Fight or Flight is the physiological, instinctual reaction to a threat to your survival. Run from an attack, or take it on.
This post is about a time when I chose to run, when I left West Virginia.
West Virginia is beautiful, but it is a tough place to live. Gallup consistently ranks it the state with the lowest well-being -- last in Life Evaluation, Emotional and Physical Health, Healthy Behaviors, and Basic Access (to medical care, food & shelter, etc.) 35.7% of the population is obese, the 2nd highest percentage in the country. It has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths, and twenty percent of babies are born addicted to prescription pills. One in five babies born addicted to drugs! That's insane and absolutely fucking heartbreaking.
And, maybe the most disgusting, stomach-turning, terrifying thing of all, West Virginia really, really likes Donald Trump.
All these issues are symptoms pointing to a very serious problem -- West Virginia feels hopeless. In the state's entire history, there have only been two major industries keeping it afloat: coal mining and the railroad. Both are disappearing, and they're not coming back. People are abandoning ship in droves to find opportunities elsewhere. (Guilty)
I had a front row view of everything going to shit while working as a news producer at WVVA (Here for you!) We reported memorials for coal miners lost to a tragic underground explosion, massive job losses, and drug busts. The one story that stands out to me as particularly crushing, was the angry fight against wind energy in neighboring Tazewell County, Virginia. An opportunity to embrace future and create jobs was treated like an invading enemy. So deep is our heritage in coal that we will defend it to our deaths.
So, I left. I left because I didn't feel like the place I grew up had anything for me. In 2012, I moved to Los Angeles to find meaningful work and, honestly, just to get the hell out.
But, I still think of West Virginia sometimes, and I wonder if I made the right decision. Could I have joined the activists trying to give West Virginia a better future? Like those who battled against mountaintop removal mining? Like Five Loaves & Two Fishes, a food bank that feeds the poor with healthy choices? Like those working to bring art and culture to the area?
I was given the choice. Fight or flight? I chose flight.
But when my thoughts turn to home, I can't help but wonder. What if I didn't?
I want to talk about Room forever to everyone.
Room is about a young woman who was kidnapped as a teenager and held captive in a garden shed for seven years. Seven years.
During that time, she has her kidnapper and rapist's baby. She raises this child in the shed, which they call Room. Room is the only world this poor kid knows.
When the movie opens, the kid (Jack) is turning 5. 5-years-old. The first five years of your life in a fucking garden shed.
How do you make a movie about a tragedy like this? How do you create something that isn't just pure, devastating, unwatchable sadness and misery?
I don't know. But, man, Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue did it. Donoghue wrote the adaptation of her own novel (which is such an impressive feat in and of itself) and Abrahamson directed the shit out of it. They don't let the movie get crushed under the weight of its own darkness. Even in its bleakest moments, the movie finds hope in the beautiful mother/son bond of Ma and Jack.
Brie Larson plays Ma, and she deserves every award she gets for this movie. She's so strong for her son, but her armor cracks and breaks and is rebuilt and Larson takes us through every emotion with absolute skill and grace. Best actress of the year. All of the trophies please.
But, let's talk about Jacob Tremblay. I don't think I have ever seen a performance like this from a child actor, especially a child actor SO YOUNG. He carries this movie. His sweetness and innocence in a hopeless situation he can't understand, the highs and the lows, the joy and the fear. It was all absolutely real. I can't say enough good things.
Room is a movie that should be overbearingly difficult to sit through. Instead, it finds beauty and hope in the darkness. Somehow, against all odds, Room is positively uplifting.
Yeah, okay, I'm still getting caught up on 2015. There are so many movies from last year I haven't seen yet: Sicario, Room, The Revenant, Sisters, Spy, Anomalisa, Brooklyn, It Follows, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton, 99 Homes, Beasts of No Nation, The Big Short, Steve Jobs.... Jeez, what have I been doing with my time?!
I have managed to catch some pretty great flicks though: Creed, Ex Machina, The Martian, Inside Out, Dope, and Sleeping With Other People all stand out for me. Overall, 2015 was a pretty solid year for cinema.
But, what about 2016? With so much out there, what do you see? Hey, man, relax. I've done the research for you.
10. X-men: Apocalypse (May 27) - I love the X-Men. It's my Star Wars. The movie franchise got frustratingly off-track for a while right around X3, but First Class restored order to the world. Now, original franchise shepherd Bryan Singer is bringing to life one of the comics' most fearsome villains: the immortal Apocalypse. Oscar Isaac is playing the big bad, and I know his performance is going to be something special.
9. Midnight Special (Mar 18) - Take Shelter and Mud proved Jeff Nichols is one of the most exciting young filmmakers in the game. His latest is the story of desperate father trying to protect his super-powered son from the forces out to get him. The multiple release date shifts could be a bad sign, but I hope that has less to do with quality and more to do with executives who don't know how to promote a unique movie like this.
8. The Circle (release date TBD) - Directed by James Ponsoldt and starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, and Patton Oswalt, this adaptation of the Dave Eggers novel of the same name looks to be in good hands. The tone will be tricky to nail (part satire, part paranoid thriller), but with this kind of talent involved, I've got high hopes.
7. The Lobster (Mar 11) - In a strange futuristic world where it's illegal to be single, and the punishment is being turned into an animal, Colin Farrell is taking one last stab at love. It looks absolutely bizarre, but in a very sweet way. Could this be the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind of this year?
6. Captain America: Civil War (May 6) - Marvel Studios is hit (Iron Man) and miss (Thor 2). But, when they hit, they hit hard. The directors of the best Marvel movie so far (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) are back in the driver's seat for this one, and I expect only the best. It's Captain America vs. Iron Man, and it's gonna get nuts.
5. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Mar 4) - America's actions in the middle east have resulted in a giant quagmire. Afghanistan has been complex and maddening war, about which there is very little to laugh about. It would take a master comedian and performer to mine comedy from that awful, sad mess. Well, good news! Tina Fey is on it.
4. Everybody Wants Some (Apr 15) - Richard Linklater is going back to his roots with a spiritual sequel to his most enduring comedy, Dazed and Confused. It might not end up as deep as the Before Sunrise trilogy or as affecting as Boyhood, but it's definitely going to be a fun time.
3. La La Land (July 15) - In 2014, Whiplash absolutely blew me away and quickly became one of my all-time favorite films, so I am all in on Damien Chazelle's next feature. This time around, the intensity is being traded in for fun and whimsy. It's a musical love letter to Los Angeles starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who are sure to bring back the charming chemistry that elevated Crazy Stupid Love. Man, I'm already smitten with this movie, and there hasn't been a second of footage released.
2. The Nice Guys (May 20) - Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang in 70's Los Angeles. That's what it looks like master of buddy action movies Shane Black is giving us, and it's going to be a hell of a ride. We'll see if Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe can step into RDJ and Kilmer's shoes, but I'm pretty sure they're up to the task.
1. Hail, Caesar! (Feb 5) - The Coen brothers are modern masters. There's no one better. While their thrillers and dramas are the best in the business, I personally love it when they let themselves go totally screwball. Hail, Caesar! looks like their funniest movie since O Brother Where Art Thou, and I can't wait for the ride. I mean, just look at this cast: George Clooney (never better than with the Coens), Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum. See you there opening night.