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My First Blog Post

Every Movie Has A Meaning & A Message To Explore

Movies are a form of entertainment that tell a story through a series of images and sound that give the illusion of continuous movement. Doing so allows viewers to learn visually about the message each are trying to convey – often in a short period of time. Some movies are so powerful their meaning lingers, and many times it is in the smallest of details.

— Dr, Martha Hart.

Ever since I can remember I have loved watching movies and deciphering the hidden message and meaning behind them. Some movies inspire us, some make us sad or mad, and some are just good fun. I think my interest in the meaning of things comes from being a doctor in mental health. Human beings possess an innate desire to search for and find meaning. We crave to know purpose – it’s a big part of our humanism. I am also the founder of The Owen Hart Foundation and therefore I work with many individuals in-need so I am always trying to understand people in my quest to be as empathetic as I can to their struggles. As well I am the Vice President of the Monaco International Film Festival (seen below center along with MIFF founders Dean Bentley and Rosana Golden). In an effort to tie in all the aspects of my everyday life and given my love of movies I have wanted to create a purposeful yet casual movie blog for some time about cinema that has moved me or stuck in my mind for one reason or another. Not because I am a said expert in film – I’m not – but just because I love thinking about what the take-away message is in any situation and because I love discussing movies, and giving my Oscar picks… Once this blog is established I will try to do one post per week (time permitting) to explore the meaning of life through the movies we watch – so let’s get started!
AFA-MIFF founders Dean Bentley and Rosana Golden along with MIFF VP Dr. Martha Hart.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

To christen the start of my second year as a movie blogger, I thought my first post should reflect something even deeper than sifting through the meaning of life through the movies we watch and open up the dialogue about what good is the meaning of life if we have no sustenance, no planet, and no life to look forward to! This is precisely why I have chosen to discuss the recent gripping environmental documentary made by Emmy Award winning broadcasting extraordinaire 93-year-old natural historian Sir David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet. This stellar depiction of Planet Earth’s struggle with climate change is a must-watch for everyone and can now be viewed on Netflix.

Released earlier this year this documentary includes incredible modern-day footage as well as clips of a young handsome Attenborough taken from previous film works dating back to the 50s. This 83-minute assessment on climate change illuminates the pitiful state of the planet uniquely framed within the life’s work of the most prolific nature documentarians of all time, David Attenborough himself. There are some enlightening highpoints reported on his journey but for the most part this journalistic piece is extremely bleak. Much of the film is a dire call to action that clearly illustrates how the global impasse of our deteriorating existence has deepened over his 9+ decade lifespan. With the ongoing destruction our world is facing as animal populations continue to decline and wildlife reserves dwindle this film is truly alarming with some disturbing scenes that will have some viewers in tears. The somber account of Planet Earth’s demise is a certainty unless us humans change our behavior and fast! Narrator Attenborough makes it clear that despite our selfish takeover of the planet, Mother Earth will find a way to survive but whether our species does is up to us. Humans are only 100+ years away from extinction. Take it from the man who has seen more of the natural world than anyone. Everything Attenborough predicts is already happening (e.g. fires, floods, ice caps melting, global warming, extinction, erratic weather…). It is frightening to see the tragic future that awaits in our midst.

Even though this documentary depicts abysmal obscurity on the horizon, I admire how Attenborough tactically lays out the massive problem but also provides us with a very basic yet comprehensive solution that mankind can actually accomplish. What’s so interesting is how the challenges we face with climate change also resemble the predicaments we face as a society. In short, minimizing the importance and necessity of diversity has gotten us into immense trouble on all fronts! Culturally, depleted variation coalesced with the quest for wealth has spawned huge divides between individuals who have means and those who do not. Much like the battles we face socially, the problems we face with our planet are the result of destroying bio-diversity and replacing it with homogeneity in the quest for money and dominance. Case in point, replacing lush rainforests with rows of oil palms. Much like nature’s need to maintain equilibrium by letting all life forms thrive, society needs to provide equal opportunity to improve the lives of all its citizens while accepting and appreciating the splendor of individual differences (a mission of the OHF).  

You guessed it – the take-away message of this documentary is the preciousness of balance and variation in nature and society. Conservation vs. Annihilation – Attenborough stipulates the terms of his practical formula and it’s really very simple. Equal opportunity for all and reforestation in the wild! Restoring our rainforests via replanting native foliage and reinstating wilderness in tamed farmlands. This is the answer. Such restoration has already been successfully accomplished on smaller scales. However, regrowth needs to happen in higher ratios, and it is up to everyday citizens to push for change, and make climate change a primary focus of all governments. In  David Attenborough’s own words, this is his final witness statement, ‘we have knowledge but now we need wisdom.’ Amen!

Sir David Attenborough has truly lived an amazing life through and through. What a gift he has left us with this magnificent textual film-based signature – a true masterpiece of his life’s work. Well done you! At age 93 David Attenborough could retire but instead he is working tirelessly with Prince William to establish a Nobel Prize for Environmentalism entitled the ‘Earthshot’ Prize, meant to inspire 50 formulated solutions on how best to tackle the planet’s biggest environmental problems. On this point, it is my opinion that Attenborough should receive the first of this type of Nobel Prize for his lifelong work as an environmentalist. If you would like to sign the petition to this effect as I and many others have done please do so at: www.change.org. Fast Fact: David Attenborough has received numerous awards over the years including the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Banff International Film Festival. Way to go Canada! One final note about this documentary and its ties with Canada; I really appreciate that this film highlights Canadian efforts to stop the slaughter or whales. Nicely done Canada.

P.S. My kids are both much more environmentally savvy than I am, but I’m really improving. I’m excellent at recycling, and I (and the OHF) often support environmental causes (e.g. when in ocean environments we wear our 4 Ocean bracelets in support of this great cause). On the topic of oceans and rainforests, I have hiked many spectacular Hawaiian trails including Moana Falls Rainforest Trail. I love these rainforest hikes, and have done them many times, made even better by the fact that decades ago this particular rainforest was at risk of disappearing. Though through conservation efforts that continue today, and which we support every visit, this rainforest has been richly replenished. Another reason why I love hiking this rainforest trail is because scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed here, and on top of that it may be the only rainforest in the world that does not contain snakes! Since the Hawaiian Islands are in fact an archipelago, snakes are not a native species in the region. Also, it’s highly illegal to bring snakes to the islands, and with fines as high as $200,000 who would want to. Speaking of snakes, I liked that this film was produced by the World Wildlife Foundation (aka WWF) as we too share a common bond – we both took the WWE to court and won!

The Hart Fam in Hawaii at Moana Fall Rainforest.

Forrest Gump (1st Year Anniversary!)

Today I celebrate the one-year anniversary of my movie blog, and in the spirit of endeavoring to find the meaning of life through the movies we watch only a momentous modern-day classic like Forrest Gump will do. Twenty-five years ago this cinematic landmark cleaned up at the Oscars with thirteen nominations and six wins, including best picture, best director for Robert Zemeckis, and best actor for Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump). This ever so imaginative film certainly deserves all these accolades, though why is this movie still so consequential all these years later? The core reason is because its compelling story gently glides us along the act of soul searching while drawing attention to the very essence of our human experience, what shapes us, and how we become who we are. Destiny vs. Fate: does the divine play a role, or not?

Spiritual undertones reign supreme in this picture. In fact, the first clue of rich religious symbolism occurs in the opening scene as a white-striped feather softly drifts through the air strategically landing at Forrest Gump’s feet. Of course he picks it up and safely tucks it away in his children’s book Curious George carefully situated in his suitcase. Feathers have long been known to represent spiritual significance in providing reassurance, guidance, and protection. It’s a sign from above intended to let its benefactor know they are not alone, and white-striped feathers in particular signify unexpected change in one’s career, relationships, place of residence… Since the director overtly positions this angelic hint at the onset of the film let’s examine the plot and explore whether a higher power is indeed at work.

Sitting on a bench in Savanna Georgia waiting for the Number 9 Bus – slow-witted Forrest Gump with an IQ=75 starts telling his rather amazing life story from childhood onward to a number of skeptical passersby. As the nostalgic tale unfurls viewers are willingly lured into the narrative. This film works well at immediately hooking audiences by neatly connecting them to the virtuous yet mentally challenged protagonist Forrest Gump by plopping Gump into historical American events that everyone can relate to (Vietnam War, Watergate, Hippy & Black Panthers Movements, Ping Pong Diplomacy, AIDs, Apple Products…). The story smartly by happenstance has Gump, who lives a seemingly trivial life witness incredible factual goings-on (Protests, Civil Rights Act Ending Segregation, Moon Landing) while intersecting with many notable people (Elvis, John Lennon, Dick Cavett…), notorious people (Nathan Bedford Forrest – KKK Founder, George Wallace) and even presidents (JFK, LBJ, Nixon) on his life’s journey. Structuring the film this way really adds to its uniqueness, while sparking continued interest in viewers who wait with anticipation on how the loose ends will thread together. Unassuming Gump somehow miraculously plays a substantial role in so many situations, even unknowingly partaking in creating the famous 70s Have a Nice Day Smiley Face T-Shirt and popular sayings on bumper stickers of the time. Yes, you guessed it, a lot of ‘Shit Happens’ in this movie!

