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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.

Lincoln

On the eve of the U.S. Inauguration, and with the country’s mounting divisiveness reaching a colossal destructive breakpoint, discussing legendary director Steven Spielberg’s 2012 historical drama Lincoln seems wholly appropriate. Racking up twelve Oscar nominations, including a win in the Best Actor Category for Daniel Day Lewis’ brilliant portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, this film focuses on the 16th President’s 2nd term and his political battle to stop the physical battle raging within his country. This highly sophisticated movie smartly stages the governmental clash behind the American Civil War (USA’s bloodiest conflict ever) and how Lincoln was able to break through white-ruling-class rhetoric, leading to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution passing January 31st 1865. This modification effectively abolished slavery stating, Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.’ A cease-fire was ultimately reached between the Union’s Northern States and Confederate Southern States April 9th 1865 only 6 days before Lincoln’s assassination.

This film effectively walks audiences through a very detailed legislative account of the administrative backstory and how parliament finally came together to end one of the worst atrocities in history. What sets this fact-based film apart from others of similar content are the solid performances from its star-studded cast. Daniel Day Lewis leads the charge doing such an outstanding job playing Honest Abe, from his stance, gait, voice, demeanor, and of course his genital yet commanding leadership qualities. Lincoln truly abhorred enslavement, rightfully believing it to be a morally irreprehensible act. Not a single moment passes in this film where viewers are not completely engaged in Lewis’ (as Lincoln) endearing sincerity and complete commitment to ending oppressed bondage in America. Sally Field also does an excellent job playing Lincoln’s high-strung loving but challenging wife Mary Todd Lincoln. Additionally David Strathairn effectively plays Lincoln’s trusted Secretary of State William Seward, with Tommy Lee Jones (a personal favorite) wonderfully playing confrontational radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens who fiercely fought to secure the rights of African Americans and end discrimination of newly freedmen and freedwomen – one of whom he loved dearly.

The earthy feel of this movie, enhanced by dim lighting that amplifies the fact that electricity was non-existent at the time, coupled with regular citizens welcomed into the White House to converse with the sitting president regarding property rights bodes well with Lincoln’s true-to-life practical approach towards people and his non-elitist personality. As depicted in this film, there is no doubt that Lincoln was a remarkable leader who was able to get the job done. Lincoln’s brilliant insight into human nature can be attributed to his humble beginnings and the personal tragedies he endured, including losing his mother at age 9. As the self-taught son of virtually illiterate farmers, Lincoln only received less than a year of formal education yet went on to become one of the most revered men of all time. He equated his success to his voracious appetite for reading, which helped him become a thriving stateman, lawyer, and eventually POTUS. Lincoln also loved maths (almost mastering the 6 books of Euclid’s geometry), which the movie also highlights with him stating, Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning and its true because it works – has done and always will do.’ This quote brings me to the critical take-away message of this movie.

Some might say the obvious meaning of the film is equality or freedom from servitude; after all that’s what ending slavery was all about right? Sure it was. Lincoln said it himself, ‘If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong’, but that’s not the life lesson this movie imparts. The moral point has more to do with one of the last scenes showing Lincoln walking out of the White House on his way to the theatre – and his imminent death. Upon exiting, Lincoln’s black porter hands him a pair of ‘black’ gloves, which he then throws on a side-table leaving them behind as he departs the building for the last time. It’s a powerful moment packed full of symbolism that signifies the incredible legacy Lincoln left in his wake. First, gloves denote a buffer between skin-to-skin contact, and during the civil war era they were a mark of class-division between the well-off and the poor. A position Lincoln detested given his longstanding sympathetic attitude towards the underdog. But more than that it represents his endless ‘gloves off’ fight to remove barriers between people. So how can I be so sure the take-away message hinges on just this one scene? Here’s why. In actuality, Lincoln did in fact take his ‘white’ gloves to the theatre the night he was assassinated but didn’t wear them. These same blood-stained gloves (found in Lincoln’s left suit pocket that became stained as the blood trickled down the left side of his body into his pocket after being shot behind his left ear) remain on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, but may soon be auctioned off to help pay down debts (how sad). Walls vs. Windows – replace the dark partitions of prejudice with the light of oneness. This was truly Lincoln’s final wish.

Lincoln’s towering accomplishments go without saying. However there is much work still to be done. Unfortunately today’s America still carries the olden scars of slavery, as the civil unrest of yesteryear appears to be rearing its ugly head again mirroring recent current events. A frightening prospect considering Abraham Lincoln’s forebode of insurrection, ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.’ Yikes. If you have any doubt about the rampant discrimination that still exists in the USA watch the amazing yet disturbing 2016 documentary entitled 13th available on Netflix. Surely Lincoln (a noble man with noble objectives) quoted as saying, ‘I walk slowly but I never walk backward’ did not intend for a portion of the 13th Amendment (‘…except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…’) to be distorted and used to further exploit, punish, and deny anyone dignity and fairness. Hopefully, Joe Biden’s new administration will aim to better protect the most vulnerable as Lincoln had fought so hard to do.

