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!
Oscars 2021 looked very different than in past years. The 93rd Academy Awards took place at the Dolby Theatre, but also at Los Angeles’ Union Station and the Art Deco-Mission Revival Railway Hub. This red-carpet affair was staged more like a movie set than an awards ceremony with more than a few surprises (e.g. some awards were presented via sign-language and in a foreign language, Glenn Close doin Da Butt…!). Also, historically in order to get the Academy’s attention a film has to cover either a prestigious topic, be a Broadway adaption, or a biopic. However that ceiling may be cracking as we saw the first award of the evening go to Emerald Fennel for Best Original Screenplay for her comedy thriller Promising Young Woman. The film received a total of 5 nods including Best Picture and Best Actress for Carey Mulligan. Although the film didn’t win in either of the main categories it has brought much needed attention to the trauma of sexual assault and the #MeToo movement. Well done. This year’s show also gladly recognized and welcomed much diversity with a wide range of film topics. This was also reflected in the diverse Oscar winners. Again, well done. I have seen all the films that were nominated for Best Picture and I think the Academy was on point selecting Nomadland. After all its so symbolic of the year of loss, searching, wandering, and recovery we have all endured. For the love of movies and film making let’s celebrate through this COVID-19 crisis that we can still all come together and enjoy storytelling at its best. Bless.
See below all categories and winners in BOLD.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”)
Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)
Gary Oldman (“Mank”)
Steven Yeun (“Minari”)
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Andra Day (“The United States v. Billie Holiday”)
Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”)
Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) (WINNER)
Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”)
“The Father” (David Parfitt, Jean-Louis Livi and Philippe Carcassonne, producers)
“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Shaka King, Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler, producers)
“Mank” (Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski, producers)
“Minari” (Christina Oh, producer)
“Nomadland” (Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey and Chloé Zhao, producers) (WINNER)
“Promising Young Woman” (Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell and Josey McNamara, producers)
“Sound of Metal” (Bert Hamelinck and Sacha Ben Harroche, producers)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Marc Platt and Stuart Besser, producers)
Best Original Song
“Fight for You,” (“Judas and the Black Messiah”). Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas (WINNER)
“Hear My Voice,” (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”). Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite
“Húsavík,” (“Eurovision Song Contest”). Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson
“Io Si (Seen),” (“The Life Ahead”). Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini
“Speak Now,” (“One Night in Miami”). Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth
Best Original Score
“Da 5 Bloods,” Terence Blanchard
“Mank,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
“Minari,” Emile Mosseri
“News of the World,” James Newton Howard
“Soul,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste (WINNER)
Best Film Editing
“The Father,” Yorgos Lamprinos
“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao
“Promising Young Woman,” Frédéric Thoraval
“Sound of Metal,” Mikkel E.G. Nielsen (WINNER)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Alan Baumgarten
“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Sean Bobbitt
“Mank,” Erik Messerschmidt (WINNER)
“News of the World,” Dariusz Wolski
“Nomadland,” Joshua James Richards
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Phedon Papamichael
Best Production Design
“The Father.” Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton
“Mank.” Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale (WINNER)
“News of the World.” Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan
“Tenet.” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova (‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”)
Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”)
Olivia Colman (“The Father”)
Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”)
Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) (WINNER)
Best Visual Effects
“Love and Monsters,” Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox
“The Midnight Sky,” Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins
“Mulan,” Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram
“The One and Only Ivan,” Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez
“Tenet,” Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher (WINNER)
Best Documentary Feature
“Collective,” Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana
“Crip Camp,” Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder
“The Mole Agent,” Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez
“My Octopus Teacher,” Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster (WINNER)
“Time,” Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn
Best Documentary Short Subject
“Colette,” Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard (WINNER)
“A Concerto Is a Conversation,” Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
“Do Not Split,” Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook
“Hunger Ward,” Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman
“A Love Song for Latasha,” Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan
Best Animated Feature Film
“Over the Moon” (Netflix)
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix)
“Soul” (Pixar) (WINNER)
“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS)
Best Animated Short Film
“Burrow” (Disney Plus/Pixar)
“Genius Loci” (Kazak Productions)
“If Anything Happens I Love You” (Netflix) (WINNER)
“Opera” (Beasts and Natives Alike)
“Yes-People” (CAOZ hf. Hólamói)
Best Live-Action Short Film
“The Letter Room”
“Two Distant Strangers” (WINNER)
“Greyhound,” Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman
“Mank,” Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin
“News of the World,” Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett
“Soul,” Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker
“Sound of Metal,” Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh (WINNER)
Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”)
David Fincher (“Mank”)
Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”)
Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) (WINNER)
Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”)
Best Costume Design
“Emma,” Alexandra Byrne
“Mank,” Trish Summerville
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Ann Roth (WINNER)
“Mulan,” Bina Daigeler
“Pinocchio,” Massimo Cantini Parrini
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
“Emma,” Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze
“Hillbilly Elegy,” Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, Matthew Mungle
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson (WINNER)
“Pinocchio,” Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”)
Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) (WINNER)
Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”)
Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”)
Lakeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)
Best International Feature Film
“Another Round” (Denmark) (WINNER)
“Better Days” (Hong Kong)
“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Nina Pedrad
“The Father,” Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller (WINNER)
“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao
“One Night in Miami,” Kemp Powers
“The White Tiger,” Ramin Bahrani
Best Original Screenplay
“Judas and the Black Messiah.” Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas, Keith Lucas
“Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung
“Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennell (WINNER)
“Sound of Metal.” Screenplay by Darius Marder, Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance
With the Oscars just hours away binge watching all the fabulous movies competing for gold is one of my favorite pastimes! The remarkable picture Sound of Metal is definitely a front runner, as are two other noteworthy movies – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the Korean film Minari. Oddly enough the trio have several common threads. First, all three lead actors have been nominated in the Best Actor category. Second, none of the men are Caucasian. Third, all three films have a very similar life lesson with the take-away message fixating on dreams unrealized. The big question is how each main character copes with adversity when it hits. Do they accept, admonish, or adapt? No spoiler alerts necessary. A tripleheader movie marathon is the only way to know which side of the triangle each fall! I will tell you no two are the same. With that fast fact out of the way let’s flesh out the storylines.