Although Gump is portrayed as a simpleminded person, the goodness, decency, and optimism that runs through the film as he overcomes physical challenges, mental disparity, bullying, social awkwardness, war, loss, and heartbreak are emotional and very inspiring. I have seen this movie a number of times and I am always moved to tears, particularly at two very poignant segments: i) when Forrest gets deployed to Vietnam and quietly puts his head on his mum’s shoulder (Sally Field) as I know despite our best efforts parents can’t always protect their children and, ii) near the end of the movie when Forrest talks to the love of his life Jenny (Robin Wright) under the tree, as I know there are some things in life we just can’t change. Both scenes are so well acted by Hanks and each scenario make us think about outside forces that control our future (other people, ourselves, or something else). All the way through, the movie break-crumbs us with hints of divine intervention but balances chance and the decision-making process with a flutter of free will. This is a key element to contemplate while watching this film as it’s the ‘what-ifs’ that we ponder. Mirroring real-life the movie depicts how we often forget that for every bad choice we make, we participate in the process then suffer the unavoidable consequences. Cause and effect. The message here is that if an omnipotent entity offers up an opportunity it’s still our job to choose wisely. ‘Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get’ but how we react to it is our own. After all ‘stupid is as stupid does’ so act accordingly.

With Gump’s uncorrupted purity and sincerity this film placates America’s deeply conservative base but even the most liberal person would agree that doing the right thing matters. Sure life has its highs and lows, ups and downs, but on the spiritual front this movie taps into the power of manifestation (think → believe → achieve). For example, Forrest thinks about Jenny all the time – then she’s there. Time after time she leaves but then returns again, as if cosmic currents keep pulling her back into Forrest’s life. The power of thought works because in the end he gets what he wants – the girl! Gump shows us that you don’t have to be the sharpest tack on the board to grasp what love is, and when heartbroken he does what we all do. Run ourselves ragged with distracts until we find an answer we can live with. In short, he’s basically a dummy for love just like the rest of us. This movie also teaches us what friendship means as Forrest shows how his loyalty to his best good friend Bubba Blue(Mykelti Williamson) transcends death. Then there’s Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), another side story that teaches us life doesn’t always turn out how we envision it will as it seems to have its own plan. But once peace with adverse realities settle, one can not only survive but thrive.

With so many subplots in this rather long flick (that flies by) what is the ultimate take-away of this icon film? Throughout the movie Forrest has many impressionable interludes in people’s lives, with each having quite a profound effect. The point is Forrest leaves a mark and impacts so many people he meets. Most of the time not even knowing how much he has influenced them. Just like real-life we may never know just how deeply we truly inspire others. On this point, I’m sure my Grade 12 Biology 30 teacher Mrs. Benda never knew how much I admired her intelligence and how I could see my own success through her accomplishments. That said, we need to be careful how we wield this sword as there is a dark side to this dagger. Just how we may never know the positive outcomes we impress upon others we also may never know if we broke people through our actions or inaction. That is what this film shows us. It imparts how we all have the potential to deeply affect others regardless of intelligence, race, occupation, gender, religion, social status…

When in doubt about the strength of your sway reflect on this African proverb, ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.’ ―Dalai Lama. To the point, whether or not we believe a deity puts people in our lives for a reason this movie shows we are all connected, This is why being kind is so very important. It’s all that really matters in the end, and if you play your cards right all good things stems from there. Just look at Forrest. Like a perfect song he reminds us that, ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.’ He ought to know – he lived it all – packaged with a lot of humanity. NOTE: The music in this movie hugely plays into its success, setting the stage for each era/event Gump lives through, which arguably includes the greatest rock-music epoch ever – the 60s -70s. This film features 50 remarkable songs and is still one of the top selling movie soundtracks of all time. Including such greats as; The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, The Mamas & the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Elvis, Joan Baez, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, The 5th Dimension, The Doobie Brothers, Jackson Brown, The Supremes…, and of course The Byrds. After all Jenny did pray to turn into a bird so she could ‘fly, fly away’.

P.S. Like Gump, ‘I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze…maybe it’s both… happening at the same time.’ Also like Gump when I see a beautiful feather at my feet I pick it up and put it in a safe little case in my garage. Hey, call me crazy but if all those lovely plumes are a sign that I’m being guided towards my destiny and protected by a higher power I will take it. I need all the help I can get! On that point, a big thank you to my thousands upon thousands of viewers from over 70 countries worldwide (and climbing) for helping make my first year as a movie blogger a huge success. I love writing this movie blog and I truly appreciate the immense support and engagement I’ve had with so many interesting people through the fun forum of filmmaking. Start rolling out the red carpet, let’s get ready for year two!

Dunkirk (Remembrance Day)

To mark Remembrance Day 2020 with our COVID-19 reality in mind, it seems only fitting to showcase the extraordinary true wartime story that epically recounts the crushing despair felt by 400,000 British, French, Belgium (and Canadian) troops when hopelessly trapped in isolation on the beaches of Dunkirk. I love this film as it really sets the tone of how essential it is to protect our protectors! Written and directed by filmmaking virtuoso Christopher Nolan, this movie (one of his best ever) is broken down into three parallel yet intersecting stories by land, sea, and air that successfully delivers a powerful message of individual grit, civil bravery, and military unity. With eight Oscar nods and three wins to its credit this movie has solidified its place as one of the top military movies of all time and holds the record as the highest-grossing WWII film in history, raking in a whopping $526 million worldwide. It is also one of few WWII films made without the presence of American soldiers as its set in 1940 before Americans were involved in the war.

The film opens with menacingly leaflets falling like confetti declaring ‘We surround you!’ as several British soldiers quietly walk through the empty war-torn costal city of Dunkirk on route to the seafront. Though within seconds the men are under siege as rapid gun fire erupts leaving the young fighters fiercely fleeing for their lives dodging enemy laden bullets. The agony of battle explodes from the onset of the film and never lets up, with the ugliness of war portrayed in a very real way. As the movie quickly unfolds the starkness and severity of the problem becomes piercingly clear. The entire British Expeditionary Army and other allied forces have receded to the French beaches of Dunkirk, after gravely underestimating the superior might of the German forces. Now stranded like sitting ducks, their demise will ultimately cost Britain the war. It’s an overwhelming and demoralizing sight. With allied forces cut off, the troops are surrounded, and driven to the brink as their strategic German enemies slowly pick them off. With the sea too shallow to accommodate naval battleships no proper big-scale evacuations can be carried out. Therefore, imminent death is a certainty – it’s just a matter of time. By all accounts this ‘colossal military disaster’ as labelled by Winston Churchill is going to take a ‘miracle of deliverance’ to save these cornered comrades. Enter Operation Dynamo (aka The Miracle of Dunkirk) an extremely dangerous yet tactical military plan to assemble 850 civilian boats (yachts, barges, fishing boats…) of all shapes and sizes to sail across Britain’s famous moat, the English Channel, from Ramsgate England to Dunkirk France. Only a 21-mile journey this short distance seems beyond reach due to heavy enemy-fire. The movie painfully relays just how dreadful it must have been for these waylaid soldiers who were so close to safe territory yet no way to cross the divide. A poignant fact compellingly translated by stoic Naval Commander Bolton (Sir Kenneth Branagh) who sadly says, ‘you can practically see it – home’. How heartbreaking.

As small privately owned vessels are welcomely requisitioned by the government with many operated by naval officers, some boat owners insist on manning and operating their own unarmed watercraft in an effort to help the hemmed in brigades. While on the subject, this film does a superb job highlighting this extremely notable aspect of history. Case in point, even though this film frames the story using an ensemble cast approach rather than focusing on a few key characters, one role given ample screen time is steadfast Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance). A resolute caring selfless citizen that risks his own safety to sail into the abyss in his ‘pleasure craft’ to help those in-need. It always amazing me what inspires people to engage in random acts of kindness and bravery. Spoiler Alert: it turns out Mr. Dawson is spurred to action by the death of his own military son to warfare. As many of us do when faced with loss and grief, we wish for a second chance to get it right. Perhaps Mr. Dawson’s inability to keep his own son out of harms-way served as a catalyst motiving him to instead rescue other people’s sons. At any rate, this factual narrative has a few other side stories that viewers also become quite invested in. Namely young privates Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (Harry Styles) whose sense of fairness and integrity are tested more than once in their quest to survive. On this point, as the story unravels viewers grow increasingly fond of Tom Hardy’s character, Spitfire pilot Farrier, who when faced with his own demise (e.g. running out of fuel, being shot down at sea, faulty gauges, burning alive, being captured…) admirably sacrifices everything to help others by charging toward danger not away from it. I true test of character. Just the kind of person you want on your team! By the way, the aerial dogfights in this flick are an added exciting element.