Fast Facts: Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln had four sons, three dying in childhood, with their third son William Wallace Lincoln dying in the White House of Typhoid Fever at age 11 in what’s now known as the ‘Lincoln Bed’ at 5pm on Feb 20th 1862.  Only their eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln lived to adulthood. He became a lawyer, businessman, and politician who married and had three children; one son who died at age 16, and two daughters with only one producing two children, both of which had no children. Abraham Lincoln’s last undisputed descendant, his great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Bechwith died in 1985. Although the Lincoln line has ended he left an unmatched gift for posterity via his character, expressed through his actions and verse, ‘…in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.’ President Lincoln certainly lived a great life. Therefore, it is no surprise that Lincoln remains one of the highest rated presidents in U.S. history who left a plethora of wisdom through his wise words on so many topics still relevant today including, uprightness (‘I would rather be a little nobody, then to be an evil somebody.’), honor (‘You can tell the greatness of a man by what makes him angry.’) and life in general (‘I will prepare and someday my chance will come’). True words to live by as we must be in a state of readiness to accept our future prospects. This makes me think of the Semmering Railway and how Austrians build train tracks through the Alps before a train even existed that could make the trip! They laid the rails because they knew that despite the challenges one day a sturdy engine would come, and it did. This film reminds us that progress and positive change is possible when we set out to make it happen. Tomorrow, as the world welcomes a new U.S. President, let’s hope everyone has ‘prepared’ for a peaceful transfer of power – then perhaps that’s exactly what will come.

P.S. I have been to the U.S. Capital Building in Washington D.C. a few times. Once when I was flown in by ABC’s Good Morning America for an interview, and another time during a work-related trip. This national symbol is a stunning architectural wonder, with its lovely mammoth double-dome roof-top reconstructed during 1855-1866 and was not even completed when Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated the second time. It’s so sad to think this extraordinary building, that is arguably the most significant historical structure in all of America (where just a few years ago I roamed freely and openly admired its beauty), was recently infiltrated, deeply damaging not only the physical building itself but also the liberties it stands for. Now D.C. and particularly this building looks like a fortress in a warzone no longer accessible to the public. How sad. But all is not doom and gloom. On a positive note the 16th President was able to bring his nation together through his vestige of resolve. Let us hope the 46th President can do the same. God please bless the ‘United’ States of America.

Me at the back of the Capital Building in Washington D.C. and a picture of the Capital Building under construction at Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguration March 4th 1865.

Four True Law Netflix Picks: Operation Finale, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Children Act, The Laundromat

True stories make for fantastic movies, especially when law-and-order are part of the topography. Given my love of factual pieces, and the recent climate of anarchy vs. authority, I thought discussing some good legal-eagle Netflix picks would be a good way to kick off the New Year. The four movies I have selected are all based on real-life law related events, and all are worth the watch. Let’s discuss each story in order of their actual chronological timeline as follows:

Operation Finale (2018) directed by Chris Weitzis is a great film to discuss given the apparent recent uprising of autocracy in a number of countries including the USA. This movie centers on the 1960 mission to capture Nazi Adolf Eichmann (brilliantly played by Ben Kingsley) from Argentina where he had been living freely with his family incognito under the alias ‘Ricardo Klement’. However, extradition procedures are not always easy and in fact, in Argentina at that time they were downright prohibited. Therefore, the suspense of this story focuses on how Mossad agents, particularly Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) whose sister and three children were killed by the Nazis, will find a way to successfully transport this notorious evil monster to Israel to stand trial for horrendous war crimes against humanity during WWII, namely people of Jewish decent. For those unfamiliar with the backstory of Adolf Eichmann, he was one of Hitler’s top henchmen who maliciously partook in unconscionable atrocities and was responsible for leading millions to their death. Although this movie plods along at times the ending is most satisfying as it reinstates some faith that terrible wrongs will not go unpunished! Accountability matters. On this point, Eichmann tried to rationalize his sociopathic actions to the Israeli leader stating, ‘I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty’. But unlike author Hannah Arendt who demanded we rethink concepts of moral responsibility and reframe the awful acts committed by Adolf Eichmann as someone just following orders; in her words, ‘the banality of evil’, I say forget that! This is no defense. Case in point, the main message of this film is that innocent guiltless people do not willfully mask their identity. Exposed vs. Concealed – you can run but you can’t hide, especially from yourself. No matter how you project your image to the public you always know who you are and what you have done. Period. Let’s leave this discussion there – hanged on these words! Wink wink.