Sound of Metal: Directed and co-written by Darius Marder, this extremely heart-wrenching well-acted story of recovering heroin addict heavy-metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) who upon endlessly disregarding medical advice to avoid loud music suddenly experiences bouts of hearing loss. On the cusp of stardom, his worsening condition gets too much for girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) to handle, and as lead guitarist and singer in their avant-metal band Blackgammon she insists he get counselling, as suggested by sponsor Hector, at a deaf retreat. A very hesitant Ruben agrees and is openly welcomed by head therapist Joe (brilliantly played by Paul Raci) and other patrons who patiently guide him on his transitional journey to acknowledge his disability and learn sign-language. Since Ruben is such a lovable warm person the group quickly grow fond of him as he becomes a staple in their daily deaf-based routine. However, for Ruben with every passing day he finds his inaudible new reality swallowing him up as his old life fades away. In a desperate attempt to hold onto his previous existence Ruben fiercely pursues corrective surgery as a quick fix to his hushed problems. But try as he may his former self and identity is disappearing faster than his hearing. It’s an understatement to say Ruben is lost; he’s in an unspeakable wasteland of no return. The worst part is, things look hauntingly familiar, yet nothing fits, and despite his best efforts, all aspects of his world have drastically changed. An incredibly solemn outcome for viewers to watch. That said, it’s not the fact that Ruben is going deaf that makes audiences so sad, it’s that one cruel turn of events has blown out all Ruben’s aspirations and goals. A blast that has thrown him into an uncommunicable lonely place. Damn this life. The crux of this movie is whether Ruben can find a way to resume his old life or discover new peace in the stillness. Quietness vs. Sound – ‘Noise creates illusions. Silence brings truth.’ – Maxime Lagacé. You have to ‘hand’ it to Riz Ahmen who does such an exceptional job projecting character Ruben’s vast sense of emptiness and isolation in his many moments of despair. Wow! He’s that good. I wouldn’t be surprised if Riz takes home Oscar gold for his magnificent performance or if this underdog movie walks away with Best Picture, and let’s not forget that Paul Raci is also a top contender for Best Supporting Actor. This superb film also offers a rare look into the deaf community – and it is calmingly beautiful. ‘All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.’ – Blaise Pascal. Hear hear! BTW Riz learned more than how to be alone with himself for this role – he also learned to play drums and sign. Incredible!
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Directed by George C. Wolfe this film set in Chicago’s rip-roaring 1920s is an adaptation of August Wilson’s play of the same name. The movie mainly focuses on pioneering ‘Mother of Blues’ singer Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey (superbly portrayed by Viola Davis) who dominates the screen with her brazen, fearless, impulsive, demanding, no nonsense, often obnoxious behavior. However, when put into context – a black bisexual female in the early 20th century; she’s nobody’s fool as she knows the value of her voice and as a result holds everyone hostage until she gets exactly what she wants, including Coca-Cola! Smart – and most likely very necessary considering the times and how black artists’ talent was commonly exploited. The majority of the story occurs during a one-day recording session at a studio in the Windy City. With Ma’s nonchalant swagger, tardiness, harsh looks, toughness, and unfiltered dialogue coupled with her bossy vexing unpredictable attitude she intimates everyone she works with including her White producers (Jeremy Shamos, Jonathan Coyne) looking to make a quick buck on her much-anticipated next album, and her own band members, Cutler (Colman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts); with one exception. Young horn player Levee (famously played by Chadwick Boseman) who is a pain in Ma’s ass, as he’s the only one who threatens to upstage her, with constant chatter of a direct challenge – breaking out to form his own band. Since Ma doesn’t like anyone giving her push back, she clearly despises Levee and his uppity confidence. He also has eyes for Ma’s love interest – backup dancer Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) who incidentally is also drawn to him too, which doesn’t help. Unlike Ma Rainey, Levee is a bubbly optimistic hopeful performer who is light on his feet with high hopes, new shoes, and a strong belief that the powers that be (aka White Producers) will recognize his significant contributions and accommodate his outstanding musical genius. However, when reality smashes Levee’s fantasy he must decide to play, dance, or otherwise. Integrate vs. Revolt – “Someone who smiles too much with you can sometime frown too much with you at your back.” Michael Bassey Johnson. So true. It’s no surprise that Chadwick Boseman is favored to win the Oscar for Best Actor. On the other hand Viola Davis should win Best Actress for her exceptional performance as Ma Rainey but may get bumped by Frances McDormandwho does a very good job playing Fern in Nomadland, which BTW will most likely win Best Picture. Oh brother.
