(a "confess and resign" film review by Timothy J. Verret)
In my most humbled and "confessed" opinion, the play, DOUBT (2004), by John Patrick Shanley, is the best American play of the 21st century. I "resign" myself to review the film made in 2008 of the same title. As you can see, only 4 years elapsed from the writing of this play to the directing of this film. This is because DOUBT is a story that had to be desperately spread far and wide as only the cinema could do. The story is one that creates not only doubts about a priest's molestation of a black boy but also doubts about our own faith. Yes, that is a far-and-wide dilemma.
DOUBT is something of a miracle, ironically enough, of a play-turned-into-a-film, in that it provides hardly any answers to the many questions it poses. I just love it when a play or film or any form of entertainment doesn't "spoon feed" the observer. The observer is smart enough to answer all these deeper-soul questions him- or herself and if he or she is not able to answer them, oh well, so be it. There are 4 characters central to the story: Sister Aloysius, Father Flynn, Sister James, and Mrs. Miller. The film also has 4 actors, respectively, at the top of their game: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis. If I tell you these 4 actors set off fireworks more colorful and more explosive than the 4th (haha!) of July, that would be a huge understatement. And what I also love about this film is that the story is basic, i.e., a priest is suspected of child molestation and a sister (or two) tries to get to the bottom of it. What is not basic AT ALL about DOUBT is that the characters' emotions are complex and colorful, the eventual exploration and dissection of the same is devastating, and not one of the 4 characters is unaltered, for the better or for the worse, by the film's end. Did the priest molest the child a sister (or two) suspected? Hell if I know….and glad as hell that I don't!
Why are most of the best characters in plays and films women characters? I ask this because I am a man, and yet I desire to act these female characters because the emotions are all there in black and white (for a nun) and yet the colors are incredibly intense! I tend to buck the system of status quo in my artistry and, in this case, I have done acting monologues of Sister Aloysius because they were just too darn juicy to pass up as an actor. It would stand to reason that I would want to do a monologue of Father Flynn and while his role is also pretty juicy, it just doesn't have the sweetness (nor the sour, in this case) of Sister Aloysuis. I'm gonna get pretty bold here and allow you to view an acting monologue of Sister Aloysuis I did that I filmed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPJ2bO19AHg). You can judge for yourself why that particular monologue was just way too good (and juicy) for me to pass up as a male actor. Whatever you do or judge, please do NOT compare this monologue to the one Meryl Streep did in the film. I will most definitely "fall short of the glory" (Romans 3:23) of Meryl Streep!😉
Thank God the playwright Shanley adapted the film's screenplay from his play. I cannot imagine his play in the hands of a different screenwriter. The lines in this play/film are some of the best lines I have ever encountered in any kind of artistry. They put my own writing to shame and make me seriously doubt (haha) if I'm even a "decent" writer. I could not possibly list them all in this review but because this play/film is a "cat and mouse" parable, I can't get way without the scene where a nun has a cat in her hands who killed a mouse, and she says to Sister Aloysuis and Sister James, "it takes a cat." Sister Aloysuis couldn't let that nun get away with that line without her saying, "yes….it does." The black (and white) cat IS Sister Aloysuis.🐱👤 The black (and white) mouse IS Father Flynn 🐭
Once again, I am NOT reviewing this film for the textbook film review the reader might typically encounter. I don't want to "spoon feed" you in that regard, because I hope you will read the play and/or watch the film yourself and draw your own conclusions. What I attempted to do here was to express that DOUBT is the best American play of the 21st century, the film based off the play is the best film when it comes to providing no easy (if any) answers, and to express my usual non-status quo way of living (and acting). I wanted to let the reader know with this review that boxed-in corners are for boxing rings, not for living (and acting). And speaking of "corners" and "boxing rings," this is actually the perfect analogy for this play/film, because the 4 characters are all in their respectable corners in a boxing ring and have to leave these corners to come out fighting. And fighting is exactly what they do! They "beat each other up" with their suspicions, fabrications, and, yes, doubts! They tear each other up and are forever altered in the "fight" for their dignity, respect, and pursuit of all things true. It's most sad that in the pursuit of living, we don't always get the truth, but we are guaranteed the doubts. It's what we do with these doubts that will forever alter us, for the better or for the worse. BOTH the play AND the film of DOUBT have forever altered me as BOTH a human AND an actor for the better, and I "confess and resign" myself to just that.
