RBG: A woman to celebrate

RBG images

I wasn’t expecting much when I settled into my seat yesterday to see “RBG.”

Sure, I’d heard of this movie about Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and, lately, an internet phenomenon. I knew the film took a look at the life and work of a brilliant legal scholar. What I didn’t realize is how deftly the filmmakers would tie together so much rich material — from archival footage, Congressional testimony, news stories, TV clips, internet memes and interviews — to present a compelling portrait of a woman who has arguably done as much for women’s rights as the late Thurgood Marshall did for civil rights for black Americans.

In a word, Ruth Bager Ginsburg is a powerhouse.

Quiet by nature and tiny in stature, she has been tireless and fearless in using the law to champion the cause of equal opportunity for women. The film touches on a handful of cases she successfully argued before the nation’s highest court to help extend equity to females in the workplace.

While those accomplishments are extraordinary, it’s the personal side of the now 85-year-old justice that makes this movie so endearing. Through interviews with her late husband Marty, their daughter and son, and a host of other friends and professional colleagues, we get a picture of a shy but determined woman who overcame sex discrimination herself in pursuing a legal career when women were actively discouraged from doing so.

***

We admire Ginsburg’s resolve and focus as a young mother and wife in law school, caring for her cancer-stricken husband (who is also a law student), raising their newborn daughter, and somehow still finding time to keep up her own studies.

We come to realize that resolve and focus are lifelong attributes, that she personifies an only-in-America success story as a Brooklyn-born  daughter of immigrants who was educated at Cornell, Columbia and Harvard and taught at Rutgers and Columbia law schools on her way to being named to the federal bench.

(It was President Bill Clinton who named her to the Supreme Court in 1993, making her the second-longest serving justice on the current court.)

RGB 2 images

 At 85, Justice Ginsburg has  become an intergenerational heroine and pop culture icon.

But more than a sterling legal career, we see different sides of Ginsburg: an opera lover who is witty and warm; able to become good friends with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, an arch-conservative who was her opposite in temperament and personality; able to shrug off falling asleep at a State of the Union address; and able to laugh at a parody of her on Saturday Night Live.

***

Lori and I recently saw “Marshall,” a biographical film about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. While it was entertaining and educational and Chadwick Boseman was solid in his portrayal of Marshall, “RBG” has the added plus of presenting the real, live Ginsburg in her own words.

She, like Marshall before her, is a national treasure. Go see this film and you’ll come away with profound respect for a woman who’s left a towering legacy that benefits our daughters and our granddaughters.

Advertisements

Fantasy and reality

shape-of-water-sally-hawkin

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer form a close bond as cleaning ladies in “The Shape of Water.”

I’m not much into movies that are rooted in science fiction or fantasy. I prefer those that are tethered to real life, with real characters and a plausible plot.

But my recent viewing experiences has me rethinking my preferences.

A couple weekends ago, Lori and I saw “The Post.” It was a very good film, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring the incomparable Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and based on the true story of the newspaper’s legal battle with the U.S. government over the feds’ attempt to prevent the Post and The New York Times from publishing the top-secret Pentagon Papers.

A week later, we went to see “The Shape of Water,” a highly touted movie about a mute janitor who comes in contact with some sort of amphibious creature that’s being held captive at the Cold War-era research facility where she works. I’d seen the trailer and I was pretty skeptical going in, despite the 13 Oscar nominations it has accumulated.

Well. You’d think this veteran journalist would have liked the reality-based movie about the First Amendment better than the fictional one that asked you to suspend disbelief. But you’d be wrong.

***

In “The Post,” the 1971 newsroom was authentically recreated with lots of pasty-skinned editors and reporters in short-sleeved shirts and loosened neckties bustling around. Many of them are on the phone taking notes by hand and, of course, many of them are smoking like fiends. Women and minorities are few and far between.

Streep is marvelous as Katharine Graham, struggling to assert herself as the new publisher following the death of her husband Philip in an era when women were still a rarity in executive offices. Hanks is good but not great as editor Ben Bradlee. Definitely a notch below Jason Robards’ portrayal of Bradlee in “All The President’s Men.”

tom-hanks-meryl-streep-the-post-zoom

Meryl Streep, as newly installed publisher Katharine Graham, and Tom Hanks, as hard-charging editor Ben Bradlee, are the focal points of “The Post.”