The Trial of The Chicago 7 (2020) is an amazing dramatization of seven freedom fighters on trial for anti-Vietnam war protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin this star-studded film explores the questionable behavior of real-life activists, namely, hippies Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jereme Strong), along with passivist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), clean cut future senator Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), anti-war protestor Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) and protesting bystanders John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) who were charged with conspiracy as well as crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot, that saw five of the seven defendants found guilty of unlawful conduct. That said, let’s not forget about the eighth man on trial, Black Panther’s Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who was eventually released but the way law enforcement inhumanely treated him was truly appalling. Actor Mark Rylance does a stellar job playing defense attorney William Kunstler who uncovers the shocking truths that encompass the attorney general at the time John Mitchell (John Doman) and his predecessor Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton) as it relates to this trial. It is worth stating that Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays conscientious prosecutor Richard Shultz and Frank Langella who plays controversial Judge Julius Hoffman, also give notable performances in this film. In short, this is a compelling movie with a very clear takeaway message. Certitude vs. Subjugation – valuing human life and upholding one’s true convictions is the noblest of all deeds. Sacrificing for the greater good is what these convicted men did, including defending freedom-of-speech, a critical component of any democratic system today as it was a half a century ago when this trial took place. Overall this film is inspiring, and I love that this movie ends with providing facts of the real people involved, but just know some of details and updates might make you sad.

The Children Act (2017) is based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name and deals with complex and exceedingly principled matters, particularly a 1993 case of a very ill teenage boy dramatized as Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead) in the film who refuses treatment due to religious restrictions.  Directed by Richard Eyre this movie stars Emma Thompson who plays highly respected and extremely bright High Court Judge Fiona Maye whose decision-making authority holds the fate of this young man in her hands along with other similarly challenging cases regarding the fate of children. The story ironically revolves around Fiona, a childless magistrate, who has the power to choose what is legally best for children and their parents, while she herself deals with her own barren marital problems. Mainly her love-starved cheating husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) who has grown indifferent towards her due to her lack of availability. There is no doubt being a judge is hard work and takes a great deal of time, which can come at a high personal cost. However, the takeaway message of this film is that right or wrong, people want to be the arbiters of their own lives, and when given the chance, they want to make their own decisions. Not follow abstract rules imposed upon them by others. Verdicts vs. Choices – ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’ – W.B. Yeats. It is no surprise that Irish poet William Butler Yeats plays prominently in this British based film, especially given that Ireland is always fighting for their independence. Food for thought: when in a position of making choices on behalf of others do not take the job lightly. This is an intelligent high-minded movie that keeps audiences captivated, though the ending leaves more questions than answers. Fast fact: The Children Act was originally enacted in 1989 and was last amended in 2004 with the guiding principle of safeguarding the rights and welfare of UK children – overall it is a good thing.

The Laundromat (2019) is an adaptation of Jake Bernstein’s non-fiction book entitled Secrecy World consisting of a disturbing series of stories that hinge on true events associated with the 2016 Panama Papers scandal. As the story builds the plot thickens and at its pinnacle leaves audiences enraged by displaying just how damaging off-shore tax schemes are. In short, they destroy low and middle-class people while making others billionaires. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play law partners in crime Jürgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca who find themselves in hot water for the misconduct of their Panama City firm. Allstar actress Meryl Streep brilliantly plays a fictitious widow, who ends up investigating their company for insurance fraud after losing her husband to an avoidable accident. Doing so leads to uncovering the firm’s underhanded shameless shenanigans and how the organization ducks and dives its responsibilities via ‘shell companies’. It is sickening to watch. Actors David Schwimmer, Matthias Shoenaerts, and Sharon Stone also co-star in this expose film that originally debuted at the Venice Film Festival. The main message of this movie is a classic capitalist fable – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Think of Bernie Madoff and his ponzi scheme as this is a similar story. Some filth just can’t be whitewashed but my-oh-my when these rotten wrong-doers have to face consequences it sure is a welcomed stain that victims are happy can’t be easily removed. Scam vs. Justness – American economist Alan Greenspan (5 Term USA Federal Reserve System Chairman) who I was lucky enough to hear speak when he came to Calgary in 2009 said it best; ‘Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, these are all characteristics which exist everywhere. It is regrettably the way human nature functions, whether we like it or not. What successful economies do is keep it to a minimum. No one has ever eliminated any of that stuff.’ How unfortunate. That said, the ending of this movie is most rewarding.

Note: Two other fictional honorable mentions that can be accessed on Netflix are State of Play (2009; Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, & Ben Affleck) and The Lincoln Lawyer (2011; Matthew McConaughey & Marisa Tomei) neither are true stories but are interesting legal-centric films with solid plots and good life lessons of wrongs put right. That said, if you really like fact-based law related movies there are three vintage courtroom dramas not on Netflix but definitely worth the watch, and all are loosely based on true events as follows: The Verdict (1982; Paul Newman), True Believer (1989; James Woods & Robert Downey Jr.), Philadelphia (1993; Tom Hanks & Denzel Washington). Each of these films end well with justice for all. Speaking of which, I also really like the movie entitled And Justice For All (1979; Al Pacino). It is not a true story but impactful all the same.

