Requiem for a Dream’ to ‘The Wrestler’ to ‘Black Swan’ to ‘The Foundation’ to now ‘The Whale’ all deal with flawed characters looking to right past wrongs or to find redemption in the most meaningful way(s) before they are past the point of no return. Aronofsky so brilliantly can capture psychological drama and tension in each sense in his movies that by the end, you’re so emotionally affected by it all that it can be hard to wrap your head around what you just watched. As a director, he is excellent at painting a picture of a person or people in distress and how while they may have had good intentions, they are almost too far gone to seek redemption or a new start.

Different from Aronofsky’s past films, ‘The Whale’ is adapted from a play of the same name dating back to 2012 so the screenplay that is written and the way the film is set up is exactly how a play would be seen on the big screen. There are few characters, the plot does not get too murky or complicated, and the setting remains the same largely throughout the whole film.

Film critics today may dismiss this film as lacking scale and scope in its ambition, but I was drawn to how beautifully it portrays what could be real people living real lives. ‘The Whale’ may be a film and fiction but it likely portrays real situations and real tragedies that some people unfortunately come to pass in their life. The film deals with multiple real world issues affecting people from obesity to alcoholism to lost loves to broken up families that most people in life can see how that can throw someone’s life off a cliff and make it almost impossible to recover.

‘The Whale’, as the title makes clear is about a severely obese man named Charlie who weighs around 600 pounds and suffers from multiple health issues because of his weight issue. He is estranged from his teenage daughter, separated from his alcoholic wife, and unable to turn the video screen as an online English professor because of his weight condition that may affect how his students see him. His only interaction is with his friend, Liz, who is also a nurse who comes to take care of Charlie especially with his multiple health issues causing him to be near death and at risk of heart failure.

Charlie has become a tragic figure in that he only has Liz left in his life after suffering the loss of the man who he fell in love with. Because of that love, he sacrificed his marriage with his previous wife and his relationship with his daughter for. After the affair he had with his student, Alan, who is also the brother of Liz, for whom she was adopted by a family and her father who was a pastor in the New Life Church. Liz was able to escape the church’s cultish tendencies but Alan’s possible guilt from being disowned by the Church and perhaps his family as well for his homosexuality and relationship with Charlie caused him to end his own life.

This terrible series of events punished Charlie and his eating condition after the death of Alan exacerbated his obesity and caused him major depression and an inability to form relationships with others beyond his caretaker and friend, Liz. Charlie is not looking for any pardoning of ‘sins’ from God or the Church that disowned Alan but rather the sole forgiveness of his daughter for whom he last saw when she was eight years old. Ellie is not a child anymore but is a rebellious and sullen teenager who misses her father and lashes out at her mother, who deals with her problems by downing a bottle of liquor, rather than raising her daughter to be better. Charlie is no saint in the matter in that he did commit adultery with Alan and led him to neglect his daughter, Ellie, and to push his wife away as well.

He never made amends for having caused them both grief and pain with his impulsive decision. His love for Alan eclipsed his love for his daughter, which he struggles in the film to get back. When the New Life Church’s doctrine and his family’s discontent with Alan’s sexuality, Alan’s suicide caused Charlie to spiral further to eat uncontrollably and to negate his relationships even more by becoming a total recluse who cannot even leave the house because of his body weight and inability to walk or drive a car.

‘The Whale’ also highlights how Charlie is not looking for pity from others or for forgiveness. He knows how much his life has gotten out of hand, but he is hoping to do ‘one thing in his life’ right before it’s too late for him. He believes that while his daughter acts out and despises what he has done, that there is still hope for her and that can she achieve her potential but to more importantly to ‘be a good person.’ It may be too late for Charlie to turn it around in life much to Liz’s, his wife’s, and even Ellie’s disappointment, but Charlie knows that redemption is possible for each of them and that even if he is not there, he will try to leave money for his daughter to have a future, or to tell his wife that he is regretful for him leaving them for his affair, and that he apologizes to Liz for what he has done to himself with the loss of her adopted brother that has strained their friendship in the aftermath.