Minari: Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung this touching family drama set in the 1980s centers on Korean immigrants Jacob (brilliantly played by Steven Yeun) his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri), daughter Anne (Noel Cho) and young sickly son David (Alan Kim) who he moves from their settlement in California to Arkansas’s back country in pursuit of his agricultural dream. But unlike typical American farmers Jacob envisions harvesting Korean specific vegetables he feels will lucratively cater to a growing market of Korean immigrants who can’t find their favorite foods in the USA. Thanks to the region’s lush soil Jacob feels he can easily accomplish this ambitious goal, though he fails to factor in the isolation, backbreaking work, and shortage of ‘free’ water experienced by all. A narrative that runs throughout the film. Worried that his wife is suffering from immense loneliness he agrees to have her sassy mother (fabulously played by Youn Yuh-jung) travel from Korean to move in with them. Along with her she brings the east Asian wild herb Minari sometimes ironically referred to as ‘water’ dropwort or ‘water’ celery and is considered somewhat of a homeland delicacy; seeds she secretly scatters in a distant creek on her son-in-law’s land. A symbol no doubt that home is where you plant your roots. As Jacob struggles to continue working at a local chicken hatchery in his mundane job just to makes ends meet, he not only has to deal with his failing crops and wilting wishes, but a lack of money, a dissatisfied wife who is on the verge of leaving him, his ailing son’s weak heart, and a feisty elderly mother-in-law. He is bolstered by the help of his fanatically Christian oddball neighbor Paul (Will Patton) but the friendship is not enough to save him from the adversity to come. Like many stories of this kind, immigrants are portrayed as sacrificing all to chase the good life. But what happens when the American pipedream goes down the drain while other important aspects of life have been neglectfully plowed over in the quest to yield. Sow vs. Reap – ‘Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.’ ― Steve Maraboli. Good advice if taken. On the Oscar front this movie will be interesting to watch in the Best Supporting Actress category as Youn Yuh-jung is a favored candidate to win for her wisecracking yet moving role as grandma Soon-ja – who doesn’t bake cookies as real grannies do – instead she likes watching wrestling. Really!
P.S. All three films are very well done but personally Sound of Metal truly resonated with me, especially since my son Oje required two ear surgeries as a toddler to correct a mild auditory impairment that would have worsened if left untreated. Thankfully, he has perfect hearing as a result and incidentally plays several musical instruments, including the drums. As an adult Oje definitely hears everything I say but whether he listens to his mum is another story!
As the Oscars loom the movie The Father, with an impressive six nods including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress will be one to watch! The film of an aging father (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and his caregiver daughter (Olivia Coleman) is based on the revered award-winning play of the same name, and although it is not a true story per se it is many people’s story. The movie opens with daughter Anne (Coleman) planning a move to Paris and attempting to find suitable help for her disoriented disagreeable dad 80-year Englishman Anthony (Hopkins) who lives independently in his flat (so we think) but whose grip on reality is gradually slipping away. At the onset, the story seems straight forward but like Alice in Wonderland, it’s not long before audiences realize they are down a rabbit hole with a reoccurring theme of muddled disorder.
As you might have guessed this very well-done film is a mind-bending journey into the heartbreaking world of dementia that will have even the most stoic viewers sobbing in the end. Since the storyline is circular it is a challenge to discuss this film without giving too much away. In short, father Anthony really only wants his daughter Anne to take care of him and feels like his thoughts, memories, and surroundings are constantly being manipulated, thus pushing him to insanity. This movie does an exceptional job delving into the immense pressure put on caregivers and how truly distressing, overwhelming, and overtaxing the saintly task of caring for others is. However, more than that this film plainly pins down with harrowing precision the sadness associated with losing one’s faculties, which brings us to the take-away message of this film.
Unlike the movie the main meaning is cogently clear – it’s how confusing confusion is. Lucid vs. Jumbled – the state of feeling bewildered or unclear in one’s mind about anything is a frightening concept. But when it’s a regular real-life occurrence the frustration caused by extended uncertainty is unbearable. Especially given that there is predictably no recovering from this downward spiral of mental decay. Without doubt being trapped in the perpetual perplexing misperceptions associated with dementia is horrifying. As humans we count on our shared perceptions of situations and events as evidence of a sound mind so when discrepancies creep in, these altered states can be extremely alarming to those who experience them. Dementia is fraught with gaps in one’s recall that fall just short of delirium making those who suffer from it forever lost in a fractured incoherent cloud of trying to decipher what is real and what is not. What a tormenting hopeless condition that unavoidably worsens over time.