As the story drifts along three time points (week/day/hour May 26-June 4 1940) all three independent yet entwining stories are effectively tied together. Given this movie zeros in on the number three there is probably some significance attached to the digit. Brits are largely of the Christian faith so ‘three’ could represent the father, son, and the holy ghost. After all this mission was declared a ‘miracle’. To this day the mystery of why German tanks halted twice and did not go in for the kill when so many soldiers were in retreat is still unknown. For the record I do not believe Hitler’s account that he decided to give Churchill ‘a fighting chance’; clearly the favor would not have been returned as Churchill stated, ‘I’d form an alliance with the devil himself if helped defeat Hitler.’ Churchill, who had only been in office as UK’s Prime Minister just over two weeks before the Dunkirk Ops, had a bit of a spotty military record according to some, but he was spot on about Hitler. That said, let’s stay on track with the story at hand. This film does a fantastic job evoking the dejection and danger these men faced without using gratuitous violence. In its place director Nolan meritoriously induces emotion and trepidation by letting scenes run for long periods of time with little dialogue. A methodology that really works as it allows audiences the time to settle into the anguish and gravity of the situation. In short, this wartime drama is exceptionally moving more-so in its quieter moments. That said, intensity dominates throughout this picture, generously helped along by Hans Zimmer’s sorrowful yet conquering musical score. All in all this film has the power to make you cry and express delight at the same time. With the telling tale of Dunkirk now outlined, what life lesson is this movie trying to teach us?

Normally I do not gave-away the meaning of the movie up front but in this case (if you caught it) I did in the opening paragraph. But let’s go through it in more detail. On the surface, this film’s main message seems relatively clear-cut; demonstrating how a near military catastrophe transformed from ultimate failure into a tremendous morale booster by showing how impactful and significant comradery and a collective effort can be. Truly, those who survive wars survive so much and that alone is enough. If audiences are left with only this impression that’s fantastic! Though I would expand this swarthy statement beyond such moral implications as I believe the veritable take-away is much more than this. To the point the real message dives deeper than mere teamwork. It’s about role reversal and the necessity to defend our defenders! Champions ascend when helping becomes a two-way street! This film surreptitiously exhibits just how the strong become weak and how underdogs become heroes. In the end 336,000+ British/ French/Belgium/Canadian soldiers were saved by Churchill’s ‘civilian fleet’ with the assistance of the Royal Air Force who protected the evacuation efforts by warding off air attacks from the Luftwaffe. Yes the guardians became the guarded. Action vs. Inaction – Dunkirk taught us that we must always honor, assist, and fight for our countrymen who selflessly put their lives on the line for us every day. ‘Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: “This was their finest hour… Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts…never surrender.’ – Winston Churchill. Amen to that. Let us never forget to remember our civic duty to support our blessed troops before, during, and after their service.

Fast fact: Canadian soldiers were not only rescued at Dunkirk but also assisted with evacuations, namely Vancouverite Robert Timbrell a 20-year-old sub-lieutenant who later received the Distinguished Service Cross. Canada also provided four Royal Canadian Navy destroyers to help with the mission.  Note: Dunkirk is a wartime extravaganza (by air, sea, and land) and is best seen in theatres as to appreciate how visually spectacular the widescreen shots are. As cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema touts, ‘We have a big love for the big format.’ FYI another magnificent historical drama on the harrowing events at Dunkirk is the Darkest Hour. In fact I recommend watching Dunkirk and Darkest Hour in tandem. Electrifying!

Happy Remembrance Day Canada & All.

P.S. Personally I have always been a big supporter of our military and our veterans. Ever since I can remember I have gone to the Memorial Park Library on Remembrance Day when in Calgary to leave poppies and flowers. Even when my kids were very young, and the weather was extremely cold we would go to pay our respects. Circling back to the movie, I have crossed the English Channel many times and have visited a number of war memorials worldwide including sites in France, England (Churchill’s Bunker, Imperial War Museum Duxford – a historical WWII RAF airfield near Cambridge where I lived and where WWII airplanes still fly in airshows, which I have attended), and Germany. Once I was even in East Berlin for D-Day Ceremonies and that was most interesting indeed. War is truly awful and should only be an option of last resort, though sometimes it’s necessary. However, what’s even more necessary is that we remember our veterans who have honorably and bravely served our country and whose selfless service should always be revered. On that point, bless belated family member Rosino Gagliardi who proudly served in the Canadian Army during WWII and who was shot in the head on the frontlines of battle but survived and continued to serve until his death at age 88. What an amazing patriot. In the same vein, my very dear friend Dave Howard, concerned not enough was being done for our military veterans started the Canadian Legacy Project over a decade ago to assist very deserving new and older generations of Canadian Veterans in so many ways (e.g. basic needs, housing, financial support…).To support this amazing cause as the OHF always endeavors to do please donate to them at: www.canadianlegacyproject.org


 

The Shining 40 Years On (Halloween Special)

Halloween 2020 is near!! The scariest day of the year and not just because it’s my birthday! With the entire world simultaneously living the same horrific isolation-induced COVID-19 nightmare this Halloween is truly the most terrifying ever! Therefore only the most frightening ultimate-seclusion movie will do. Hence ‘The Shining’ it is. Released May 23rd 1980 this 4o year horror thriller is arguably the scariest movie ever made. After all, nothing is more petrifying than being locked up in a remote domicile with your family! ha ha

Directed by the late great Stanley Kubrick, ‘The Shining’ is an adaptation of horror novelist Stephen King’s 1977 book of the same name. Though it is no secret that King vehemently detested Kubrick’s version of his masterpiece. That said, King might be alone in his convictions given that Kubrick is considered one of the greatest cinematic directors of all time. I personally do not like scary violent movies, but the brilliance of this psychological thriller cannot be overlooked. This film’s best quality is that compared with other horror flicks there’s limited amounts of gore, yet maximum amounts of spook. Set in the distant Colorado Rockies, the movie opens with short tempered alcoholic writer/former teacher Jack Torrance (fabulously played by the legendary Jack Nicholson) meeting with hotel executives of the antiquated colossal Overlook Resort to discuss Jack’s prospects of serving as the live-in caretaker in the winter off-season when the lodge is closed. Jack is warned of the mental health toll associated with sheer isolation as listed in the job description (due to the remoteness of the snowy mountainous location that makes road travel impossible for the better half of 5 months) as well as the hotel’s grim past (several homicides particularly in Room 237 where the previous caretaker axed his own family to death). However, with limited employment options and the desire to write a book, want-to-be scribe Jack accepts the job and thus begins the tediousness of his self-appointed exclusion with timid wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and psychic son Danny (Danny Lloyd) in tow. {Fast fact: the interior of the Overlook Hotel was created in Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire England, but the exterior is actually the Timberline Lodge in Oregon}

As the threesome embark on their faraway journey through the elevated alpine terrain, the long winding drive at the beginning of the movie punctuates just how inaccessible the Overlook Hotel is, especially during wintertime. Once there, it doesn’t take long for odd events to slowly start unfolding. Filmmaker Kubrick’s clever approach of taking his time to build the characters as they steadily descend into madness truly maximizes the level of absorption and commitment viewers invest in the story. With the baron emptiness of the hotel, it’s the disconcerting calm that echoes throughout the many stately rooms that leaves audiences saturated in trepidation. The film also brilliantly maximizes sound to create the consternation we all know is coming, but when? The not knowing is what keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. This film radiates in its ability to conjure up the most unnerving anxiety by utilizing the simplest scenes and sounds. Case in point; the long shots of little Danny barreling across the hotel’s vast open spaces on his tricycle, loudly traversing infinite hardwood floors abruptly coupled with eerie quiet as he then rides over the many throw rugs. With each turn he blindly rounds the corners not knowing what he may find down endless hallways dripping with murderous memories of violent days gone by.  

The slow but captivating pace of the movie exemplifies the utter monotony and boredom associated with confinement and how the days blur with indiscriminate time. The uninterrupted nothingness makes work of play. The irony is, all play and no work is really what makes Jack a dull boy, not the other way around. Yes, too much free time is not a good thing as an idle mind invites dark thoughts like a welcomed guest. From the onset Jack is already an abusive intolerable father/husband but the tedium transforms him into a most frightening unbearable monster. The movie also includes many random titles (4pm) which also contributes to the menacing mood of monotony. Viewers can’t help but feel the agony of Jack’s commonsense wife Wendy having to manage a progressively deranged spouse and an increasingly unhinged child. To clarify ‘shining’ in this movie refers to the ability to see past and future events (aka clairvoyant/medium), which little traumatized son Danny can do (along with The Overlook’s head chef Dick Halloran played by Scatman Crothers; incidentally born May 23rd), which causes Danny to become catatonic as the dreadfulness of the situation heightens. Since this timeless gem is well worth the watch, especially at Halloween, I will stop there in case there are some who haven’t seen this movie yet.