P.S. I have had a great deal of experience dealing with the law and certainly enough to know that having good lawyers in your corner is a blessing. Therefore, it makes me really happy knowing my son Oje has chosen this honorable profession to pursue; recently graduating with a Masters Degree in International Law receiving a First with Distinction, he is now planning to do a PhD in Human Rights Law in the UK. What a great career choice. Also, given his good heart coupled with his good brain I anticipate he will do a fine job for any clients that come his way. An aside; life can be so wonderfully strange. As it turns out Pipella Law who represented me years ago is the same law firm where Oje is doing his internship. Talk about going full circle! Wow. Final thoughts; I along with my fellow Canadians are very distressed to see the insurrection happening in the USA and we are so sad that five people lost their lives at the US Capital in Washington D.C. Like Canada, America represents Democracy not Autocracy! Peace and love to all.

Oje in his office at Pipella Law and us with fabulous lawyers Tara and Kimber Pipella, along with valued assistant Del and OHF’s Virginia Xavier.

Death to 2020

On the eve of New Years Eve this most dreadful year is finally winding down! In the spirit of celebrating, I thought we could all use a good laugh and the very funny 70-minute mockumentary entitled Death to 2020 delivers just that. Directed by Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror), this comedy satirizes the absolute misery we have all lived through this entire year. With a star-studded cast including the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Tracey Ullman, Lisa Kudrow, Leslie Jones, Cristin Milioti among others, and narrated by Lawrence Fishburne this reflective parody spoofs how major events of the year were handled or rather mishandled, namely COVID-19, police brutality, the presidential election…

Although some critics didn’t like this Netflix presentation I thought the piece was quite humorous overall and the fact that it imparts a monumental life lesson for audiences to ponder going into the New Year is a bonus. In a nutshell this film hammers home the importance of good leadership! Guidance vs. Misguidance – this film wistfully highlights lampoon style that when catastrophic events occur if the in-charge advisors we depend on to lead us through troubled times are incompetent the task of confronting any crisis turns to chaos. To quote Leslie Jones’ character, a behavioral psychologist, ‘I’d say it was a train wreck and a shit show, but that would be unfair to trains and shit.’ True that! Although this film is not part of the Brooker’s Black Mirror franchise, it does resemble its very sinister content, though instead of turning benign fictional events dark it lightly caricatures malignant true-life experiences. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say Death to 2020 can’t happen fast enough!

P.S. Last year the Harts rang in 2020 in paradise at one of our favorite places on Earth – Hawaii. Thinking back, who would have ever predicted the hell we would all face. As an eternal optimist I was hopeful that 2020 would be a good year, but then again I don’t always get it right. Let’s hope 2021 brings much peace, love, and good health to us all. God knows we need it. Happy New Year and see you next year!

Hawaii 2020

Five Fabulous Netflix Picks! System Crasher, Lost Girls, Hillbilly Elegy, The Land of Steady Habits & Private Life

As a traditionalist I prefer to view movies at the theater, but since COVID-19 hit watching films has transformed from the big-screen to my laptop screen. Given the limited number of new releases I thought it would be fun to discuss a series of interesting Netflix picks and their take-away life lessons. I have selected five fascinating flicks that highlight the difficulties with families, parenting, children, and conception. The primary film of discussion is inspired by factual events and the four runners up consist of two true stories and two films that resemble real-life experiences. Let’s get started with our mini monitor montage.

Top Pick: System Crasher (German Foreign Film)

This deeply compelling psychological drama is a must see! True to its title ‘System Crasher’ is a term used to describe out-of-control children whose antisocial behavior is so extreme they are deemed ‘unplaceable’ as they are too young to be admitted to in-treatment programs and too violent to be accepted into group/foster care. In short these severely troubled children render the welfare system uncopiable and literally crash the system. This film is so moving it really deserves a post on its own but not everyone enjoys watching foreign films with subtitles. That said, much like this year’s Oscar Winner Parasite – 5 minutes into the story viewers are so captivated by the drama all subtitles seem to fade away. Set in Germany, the plot centers on nine-year-old problem child Benni (played by Helena Zengel who gives an Oscar worthy performance and is one of the best child actors I have ever seen), an abandoned violent wayward girl who due to her uncontrollable  outbursts (with endless bashing and screaming) cannot be placed by social services, which pushes the system and social workers to breaking-point. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt the movie shows what happens when children are neglected and rejected by the very people that are supposed to love and protect them – their parents. As you might have guested the main meaning of this film hinges on the importance of mother/child bonding and why it’s so vital to form functional sustainable relationships with parents and/or others. Attachment vs. Disorganization – although defiant swearing /punching feral-like child Benni resists conforming to the system she also has charming qualities that sympathetically draws-in her case workers Frau Bafané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) and Micha (Albrecht Schuch), who work tirelessly on her behalf. This type of attachment behavior is typically referred to as attack/feigned helplessness. When frightening outbursts do not produce the child’s desired outcome the child learns to become helpless as a survival technique and thus switches from attacking behavior to seductively vulnerable behavior. When neither attachment strategy works the child become emotionally disorganized.  It is heartbreaking to see children in this state, and true to form the movie’s ending is so haunting with a terrifying outcome that lingers with audiences for days, especially parents. It’s that disturbing. Not to give too much away, this film is a grim depiction of the makings of a sociopath and the saddest part is, all Benni really wants is to be loved and accepted by one person – her mother. Although Benni appears to be a scary unteachable misfit she’s actually quite resilient, but even the toughest kids crumble if their spirit is broken. On this point, the acting in this film is so gripping and real it’s like watching true-to-life macabre events (reminiscent of film The Florida Project). Just writing about this movie makes me so sad but it’s a weighty story every parent should see. Two Fast Facts: First, System Crasher was inspired by director Fingscheidt’s true-life experience when making a documentary about a refuge for homeless women and witnessed a 14-year-old girl there. When she asked why a child was amongst the adults the social worker responded by saying ‘oh, yes, system crashers, we can take them on their 14th birthday.’ Second, it’s no surprise that after 12-year old Helena Zengel’s stellar performance in System Crasher she was summoned to do the recently released Oscar-caliber film News of the World with Tom Hanks. Watch out for this little dynamo – she is a magnificent breakout star who is raising fast!