Charlie does not want to be saved by God or religion or from himself but he wants to know that his life through the birth of his daughter is one thing that he got right in life and that while he wasn’t there for her before when she needed him, he can try to make amends before he leaves the world, and to encourage her to be better than he was, to be better off in life, and to be kind to others. He may have lost hope for himself, but he has never lost hope for his daughter.

Similar to how Charlie encourages his English students to be honest with their written essays, he tries to be honest with Ellie in why he did what he did, how he could have been a better husband to his wife, Mary, and how he let Liz down after the tragic death of Alan. Not everyone can be this honest, but Charlie has nothing left to lose, nothing much to gain, and with not a lot of life ahead of him except imminent death due to his body’s condition.

Despite all the concurring factors, Charlie is trying to regain his humanity and his family back as much as he can recoup after it had been lost even if he has become ‘The Whale’. While he may be misunderstood and loathed like the whale in the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville, he is not beyond redeeming himself in the eyes of others and providing some closure for himself in a life that had gone so far astray yet for which he had also been able to give something out of love back to the world to live on in the form of his daughter, Ellie.  

Boat Ride to Isla Taboga

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Taboga Island, Panama

Movie Recommendations – Volume V

“Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again.”

Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again. Whether it is in the movie theater or at your home theater, this time of the year is best not just for Christmas movies but for watching new releases in general. Between the streaming services, new theater movies, or even documentaries, there are a lot of excellent movies coming out to close out 2022. I recently saw four movies that I would recommend to others with three of them being watched at home and one in the theaters. Even if some of these movies are not in theaters, I would recommend checking them out through Apple TV+ in this case for a short-term subscription.

  1. The Fablemans

A semi-biographical film about one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th and perhaps 21st century, ‘The Fablemans’ is an intricate tale of a genius who discovers his calling slowly but surely through his own ingenuity, his family’s encouragement, and with a little bit of luck. Steven Spielberg may not be named as the main character, but this is his life story told through his eyes and what it was like being a Jewish kid growing up in New Jersey, Arizona, and later California in the post-World War II era as his parents struggle to provide for him and his two sisters.

While Spielberg has this innate talent for filmmaking, he wasn’t always set on doing it for a living and struggled with his own doubts. His parents, while supportive, did not always see where his dream could go and were distracted by the issues in their own marriage that caused a divorce to occur. On top of that, having to move for his father’s work in the dawning of the computer age to communities out west not as friendly to American Jews, Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’ covers the ugliness of antisemitism rearing its head and how Spielberg as a teenager was forced to confront it and the bullies who continue these vile tropes.

While not exactly a feel-good story, it is an excellent semi-biographical tale on how The Fablemans as well as The Spielbergs made his dream work and were crucial to the man who would become the most famous director in the world. It is an immensely personal movie with both its tragic and triumphant moments. It is a story that I believe a lot of us can relate to these days on how to overcome setbacks and trials in the pursuit of a life’s goal or dream.

2. Causeway

Not all wounds of war are physical. If I had to sum up the movie, ‘Causeway’ starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Lila Neugebauer, it would highlight how post-traumatic stress disorder highlights those wounds that are mental but brought on by physical trauma. Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Lynsey, an American Army Corps of Engineers specialist who suffers a traumatic brain injury from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that causes her not just physical pain but PTSD as well. Her memory suffers, her eye and hand coordination, and even her ability to form complete sentences is affected. It is a long road to recovery but luckily, she meets people along the way including a home health aide who cares for her upon her return to the States doing backbreaking work to give Lynsey the chance to get her mental and physical faculties together.

Even after the physical recovery seems to be going well, Lynsey suffers from the PTSD that the explosion caused and the horrific memories of seeing her fellow soldiers die in front of her eyes. While the home health aide and physical therapy helps, as a returned soldier, all she wants to do is get back to the front to continue the work she was doing in Afghanistan. She sees that people including her own mother, who was neglectful to her as a child, while she cares about Lynsey, has moved on without her and doesn’t understand quite what she’s been through. Lynsey finds a job cleaning rich people’s pools in New Orleans where she’s from but doesn’t see it as worthy of her skills she acquired while on active duty in Afghanistan. Lynsey has an older brother as well who is away and out of her life due to his involvement in drugs, so she does not have him around either as a steadying influence.