With the storyline stenciled out, what life lessons could a horror film built on exile-induced insanity offer up to viewers? It’s worth mentioning that people have been trying to figure out the meaning of this movie since its release! Is it just a scary show about the delusions associated with isolation or is there something deeper buried in the foundation of the script?

At face value it appears that the underlying life lesson is to resist social isolation, but in fact it is more about the danger of history repeating itself. But what history specifically? There have been many interpretations floated, particularly about Room 237 which represents the most heinous of all evils. So much so that American director Rodney Ascher made a documentary in 2012 entitled ‘Room 237’ focusing explicitly on such explanations. One of them being the cultural assimilation of Native Americans since according to the movie’s dialogue the hotel is built on a Native American burial mound. This could be (in part), however if/when filmmakers embed hidden meanings into movies they tend to be quite subdue. That said, I think this evolution of thought process is on the right track but perhaps the meaning of Room 237 encapsulates an even broader and deeper element of America’s darkest history. Slavery. So how did I come to this original conclusion? It might not be widely known but the number ‘237’ is the country code for the African nation of Cameroon, which was one of the main points of departure on the ‘Slave Coast’. In fact John Punch, America’s 1st documented African slave is thought to have come from none other than Cameroon! Think about it – the ‘n’ word is used and the only person Jack actually kills in this movie is the kind helpful servant – the ‘black’ chef. Furthermore, if you ask me the beautiful woman Jack encounters in the Room 237 represents the seductive powers of this terrible evil that cloaked the US for centuries – turning from a much-desired endeavor, into the most sinister festering rot. So if the main message is about the elite enslaving and confining people against their will, then what do we make of disturbing little Danny and the telepathic chef’s spine-chilling ability to drift between past and future events?

My guess is that this unnerving skill is attributed to how vile shadows of the past will always be repeated if not halted in their icy tracks. Director Kubrick hammers this home with flashbacks of slaughter via the creepy twins, and the admonitions via the tidal wave of blood gushing out of the ground zero elevator, not to mention the near possessed Danny’s constant verbal repetitions of ‘REDRUM, REDRUM… It’s just murder having to listen to it over and over again! All of this is done to convey the message that there will always be those ‘bright’ individuals who bear witness to threats of history reprised. Their insightfulness sees what is to come before the rest of us do. Though whether they choose to ‘shine’ light on the problem and act to stop the carnage is another story. Then again, who really knows the meaning of this movie. This is part of the appeal that lures so many to revisit this 40 year-old staple fright film like an old friend; each time experiencing something different. That said, I’m certain the message on some level is Déjà Vu.  Past vs. Future – the best way to predict future behavior is by identifying patterns of past behavior. Learn to recognize that we have been here before – so let’s never return (e.g. slavery, genocide, holocaust). This includes the banishment associated with COVID-19 as well as the affliction itself. It’s enough to turn the sanest of us mad.

PS. On the topic of isolation and ghostly resorts, I once had an overnight at a spectacular enormous historical mansion inn on route to my final destination. Part of the charm was that the lodgings had no TV or internet service in order to escape the outside world. I was really looking forward to it. That was until I arrived and found out I was the only guest! Once I resolved the fact that it was just me and the innkeeper for the night I was then informed that the innkeeper was leaving at 6pm and would not return until the morning. WHAT! With the keys handed over – I was alone for the night in this huge old spooky Victorian Manor full of numerous themed guest rooms that were all empty! Yikes! So what happened you ask? Well I don’t really buy into paranormal occurrences as I’m of the mind that most supernatural claims can be refuted or explained by science (e.g. door slamming = windows open…). That said, two odd unexplainable events happened to me at that inn. The first; I felt something tap my shoulder three times and when I quickly looked back I thought I saw someone but on second glance no one was there. The second; while in my room organizing my stuff I saw a silhouette pass by my interior glass door, but again no one was there. What made it worse was that both incidents happened in broad daylight – not at night! Oh brother. Each episode did give me chills, but I was confident there was a logical explanation, so I spent the night by myself determined not to let my imagination run wild. However, when the innkeeper returned the next morning with a smirk, and cheekily asked me if I enjoyed my stay it made me wonder. Good thing I have an open mind. Though I have never been happier to leave such an aesthetically beautiful haunt in my life. A true BOO story! Have a safe Halloween everyone.

NOTE: ‘The Shining’ is playing on many big screens this Halloween, and in Calgary it’s playing at the Canyon Meadows Theater.

The actual place I stayed – alone! Happy Halloween.

Contagion

With the U.S. presidential debates wrapped up and the nearing election largely hinging on the management/mismanagement of COVID-19, what better movie to draw attention to than Contagion! Before I dig into this movie’s very insightful forward thinking plot and profound real-life lessons, let me just say EVERYONE should watch this movie – and some more than others!

In 2011 Contagion premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, though I originally saw it on the big screen in 2012 when first released in Canada – and I liked it. But now having reviewed it again given the very dangerous epidemiological situation we are all currently facing, I sincerely felt as if I was scanning an excerpt from Nostradamus’ 1555 magnum opus Les Prophéties (942 poetic quatrains), known for ostensibly predicting future events. Similar to the writings of this 16th century French astrologer/physician and reputed seer (aka Michel de Nostredame) this decade old movie offers a prophetic forebode of dreadful modern-day real-life COVID-19 events now realized. In short, OMG if this movie didn’t hit the nail on the head in every way! Not to sound like a soothsayer but Nostradamus did predict a ‘great plague of the maritime city’ – China perhaps? Again not to sound too dramatic but watching this movie felt like viewing a condensed real-world CNN newscast. Even Dr. Sanjay Gupta (my favorite most trusted chief medical correspondent) eerily appears in this film, which made this dated story seem much spookier indeed. I cannot stress enough how remarkably frightening it was to see just how right director Steven Soderbergh got it. It’s art imitating life in its truest form. Wow!

This disaster thriller opens with pale unwell executive Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) connecting through a busy U.S. airport coughing, sweating, and nauseous upon returning from a business trip in Hong Kong. By design she plans a layover in Chicago to engage in a brief sordid and dangerous dalliance with a former lover before returning home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) in Minneapolis. Chalking up her severe illness to mere jet lag, it doesn’t take long before viewers learn something much more sinister is going on with Beth besides concealing her lack of moral character. Akin to COVID-19, in no time the transmission of the unknown microorganism in the movie explodes globally and like a domino effect, pandemonium is unleashed. Several disturbing scenes at the onset of the movie are quite unpleasant but necessary to set the tone that deadly viruses are serious business and nothing to take lightly. As people start dropping off in epic proportions with scenes of mass burials (likened to the actual endless rows of coffins on NY’s Hart Island), enter medic Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) who through meticulous contact tracing, attempts to identify Ground Zero of the virus’ origins in an effort to halt the swell. But since this respiratory pathogen labelled MEV-1 is airborne it’s a near impossible task. As experts struggle to grasp the enormity of the problem rumors and panic inevitably go viral wreaking havoc on society in every way. Without giving too much away it’s no surprise that bad behavior reigns supreme with people trampling each other due to food/supply storages. Vigilantism takes hold as people are left to their own devices, and with all borders closed there’s nowhere to go. Chaos is everywhere in a world gone mad, with no end in sight until a lifesaving vaccine can be developed. Sound familiar?!

The movie has an impressive ensemble but it’s safe to say that despite its star studded cast the lead role in this movie goes to the MEV-1 virus! A-list actors include Laurence Fishburne as CDC head Dr. Ellis Cheever, Marion Collitard as World Health Organization Epidemiologist Dr. Leonora Orantes, Bryan Cranston as orderly Rear Admiral Lyle Haggerty,  Jennifer Ehle  as CDC virologist Dr. Ally Hextall, and Jude Law as blogger/conspiracist Alan Krumwiede who hassles scientist Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould) while downplaying the seriousness of the virus yet spreading untruths about government coverups. This movie (like our COVID-19 reality) pits science against conspiracy theories. Ridiculous! Especially given the former is evidence-based while the latter is based on nothing! With the storyline now explained, let’s flesh out the valuable take-away messages this film imparts on audiences.