Four Runners Up

Lost Girls is the true story based on the bestselling book with the same name written by journalist Robert Kolker who details the still unsolved murders committed by the Long Island Serial Killer (aka Craigslist Killer). This very sad story centers on missing young sex worker Shannan Gilbert who had a habit of finding her clients on Craigslist and her mother’s struggle to find her. This fact-based crime drama opens with Shannon alive and planning to visit her estranged mother Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan). When she no-shows and isn’t heard from her mother starts searching for her. Given Shannan’s morally questionable occupation her disappearance is not prioritized, a typical criticism of many police departments and media outlets when dealing with easily judgmental cases such as offences against prostitutes. The core of the story focuses on Shannon’s mother Mari’s fighting to keep her daughters’ vanishing front page news. Mari does this by rallying support from family members of other missing girls who have met the same fate. Directed by documentarian Liz Garbus the essence of this story highlights the complexity of parental responsibility and the risks faced by children of parents that are themselves at-risk. As the story unfolds it is revealed that Shannon was abandoned by her mother at age 12 years. Placed in foster care as her mother could not cope with her daughter’s bi-polar episodes and still parent her two younger remaining children. This story is very similar to System Crasher in that regard. In short, such narratives like this argue in favor of providing better social services to parents suffering with toxic stressors (depression, poverty, abuse). Since research shows keeping children with their biological parents usually produces the best outcomes over the lifespan, discussions have shifted from fostering children to fostering entire families to minimize risk. Too often our culture engages in victim-shaming and attributes much of the blame to mothers. Since we know mothers (and fathers) are the most important people in children’s lives and their parental presence has incredible influence on children’s choices doesn’t it make sense to buttress those in-need. Most parents, even the inept ones love their children on some level so shouldn’t we support them instead of ignoring them or tearing them down. VIP vs. RIP – the takeaway message of this film is that all people are precious and rather than shield those with power, society should place more value on at-risk individuals; they are the ones that need the most protecting after all, and doing so makes this world a better place for everyone.

Hillbilly Elegy is another true story based on the 2016 memoir of James David (J.D.) Vance about his life and the difficulties growing up in white working-class poverty in Middletown Ohio with an unstable drug-addicted mother (played by Amy Adams). Directed by Ron Howard, this film centers on young victimized J.D. who is largely raised by his aging grandmother (played by Glenn Close). The movie walks viewers through J.D.’s very tumultuous life from childhood to adulthood. Despite the odds it’s nice to see that J.D. grows up to be a successful Yale educated lawyer. This rags-to-riches story, though similar to The Glass Castle, is inspiring to watch. I love heartwarming stories of survival and of those who manage to break the cycle. This film is a bit slow moving and repetitive at times but it also delivers the important message of just how vulnerable children really are. This picture also demonstrates that despite not being able to pick one’s own family such circumstances should not keep individuals stuck. Lineage vs. Pedigree – the bottom line is that there is no doubt we are all shaped by our childhoods and our descents but that does not mean these uncontrollable elements of life have to define us. This film strongly underscores the message that we might not be able to fully escape our family background, but our future personal histories are ours to create. I love when factual movies end by showing the real-life players, and this film does just that.