Spielberg tells the story well. Tension rises as the Post, historically in the shadow of the Times, joins its rival in arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court that it has a constitutional right to publish the classified documents. In the face of threatened censorship or punishment, the Post argues that Americans have have a right to know what’s in the documents so they can decide for themselves whether to believe the government’s claims about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

It’s a solid film, obviously based on real events and people and culminating with a landmark ruling that upheld press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. And here I must say I watched it with the pride of having worked in that same newsroom just a couple years later as a summer intern: in 1973, when the Post broke the Watergate scandal, and in 1974, when a disgraced President Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment.

“The Shape of Water,” on the other hand, was pure fantasy. I won’t reveal too much here, but Guillermo del Toro has created a lovely story out of thin air. As director and co-writer of the screenplay, he pulls you in to the lives of three ordinary people — Elisa, the mute woman;  Zelda, her co-worker and interpreter; and Giles, her gay neighbor and friend — who all wind up collaborating in an extraordinary way.

The-Shape-of-Water-640x409

It’s a modern-day fable, really. The trio of characters lead lives defined by routine and simple pleasures along with disrespect from others. As the story plays out, each of them has a moral choice to make — and at great risk to themselves. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, you’ll be rewarded with a story about relationships that shimmers with kindness and friendship, loyalty and love.

Sally Hawkins is a revelation as Elisa. I’d never heard of this British actress, but she is just perfect in a role that takes her from wide-eyed and vulnerable to fierce and fearless. Octavia Spencer shines as Zelda and Richard Jenkins is solid as Giles. Michael Shannon is superb, too, as the villain, a military officer who captured the amphibious creature and mistreats it.

“The Shape of Water” is exactly the kind of film I expected not to like. But, boy, was I wrong. If you’ve seen the trailer, too, and have your doubts, put them aside and go see the film. It’ll move you.

4 films worth viewing

As one year ended and another one started, Lori and I found ourselves with enough free time to watch a few movies, both at home and at the theater.

No lengthy reviews here. Just a quick thumbs up for each of these four:

florence foster jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins. Took a stab at this on Netflix, based solely on the fact of knowing that Meryl Streep had been nominated as Best Actress — her record 20th Oscar nomination — for her role in this 2016 film.

The unlikely premise: Jenkins is a wealthy New Yorker and patron of the arts who longs to become an opera singer despite an obvious issue: She has a terrible singing voice. Yet she’s encouraged by her voice coach and her husband, skillfully played by Hugh Grant. Meryl is marvelous in this based-on-a-true-story tale, making you want to root for her despite her dreadful voice.

the big sick

The Big Sick. A charming story, released last year and also based on real life, that centers on the cultural clashes that ensue when a Pakistan-born comic (Kumail Najiani, playing himself) falls in love with an American graduate student (Zoe Kazan) named Emily.

Kumail’s parents are committed to the tradition of an arranged marriage — humorously so, given the parade of Pakistani women who “just happen to be in the neighborhood” when the family is sitting down to dinner. But when Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail not only has to meet (and win over) her parents at the hospital, he also has to confront his folks about his feelings for the girlfriend they don’t know about. (Thank you for the recommendation, Elaina Anders.)

loving vincent

Loving Vincent. This movie, also released in 2017, is both gorgeous and intriguing. This is a story that’s told in exquisite oil-painted animation — the work of more than 100 professional artists — and a plot that revolves around the mysterious death of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh.

A young man is entrusted with hand-delivering the artist’s final letter to his brother, Theo, in the French village where van Gogh last resided. What the young man perceives as an annoying task becomes a fascinating opportunity to learn more about van Gogh from the many townspeople who knew Vincent and in some cases modeled for him and inspired his art. The visuals are lush and the story raises more questions than it answers. Be sure to see it on the big screen, as we did. (Thank you for the recommendation, Patricia Conover.)

he loves me he loves me not

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Imagine sweet-faced Audrey Tautou in the role of a young art student who’s in love with a married cardiologist — or at least thinks she is. Is the relationship real and reciprocal?  Or wishful thinking? Why won’t the handsome doctor leave his wife for her? How does he explain the various gifts that come to his office, with no notes, and the messages left on his phone? Should his wife believe his claims that there isn’t another woman?