Fast Fact: Dementia is not a specific disease but rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is defined as the most common type of dementia (other types include Vascular, Lewy Body, Fronto-temporal and Mixed dementia), and consists of difficulties with memory, communication, speech, focus, concentration, reasoning, judgement, and visual perception including trouble detecting movement, differentiating colors, and/or experiencing hallucinations. Dementia is not considered a normal part of the aging process so if you are dealing with someone who has been diagnosed with this affliction remember the following tips:
Set a positive mood for interaction.
Get the person’s attention.
State your message clearly.
Ask simple, answerable questions.
Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart.
Break down activities into a series of steps.
When the going gets tough, distract and redirect.
Respond with affection and reassurance.
Remember good memories together.
Keep a sense of humor.
But most importantly remember that, ‘One of the easiest ways to rob someone with dementia of their dignity is to be dismissive, or talk through them, or over them as though they are not there. So include loved ones and respond understandingly.’ – Pink Slippers. Getting back to the movie, the film’s cast all do an extraordinary job of fully immersing in their roles. It is no surprise that both Olivia Coleman and Sir Anthony Hopkins (recent BAFTA winner for Best Lead Actor) are front runners for Oscars in their respective categories. Not because they powerfully reflect the sorrow on both sides of dementia but because they do it in very subtle yet impactful ways. A trademark of real pros!
P.S. I lost my dad a few years ago and although he did not have dementia he was in complete denial about his grave prognosis, blaming a heel spur for his ailment rather than the true cause. Worst of all he really believed this fallacy right until the end. Given that he was a very bright straightforward guy who typically did not suffer fools gladly, his rejection of the truth was oddly more confusing for me than him. I guess delusions may at times be blessings in disguise.
This year’s BAFTAs was a two-day virtual affair hosted by Edith Bowman and Dermot O’Leary at Royal Albert Hall in London with a total of 17 masks awarded. Prince William was to make dual appearances at this most prestigious British event but opted out due to the death of his grandfather HRH Prince Philip (BAFTA’s first president – 1959). In his place the 74th British Academy Film Awards did a lovely brief tribute to the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh and consort of the Queen before getting right to the prizes. The ceremonies were dominated by the film Nomadland, which picked up the win for Best Film and Best Actress among other awards.
Since so many great actors originate from England it was nice to see Sir Anthony Hopkins receive a well-deserved Best Actor Mask for his role in The Father – an exceptional movie with powerful performances by the entire cast (a fabulous film I will soon do a post on). The forever witty Hopkins was not on hand to collect his award but later commented at a virtual winners press conference that he would not be attending the Oscars jokingly stating, ‘I’m going to be in Wales for the Oscars, when are they again?’ ha ha – The answer: Sunday April 25th at 6pm MST and I will definitely be watching!
P.S. There is nothing I love more than awards season and when I’m lucky enough to dress up and attend one I can’t ‘mask’ my joy!
BAFTA categories and winners in BOLD below.
The Father The Mauritanian Nomadland – WINNER Promising Young Woman The Trial of the Chicago 7
Bukky Bakray, Rocks Radha Blank, The Forty-Year-Old Version Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman Frances McDormand, Nomadland – WINNER Wunmi Mosaku, His House Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Adarsh Gourav, The White Tiger Anthony Hopkins, The Father – WINNER Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian
Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round Shannon Murphy, Babyteeth Lee Isaac Chung, Minari Chloé Zhao, Nomadland – WINNER Jasmila Žbanić, Quo Vadis, Aida? Sarah Gavron, Rocks
Calm With Horses The Dig The Father His House Limbo The Mauritanian Mogul Mowgli Promising Young Woman – WINNER Rocks Saint Maud
Best original score
Mank Minari News of the World Promising Young Woman Soul – WINNER
Collective David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet The Dissident My Octopus Teacher – WINNER The Social Dilemma
Outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer
His House – Remi Weekes (writer/director) – WINNER Limbo – Ben Sharrock (writer/director), Irune Gurtubai (producer) [also produced by Angus Lamont] Moffie – Jack Sidey (writer/producer) [also written by Oliver Hermanus and produced by Eric Abraham] Rocks – Theresa Ikoko, Claire Wilson (writers) Saint Maud – Rose Glass (writer/director), Oliver Kassman (producer) [also produced by Andrea Cornwell]
Best supporting actor
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah – WINNER Barry Keoghan, Calm With Horses Alan Kim, Minari Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami Clarke Peters, Da 5 Bloods Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Best original screenplay
Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round Jack Fincher, Mank Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman – WINNER Theresa Ikoko, Claire Wilson, Rocks Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Best supporting actress
Niamh Algar, Calm With Horses Kosar Ali, Rocks Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah Ashley Madekwe, County Lines Youn Yuh-jung, Minari – WINNER
Judas and the Black Messiah Mank The Mauritanian News of the World Nomadland – WINNER
Best film not in the English language
Another Round – WINNER Dear Comrades! Les Misérables Minari Quo Vadis, Aida?