The one person she does relate to is a man named James who has been through his own trauma involving a car accident that left him with an amputated leg. They’ve both seen more than they would care to in life and they are able to bond with each other despite the difficulties of their past. In a world where both feel increasingly isolated and distant, the bond they share as friends may sustain them for the future and keep them from turning to despair. ‘Causeway’ is a great film that really shows you the reality of what it can be like to return to home from war and the mental and physical scars a soldier can take with him or her that never fully heal.

3. Emancipation

There have been multiple movies about the Civil War and about Slavery, but ‘Emancipation’ is an excellent recent film starring Will Smith as an escaping slave in Louisiana yearning to be free and reunite with his still enslaved family. Antoine Fuqua’s directing is on point in this one with sweeping views of civil war battlefields, old plantations, and muddy swamps with a unique choice of filming ‘Emancipation’ in black and white with red being the only other color represented usually by a character’s blood being spilt. This film does not sugarcoat anything and is based on true events and the real-life story of an escaped slave of Gordon or ‘Whipped Peter’ who was whipped repeatedly before escaping from a Louisiana plantation after killing two of the slave drivers before running towards where Lincoln’s army was fighting around Baton Rouge.

‘Emancipation’ does not hesitate to show brutality on screen as well as the violence of a Civil War battle where freed slaves would fight to liberate others from their enslavement. Some viewers may be turned off by the sheer violence of the film, but I thought that it was a rather accurate portrayal of the cruelty of slave owners, the terrible conditions that they were forced to do labor in, as well as the dogs, snakes, alligators, and muddy swamps that an escaped slave would have to go through to reach the Union Army. Many slaves like Peter who were able to escape were not treated that much better than the Union Army besides being free although they had no choice usually but to fight for the Union to free others and to hope to see their families again if they were able to liberate other plantations.

I would recommend this film due to Smith’s performance, the excellent cinematography, as well as the historically accurate nature of Peter’s experience in escaping from slavery, preventing himself from being captured again and fighting with other African Americans in the Union Army to end the horrors of slavery once and for all.

4, The Banshees of Inisherin

It is not every day where you’re able to watch a comedy and a tragedy take place in the same movie but ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ succeeds on both accounts. Led by an excellent cast including Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon, the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of mainland Ireland is made up of a real bunch of characters who live out a life of repetition, tomfoolery, and drinking, which is a bit of community unifier. Set against the backdrop of the real Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, most of the Inisherin population is ignorant of what happens on the mainland and choose to tend to farm, to shop, and to drink, often excessively, as part of their daily routines.

One of the main characters, Colm Doherty (played by Brendan Gleeson), is fed up with a life in Inisherin that would revolve around just that and as he gets older, wishes to be remembered for his music and his song lyrics rather than getting drunk each day. That is the premise of the falling out he has with drinking buddy and friend, Padraic, (played by Colin Farrell), and while Padraic is nice, he is not someone Colm wishes to hang out with him again even though they are bound to run into each other.

The friendship was so strong and close that one day when it goes away, Padraic refuses to give up on Colm even though he tires of never getting a straight answer out of him. The refusal to lose out on a friend in such a small community, which conflicts with his desire to remain a ‘nice’ guy in the community causes Padraic as well as his sister, Siobhan, a lot of consternation and disappointment leading Padraic to undertake drastic and even ruthless measures to get his friend, Colm, back.

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ while a fictional movie taking place in a fictional island is one of the best films of 2022 and is well worth a watch. It will make you laugh out loud, hold a tear back or two, and think of a time where you had a hard time letting go whether it was of a former friend or even a family member due to some personal grievance or a difference that came up. The film ponders some philosophical questions and does not belittle the audience with simplistic answers. It is an excellent tragicomedy and one worth seeing especially for Mr. Farrell and Mrs. Condon’s performances.

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