(a "we're only as sick as our secrets" in our "invisible prisons" film review by Timothy J. Verret)
"How far would you go to protect a secret?" "Unlock the mystery?" The only secret mystery to unlock is the secrets we keep in our "invisible prisons." I've been writing a lot lately about these "invisible prisons," what I label as those (most) walking around seemingly imprisoned to our egos and our secrets. If we pay close attention, we will be able to "see" others in these "invisible prisons" and if we pay real close attention, we will be able to "see" ourselves in these, as well. THE READER is a film about just this and how there are not only physical prisons in this world but also "invisible prisons" of our own fleshly making. They usually are our own making when we find ourselves imprisoned "out" of love.
THE READER, directed by the exceptionally- and deeply-probing Stephen Daldry (who also directed THE HOURS , which is #2 on my all-time favorite film list), is a film about what happens when a love affair lasts only a summer but produces life-time guilt when the affair is "out" of love. Young Michael, played impressively by actor David Cross, falls in love with an older Hanna Schmitz, played impressively and more-about-that-to-be-discussed-later actress Kate Winslet, and the love's summer fling is marked by Michael reading to Hanna who is illiterate. The fling ends because Hanna is offered a job position that would require her to read and write and rather than "unlock that mystery," she leaves her home, thus leaving Michael, as well. Years later, when Michael is getting his education to be a lawyer, he is in a courtroom where Hanna is on trial for Nazi war crimes in an Auschwitz concentration camp. What unfolds from here on "out" is all about "we're only as sick as our secrets" and how Hanna's sentence of a lifetime imprisonment in a physical jail cell is all about a lifetime imprisonment in an "invisible prison."
When we go to the grave with secrets, we go to the grave with guilt. When old Michael reaches out to Hanna again in what I consider the greatest act of love, i.e., he makes tapes of himself reading books and sends them to Hanna in prison, he is loving her so much and yet it's not the same love as young Michael had with her during that love's summer fling. When Hanna realizes this after a visit from old Michael to set her up in an apartment and a job (and a library nearby where she'll live) when released, she hangs herself in her physical prison AND her "invisible prison," ironically stepping on books on a table for her hanging. She steps on the very things that have always been her hope at a very time of hopelessness. I don't normally like to give secrets like this away for those who have not seen a film, but it's important to not focus on the fact of "what?" in this film (Hanna killed herself) but focus more on "why?" "Why?" is because Hanna could not forget her past, could not accept her present, could not look forward to her future without Michael. She had to go to the grave with secrets and guilt over her inability (or incapability) to forget and accept and look forward to. Does this sound at all familiar?
Actress Kate Winslet is in the same camp (no pun intended) as my favorite actress of all time, Jessica Lange. They BOTH, as actresses, have incredible depth of emotions in their characterizations. They BOTH take us to emotional places as viewers that we would never take if it weren't for them. Winslet is breathtakingly brilliant as Hanna Schmitz, winning a well-deserved (no doubt whatsoever about this win!) Best Actress Oscar. Winslet plays Hanna as stern while at the same gentle, uncompromising while at the same vulnerable, hard of heart because of kept secrets while at the same time heartfelt because of kept secrets (yep, Lange acts exactly this way, too). It's a performance that I deem the best of Winslet's sensational journey as an actress and one of the best performances ever given by an actress! Kross is sensational as young Michael and Ralph Fiennes equally sensational as old Michael. Lena Olin plays BOTH parts of an older Jewish woman called forth to testify at Hanna's trial and then at the end of the film, the surviving daughter of this older Jewish woman.