This is a 2002 French film that struck us as sneaky good, one that became more intriguing and more complex the deeper we got into the plot, with its many twists and turns.  Pretty cool storytelling device to have the same set of events told through the student’s eyes and the doctor’s eyes. Tautou, best known for playing the title character in Amélie, is captivating in this film as Angélique. (Thank you, Netflix.)

 

2017: A year of transitions

lori-george-binks

In a year of transitions, Lori and George celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary in September.

This year has felt like no other.

Seeing the White House change hands from the most inspiring president of my lifetime to the least qualified and least compassionate was bad enough. Watching that train wreck of a human being proceed to drive even deeper wedges into an already splintered populace — well, that was even worse.

But I’m not here to dwell on politics.

No, not even Trump can take the luster off a year that produced plenty of memorable moments for the extended Rede family.

Yes, there was sadness with the passing of my dad, Catarino Allala Rede, just six days after he turned 91 in March.

sc.catarino

The scene at the funeral home in Silver City, New Mexico.

But even then, there was a silver lining to his passing. I got to do a mini-road trip with daughter Simone to and from the Phoenix airport to Dad’s home in southwestern New Mexico. There, we were reunited with my stepmother, my two sisters, a niece, a nephew, and assorted cousins that I hadn’t seen for several years.

It’s funny how life’s milestones — births, weddings and deaths — are those that bring families together from near and far. But when your siblings and other relatives are spread out all along the West Coast — from Alaska to Southern California — that’s the way it is.

SC cathy-rose-george 2

With my sisters Cathy (from Dillingham, Alaska) and Rosemary (from Oceanside, California).

Aside from Dad’s death, this year of transitions was dominated by our youngest son’s graduation from college, followed just days later by his move to Middle America.

In May, Jordan graduated with a degree in biology from St. Martin’s College, a small Benedictine school outside Olympia, Washington, where he had commuted for four years from his home in Spanaway, near Tacoma. It was a remarkable accomplishment for someone who began college just months after completing a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, including a one-year posting in Afghanistan, and who became a father during his junior year.

 

We had barely had time to celebrate before Lori and I returned to Spanaway to help Jordan and Jamie pack up their house for a 2,000-mile move to the University of Missouri. There in Columbia, Jordan would do science research in a fellowship program designed to help students prepare for the rigors of graduate school.

Father and son embarked on a four-day road trip, with me driving a 20-foot U-Haul truck and Jordan driving the family’s Honda Fit, packed to the gills and including their two dogs and one cat. I had envisioned the trip as an upbeat adventure, but it quickly took a dark turn when the U-Haul truck got a flat tire on the first day and again on the second day in remote areas of Idaho and Montana.

We made it on schedule, but only after pounding through really long third and fourth days where sightseeing took a back seat to the urgency of sticking to our schedule. We arrived late on a Friday, unloaded the truck’s contents on Saturday, and I flew home early Sunday.

 

How I wish Dad had lived to see his youngest grandchild graduate from college and become a father, as well.

As for the rest of 2017, well, it’s no wonder it feels like these 12 months flew by. Lots of memories and two end-of-year milestones.

Travel: We stuck close to home with three trips to our quiet cabin on Orcas Island. We always look forward to the week-long respite from urban life. The trips entails a 250-mile drive to Anacortes, where we board the ferry for a one-hour sailing to the island, and then an additional 45-minute drive to our place above Eagle Lake.

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

 

In early December, Lori and I returned to Missouri for a quick pre-Christmas visit. It was a joy to spend time with our sweet granddaughter, Emalyn, and her loving parents.

Books: Literature is a passport of its own, with talented authors opening doors to unfamiliar places, people and experiences. Among those I enjoyed this year were: “Among the Living and the Dead,” a memoir by my Latvian-American friend and former colleague, Inara Verzemnieks; “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” the last in the trilogy of Swedish crime thrillers churned out by the late Stieg Larsson; “Hillbilly Elegy,” a window into the Appalachian hillbilly culture written by one who escaped, J.D. Vance;  “Lab Girl,” a peek into the world of Hope Jahren, a pioneering research scientist; and “Evicted,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of American poverty through the  racist practice of eviction. (Racist? Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.)

 

Music: I like to think I have broad tastes, though family members would disagree.  But, what the heck. I think I did pretty well catching a handful of concerts featuring artists ranging from Janet Jackson and Coldplay to Lady Antebellum, Michelle Branch, Tuxedo, Liz Longley and ZZ Ward.