The Land of Steady Habits is a comedic drama adapted from novelist Ted Thompson’s book of the same name. Directed by Nicole Holofcener, this fictional film has a Woody Allen feel with an interesting spin on mid-life crisis. The film opens with a sad recently divorced and retired single-dad Anders Hill (Ben Mendelson) attempting to redesign a new life now that he has effectively dismantled his old one. With ex-wife Helene (Edie Falco) already dating, Anders is at a bit of loss finding his groove with nothing functioning properly in the bedroom, with friendships, family, or otherwise. Disillusioned as he fumbles through his sudden self-induced middle-aged changes Anders struggles to connect with his own young adult son Preston (Thomas Mann), a recovering alcoholic, meanwhile befriending the neighbor’s troubled pot-smoking substance abusing son Charlie (Charlie Tahan). Throughout the film Anders, who previously led a comfortable life, is now searching for some sort of illusive balance but is met with one blunder after another. Though there are a few surprises in this film the primary take-away is a lesson in self-sabotage. Don’t do it! Stability vs. Volatility – in life most of us want the same things; love, security, peace, partnership, friendship, fun, normalcy… yet instead of maintaining such sacred gifts, we often squander them even though each are very basic and attainable wishes. In doing so we end up denying ourselves the happiness we are seeking. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies purposely sacrificing without any gains and basically making a mess of everything. Just an aside, in this film the story Charlie writes about Laika, the Soviet Space Dog is so moving and deep. It’s what made me like this picture even more.

Private Life is a story about married couple Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) a novelist, and Richard (Paul Giamatti) a theatre director both in their mid-40s living in New York City trying to conceive their first baby via a series of failed IVF cycles. This film directed by Tamara Jenkins, also starring Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch and others is an entertaining well-acted depiction of the struggles faced by couples who put off having children due to career aspiration only to be met with the heartbreaks encountered by having waited too long. The pain of hormone injections coupled with the disappointing non-outcomes along with the deflated hopes associated with donor eggs and adoption make the agony of this story tangible. Yet the atmosphere of the film never drifts too far into awkward territory. This is a very intelligent sophisticated film that deals with uncomfortable truths and lies told about life, conception, timeframes, and the nature of science. The take-away message of this film is that although our social constructs might change and evolve – biology seems to stay the same. Barren vs. Fertile – unfortunately women’s ability to bear children has an expiration date. A difficult reality most women dread, especially those still wanting kids. Though men should be aware that age takes a toll on male virility too, so don’t wait too long if offspring is the plan.

P.S. Given these five films all deal with parenting and family relations in one way or another I could relate to all of them directly or indirectly. Being a parenting researcher I have dealt with many at-risk families and definitely have the biggest heart for parents/children in-need, as demonstrated through the good works of the OHF. I have also experienced growing up in challenging circumstances and having to start over as a lone parent in life, which is never easy even if change is the desired goal. Thankfully, I didn’t encounter problems having my two kids but I love children and did plan to have a third baby, so I do know the disappointment of not having realized that goal. At any rate all the above-mentioned films are worth watching and certainly contain a myriad of life-lessons to reflect on. Thanks also to Rick Delamont for recommending System Crasher – what a movie! Enjoy.

The Harts on the Cover of Parent Quarterly Magazine describing life as a lone parent.

It’s a Wonderful Life

This 1946 Frank Capra Christmas classic is based on the short story entitled The Greatest Gift (published in booklet form by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943) and is the ultimate feel-good holiday movie with many great life lessons. Just what we need during these trying times with so many people feeling discontented over COVID-19 and news of more contagious strains of the virus. This popular Xmas film set in the fictional town of Bedford Falls (aka Pottersville) regained popularity in the 1970s when the film’s copyright lapsed, and networks proceeded to broadcast it for free annually to adoring audiences.

The film opens with everyone fervently praying for a troubled George Bailey (James Stewart). So much so heavenly angels are summoned to act in his defense by sending to Earth, angel-in-waiting Clarence (Henry Travers) who has yet to earn his wings. Clarence intercepts George’s life clutching a book by Mark Twain at the pinnacle of George’s demise but not before learning the backstory of his voyage to the brink. Keep in mind Clarence’s hardcover volume is Tom Sawyer (whose character in the book incidentally witnesses his own funeral), as it is a significant clue about the main take-away message of this movie.

The tale unfolds by showing that since childhood George Bailey, an impenetrable dreamer, envisions an exciting life of higher education, adventure, building cities, and world travel far away from his modest digs. Forever planning his escape from boyhood to manhood George seems to perpetually be held back by the firm grip of his mundane life. As a morally sound person who always does the right thing George’s personal goals continually get sidetracked much to his deep frustration and dismay. To expand, as George prepares to embark on his long-awaited ambition to attend college his father falls ill and dies. As a result George is faced with a dilemma. If he leaves his father’s company the Bailey Bros. Savings & Loans will be taken over by the town miser, wealthy heartless businessman Mr. Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) who greedily plots to monopolize every company in sight. In all good conscience George forces himself to stay back, postpone college, and operate his late father’s business to ensure its independence. Doing so allows poor town-folk a financial lending alternative to Mr. Potter’s high interest rip-off options. George instead sends his younger brother Harry (Todd Karns) to school with his tuition money. Though George shares his deceased father’s philanthropic disposition, he has own ideas of a what makes for a successful life and is itching to get out of Dodge to make it happen.