On the above BOTH note, the ending of THE READER is incredibly revealing and devastating, even more so than Hanna's suicide. Old Michael visits the daughter of the older Jewish woman to give her a tin container with money inside it that Hanna asked Michael to give to her. When he takes out the tin container, the daughter tells him that she had a tin container like this one in the camps where she kept sentimental things inside, but this was not the same one. When the daughter tells Michael she will not accept the money from Hanna because "nothing comes out of the camps" and therefore nothing should be anything in remembrance of these camps, Michael agrees to give the money to a Jewish organization, preferably one that deals with illiteracy. When she does tell Michael she will keep the tin container, he leaves and then we see her put it on a shelf next to a photo of her family, most of who were killed in the camps. I might be wrong, but that scene led me to believe this tin container is actually the same one she had in the camps. Like all the characters in this film, the daughter of the older Jewish woman kept this a secret from Michael. Why? "We're only as sick as our secrets" when after all the pain and guilt and longing "out" of love we've walked (and often crawled) through, we still lock ourselves away in "invisible prisons."
I just can't end this film review without mentioning a line from what I believe to be Hanna's favorite book that young Michael and old Michael read to her, Anton Chekov's The Lady with the Dog. The line is, "It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: A lady with a little dog." I honestly do believe (and pray) that this new person appearing on the sea-front is Hanna in Heaven. I honestly do believe (and pray) Hanna is now free to roam the sea-front with (or without) a little dog. And I honestly do believe (and pray) that this new person, Hanna, will be appearing in Heaven with young AND old Michael with (or without) a dog. Because I believe (and pray) that those who are "only as sick as their secrets" in their "invisible prisons" will know the freedom to love "in" and play (and pray) on the sea-front of their own making in Heaven.
Exceptional is THE READER, BOTH a book (written by Bernhard Schlink) AND a film to be treasured, if anything to plead with us to unlock the buried treasure that is our "sick secrets." To unlock the mystery of these secrets is to escape our past once and for all and free ourselves to love "in" and free ourselves from our "invisible prisons." Please get "out" of these "invisible prisons" TODAY and set love free TODAY!
Visit timothyjverret.blog/2021/03/18/boys-dont-cry-1999/ for full film review with pictures
(a "stop judging by outward appearances!" [John 7:24] film review by Timothy J. Verret)
Even though I had seen BOYS DON'T CRY many times before, I felt so compelled to watch it again after witnessing a Facebook post, wherein the religious (and I use that term loosely) one posted a picture of men wearing women's clothes at a model runway show. The religious one who posted this picture used the Bible verse, "A woman must not put on the clothing of a man, nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman. For anyone doing so is detestable to Jehovah your God" (Deuteronomy 22:5), to give her judgment some Biblical clout. The problem wasn't the Biblical clout; it was that this religious one who posted this picture felt the need to judge anyone in the first place. I was appropriately (and, yes, religiously) outraged, and this religious one (me) replied, "Jesus said, ‘Stop judging by outward appearances!' (John 7:24). Jesus was always calling out the Pharisees because they were all about outward appearances, because their ‘inner appearances' were that they had darkened and judgmental hearts. We need to stop judging others by their outward appearances, because it's the ‘inner appearances' for which we will be judged for in the end by the Only Judge and Jury, God through His Son Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we can't know someone's ‘inner appearances' unless we have outwardly walked in their shoes….or high heels, for that matter!" 😉 Yes, all of this to say that this is the reason why I watched BOYS DON'T CRY again and why I want to review it, for this film is about this very thing of judging others by their outward appearances!
BOYS DON'T CRY, directed by Kimberly Peirce, is a film based on a true story of a girl named Teena Brandon who wanted to be a boy, Brandon Teena, until a judging world vaginally and anally raped her and then killed her. Hilary Swank plays Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, and she won a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her riveting performance. Swank's performance is so good that the entire film comes across like we are watching a documentary. And it is a documentary because what happens in this film is exactly what happened that made a whole nation of "stop judging by outward appearances!" others very angry. Chloë Sevigny plays Lana, Brandon's love interest, and her performance is equally riveting and impressive. The film needed to have a girl's voice for a director such as Pierce to give Swank's Brandon a boy's voice that shouts out, "Be who you are! Don't be who they want you to be, because they don't even know who they are or who they want to be!!!!"