In truth, the picture conveys two equally corresponding overlapping messages. First, despite how viruses start (unfettered public markets, warfare, labs…) or who spreads them (man or beast), this movie reminds us that we need to take stock of how we live our lives, what we do (animal abuse), how we disturb the balance of nature (deforestation), what animal species we bring together that normally would not mingle (wet markets), and how people contribute to or thwart outbreaks depending on simple human behavior (washing hands, staying home when sick…). It’s clear cut. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Thus, bringing me to the second intersecting take-away message. Infectious diseases ultimately pose the greatest threat to mankind’s survival. These unseen combatants are very effective at ambushing with deadly force as they strike unexpectedly with little or no warning. It’s no secret that these hidden adversaries take over with a vengeance, leaving their targets unarmed and gasping at the gravity of the situation. But with all the knowledge we have on the subject why is it so difficult for some to embrace the danger viruses present?

Is it because we can’t see them? We can’t see the air we breathe either, or the radio-waves we use daily via technology, but we know both exist. Then again unobservable positives in life are always easier to accept psychologically. Whereas cloaked negatives are a different story. It is extremely difficult to rally people’s defense responses to wage war against unseen evils that are completely undetectable by the naked eye. Another contributing factor that plays into people’s reluctance to defensively act against viruses is that for some, ignorance is bliss. There are also those who become fatigued quickly or have difficulty gauging risk and therefore resist following standard commonsense medical advice. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly flawed leadership and miscommunication can lead to indifference and defiance. When epidemics hit, citizens look to their leaders for guidance. Much like a parent, the heads of nations and intelligence agencies take on the role of attachment figures with the primary duty of collectively guarding the homeland and taking care of its people by keeping them safe. If top advisors blatantly neglect their responsibilities – they are failures. What a shame it is when shared vigilance is needed but only perpetuated division is found. It’s true that nothing spreads faster than fear (except perhaps a virus) and unduly alarming people is not ideal, but in certain circumstances being afraid is a good thing. It can save lives. A perfect reason why listening to top health experts should be practiced.

On this point, doctors in this movie (and in real-life) make it transparently clear that when it comes to deadly viruses the only armor society has is practicing disciplined human behavior (social distancing, using hand sanitizer, self-isolating, wearing facemasks) until effective vaccines are developed. Make no mistake, obscure threats although veiled do exist and can be fatal with very high rates of lingering illness and death!  Fiction vs. Non-Fiction – in sum the parallels between this sage flick and the nightmare we are all living with COVID-19 is truly chilling. Again, it deeply stunned me just how much art mirrors life in this film and how incredibly accurate Contagion portrays the ravaging effects that merciless germs let loose on our planet without regard or consequence. Needless to say I highly recommend everyone watch this movie. The rarity alone of how shaken you will feel by seeing a decade old film that so closely reflects our current reality is well worth the watch. The resemblance is uncanny.

P.S. In the movie as in real-life the virus originates in China. I have been to Hong Kong a few times and enjoyed how different and fascinating it was, though I admit I didn’t always know what mystery food I was eating. Yikes! Also as depicted in the movie, let’s hope the many highly valued infectious disease specialists (like Dr. Anthony Fauci whom I greatly admire) have a vaccine available soon for this terrible virus. I have personally experienced just how unforgiving deadly microbes can be. My nephew by marriage Mathew passed-away mere days after contracting a virulent strain of group A streptococcus bacterium. Before our very eyes this wonderful healthy 13-year old heartbreakingly lost his battle to a swift moving indiscernible killer. Like the dangerous COVID-19 virus it locked in and just took over; shutting down his organs and turning his limbs black before stealing him away. Life can be so damn unfair. Be safe.

NOTE: Germaphobia and/or OCD can be inflated due to the genuine health risks associated with COVID-19. The International OCD Foundation can offer guidance at: www.iocdf.org.

My most memorial trip to Hong Kong 10 years ago with the family (daughter Athena, sister Virginia, niece Virgillia…) to cheer on Oje’s high school rugby team during their International Rugby Tournament that took us through Asia and Australia. Good times.

Interstellar

With Covid-19 raging making so many of us feel like Planet Earth is failing and turning its back on us I thought discussing a movie with a similar premise was in order. Immediately the unsettling 2014 sci-fi film Interstellar came to mind as it certainly fits the bill. This futuristic film directed by Christopher Nolan (who has 34 Oscar nods and 10 wins to his credit) paints a very dismal picture of our once plentiful abundant planet rapidly becoming increasingly uninhabitable. Yesteryear’s bright blue skies have been replaced by endless dust storms. Thus transforming Earth’s lifegiving atmosphere into a grossly contaminated cosmic disaster full of disease affecting mankind’s respiratory ability and reducing a once lush topography into an arid wasteland where next-to-nothing grows.

With all species on the brink of extinction, this time-paradox flick largely centers on widower former NASA pilot Cooper (well-played by Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers who are sent by brilliant NASA physicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine) across the galaxy via a wormhole to explore three top-scouted planets, to determine which one could best sustain life as man’s new home. However, despite all this film’s galactic fan-fair the underlying foundation of the story is the poignant love that exists between a father and his daughter with the number three playing prominently. So let’s flesh this out. Firstly, there are three possible life-sustaining alternate planets to investigate. Second, a three dimensional cube transformed into a tesseract (a geometric term for a four-dimensional cube; if a cube is the three-dimensional equivalent of a square, a tesseract is the four-dimensional equivalent of the cube) serves as the solution (fourth-dimension time/fifth-dimension harnessing gravity) where the three elements of the human experience (past/present/future) line-up. Lastly, there are three father-daughter tales woven into the movie. Namely Cooper (McConaughey) and young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain/Ellen Burstyn) who he leaves to save the world. Professor Brand (Caine) and his scientist/astronaut daughter Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) who he sends into the universe uninformed of her fate in an effort to save the human race. Lastly, Donald (John Lithgow) who is Cooper’s father-in-law and who out of love and duty is helping his son-in-law to raise his dead daughter’s children before, during, and after Cooper is sent into space.

Though prior to explaining the significance associated with the number ‘3’ I what to say that I really like when symbolism is embedded in movies. It’s clever and thought-provoking as it challenges viewers to keep an open mind. A lot of filmmakers include these subtle boons as a method of creative release as many tend to be incredibility intelligent deep philosophical thinkers. With that said, numbers can represent a lot of things. But perhaps the number three is a theme in this deep-space drama as it relates to the fact that the interstellar polyatomic molecule H3+ (aka trihydrogen) is the simplest yet most abundantly produced molecule in the universe (next only to H2). But why is this an important underlying detail in the story considering H3+ isn’t even mentioned in the movie? It turns out that this unearthly molecule H3+ is credited with creating the entire universe. It consists of three protons arranged in a three-sided equilateral triangle, sharing two electrons among them. H3+ is a highly reactive giver, primed to donate a proton to anything it stumbles into causing a chain reaction that serves as a chemical facilitator in the production of larger more diverse particles. In short, H3+’s existence is volatile and short lived – it bonds, slows down, emits light, and in doing so allows other entities (dust and clouds) to form and grow, which like reproduction leads to the birth of planets and stars. It’s the ‘Mother’ of all molecules! But what’s often overlooked is that we need ‘Father Time’ in the equation, no matter how immeasurable the stint is (eon vs. millisecond) or nothing happens. In short, this movie wants us to remember that dads ‘matter’ a ton and their importance should not be ignored. Fathers have a profound knock-on effect in their daughters (and sons) lives whether they are decidedly present or absent. Thus the number three is artfully used to denote the value of H3+ (mum) but it’s not the focus of this film per se because the storyline wanted instead to center on the importance of ‘time’ (dad). Moreover, this chicken vs. egg (which came first) plot attempts to stick to the laws of science even reciting Einstein’s general theory of relativity re: time dilation (a difference of elapsed time between two events, as measured by observers that are either moving relative to each other, or differently, depending on their proximity to a gravitational mass), causing some critics to claim this film is much closer to science-fiction than science-fantasy. So in keeping with science, this picture emphasizes catalysts, consequences, and cause-and-effect scenarios throughout reminding us that each part of the equation is fundamentally vital; H3++ time = star, mum + dad = baby. But enough about quantum physics and astrochemistry. What on earth is the main meaning of this interplanetary film!?!?

The life lessons are acutely entrenched in this lengthy intricate and very complicated movie so you need to pay attention or you will get lost – just like real life! The point is there are no do-overs. Ever! Once something is done it can’t be undone. There is no time-machine, no turning back the clock. You get one chance and if you don’t choose wisely your choices can haunt you. Like an anonymous ghost that visits from time-to-time through the portholes of your mind, with the crushing weight of gravity on your chest, so dense you can’t breathe. It can remain dormant, but it never leaves, and in case you haven’t figured it out – that’s the face of regret. Choices, choices, choices – life is full of them and most people have good reasons for the choices they make. After all we have to make decisions all the time. Every day in fact. But there are always a few choices throughout our lives that are very instrumental as they have the ability to change the whole trajectory of our journey. Heavily impacting our lives and those closest to us, especially when children are involved.