Movies: No links this year because I wasn’t as diligent as usual. But I did enjoy “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Detroit” and, most recently, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Visitors: We had a surprise visit in early May from Chiho Hayamizu, a lovely young lady from Japan who was just 20 when she came to live with our family during a year of study at Portland State University. Our oldest child, Nathan, was just 13 when Chiho moved in with us in the spring of 1993.

Chiho, now 44 but still looking 20 (and even 30) years younger, was back in town for an unofficial reunion with friends who’d also been exchange students in Portland.

lori-chiho

Lori and Chiho: Radiant smiles, no matter the location or the year.

In October, my best friend, Al Rodriguez, came up from Santa Barbara to spend a few days timed to coincide with the annual Voices of August writers meetup. It was great hanging out with my longtime buddy, whether it was grabbing lunch from the downtown food carts or attending opening night of the Trail Blazers’ 2017-18 season. (They actually won!)

 

In November, two of Lori’s best friends, Terry (Long) Mullaney and Lin Dillon, came up from San Francisco for a long weekend of sightseeing and hanging out. Lori and Terry grew up on the same city block, and the two of them met Lin at the all-girls high school they attended. Nice to see such an enduring friendship.

Voices: For the seventh consecutive year, I curated a month of guest blog posts during the month of August. It’s become something that I look forward to every year, the opportunity to be informed, inspired and entertained by a changing cast of friends, relatives and online acquaintances, with ages ranging from 14 to 65-plus. Each person writes on a topic of their choice and does so in a way that brings variety and texture to the whole.

VOA 7.0 group

This year’s VOA peeps gathered Oct. 20 at McMenamin’s on Broadway. Front row, from left: Gosia Wozniacka, Elizabeth Gomez, Jennifer Brennock, Lynn St. Georges, Lori Rede, Lakshmi Jagannathan. Back row, from left: George Rede, John Killen, Bob Ehlers, Al Rodriguez, Keith Cantrell. Not pictured: Eric Wilcox.

This look back at 2017 wouldn’t be complete without two final notes:

— This is the year both Lori and I moved into a new age bracket: 65. She’s still rockin’ it as the owner of her personal training business and I’m enjoying my work as well, as an adjunct college instructor and part-time communications coordinator for a local education nonprofit.

— Chalk up another year with our two pets: Mabel, the mellowest of cats, and Charlotte, the energetic mutt who’s won our heart with her antics and underbite.

charlotte monkey

Up to no good. Again.

 

 

A quiet Christmas

It’s coming up on 10 o’clock the morning after Christmas and all is peaceful in the Rede abode and in our neighborhood.

Slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, and put Norah Jones and James Taylor on the CD player. (Some things don’t change.)

Outside, the distant rumble of a garbage truck making its rounds is the only sound disrupting the silence. Patches of white on the street and sidewalk bear witness to the light snowfall that we had on Christmas Eve. The mercury hasn’t moved much since then, although I’m looking at sunshine and blue skies.

For the past several weeks, the message to Buy! Buy! Buy! has been hard to escape as retailers, advertisers and marketers throw all their energy at us from every which way — print, TV, radio and especially online. We’ve gone from Black Friday to Cyber Monday to Last-Minute Bargains to End-of-Year Blowout Sales without missing a beat.

Whew. And, no thanks.

***

We had a quiet Christmas this year. Simple and meaningful and celebrated in two phases.

With our youngest son and his family in Missouri, we took the opportunity to visit them in early December, well ahead of the stress that comes along with Christmas travel. We enjoyed the company of Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn over the course of five days and four nights without the manufactured pressure of the holidays.

We did indulge in the spirit of the season, however, with a nighttime visit to the ranch where Anheuser-Busch raises its famous Clydesdale horses. Holiday lights, hot cocoa, handfuls of kettlecorn, and a close-up view of these magnificent animals made for a chilly but memorable evening.

Back in Portland, we celebrated the holiday on Christmas Eve with our other two children during a Five Dog Night.

Nathan and girlfriend Sara came over with Uni, their Yorkshire Terrier, and Hector, their rescue mutt. Simone came over with Quimby, my favorite Chihuahua, and Templeton, a Mini-Me version of an Irish Wolfhound. (Her wife, Kyndall, was unable to join us as she was committed to visiting family members in eastern Washington and Idaho.) Charlotte, as the rambunctious hostess, made it five four-legged creatures.