The Father Nomadland Promising Young Woman Sound of Metal – WINNER The Trial of the Chicago 7
Best adapted screenplay
Moira Buffini, The Dig Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller, The Father – WINNER Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani, MB Traven, The Mauritanian Chloé Zhao, Nomadland Ramin Bahrani, The White Tiger
The SAG Awards this year was a brief one-hour pre-taped virtual extravaganza that was easily missed if you didn’t already have it in your calendar. Normally the SAG Awards forecast the Oscars, but not this year as the jury opted to nominate and award some obscure picks, which will make things interesting come Oscar time. I was pleased that the film The Trial of the Chicago 7 picked up a win and was equally satisfied that movie Da 5 Bloods received a nod too. As far as actors go, it appears that Chadwick Boseman is sweeping this year’s awards season for Best Lead Actor for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which will most likely include an Oscar, but the rest of the gilded statuettes are clearly up for grabs. BTW the SAG Awards made history with all four major film category wins going to performers of color. Nice. Let’s see if this trend follows through to the Oscars.
P.S. Awards shows are so fun to attend in person as nothing beats the excitement in the room when the person you are rooting for wins. As was the case with producer pal Michelle Gayse who was recognized for her excellence in film at a past AMPIA Awards Ceremony, which I along with journalist friend Tammi Christopher proudly attended. Can’t wait until life resumes, and we can all happily congregate together again.
SAG categories and winner are listed below in BOLD only for motions pictures, but I was really thrilled that Canadian Comedy Series Schitt’s Creek picked up a win along with the show’s star Catherine O’Hara. Go Canada!
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy Olivia Colman, The Father WINNER: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari Helena Zengel, News of the World
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7 Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods WINNER: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah Jared Leto, The Little Things Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami…
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Amy Adams, Hillbilly Elegy WINNER: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman Frances McDormand, Nomadland Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal WINNER: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Anthony Hopkins, The Father Gary Oldman, Mank Steven Yeun, Minari
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Da 5 Bloods Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Minari One Night In Miami… WINNER: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture Da 5 Bloods Mulan News of the World The Trial of the Chicago 7 WINNER: Wonder Woman 1984
It is no secret I love true stories, but The Mauritanian is one fact-based film I found extremely disturbing to watch. The movie opens with German educated Mohamedou Ould Slahi returning (from Canada) to his homeland – the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (a country in Northwest Africa made up of 90% Sahara Desert with Arabic as its official language) to visit his sick mother. At the onset of the film he is soon apprehended and shuttled to a Jordanian prison before being transported briefly to a U.S. army base in Afghanistan on route to Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility where he is detained for the next 14 years of his life without charge of a single offence.
Nicknamed ‘Guantánamo’s Darkest Secret’ Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald delivers another winner with his piercingly accurate portrayal of the unimaginable torture experienced by Mohamedou Ould Slahi (brilliantly played by Tahar Rahim) at the hands of his Gitmo captors who subjected him to unspeakable physical, emotional, and psychological abuse year after year after year. The vast brutality involved endless beatings, many excruciating ‘stress position’ episodes (aka submission positions that place the human body in such a way that a great amount of weight is placed on just one or two muscles for an extended period of time), reoccurring sleep deprivation, body shackling, blindfolding, mock executions, threats, frightening waterboarding, horrific music torture, sexual assaults, prolonged terrifying interrogations, ongoing freezing temperatures, cruel psychological torment… The list goes on and on – all done without a single explanation of why.
This gripping prison drama is deeply troubling but surprisingly inspirational. As the story unfolds it becomes increasingly clear federal agents suspect Mohamedou of masterminding the 911 attacks, the bombing of LAX… yet no incriminating evidence exists outside of very few unsubstantiated associations that are so distance and far removed they are considered longshots at best. This film with its weighted A-Listers Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays strict military prosecutor Lt Colonel Stuart Couch) and Jodie Foster (who plays Mohamedou’s crusading lawyer Nancy Hollander) is well worth the watch. As expected Mohamedou confesses to a number of crimes including plotting to blow up Canada’s CN Tower among many other terrible felonies – but all his confessions are made under extreme duress as attorney Hollander exposes via her tireless fight to set him free against all odds. Witnessing the punishing harm Mohamedou underwent it is so evident that any living person would make similar false admissions if placed in this situation.