After four long years managing the family business waiting for his younger brother to return to take over George learns Harry has taken a bride while away and has been offered a promising job by his father-in-law in the city. Again, George is left holding the bag along with the disappointing entrapment of Bedford Falls. In the interim young Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), who has loved George since childhood, also returns from college all grown up with eyes only for George. Long story short, George falls for Mary despite resisting, but then plans to incorporate his new spouse into his exciting expeditions aboard. An ironclad plan, but upon leaving for their honeymoon George witnesses a run on the bank. Mr. Potter who owns all financial institutions other than the Bailey Bros. Savings & Loans has purposely called in all loans in an effort to overtake the small Bailey’s stand-alone company. Though when George’s new wife Mary offers up the couple’s celebratory money to desperate Bailey’s patrons the company lives to see another day. But the tradeoff leaves George once again robbed of his break and confined to his small life in his small town. George is crushed but knows, ‘If Potter gets hold of this Building and Loan, there’ll never be another decent house built in this town. He’s already got charge of the banks, buses… and now he’s after us!’ George adopts his late father’s humanitarian approach to life helping immigrants buy their own homes, referred to by the hateful racist Mr. Potter as ‘garlic eaters’. George begins to truly see the value in what his departed father told him (‘I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace.’) and works tirelessly to accommodate other people. However, he cannot fully suppress the pangs of resentment and contempt over living a life he never really chose or wanted.

As the years go by, a war is fought, four children are born, and the likelihood of George ever leaving Bedford Falls dims as his common-day existence stabilizes. That is until one day when George’s loopy uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses a high-stakes bank deposit owed to Mr. Potter worth thousands of dollars. Unable to pay his debt, George faces utter ruin. Not only will his hard-earned reputation be soiled beyond repair, but with fraud charges looming, jail is a certainty. After despondently roaming the streets George finds himself on the ledge of a bridge. Under immense pressure and unable to cope with yet another setback George deems his life to be absolutely worthless and contemplates suicide. Though before he can act on his dark thoughts, angel Clarence plunges into the icy waters below knowing George will come to his rescue, which he does. After much discussion about George’s complete lack of value to his family and society, George wishes he had never been born. Clarence converses with the higher powers that be, then grants the wish. George will see life as if he never lived. After traversing many negatives George witnesses the magnitude of his absence and finally realizes what a significant role and positive impact he has had on so many lives. It is then that George wishes to live again ‘God please let me live again’. Without giving everything away let’s stop there and breakdown the many valuable life lessons of this cinematic masterpiece.

First, one key take-away is that people often walk around dead in their lives, dissatisfied while thinking the grass is greener on the other side (only because there’s more bullshit over there). As if in a holding pattern waiting for that one magnanimous event that will bring happiness, instead of appreciating the current moment. The fact is life happens bit by bit and if we are not fully present in our lives we will miss out on the many everyday blessings we take for granted. As the French proverb states, ‘Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid’, which translated means ‘Little by little, the bird makes its nest.’ The message here is that life requires perseverance and patience to complete the task of a life well lived so don’t forget to smell the roses along the way. Second, we must gracefully flow with whatever circumstances we encounter as some of the greatest gifts are received through what we cannot control. One caveat, in these circumstances we must let intuition takes over as a true heart always knows the way even when the head is facing the other direction. Third, to really live means experiencing extreme highs and lows. Even though sadness and loss are unwelcomed guests they teach us to value happiness and fulfillment. Yin & Yang – both are required for balance. Fourth, this movie shows us that our lives are very precious and hold much more meaning than we give ourselves credit for. Unfortunately realizing the specialness of important relationships sometimes comes too late when they are already slipping away. Fifth, this flick stresses the importance of friendship, particularly highlighted via Clarence’s final message to George scribed in his coveted Mark Twain book, ‘No man is a failure who has friends.’ Now all five mores are powerful messages indeed, but none are the primary take-away of this movie. Instead the main meaning lays more in what makes for a successful life. Is it riches, travel, education, family, children, accomplishments…? No, no, no, no, no, no… It is true that all these elements of life can enrich one’s existence, but true success only comes in one form and it enhances all other aspects of life – putting others first.

Selflessness vs. Selfishness – ‘Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.’ – Daniel Dennett (Harvard/Oxford educated philosopher). George Bailey certainly did this and as a result of his lifelong altruism and generosity of spirit almost everyone in Bedford Falls was inspired to assist him in his time of need. So much so George was allocated his own guardian angel to keep him safe and protected him from himself. Life can be very challenging with many obstacles, which can leave us wondering what it all means and how to incorporate the bad with the good. Referring back to Clarence carting Mark Twain from Heaven to Earth, if we could view the trajectory of our lives we would accept that life is like a book, all chapters are necessary and in the end it will all make sense. Just like Tom Sayer seeing his own memorial service, George gets a subliminal bird’s eye view of his non-life. If you don’t believe a person can truly change after seeing how they are perceived when no longer around just think of Alfred Nobel (inventor of dynamite who was mistakenly reported dead in place of his bother Ludvig – when Alfred’s obituary described him as ‘the merchant of death’ he bequeathed nearly his entire sizeable estate to establish the Nobel Prizes). It’s also worth noting that author Mark Twain famously stated, ‘the best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up’. George Bailey was indubitably a supportive thoughtful cheerleader for many and as a result viewed as ‘the richest man in town’. Now that’s a legacy worth leaving!