Dinner, drinks and dessert were a nice set-up for Punderdome, a card game for pun lovers. (Truth be told, the gathering also served as an early birthday celebration for yours truly.)

When it came time to leave, the streets were slick and icy enough that Simone spent the night, resulting in bonus time with our daughter on Christmas morning.

As dusk arrived, we kicked our plans into gear: Grab an early dinner at Frank’s Noodle House, a family-run joint featuring Chinese hand-pulled noodles, and then head on over to the Hollywood Theater to see “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Frances McDormand delivers a powerful performance as a strong-willed mother taking extreme measures to prod local law enforcement into doing more to solve her daughter’s murder. Great movie with a cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage.

(Interesting that the movie is set in Missouri. Not really, though. No such place as Ebbing. Plus, the film was shot in North Carolina.)

All in all, a very nice celebration. Even when it’s not possible to have all your loved ones in a single place, there’s a way to celebrate separately with meaning.

xmas-obama

A Christmas gift for the two of us. Miss him.

 

Autumn memories

lin-george-lori-terry

A good way to start a weekend visit? With a hot drink at happy hour. From left, Lin, George, Lori and Terry.

Seems it wasn’t that long ago that summer turned to fall. Mornings got cooler. Trees went from leafy to naked. And another academic term began at Portland State.

And now what?

Halloween, Thanksgiving and the World Series all have come and gone. Today kicks off the last week of classes at PSU. And the winter equinox is less than a month away.

Before another day slips by, it’s time to pause and reflect on a few highlights of recent weeks.

Catholic school girls: Early in the month, two of Lori’s closest friends came up from San Francisco to spend a three-day weekend with us. Terry (Long) Mullaney is Lori’s BFF.  They grew up across the street from each other in the City by the Bay, and Terry still lives in her childhood home with her husband Mike.

Lori and Terry attended Catholic schools from first grade through 12th, and it was at the all-girls Mercy High School that they met Linda Dillon and became fast friends. After graduation, the trio took different paths to college and the world of work, but have stayed in close contact through the decades.

(Click on images to view captions.)

We tried to make the most of their time here, showing them a couple of neighborhoods to get a feel for Northeast Portland. We also rode the Portland Streetcar to and from the South Waterfront district for lunch and a trip on the tram to Oregon Health & Science University. We popped in at Powell’s Books, went to dinner at Aviary and had some great home-cooked meals as well.

It’s always fun to get the female perspective from hanging out with three longtime friends.

Rip City: November means the start of the NBA season and, in Portland, there’s no better ticket in town than the Blazers. Lori and I got to see only one game together last year, so I’m making amends this season, hoping to attend at least three more with her.

We saw the Blazers take down the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 28, the first Saturday of the season. After seeing them lose all six games I attended last year, it was good to see the team get off to a winning start this season.

Happy hour: Teaching has gone well this fall at PSU, and I’ve added a new responsibility as internship coordinator for the Department of Communication. But I’ve also enjoyed being part of the crew at my other job at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

Our executive director is out on temporary medical leave, so the other four of us have been working extra hard to keep things going in his absence. We bring together local high school students, leading employers and community volunteers, helping to facilitate career days, classroom speakers, mock interviews, essay writing workshops and other activities that help teens prepare for college and career.

PWA happy hour

The Dream Team at Portland Workforce Alliance includes, clockwise from left, Susan Nielsen, myself, Sherri Nee and Kristen Kohashi.

Last week, my co-workers and I got together after work during a happy hour that was therapeutic for all of us. Our schedules often don’t mesh, so it was nice to finally get some down time together. I’m very fortunate to work with such smart, likable people.

Giving thanks: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because it is the most meaningful in terms of appreciating your loved ones and the least driven by commercial hype.

This year, Nathan was the only one of our kids available to join us. His girlfriend, now fiancee, Sara hung out with her parents. Simone and Kyndall were on vacation in a place with a tropical climate. And, of course, Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn were 2,000 miles away in Missouri.

We had a relaxing evening with our oldest child, and an obscenely delicious meal built around a roasted turkey prepared by Lori.