Yes vs. No, Stay vs. Go… which path is the right one? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. This movie has dad Cooper fleeing planet Earth to find a solution that will save the world and his children. Yet with every passing celestial moment (translating into years on Earth) he desperately wants to return home. Witnessing his daughter transform at light speed from a young kid into a young woman causes him to question his purpose and whether he made the right choice. Realizing just how precious ‘time’ is, coupled with the dwindling odds of returning home, a profound grief and sorrow sets in. His agonizing repetitive self-talk is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Like an echoing sonnet. It’s a tune latent with heartbreaking sentiments he wants his daughter to know but expressions she never hears, though each word is reflected in his every thought and action; ‘I just wanted to get back to where you are’ yet the divide is just too enormous. The gap cannot be bridged. Unfortunately Cooper has bought into somewhat of a Faustian Bargain (a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches) but it doesn’t turn out how he expected. Does it ever? To quote Mitch Albom – ‘All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped.’ I’m not sure I agree with this statement but if it’s true I am certain that most parents do not mean to break their children’s heart, which gets to the core of this ‘stellar’ interstellar film’s ultimate take-away message. Intentions matter! In fact, intentions in all life’s decisions count for a lot even if the outcome goes horribly wrong. Intentions always supersede the act itself and can serve as a conduit to redemption rather than a black hole in your soul. That’s good news as most things tend to work out accordingly if decisions are made with pure intent using the best information at-hand. A sentiment this movie taps into via the subliminal Morse Code that finally presents itself and eventually resets the balance.

An Aside Note: Speaking of intentions, President Trump has tested positive for Covid-19 and it’s tempting, particularly for those who dislike him and his leadership, to feel that he’s getting what he deserves. After all he intentionally downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19 from day one. But negative energy projected onto others only ends up reflecting onto the beholder, so beware. Instead leading with good thoughts, feelings, and intentions will be much more beneficial in stopping the spread and finding the medical latch-key to lock this virus down! Much like the movie Interstellar, in time, equilibrium will return to our world – but with valuable karmic lessons of humility in tow. That’s what you get.

P.S. Briefly returning to the topic of father-daughter relationships. My dad, whom I lost 2 years ago, always appeared in my eyes to be such a giant of man that nobody messed with. A big powerful outdoorsman with a heavy accent (sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger) he was a very bright, talented, successful, self-made man, with so many fantastic qualities, though being a father was not his strong point. I’m sure there are elements of his life as a parent he would like to ‘do over’ as being warm and giving were just not his style. That said, if he is stuck in a Gargantua 5th dimension somewhere trying to send me a message wishing he could change anything I would tell him, ‘Dad don’t worry about a thing – it all turned out for the best – you were loved all the same. In the end you did right by your daughter(s) and we forever did right by you. That’s all that matters.’ Bless.

Dad Jorgen with baby Martha.
Oje Hart playing a portion of the ‘stellar’ Interstellar Theme Song S.T.A.Y by memory. Just Beautiful.

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) starts today but looks very different than in years past. It’s virtually virtual! This is certainly a big shift for one to the world’s most famous film festivals given that since its inception (1976) it has grown to attract close to half a million attendees annually. Due to COVID-19 restrictions TIFF has incorporated an online streaming component, but executive director Joana Vicente and artistic director Cameron Bailey are including elements of a physical festival with social distancing constraints in place. Much like the Venice International Film Festival recently has done.

TIFF (or rather ‘tiff’ as it is stylishly referred to), is a charitable cultural organization, whose mandate is to change people’s perspective of the world via film. A mission it tends to regularly live up to. Last year alone TIFF featured some of the most talked about influential movies of the year. Many of which I wrote about including, Joker, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, Just Mercy, Knives Out, Parasite, The Lighthouse, Marriage Story, Uncut Gems, Judy, and The Personal History of David Copperfield to name a few.

Another film spotlighted at TIFF in 2019 that I haven’t yet written about but watched on my London- Calgary flight in March (the last time I flew) is the movie entitled A Hidden Life. This epic creation by famously reclusive director/screenwriter/producer Terrence Malick is such a beautifully made film with the most exquisite impeccable acting rarely seen in today’s flicks. This astonishing historical drama with stunning cinematography is based on the true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II resulting in imprisonment and the threat of execution, with his wife (Valerie Pachner) and family openly shunned and chastised for his courageous resistance. Like many of Malick’s films this movie unfolds slowly with a number of spiritual and philosophical undercurrents so it might not be for everyone. That said, very few films have ever mastered the art of conveying such expressions of raw emotion via body language (rather than verbal dialogue) as exceptionally well as this film has done. Bravo! Unfortunately, A Hidden Life was unjustly snubbed at Oscar time, but 76 year old Harvard graduate (Oxford Rhodes Scholar) Terrence Malick is not one to contest such decisions. Though no one can deny his ability to produce visually spectacular cinematic gems (e.g. The Tree of Life) even if the top brass continues to overlook his incredible talent. With this in mind, time will tell what masterpieces will be revealed this year at TIFF 2020 and how such films will fair at Oscar’s next go-round. BTW Malick whose educational background is philosophy, never finished his Oxford thesis on Kierkegaard’s world (meaning of our existence) perhaps this is why his prolific movies are so entrenched in mysticism; deep down he’s forever trying to finish his work!

Given that this movie blog post is intended to be more about TIFF and less about the picture A Hidden Life I will offer up just a fleeting account of the film’s takeaway message – though it is important to acknowledge as this movie projects an intense reflective transcendental life lesson. In a nutshell, let your moral compass be your guide and never compromise your personal convictions. Period. Conforming vs. Defying – the rebels of today may just be the heroes of tomorrow. Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti got it right when he stated, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Wise words to live by then, now, and always. Amen.

P.S. Toronto is a very popular hub for film-making in Canada. Us Harts even flew to T.O. to film some of Vice Media’s Dark Side of the Ring Docuseries Episode (Owen Hart’s Final Days) that aired in May. Doing so saved the large VM crew from flying to the U.K. (with tons of equipment in tow) to film Oje who’s finishing his Masters in International Human Rights Law at university in London, England. Oje and I had a lovely time while in T.O. and celebrated the wrap of the project with dinner and an in-depth discussion with VM crew members Oscar nominated American producer Evan Husney and renowned Canadian director/producer Jason Eisener – two fabulous filmmakers on the rise and ones to watch for at future film festivals worldwide including TIFF.

On the London-Calgary flight in March watching A Hidden Life and in T.O. Jan 2020 with Oje filming the Dark Side Episode.

Venice International Film Festival 2020

The Venice International Film Festival is going forward and begins today running through September 12th (Awards Day). Held on the island barrier Lido Venice, this very popular film festival is enjoying its 77th anniversary and is organized by La Biennale di Venezia and directed by Alberto Barbera. A more restrained format will be in place this year than years past due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, this should not be a problem since vibrant Venice has enjoyed a long history of mask-wearing that dates back hundreds of years. The tradition of the carnival face mask started in the 13th century when Venetians of all social classes would mingle and hold celebrations (from December 26th until the start of Lent) wearing elaborate masquerade masks to conceal their identity in order to play out their fantasies. Naughty, naughty.

With this in mind, the Venice film festival should be nothing but fun, with more than 50 countries screening their films at the festival and 18 flicks battling for top prize – the Golden Lion. The lovely Cate Blanchett will serve as jury president for the main competition, while French director Claire Denis heads up the jury for the festival’s Horizons competition. Eight of the top films are directed by women, which makes it even more meaningful that the extremely talented and relatively young Tilda Swinton (a good friend of MIFF founders Rosana Golden & Dean Bentley) will receive a lifetime achievement award, as will female filmmaker Ann Hui. All the above-mentioned highlights are sure to generate some much-needed tourism to the region as well.

Speaking of which, if you want to watch a delightful lighthearted mindless movie that shows some splendid scenes of Venice I recommend The Tourist (2010), starring Angelina Jolie and the ever-so-charming Johnny Depp whose handsome black Irish features (dark brown eyes/hair) and smooth mannerisms hook audiences every time. Oh yeah, and the plot/love story of the movie is quite sweet and captivating enough too; the beautiful backdrop of Venice also really helps make this movie worth the watch. This romantic crime thriller (also starring Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton is a remake of the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer) revolves around Frank (Depp), a befuddled American tourist visiting Italy to mend a broken heart when he meets a mysterious woman Elise (a British Agent) on a train to Venice. Elise (Jolie) deliberately crosses Frank’s path to use him (an elementary school math teacher) as a decoy to make Scotland Yard believe he is indeed her MIA mob banker husband Alexander Pierce (in disguise) who is wanted by police and Italian gangsters for robbery. Although this post is more about the Venice International Film Festival and less about the picture The Tourist I will provide a thumbnail version of this movie’s main take-away message set in one of the most romantic cities in the world. In short, love may not always look the way we expect it to look. Conceal vs. Reveal – peel away the mask to discover that the core counts more than the coating.