P.S. This film is a timeless classic that I always enjoy watching. It’s a beautiful well-made movie with exceptional acting and a breadth of ethical substance that makes viewers take stock of their own lives, me included. For the most part our journeys don’t often goes as planned. I know mine sure didn’t. Though despite deviated paths, unexpected turns, and ongoing hardships, life really is wonderful in so many ways, which I endeavor to be grateful for every day. Merry Christmas all and Happy 80th Birthday to Dr. Anthony Fauci – a true Xmas gift to science, the world, and mankind. Bless.

Merry Xmas!

Eurovision

Watching a lighthearted comedy like Eurovision, especially during these difficult times, can serve as much needed food for the soul. This fatuous yet uplifting film set in Iceland has wacky Will Ferrell (Lars Erickssong) and the ever-so-lovely Canadian actress Rachael McAdams (Sigrit Ericksdottir) battling it out to qualify for a chance to have their band Fire Saga perform at Eurovision, a talent contest of Europe’s best. The only problem is their act is awful as it is fraught with ongoing unpredictable snags that always end up yielding the worst results. Needless to say the odds are against Lars and Sigrit ever becoming their nation’s official entry, and with so many countries competing overall, a grand win is even less likely. Regardless, this accident-prone duet lets nothing block their shot at glory or their aim at being the top-pick in their homeland and across the continent.

Although this story is fictional, Eurovision is a real-life annual international song competition hosted by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Originating in 1956, participating countries each select one lucky resident as a representative to submit an original song to be performed live on TV/Radio with citizens from participating countries casting votes to crown a winner. So how does this entertainment extravaganza become central to the plot? The film opens with a young motherless shy Lars unwilling to socialize at a household family gathering until he hears ABBA playing on TV. Hearing this music triggers a Europop frenzy in young Lars that grows into a lifelong fame-seeking quest, with a similar effect experienced by Lars young speech-inhibited neighbor friend Sigrit, who later becomes his ‘Dancing Queen’ so to speak. The movie’s running joke from start to finish is the suggestion that Sigrit may be Lars’ half-sister given his father’s promiscuous ways (played by Pierce Brosnan), and the fact that Iceland is such an isolated locale resulting in limited bed partners. It’s kind of a creepy though funny gag, but it works because the couple is so lovably pathetic. Therefore instead of the audience being revolted by the prospect of their possible siblinghood; viewers are hoping they are not blood related so their flame can eventually flicker.

That said, the film plays on the actual generalized personality traits of Icelanders, who are typically very sweet helpful people yet very serious with matter-of-fact dispositions, so audiences don’t really laugh at this disastrous duo but with them. Which brings us to Icelanders’ belief in elves, trolls, and other hidden beings. It’s true that the majority of Icelandic people believe elves/trolls exist. Even going as far as to reroute construction sites including redirecting roadworks as not to upset the elves. How adorable. Of course this movie doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to play up this superstition, and it’s quite endearing I might add. A note to the wise – ‘respect the elves or else’. If you don’t you might find yourself saying, “The elves have gone too far!”

As I have mentioned time and time again, every movie, no matter how silly or pointless, has a life-lesson to convey and this film is no different. One might think the ultimate take-away is finding one’s personal identity, or to never give up despite the probability of not succeeding or perhaps to always follow one’s dreams regardless of the naysayers. Of course these are no doubt worthy lessons to impart, however the main message of this film is more about serendipity (i.e. finding something wonderfully precious when in fact looking for something else). Kismet vs. Luck – the goals we seek do not always bring the happiness we image. ‘Sometimes the best things in life are unexpected.’ – Faith Sullivan. Ain’t that the truth.

P.S. I have visited Iceland and it is truly one of the most remarkable life altering, life affirming, breath-taking natural landscapes I have ever seen. Not to mention Icelanders have such enchanting mannerisms, including their elf folklore. Of course I couldn’t leave this place without a priceless pair of ceramic elves in-hand, as a souvenir to remind me of my fabulous experience. I think in part, this is why I liked this zany film (thanks doc Nicole for recommending it), and I particularly liked how the picture showcased a lot of Iceland’s unique natural and cultural qualities including its Elf Culture. Be sure to put Iceland on your bucket-list if you haven’t already been. FYI in normal times direct flights are offered from Edmonton to Reykjavik. I didn’t travel via this route but how convenient for us Albertans to be just one flight away from this magical land!

Me with my very special well-behaved Icelandic Elves!

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 USD 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.