The next day, we invited Chris, a new friend from the neighborhood, and her dog Oliver to join us for leftovers. Chris is a warm and generous soul. Ollie, her trusty Jack Russell Terrier, is Charlotte’s best friend. The two romp together and walk together, and on this night wound up relaxing next to each other on Charlotte’s bed in front of the fireplace.

Four-star movie: This post began with Catholic school girls and it’s ending with another Catholic school girl. Lori and I saw a Sunday matinee showing of “Lady Bird,” one of those independent films with an engaging coming-of-age story and a quirky but lovable lead character.

Saoirse Ronan, who turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in “Brooklyn,” stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a restless 17-year-old who can’t wait to be done with her senior year of high school and move to New York for college. Lady Bird (a name she gave herself) is bored with her hometown of Sacramento, California, and oh-so-done with the rules and restrictions at her all-girls Catholic school. She’s also got a rocky relationship with her hard-working disciplinarian mom, played wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf.

The problem for Lady Bird is that her grades are mediocre and she’s just gotten suspended for mouthing off at school. Plus, she’s trying to navigate friendships and loyalties, romance and sex, and figure out who she is herself as someone who’s grown up poor and aspires to something more, whatever and wherever that may be.

It’s a refreshing film that lets you see the world through the eyes of a smart and still-evolving teenage girl. As writer and director, Greta Gerwig has come up with an entertaining story, believable characters and authentic dialogue. As the film’s namesake, Saoirse Ronan is sweet and funny, vulnerable and unsettled. I won’t be surprised if she, Metcalf, Gerwig and the film itself are nominated for Oscars next year.

fall leaves

Leaf pick-up day finally arrived last week, just as several piles in our neighborhood swelled to the size of a mid-sized car.

8 for the 8th

During the past month, I pushed everything to the side — gladly — to make room for Voices of August, the annual wordfest that features one guest blog post each day for 31 days.

With a new month already begun, I’m giving myself permission to look back at a few things of note. More precisely, eight things during the eighth month of the year. No surprise that they would touch on a few favorites: baseball, beer and the beach, live music, movies, education and exercise. In chronological order…

(Click on images to view captions.)

1. Liz Longley at DougFir Lounge.

Third time seeing this indie artist in Portland — and she gets better every time.

2. Escape to the Oregon Coast.

While Portland and the Willamette Valley endured triple-digit heat, Lori and I and Charlotte visited our friends Steve and Kelly Kern at their home in Manzanita.

3. School’s out. Taught two summer session classes, back-to-back, at Portland State.

4. Brewskis. Found my way to The Wayfinder, an awesome brewpub in inner Southeast Portland, with the help of a friend who works in the area.

george-david

Sampling one of more than a dozen beers on tap with David Quisenberry.

5. The Bodacious Bakers. More live music, featuring siblings we’ve known since their pre-K days.

clara-marshall baker

Clara Baker performs an original composition with brother Marshall during a show at the Alberta Street Pub on Aug. 10.

6. At the movies. Went to the Living Room Theater in downtown Portland to see “Detroit,” a film based on a police raid at a motel that occurred during the 1967 riots. Very well done and very hard to watch, given the white cops-on-black civilians violence that was fueled by blatant racism. Watch the trailer here.

7. At the ballpark. Caught a Thursday night ballgame between the Hillsboro Hops and the Boise Hawks. Well played game that included a late home run to seal a 7-1 win for the home team in this Northwest League contest.

8. Exercise! My morning routine pretty much fell apart at the beginning of the year, when I was scrambling to keep up with three college classes and a part-time job at a nonprofit. Things got so bad I logged fewer than 10 exercise days a month for five consecutive months. July brought 18. August 21!

 

george-knee

So then I ruined my momentum by falling off my bike on a neighborhood ride. Lesson learned? Never use your front brake only when riding with one hand.

Whose baby is it?

Over the Labor Day weekend, Lori and I ventured out to our neighborhood theater for what has become a rare experience — seeing a first-run movie on the big screen.

In this age of streaming, which allows viewing virtually anything anywhere anytime, it’s still a treat to see a motion picture as it’s meant to be seen. Especially when the film is good enough to justify the steep cost of admission.

“The Light Between Oceans” isn’t a perfect movie, or even a great one. But I liked it well enough that I’d recommend it to anyone who’s drawn to a story centered on vulnerable characters and compelling moral choices. Add in lustrous cinematography and a talented, international cast and you’ve got a winner.

light_between_oceans_ver2

The movie is based on a novel by M.L. Stedman, an Australian author. I was unfamiliar with the book, so I walked in with no expectations. I left pretty impressed, though a review in The New Yorker I read a few days later faulted the film for being “nonsensical” and “rather prim.”