It wasn't only the "boys" in BOYS DON'T CRY who didn't cry when they vaginally and anally raped and then killed Brandon. It was the "girls," too. It was all those who judged by outward appearances and wouldn't let a girl just be a boy because that is just what she wanted and needed to be. I would love to say something like this only happens in the movies but, once again, this film is based on a true story and even if it wasn't based on a true story, something like this happens a lot more than we think in this world of judging outward appearances. And the fact that this world would call it a "religious right" to judge others by outward appearances makes what happened in this film and what happens in this world even more deplorable and downright dangerous. Any religion that talks about hate and would not cry while it vaginally and anally rapes and then kills anyone for being different is no religion I want any association with in any way, shape or form. And it pains me to say that, because I know what religion should be: It should be about Jesus and "stop judging my outward appearances!" and instead start loving others for their ‘inner appearances.' Sadly (and mostly), this is NOT what religion is about.
The scene where Brandon is vaginally and anally raped and then killed is hard to take. We, as viewers, have watched Brandon shine and find love in someone like Lana who did NOT judge by outward appearances, only to watch Brandon's "boy light" and Teena's "girl light" (BOTH!) be distinguished forever. I was very sad and very angry to watch Brandon tell the authorities after he was raped, "I have a sexual identity crisis," only to have the authorities ask her in response to this, "Why do you go hanging out with guys, you being a girl yourself? Why do you go around kissing every girl?" Hello??!! Authorities, who made you judge and jury for anyone who goes hanging out with anyone they choose, who goes around kissing anyone they choose? I'm sorry, I thought this was the "land of the free?" Land that is "free," as in free to go hanging out with anyone you choose, free to go around kissing anyone you choose? I'll be damned if any authorities (or religious ones) are going to tell me who I choose to go hanging out with, who I choose to go around kissing. Maybe those authorities and religious ones are afraid to accept that Jesus was absolutely "religious right" when He told the Pharisees (and us) to "stop judging by outward appearances!" And, more to the gaveled point, "stop judging!….period!"
I apologize that I did not do the usual, run-of-the-mill "film review" here with BOYS DON'T CRY, as far as "judging" the film on its elements of filmmaking. I did not want to go that route. The route I wanted to go is that it really did take someone like me to write a film review like this, because all my life I have been judged by my outward appearances. I've even judged myself by my outward appearances and still sometimes do. Thanks to a film like this, I'm reminded I can follow Jesus and tell the whole world (or anyone reading this right now) to "stop judging by outward appearances! Stop judging anyone on their outward appearances, because it's only their ‘inner appearances' that truly matter. You who judge may be a lot of things (and I hope you are), but one thing you are NOT is judge and jury. We already have a Judge and Jury, and that IS God through His Son, Jesus Christ!"
NOTE: If I came across as "judgy wudgy" in this film review, that was NOT my intention. I just wanted to come across as accepting and loving me and you for our ‘inner appearances' and NOT our outward appearances! 😉
(a "Dear special child:" film review by Timothy J. Verret)
"Dear special child:"
There are some films that just "change the game." They get us to look at the world in an entirely different and unique way. Such is this film from India, LIKE STARS ON EARTH. In fact, looking at the world in an entirely different and unique way is EXACTLY what this film is all about. It's about a "Dear special child:" who was led by a wonderfully special teacher to see how truly miraculous and special he was, is, and always will be. I would have loved to have seen this special film as a "Dear special child:" myself, as it would have "changed my game" and allowed me to embrace me as special as I was, is, and always will be.