The reason this movie (based on Mohamedou’s bestselling memoir entitled GuantánamoDiary) is so unsettling is its realistic representation of events. A true testament to the tremendous talent displayed by French/Algerian actor Tahar Rahim whose very convincing performance is so authentic and powerful it leaves audiences entirely enthralled in the story. Viewers move beyond just watching from the sidelines and instead bear witness to Mohamedou’s caustic pain and fear; walking silently alongside the massively palpable injustice of it all. Intense roles like this one, that require the actor to be completely engrossed in the character are extremely difficult on the performers’ psyche. Therefore it is beyond shocking that ‘The Mauritanian’ failed to garner a single Oscar nomination even though this critically acclaimed film has received much deserved praise (e.g. BAFTAs with 5 nods including Best Picture and Best Lead Actor for Tahar Rahim; Golden Globes with Jodie Foster recently winning Best Supporting Actress… and more to come). How sad. Director Kevin MacDonald most likely foresaw the risk in making such a controversial film stating, ‘It’s not a political film. It’s a humanistic film.’ I fully agree with his observation but obviously the Academy did not – snubbing the film completely to perhaps avoid dealing with the touchy subject surrounding the war on terrorism. Shame on them. Tahar Rahim deserves an Oscar nod at a minimum for this role, and perhaps even the win.
On this point, for the most part this picture is a demoralizing journey that winds through the American legal system. But just as the alarming accounts of unlawful transgressions against an innocent man are at the apex, this film takes a rousing turn that manages to restore the audiences’ faith – not in the justice system but in the human spirit. This now brings us to the take-away message of this profound movie.
It’s not about revenge, retaliation, or reprisal as you might expect. It’s about – resilience. The life lesson of this film is how to mentally and emotionally cope with a crisis that is out of one’s control. Resilience does not mean an individual is exempt from suffering or distress, it just means having the ability to withstand extreme adversity and somehow bounce back from difficult life events. It’s the ability to use one’s mental processes and behavior to protect the self from the negative effects of toxic stressors (e.g. prolonged adverse experiences). Science shows that females tend to be more resilient compared with their male counterparts, which adds to the beauty of this story. Although Mohamedou would be justified in seeking the highest level of retribution possible, he transcends. A surprising turn of events given the circumstances. Instead of becoming consumed with bitterness and hatred he sincerely forgives his tormentors who persecuted him mercilessly for years. Ascendance vs Defeatism – ‘Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.’ – Oscar Wilde. Words to live by.
As dramatized in the film, Mohamedou was finally released October 17th 2016. He wrote 4 books during his imprisonment at Gitmo including one about finding happiness in a hopeless place. As the movie-credits roll, audiences are treated to adorable vignettes of the real-life Mahamedou Ould Slahi, who is so light-hearted, smart, loveable, and with such a bubbly personality that shines brightly through along with his witty humor and many endearing mannerisms. Despite all the agonizing treatment he experienced his lovely clever character and warm personable qualities rise above it all. He seems truly incapable of harboring any residual negative feelings. So much so, Mohamedou even befriended one of his guards – Steve Wood, who travelled to Mauritania in 2018 to visit him. The two unlikely chums continue to chat regularly to this day. Wow. By the way some eye-opening statistics about Gitmo are revealed at the end of this film so be sure not to miss them.
P.S. I travelled to Jordan with the family (son Oje, daughter Athena, niece Virgillia) and flew into the city of Amman where Mohamedou Ould Slahi was held for eight months before being handed over to American authorities. Jordan is to the Middle East as Switzerland is to Europe – Neutral. That said, there are lots of reminders of security risks (e.g. armed vehicles on the road with machine guns on the roof, regular checkpoint…) so you sure wouldn’t want to break the law in this region or be suspected of doing so. All the same, it is a safe travel destination and so worth the visit. Some of the country’s stunning sites I highly recommend and ones we enjoyed include floating in the Dead Sea, hiking to Petra, and visiting the protected Wadi Rum desert where a number of movies have been filmed (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia with Peter O’Toole /Omar Sharif; The Martian with Matt Damon…). Magnificent. I hope to return one day.
The much-anticipated explosive interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey with Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle is now one for the books. Normally I only discuss film and the life lessons such tales impart. But since I am so fond of true stories and given the fact that royal family members rarely give in-depth interviews I thought I would weigh in. Not to mention, 90 million viewers worldwide watched this exclusive discussion so who can resist chatting about the monarch when the heavy curtain has now been pulled back and deep dark royal family secrets are being revealed. There have to be some important life lessons to sort out in this cheeky televised talk. Right?
The royal couple recently sat down with veteran interviewer Oprah Winfrey and openly discussed why they are no longer active working members of the royal family. Throughout the two-hour conversation a number of bombshells were dropped, including suicidal tendencies, racist implications, lack of support, sexism, and imperial lies. Overall the interview was dripping with negative overtones that left audiences feeling very sad, particularly about the fallout between Harry and his family, namely his father Charles and brother William. Oprah did an exceptional job trying to cover all topics of interest effectively and pushed hard for clarity on some of the more vague comments, which left viewers a bit confused at times about what exactly the main problems were with royal life. There were some nice surprises revealed such as the gender of their new baby to be – it’s a girl, that they established a foundation entitled ‘Archewell’ after son Archie, and the fact that they rescued chickens – how lovely. There were also some astonishing remarks. For example, in today’s modern world it seemed quite astounding to hear Meghan did not use the internet to google Harry during their pre-dating/dating phase, or the Windsors during the engagement phase, or the press coverage after the marriage. Odd since the couple alluded it was this unfair media reporting that was the crushing epicenter, which caused the dissension that then led to the ongoing family issues– or was it?