Michael Fassbender, the Irish-German actor who played a sadistic slave owner in “12 Years A Slave,” plays the lead role of Tom Sherbourne. Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “The Danish Girl,” plays his wife, Isabel. Rachel Weisz, the British actress who won in the same category for her work in “The Constant Gardener,” plays Hannah, a young widow. The director is Derek Cianfrance, whose previous films include “Blue Valentine.”

The story takes place just after the First World War. As a veteran of that conflict, Tom has seen too much death, so he welcomes the opportunity to accept a position as a lighthouse keeper off the coast of Australia, a job that would seem to guarantee isolation and ample time for introspection and possible healing.

Before leaving the mainland, however, he meets Isabel. He goes off to work on the fictional island of Janus, but they correspond and when Tom returns to the village where Isabel lives, they quickly fall in love and get married. The couple move to Janus, where they are the only humans, and agree to start a family. Poor Isabel has not one but two miscarriages.

lightoceansSo when a small boat comes ashore one day bearing a dead man and an infant girl, with no sign of who they are or what brought them there, the couple must decide: Do they keep the child and pretend it is theirs? Or do they make an effort to return the child to its mother? That is, if the mother is even alive?

Isabel argues strongly for keeping the child. Tom acquiesces. They name her Lucy.

Four years later, on a visit to the village, Tom figures out that Hannah is the biological mother and that she believes her daughter Grace was lost at sea. His conscience tells him that returning the child is the right thing to do.

But is it? Doing so would crush his wife and thoroughly confuse the little girl they’ve raised as their daughter. Isabel, too, must decide. Can she bear to part with the little girl who came into her life, seemingly as an act of providence?

And what about Hannah? Initially incensed upon learning that Tom and Isabel made no attempt to reach out to her, she now can see how tightly bonded her daughter has become with the couple.

Whose baby is it? With whom does the child truly belong? Is the morally correct action the best option?

These are gut-wrenching questions, and the answers have life-changing consequences for all three adults as well as for little Lucy/Grace. Fassbender, Vikander and Weisz all deliver excellent performances as they convey pain, heartbreak, confusion and sacrifice. Husband and wife are pitted against each other as are the child’s biological and adoptive mothers.

It’s a gripping film. Moral choices are never easy and in this film, you can feel the tug-of-war within each character’s mind and heart. Go see it and consider what you would do in their situations.

Mitt: The movie

When Mitt Romney ran for president, his critics painted him as a flipflopper on policy issues and a wooden figure whose tremendous wealth put him out of touch with ordinary Americans.

I’d agree with that critique. But after watching the 2014 documentary “Mitt,” I have to say my view of Romney has softened substantially.

It’s not that I’ve gone back and decided he was right after all on health care, gun laws and climate change. No, it’s nothing like that.

Rather, it’s having had the opportunity to glimpse his private, personal side in unscripted moments spanning six years, I can better appreciate the tremendous strain and sacrifice involved in running for the nation’s highest office.

Mitt_film

In this 90-minute Netflix documentary produced and directed by Greg Whiteley, the pressures on Romney and his family are conveyed in scenes shot in their home, in hotel rooms, on the road and in the air, and on numerous campaign stops.

We see the former governor of Massachusetts in his bathrobe, eating takeout from a plastic takeout container, riding in the back of a van, sleeping on the floor of an airplane, playing with his grandchildren in the snow.

We see him in prayer with his wife and children, consulting with his family about whether he should run back in 2008, and asking for their suggestions on what to say in his 2012 concession speech.

There’s a surprisingly intimate feel to the film, one that made me view Romney with greater respect for his willingness to go all in, not just once but twice, out of a belief that he could steer the country in a direction he thought was the right course.

Frankly, “Mitt” is a refreshing change from the sleazy tactics and schoolyard taunts we’ve seen from Trump, Cruz and other wannabes who’ve since dropped out of the Republican presidential campaign.

We are so used to seeing politicians as one-dimensional creatures who stick to rehearsed lines and strive to keep up a facade that it comes as a welcome change to see the mask come off.