P.S. I have visited Venice a number of times (in all seasons) including my 1st anniversary, with my kids/family, during work-related trips to Italy, with friends on route to film festivals, and yes just as a fascinated tourist! Venice is one of the most stunning and unbelievable destinations you could ever visit – a must-see metropolis for the bucket list. Travel Tip – a great hotel to stay at is the Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal located directly across from the train station (just a short walk over the bridge). It’s reasonably priced (for Venice) and you can easily catch the water bus to all tourist attractions including St. Mark’s Square, where I highly recommend stopping at Caffé Florian for a freshly pressed cappuccino and their amazing individually wrapped dark chocolate dipped coffee beans. Yum. There are also so many fabulous little Italian restaurants located just behind the square in amongst the many lovely little canals serving up the best food the place has to offer at a good price; where you can also take a gondola ride through this magnificent city of canals, bridges, love, antiquity… I can tell I’m reminiscing too much as I am missing not being able to travel, so I will stop there. But do visit this engineering marvel and see for yourself how this watery wonderland was built if the opportunity ever arises. It’s so worth the journey!

Photos in Venice just outside the Hotel Danieli where The Tourist was filmed (hotel cafe inside is fabulous too and the decor is incredible so be sure to check it out if you ever visit Venice), with OHF Committee Members Virginia and Tammi last year on route to MIFF with St Mark’s Square in the distance,
and with Oje and Athena with the famous Venice Bridge of Sighs in the background.

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9

With the United States 2020 election nearing, the democratic and republican conventions behind us, and Donald Trump grubbing to get re-elected at any cost, what better flick to explore than the highly acclaimed compelling yet controversial documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 by Academy Award Winning American filmmaker Michael Moore. This feature is a scathing report on America’s eroding democracy and how such cracks in the USA’s egalitarian system led to the raise of Donald Trump; whom Moore portrays as an unethical narcissistic misogynistic despotic tyrant with serious autocratic and incestuous tendencies. This fascinating film (whose name was derived from the day after election day 11.08.16 when the grim reality sunk in that Donald Trump was indeed POTUS), smartly enjoyed its world premiere in friendly territory. At Canada’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) September 6th, 2018.

Michael Moore opens the film by effectively discrediting Donald Trump, and instantly hooks viewers via delving into how a Trump presidency came to fruition. Trump is depicted as a complete wag who made a name for himself in real estate, then entertainment, with deeply embedded roots of depravity and wickedness thrown in for good measure. But the film stops just short of delivering a completely devastating blow to Trump’s presidency as audiences initially expect given the documentary’s crushing lead-in (though one can only image the way Moore would have spun this doc in today’s world with the way Trump has handled the Covid-19 crisis and BLM). Instead this film is much more than just a rebuke of Donald Trump. It’s a scolding take-down of what Michael Moore believes are the ultimate failures of America that allowed for someone like Donald Trump to reach the White House in the first place. You guessed it. Michael Moore is mad as hell! No veiled emotions here. Moore is actually more than mad – he’s red hot and totally pissed off at the state his country is in. Moore doesn’t hold back on his deep-seated resentment on any front. He beats up a lot on Donald Trump, but he takes swipes at other politicians/government/corporations… as well, rounding out his disdain for those in power who wield their authority and influence with unabashed recklessness. As a result, this film branches out in several directions tackling many of America’s problems at once, not just the prop at the top. Though despite its frequent detours the film never strays too far from the main message – constantly circling back to remind us that ‘the fish rots from the head’ (aka bad leaders cause severe damage all the way down the line) – and don’t you forget it!

Moore is clearly frustrated with so many of the ills the USA is facing from racism, gun violence, polluted water in his hometown of Flint Michigan (a particularly sore spot for Moore and rightly so), to name a few. Who can blame him. The recent Black Lives Matter rallies/protests that continue to sweep the nation speak clearly of the ongoing racism the USA is trying to tackle. Similarly, a quick glance at the country’s gun violence stats paints a very grim picture of an out-of-control issue (Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually. The rate of firearm deaths per 100,000 people rose from 10.3 per 100,000 in 1999 to 12 per 100,000 in 2017, with 109 people dying per day – a number that has most certainly increased in the last 3 years). Not to mention the catastrophic Flint Michigan water crisis that began in 2014 with numerous studies showing high levels of lead contamination in the civic water supply, which any doctor will tell you has irreversible lifelong negative effects especially for children (e.g. lead exposure/poising can damage children’s brains and nervous systems, lead to slow growth and development, and result in learning, behavior, hearing, and speech problems). Yet despite the awfulness of all these pressing concerns that Moore forcefully brings to the forefront – they are all still happening. Fahrenheit 11/9 does jump around a bit from topic to topic but Moore’s passionate willingness to brazen out these serious issues helps to carry the documentary and keeps audiences enthralled until the end.

The reality is Michael Moore could have produced stand-alone documentaries on each of these troubling topics, and maybe he should at some point. But he didn’t because the overall message he’s trying to convey is that a common thread runs throughout all of America’s problems. Corruption! Each crisis is solidly built on a duplicitous foundation – often delivered via political trial balloons (divisive dogma purposely leaked to the media in order to observe audience reactions).  Right vs. Wrong – beware of the plethora of self-serving doctrine related intentions for they are like a cancerous mass that takes over unless removed. Moore ends the piece with an extremely dire warning not to fall into the conspiracy trap (perfect for simple minded thinking) with a damning visual of Nazis marching on. The take-away message is that America is at risk of losing its way and should steadfastly guard the concept of fairness as well as their dream of democracy, or rather their attempts to achieve it. A goal all democratic-minded countries should aspire to. Peter Eigen said it best, “People should be conscious that they can change a corrupt system”. Namely by not allowing the powers that be to dismantle institutional checks and balances. In short, all three branches of government (executive, legislative, judiciary) fail without the ‘fourth estate’ (independent news broadcasting) so protect freedom of the press, and resist any attempts by government to immobilize the media into a feeble ‘fourth branch’ (regime dependent news). It’s democracy’s only chance. This is exactly what Michael Moore wants citizens to remember and why all countries need journalists like Michael Moore (personal preferences aside) who are not afraid to speak truth to power.

P.S. I once stayed at Trump’s now closed Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City when I was 21 years old and saw him and then wife Ivana as they monitored their lavish investment. Although it appears Trump made a lot of money from his Atlantic City Boardwalk endeavors others suffered miserably at his hands as stated by Steven P. Perskie (New Jersey’s top casino regulator in the early 90s) who said, “He {Trump} put a number of local contractors and suppliers out of business when he didn’t pay them.” Trump’s AC hotel/casino very much resembled the décor of his glided Trump Tower in New York City – gawdy over-the-top gold and crystal. Speaking of which, while attending trainings for work in NYC the summer of 2017 both of my children visited me in the Big Apple during the month of August, at which time I took my son Oje to see Michael Moore’s Limited Engagement Broadway Show entitled The Terms of My Surrender. The show centered on Donald Trump’s presidency and his dangerous incompetence to lead America. Unbeknownst to us Oje would end up partaking in Moore’s hit Broadway Show when Moore invited Oje on stage to engage in a competition against a seasoned American Professor – old wise owl vs. young playful pup, Canadian vs American… Oje, casually dressed, donning his long hair, baseball cap and flip flops surprised the near sold out crowd (me excluded) by blowing away his competitor beating him three times over. Needless to say, Michael Moore was very impressed with Oje’s highly intellectual performance. But Moore was even more impressed with how Oje humbly conducted himself as a true gentleman and how respectful he treated his opponent and Moore himself, – ‘a tremendous Ambassador of Canada’– as Michael Moore put it. What a fantastic night and what an incredible show! Interesting that Donald Trump commented, “I must point out that the Sloppy Michael Moore Show on Broadway was a TOTAL BOMB…” Oh contraire POTUS, this show was absolutely off the charts fabulous and I should know. I was there! So much so, we would love to bring this performance to Calgary for our Owen Hart Foundation High Profile Event if Michael Moore ever decides to take it on the road. I was personally amazed by Michael Moore’s astonishingly impressive life story and dedication/love of his country. On this point, I will leave you with a frightening exchange I had with a colleague who works in Washington D.C. while we both attended a training at Berkeley University last year. I asked him his opinion about the state of America with Donald Trump as leader and he said something that shook me to my core – “It appears that Americans don’t want a democracy anymore.” I sure hope this isn’t true. At any rate November 3rd 2020 will be an interesting day to say the least. I still have all my Hillary Clinton For President buttons from 2016 and I’m still sad she didn’t win. I admit I would love to see a woman in the oval office someday. But VP would be a good start too.