Darsheel Safary plays the special child, Ishaan Awasthi, and it's a marvelous performance of absolute and complete originality. Any exceptionally gifted, young actor would have found it difficult to carry a nearly 3-hour film, but Safary is not just any exceptionally gifted, young actor. He is TRULY special, just as Ishaan is. With the young eyes of an old soul and those big buck teeth, Safary wins us over the minute he shows up in the film and he has our heart in every scene that follows until the triumphant end. Aamir Khan plays the wonderfully special teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh, and Khan, most definitely an inner child as an outer adult, wins us over, as well, with his creative and unique teaching style. The other teachers in the school don't know what to make of Nikumbh but when they try to make him over into the stringent and regimented teacher they are, Nikumbh faces them all and gives them the Nazi salute of, "Heil Hitler!" Priceless and very apropos! It's not the least that Ishaam is lazy and rebellious; it's simply the most that Ishaam has undiagnosed dyslexia. Words confuse him and cause him to have poor motor skills, as well. Catching a ball is impossible for Ishaam, because he can't understand the concept of the ball being thrown to him, unable to clock the actual distance from the ball, thus completely unable to catch the ball. Words hold this same concept of confusion for him. When Nikumbh figures out why Ishaam can't read and write, he sets out to address his dyslexia but Nikumbh does something even more remarkable than that: Nikumbh addresses Ishaam's creativity in painting where words cannot possibly fail him. Ishaam's parents are clueless about his dyslexia, as many parents unfortunately are, and Ishaam's father is hell bent on his children succeeding and winning. Ishaam succeeds and wins in ways his father cannot understand, and that is through Ishaam's creativity.
I'm not kidding you, "Dear special child:" Every single teacher and parent with a child and/or children should be mandated to watch this film. Teachers and parents need to understand that their child does not have to succeed or win because a certain teacher and parent didn't succeed or win in their own lives. Teachers and parents need to address each special child individually, uniquely, refreshingly accommodating to each special child's unique gifts and talents. The child might become the quarterback of a football team but the child also might become the painter who paints like no one else can possibly paint. The child might be the smartest kid in the class but the child also might be the most artistic kid in the class. This film inspires me to want to teach because I want kids to "get this." I want kids to "get" that they don't have to be who their teacher or parent thinks they need to be. They need ONLY be who they NEED to be. My parents wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer for the rich career warranted. I wanted to be the artist I am now for the "rich career" of being enriched as the creative person God enriched me to be, monetarily rich or poor. It's these creative types like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, all with learning disabilities, who "changed the game" and thus changed the world. It's these creative types who do God, The Original Creator, justice by creating from adversity to sheer originality.
I'm not going to let you, "Dear special child:," get away without saying this:
"Dear special child:" YOU ARE SPECIAL! You always were, are, and always will be. There is not one single thing you need to "change about your game." If your teachers want you to be who they want you to be, be YOU! If your parents want you to be who they want you to be, be YOU! There is no one else like you and there is no one else who will ever be like you. You are one-of-a-kind, unique, special, endearing, remarkable, marvelous….do you need me to go on? If you do, I will! I'm so grateful to God that He brought this absolute gem of a film to me at just the absolute right time, because I can often feel VERY "unspecial." This film reminds me and all of us just how special we were, are, and always will be. "Like stars on earth" indeed am I….and YOU!!!!
Unique and original blessings ALWAYS, "Dear special child:,"
Timothy J. Verret (a "Dear special child:")
(a "gotta go in to come out of" film review by Timothy J. Verret)
OUT OF AFRICA is a film about what we all have to do in our life's journeys: We gotta go inside ourselves to come out of the places that either store the treasures we need or troubles that no longer serve us. For Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (Danish author also known by her pen name, Isak Dinesen), her journeys were going into Africa, then coming out of Africa, then going back into Africa, and then coming out of Africa again, this time for good. Sometimes it takes many "gotta go in to come out of" journeys for us to heal. Sometimes this is the case, yes, but "gotta go in" ourselves to heal is ALWAYS the case!
Directed by Sydney Pollack, this film is beautifully sweeping as far as cinematography, even if it's not exquisitely sweeping as far as an emotional landscape. Meryl Streep is brilliant as Karen, though Streep is always brilliant in every character she plays. Robert Redford plays her love interest, Denys, and although Denys' dialogue strikes the chord of the film's heart, Redford is underwhelming. Might a different actor been chosen, the emotional landscape might have been more sweeping. Denys helped Karen see something that many of us need to see: No one owns anything or anyone, not even ourselves. Denys could not be owned, though Karen tried her darndest to own him. Karen thought she owned her coffee plantation and the Kikuyu she tried to employ and educate, but Denys called her out on this with his declaration, "We're just passing through." Yes, we are ALL "just passing through" God's Landscape, owning nothing or no one and, yes, not even ourselves. Karen even thought she owned Africa, until Denys gave her a glimpse through God's Eye of what she thought she owned. This very scene was a scene that I had the pleasure of viewing in a movie theatre when I initially saw the film when it came out in 1985. I remember it like it was yesterday: The beautiful score began and showed the plane Karen and Denys were in and then, I kid you not, you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre when God's Eye held all of us in that room spellbound. God intended for Karen to know that just as she viewed at that moment God's nonhuman animals as precious, wild, and free, so did God intend her, and all of us in that room, to know the same thing. It was a moment in a movie theatre that was a defining moment in my "gotta go in myself to heal" life.