“Mitt” isn’t so much about campaign strategy as it is about portraying the man as a flesh-and-blood individual. We see Romney dealing with doubt and disappointment as well as the frustration of being typecast.

“You’re not going to convince people Dan Quayle is smart. You’re not going to convince people Gerald Ford isn’t a stumble-bum. I guess I’m destined to be the flipping Mormon,” he says.

Later, he muses that he had to “steal” the 2012 nomination. “Our party is Southern, evangelist and populist and (I’m) Northern, Mormon and rich.”

Without a doubt, the film’s most tender moments come when Romney and his wife Ann are alone. He asks for her advice before high-stakes debates. She pats his arm. He leans into her embrace. She gives her unequivocal support despite dealing with her own challenge: multiple sclerosis.

It’s interesting to speculate how a similar film would have portrayed Barack Obama or John McCain — or how it might portray this year’s crop of candidates. Getting a better feel for who these people really are would help voters make an informed choice.

In that vein, I tip my hat to Whiteley, a 46-year-old, Emmy-nominated filmmaker who, like Romney, is Mormon. He’s succeeded in presenting a public figure in a new light and without making a blatantly partisan film.

Regardless of what you think of Romney and his politics, this is a film worth watching if you want to gain a deeper appreciation of the stresses in running for the White House.

 

In praise of student journalists

student-journalism

Like every other working, retired or aspiring journalist out there, I did a fist-pump when “Spotlight” captured the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards.

Maybe I’m delusional but I’m hoping this kind of high-profile validation of the film might prompt Americans to reconsider the importance of a free press and the impact of first-rate investigative journalism in holding the powerful to account.

“Spotlight,”  of course, tells the inspiring story of The Boston Globe’s exposé of the Catholic Church’s years-long cover-up of priests who molested boys and girls in the Boston archdiocese.

Lord knows our profession could use some help in opening some eyes and unlocking some minds. (Pun intended.)

The latest public opinion I’ve seen ranking the honesty and ethics of people in various fields shows journalists just above the middle of the pack.

We lag far behind nurses, pharmacists and medical doctors but ahead of bankers, lawyers and car salespeople. At the very bottom? Telemarketers, members of Congress and lobbyists.

See results of the December 2015 Gallup survey here: “Honesty/Ethics in Professions”

Maybe there’s hope.

***

Steve Duin, my former colleague at The Oregonian/OregonLive, cited “Spotlight” in a recent column praising the achievement and ambition of Grant Magazine, a monthly magazine published by and for students at the Northeast Portland high school that two of our three children attended.

N Word-largeLaunched in 2011 by a former principal and another former colleague, friend and neighbor of mine, David Austin, who serves as adviser, the magazine has gone after controversial topics with gusto. This month’s issue explores the history of the N-word and recent incidents of racial slurs at Grant. Previously, these student journalists have “fearlessly tackled drug and alcohol abuse, sexting, divorce, bullying, and homophobia and misogyny on social media,” Duin said.

Last week, I saw the same seriousness of purpose as I judged a national contest for scholastic journalists. I was the sole judge of a new category — the Profiles Division of Quill and Scroll’s Writing, Photo and Multimedia Contest.

From about 90 entries representing public and private schools from California to the Carolinas,  I selected three winners and a half-dozen honorable mentions. The stories explored issues involving depression, adoption, homelessness and sexual identity as experienced by the writers’ peers.

quill & scroll logo.As a high school journalist, one of the first signs that I was on the right career track came in the form of a graduation honor cord from Quill and Scroll, an honorary society for high school journalists founded 80 years ago at the University of Iowa. Later, as a professional, I served for many years on the organization’s board of trustees.

I stepped down a few years ago to give the same opportunity to others younger than me, but I was glad to step up as a judge, as I’ve done many times before for other professional and student journalist contests.

When the Quill and Scroll winners learn of their awards, I hope they will react as I did years ago. The recognition that someone already in the business thinks your work is pretty darned good not only is gratifying but it helps build self-confidence. Believing in yourself is a powerful asset moving forward into college and a career.

As “Spotlight” reminds us, we need journalists with top-notch skills and the highest ethical standards for the sake of our democracy and our communities. Here’s hoping some of these student journalists at Grant and elsewhere will rise up and become professionals too.

Word cloud: fairfaxnews.com

Magazine cover: Grant Magazine