When anyone does this type of ‘tell-all’ interview what is the main meaning behind it? What is the end goal? What is it that you want to achieve? Is it that people want to be heard, or is it that they want people to know their pain, or is it just to clear the air? Protecting vs. Revealing – ‘Like all the best families, we have our share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters and of family disagreements.’ – Queen Elizabeth. Family dynamics are complicated and as a skilled interviewer myself I always listen carefully to what people say because when they speak it’s always what they reveal after the ‘but’ that they really want you to hear. Think about it – ‘I love you – but…’, ‘I would hire you – but…’, ‘I would go out with you – but…’ , I would stay – ‘but…’ If you really want to know what Meghan and Harry want the public to know listen to what they say after the ‘but’ – everything you need to know in any conversation comes after the ‘but…’, just remember that.
P.S. As luck would have it I happened to be in London visiting my son at university when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married at Windsor Castle on May 19th 2018, and like many I wished the best for the newlyweds. Having lived in England myself for years I have always had a warm affinity for the royal family. Also, as a Canadian, Canada is part of the Commonwealth, so I have grown up with the presence of the royal family, which includes Queen Elizabeth on our currency. In short, the Hart family feels very connected to Britain. I admire many members of the royal family (past and present) for all the good humanitarian work they do for their country and others. Therefore, I will always hope for the best for this family who experience problems just like the rest of us. Bless.
The Golden Globes 2021 looked very different this year thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. Though it was nice to see that Awards Shows are still trying to carry on regardless. Of course some of the glam and glitz we have grown accustomed to was missing but what was captured in its place was an intimate togetherness with our favorite stars and that is a unique gift in itself. Tina Fey and Amy Poeholer looked fabulous as always and both did a great job hosting the show, which meant contending with less than perfect internet connections. Technology eh. One of the highlights of the night was seeing Jane Fonda awarded with the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award who used her platform to highlight the need for diversity in film while saluting her ‘community of storytellers’. I was also personally very happy to see Daniel Kaluuya win Best Supporting Actor for feature film ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’, especially since the movie was overlooked for best picture (and of course that Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek received much deserved acclaim too). The Golden Globes – dubbed the ‘wildest night in Hollywood’ – looked pretty tame, but I enjoyed it and though I predicted movie ‘Mank’ (who received the most Golden Globes Nominations = 6 total) would win big – it didn’t. Instead ‘Nomadland’ took home top prize of Best Picture. Gotta love surprises I guess. The Golden Globes category/winners are in bold below (just for motion pictures).
P.S. I loved all the black and white attire – so classic and timeless. Very Hollywood.
Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” — Winner
Best Director — Motion Picture
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” — Winner
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
David Fincher, “Mank”
Regina King, “One Night in Miami…”
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” — Winner
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Tahar Rahim, “The Mauritanian”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
Rosamund Pike, “I Care a Lot” — Winner
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
Kate Hudson, “Music”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “French Exit”
Anya Taylor-Joy, “Emma.”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Jodie Foster, “The Mauritanian” — Winner
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Olivia Coleman, “The Father”
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
Helena Zengel, “News of the World”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah” — Winner
Jared Leto, “The Little Things”
Bill Murray, “On the Rocks”
Leslie Odom, Jr., “One Night in Miami…”
Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Best Motion Picture — Animated
“Soul” — Winner
“The Croods: A New Age”
“Over the Moon”
Best Motion Picture — Foreign Language
“Minari” — Winner
“The Life Ahead”
“Two of Us”
Best Screenplay — Motion Picture
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” — Winner
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”
Jack Fincher, “Mank”
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, “The Father”
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”
Best Original Song — Motion Picture
“Io Sì (Seen),” Diane Warren, Laura Pausini, Niccolò Agliardi – “The Life Ahead” — Winner
“Fight for You,” H.E.R., Dernst Emile II, Tiara Thomas – “Judas and the Black Messiah”
“Hear My Voice,” Daniel Pemberton, Celeste Waite – “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“Speak Now,” Leslie Odom, Jr., Sam Ashworth – “One Night in Miami…”
“Tigress & Tweed,” Raphael Saadiq, Andra Day – “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday”
Best Original Score — Motion Picture
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, “Soul” — Winner
Alexander Desplat, “The Midnight Sky”
Ludwig Göransson, “Tenet”
James Newton Howard, “News of the World”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Mank”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama
Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Andra Day, “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
James Corden, “The Prom”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”
Dev Patel, “The Personal History of David Copperfield”
Old Hollywood is brilliantly brought to life in David Fincher’s fascinating true story entitled Mank, written by Fincher’s late father Jack. This amazing period-piece centers on drunken washed-up screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) who pretty much single-handedly wrote Orson Welles’ magnum opus Citizen Kane (released in 1941) yet was almost white-washed from receiving proper credit for reasons eloquently divulged in this movie. Script collaborations and ghost-writing are common occurrences in Hollywood but when the work turns out to be touted as the best movie ever made (a title still currently held as voted by the American Film Institute and others) it can haunt a person if their creative contributions are virtually invisible. Citizen Kane was nominated for a number of Oscars and won for Best Screenplay (Welles & Mankiewicz), with neither writer in attendance to accept the award. But Mank later commented, ‘I am very happy to accept this award in the manner in which the screenplay was written, which is to say, in the absence of Orson Welles.’ Ouch. Fast Fact: Orson Welles’ Oscar for Citizen Kane (1941) sold at auction in California in 2011 for $861,542.00 USD (£549,721).