Oje takes Broadway in NYC with Michael Moore at his The Terms of My Surrender hit show

Jaws

Since Shark Week starts today and with no big silver-screen solstice sensations on the horizon thanks to Covid-19 what better movie to showcase than the greatest summer flick of all time – Jaws! Released in June 1975 this smash hit (adapted from Peter Benchley’s best-selling book) redefined the meaning of ‘Summer Blockbuster’ becoming the highest-grossing picture of its time. Forty-five years on, this legendary film directed by a young Steven Spielberg still has the ability to petrify viewers, and scare weary swimmers out of the water, even avid swimming pool recreationalists like myself. In fact, few films have ever had such an enduring impact on people’s psyche as Jaws has. A born leader in film-making, Spielberg (dubbed the ‘king’ of directing) mastered the art of suspense by purposely not revealing the deep-water threat for the first 81 minutes of this 130-minute film. That’s right – for over half the movie there was no shark in sight, just the brilliantly obscured illusion of one that Spielberg manifested. Thus nervously building the apprehension to dizzying heights, which audiences loved.  

As for the story-line, the movie opens in the fictional seaside town of Amity Island (actually Martha’s Vineyard) on the heels of the July 4th celebrations, with an ominous scene of beautiful young blonde Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) unassumingly swimming by moonlight. When without warning she is viciously snatched and yanked under the water several times by the unseen evil lurking below. The petite skinny-dipper surfaces and resurfaces several times while being hungerly devoured. But her bloodcurdling screams and flailing attempts to escape go unnoticed as she finally disappears into the sodden silence. The youth’s demise sparks swift shark-based dialogue that carries throughout the film. However, since Amity Island serves as a popular vacation getaway with tourism as its main source of income, officials are reluctant to reveal that a predatory killer (aka man-eating great-white shark) may be subsisting in the coastal waters and feasting on its human inhabitants. Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is especially hesitant to face the facts despite evidence to the contrary. As a result, the disastrous problem is swept under the rug with grievous outcomes, namely continued ruthless beachfront attacks in broad daylight with countless sun-seekers looking on in mortal terror. Unable to ignore the gravity of the situation no more, police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) finally orders the trendy beaches closed.

In an effort to get a handle on the perilous danger, police chief Brody (who is deathly afraid of water himself and at serious odds with his superiors’ irresponsible denial of the deadly problem), calls on outside help for assistance. Enter contrasting shark experts – Quint (Robert Shaw) a beastly briny bounty hunter, and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) a plucky edified oceanographer. Both do a stellar job awakening our most primal fears with graphic descriptions of a perfect merciless biological killing machine that possesses brut power, razor sharp teeth, dead eyes, and an insatiable appetite. The epic adventure truly begins when the threesome (Quint, Brody and Hooper) set out into the deep on the hunt for the mammoth murderous monster. The hallmark scene of the movie occurs during an eerie nighttime whiskey drinking sit-down in the boat’s galley. The trio discuss shark stories with Quint topping them all with his recollection as a WWII survivor of the USS Indianapolis sinking (a true-life event labelled as the worst shark attack in history) where only 317 crew members out of 1196 survived with hundreds eaten alive by circling relentless sharks who picked off helpless sailors one by one (6 per hour – one every 10 minutes) before the remaining men were rescued. Just as Quint finishes his sinister story the grueling back-and-forth battle between man and beast cascades into a crescendo that ends in the most amazing fish story ever told. No exaggeration.

Although this big-screen ocean odyssey set out to be just a frightening seafaring summer thriller, the endless trepidation coupled with impeccable character development instantly enthralled audiences. Despite its menacing plot, viewers could immediately relate to this horrifying tale. So much so it garnered well-earned Oscar recognition racking up a nomination for Best Picture and winning for Best Film Editing and Best Original Music Score as it should have. Composer John Williams’ jarring Jaws arrangement (then and now) evokes anxiety and dread like no other. Just hearing the opening few bars of this spine-chilling magnum opus (dun dun dun dun duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn) is enough to conjure up our worst fears of eminent danger. A feat unmatched by any other themed musical composition to this day.

With the narrative and accolades now clarified what on earth is the main take-away message expounded in this fabulous film you ask? There are certainly a few life lessons imparted to viewers. First, this picture touches on how politicians act as spin doctors, negating hazards with their slow-to-react demeanor until the threat becomes so enormous it can no longer be disregarded (reminiscent of how some leaders have dealt with the Covid-19 crisis). But ignorance and/or negligence are not the key points of this movie. Instead, the film is more about confronting one’s fears and dealing with them head on. Literally! Most people are afraid of the unknown, which is natural. Fear is a valid human emotion that keeps us out of harm’s way. But fear does not have to serve as an unbreakable barrier. Just take it from the late great Nelson Mandala who stated, ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ Amen. In the end it was the most fearful of the three men and the least educated on the topic that rose to the occasion and turned out to be the hero in this picture. Confronting vs. Avoiding – Spielberg once said that he feared Jaws would ruin his life and end his career. Instead it launched him into movie-making superstardom with endless masterpieces to his credit including Jaws, considered a highly valued and renowned Hollywood classic by the American Film Institute. Spielberg also stated one of the main reasons for making the movie was his own personal H20 fears ‘… I think it was {also} my own fear of the water.’ Everyone has their own methods of handling their fears, even the greatest filmmaker of all time who had to risk failing to succeed! And boy did he ever. So remember, ‘Fear has its use, but cowardice has none.’– Mahatma Gandhi

Fast Fact: The movie Jaws was inspired by the true-life events that occurred in 1916 in New Jersey where four people were killed in shark attacks in a 12 day span during a deadly heat wave gripping the region at the time, as well as the Polio epidemic that had many citizens flocking to the seaside in search of relief. These fatal shark attacks were the first ever recorded in the USA. A great white was suspected, with shark-hunts ensuing just as depicted in the movie. Also, just like the movie the real killer shark was exterminated when it almost sunk the boat of trackers Michael Schleisser and John Murphy whose only line of defense was a broken oar. When dissected on land human bones were found in the great white’s stomach. On this point, it is very rare that shark hunters ever catch the actual shark(s) responsible for attacks on humans. That said, in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh (2010) huntsmen did this as well. Tracking down and eliminating two separate sharks (different breeds) with 100% certainty that both were responsible for two separate attacks on humans in the region. Life imitating art.

P.S. Incidentally, I have visited this exact location in Egypt and swam in the Red Sea (normally considered safe), even reef snorkeling with my kids just before these terrible 2010 shark attacks occurred. Yikes. I love the water, and swim almost every day but I have a great respect for the ocean and its inhabitants. Yes, I am very afraid of sharks; a reasonable fear that’s not quite at the level of galeophobia yet. After all, they are an apex predator with very few natural enemies. As such I normally follow the best advise ever – 5 words – Stay Out Of The Ocean! Problem solved! Excellent advice. But do I always listen? Apparently not! Just this past year, at my daughter’s insistence, my kids and I went Shark Diving in Hawaii at Xmas time. We boarded the vessel and my thoughts went directly to police chief Brody’s line from Jaws“You’re going to need a bigger boat.” The ride to open water was unsettling, and once at the site the sharks were huge. But I faced my fears and went into the cage, though I admit I was the last one in and the first one out. There is a real element of danger – the waves sloshed us everywhere and several times my legs and arms slipped out of the cage. We cut the excursion short as a storm was looming with winds seriously increasing. At one point I worried the breakers might top the cage and land a shark inside. Double yikes. Shark diving is not for everyone, but I went, and I was happy I did. I have an enormous appreciation of and fascination with sharks. They are powerful and beautiful and graceful. However, even more unnerving than going inside the cage occurred when we left the site. The captain let me sit at the back of the boat where I watched these same sharks we just engaged with follow our boat for miles. I was just hoping we wouldn’t spring a leak, especially given the worsening weather. But all went well, and the Harts successfully seized the day at sea. Memories I will treasure forever. BTW great whites hardly ever frequent Hawaii but they do show up from time to time so beware. You can even track them as I learned when attending Cambridge University. My IT friend Vince (former marine biologist) who helped me format my PhD had a Shark Tracker as a laptop screensaver. It was hard not to get distracted watching where the tagged sharks were swimming. So interesting! If you are curious about shark migration as I am, check out Vince’s Ocearch link. Enjoy! https://www.ocearch.org/tracker/?list 

The Harts on a Shark Diving Expedition in Hawaii December 2019. Scary but good fun!
Also thanks to my big brother Dan who took me to see Jaws on the big screen when I was finally old enough to go!
The Hart’s successful Shark Dive 2019!
In Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh in, on, and at the Red Sea with kids and niece Virgillia! What a view Athena and I had looking out at the Red Sea. Wow!