When Karen first "gotta go in" to Africa, she went there to marry her lover's brother. When Karen "come out of" Africa, she had to be cured from syphilis. When Karen "gotta go in" the next time to Africa, it was to go in to finish what she started, particularly with Denys. When Karen "come out of" Africa for the next and last time, she went "out of Africa," because she finished all she started, owning nothing she finished with, particularly with Denys. It's this kind of "gotta go inside to come out of" that makes all our trips to Africa meaningful. But we don't have to travel to Africa or anywhere to get this meaning, because the travel is an inner journey, travels of beautiful and brutal (BOTH) landscapes of our hearts and our minds. It's travels of "test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind" (Psalm 26:2). It's a test (and a testimony) for examining how we own nothing and no one, not even our own hearts and our own minds. Only God owns these things. We're "just passing through," whether we are in Africa or whether we are in loneliness. I can't begin to count how many times I have said that this loneliness of "just passing through" is simply because we are not "home" (Heaven) yet! Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (Isak Dinesen) died on September 7, 1962; after "gotta go in to come out of" for the last time, Karen went "home" and is probably now watching all she didn't own from God's Eye.
The scenes where animals were hunted and/or killed in this film are one place I care not to "gotta go in to come out of." One scene where lions killed some cattle was particularly disturbing to me, as this film was before technology could stage this through a computer without the actual event (and killing of nonhuman animals) taking place. Unless I'm wrong, those cattle were actually killed by lions, and no form of entertainment, I don't care what it is, is worth this actual event of killing actual animals. It's an observation I make now that I did not make when I first saw the film. I have to say I now take to "owning" very seriously the right to be a voice for God's voiceless nonhuman animals.
Even with a not-too-sweeping emotional landscape, this film did get me near in the end in two scenes that examined my (God's) heart and mind. When Karen was "going out of Africa" for the last time, Farah, a Somali headman hired by her husband, wanted to know if he could go where Karen was going. She told him that very much like he would make a fire so that she could find him on safari, she would make a fire for him. Farah responded, "You must make this fire very big, so that I can find you." That tore me up. The second scene was the very ending, when news got back to Karen after "gotta go in to come out of" Africa that a lion and lioness were often seen (spoiler alert!) lying on Denys' grave where they had a spectacular view of Africa. That tore me up, too, and it was very difficult for me not to recall this Bible verse: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 11:6).
We "gotta go in to come out of" who and what we do not own. We travel, yes, but we own not this travel. We love, yes, but we own not this love. God owns all of this! Just the other day, I was talking to a friend and we were talking about travels. I mentioned I always wanted to go to Africa on a safari to see God's nonhuman animals precious, wild and free. His response was, "you're gonna get eaten alive!" No I won't, for how I appreciate God's nonhuman animals precious, wild and free is exactly how God's nonhuman animals appreciate me precious, wild and free. And even if I am eaten alive, I will be tasted as a perfectly seasoned dish, i.e., no ownership of anything or anyone, not even me.
PLEASE NOTE: OUT OF AFRICA won 7 Academy Awards (Oscars), including Best Picture and Best Director, Sydney Pollack, but THE COLOR PURPLE was clearly and quite obviously The Best Picture of that year. I thought Steven Spielberg was nominated for Best Director of THE COLOR PURPLE that year, but he wasn't. Like WTF?! (what the forgiveness?!). Spielberg did, however, win the well-deserved Director's Guild of America (DGA) that year.