Mank is such an appealing movie, and the invigorating cinematography alone is worth the watch. The only problem is that many modern-day viewers (minus movie buffs) might not completely appreciate and understand the backstory of this most captivating saga shot in black-and-white adding to its authenticity. Why? Because Mank’s script Citizen Kane, for all intents and purposes, was based on the real-life love affair between very young actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) and much older married newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) who was age 53 when he met his 19-year-old forever muse. For those unfamiliar with the plot of Citizen Kane, it focuses on very powerful publishing mogul Charles Foster Kane (aka William Randolph Hearst) and his mistress Susan Alexander (aka Marion Davies). Movie character Kane ends up dying alone in his mansion Xanadu (aka Hearst Castle – San Simeon Castle) uttering on his deathbed ‘Rosebud’ (aka Hearst’s pet name ‘tender button’ for Davies genitalia) leaving reporters scrambling trying to decipher his dying words. Yikes. What a salacious scandal off screen more than on! One can only imagine how this portrayal was received by the real-life players, especially when one of them was writing many Hollywood cheques! In short, William Randolph Hearst not only controlled much of the media he also lent his heavy hand to promoting Hollywood movies and could make or break careers at his leisure. Therefore, not the best idea to reveal deep dark secrets about mighty media moguls like Hearst – a truth that still holds today. BTW it is rumored that Orson Welles did not know the true meaning of the word ‘Rosebud’ in Mank’s Citizen Kane but nevertheless Welles most likely meant for it to metaphorically represent life’s simplicity as experienced in one’s earlier years rather than its literal meaning projected to audiences as the name of Kane’s childhood sled.
All that to say, the film Mank does not focus on the backlash brought on by the production of the film Citizen Kane (Hearst’s wrath included forbidding any of his popular newspapers to run the movie’s ads), or its lasting negative effects (roaring 20s superstar Marion Davies’ reputation was ruined when labelled a gold-digging talentless hack after the film’s release) but rather the creation of the written story itself and how it came to be penned by Mank in the first place. Marvelous. That said, this movie is not for everyone and there are certainly a lot of twists and turns with some government politics thrown in for good measure. However, despite being a bit difficult to follow at times there are some very valuable life lessons embedded amongst the layers. The most obvious take-away is how personal vices (arrogance, alcohol, excess, affairs…) can overtake people’s sensibilities leading to questionable and sometimes regrettable decisions with the main message extending in the same vein. Specifically how desperate people (powerful or poor) seem to capitalize on others’ weaknesses to get ahead. It’s a vicious cycle. Exploit vs. Utilize – ‘Men are used as they use others.’ – Bidpai. Case in point, Orson Welles exploited a down-and-out Herman Mankiewicz almost scooping the best work of his life. Herman Mankiewicz exploited William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies betraying their close friendship by publicly exposing their affair. Media giant Hearst and actress Davies exploited… and so the story goes. A common problem then and now. Con ‘artists’ will double-cross anyone and everyone while climbing up their backs to squash and surpass them. Hollywood hospitality – don’t you love it – not.
Speaking of Hollywood, Awards Season is upon us kicking off this Sunday February 28th with the Golden Globes. The film Mank will certainly be raking in numerous accolades and not just because there is limited selection due to COVID-19. Other films in the running for best picture include The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Father, Young Professional Woman, and Nomadland, though true story Judas and the Black Messiah didn’t make the cut and that’s a crying shame. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see who takes home the gold. I will definitely be watching, and my money is on Mank winning big! This is a solid film worthy of recognition and after all Hollywood loves films about Hollywood. Also, Gary Oldman is really incredible as Herman J. Mankiewicz and will no doubt be duly rewarded for his outstanding performance.
P.S. I have stayed at William Randolph Hearst’s Warwick Hotel in New York many times. Interesting enough Hearst built the hotel in 1926 for the love of his life actress/mistress Marion Davies who was performing across the street at the Ziegfield Theater at the time. This fabulously quaint Manhattan hotel soon became the most preferred place to stay. To this day endless pictures of Davies are displayed throughout the hotel along with other famous legends who have frequented the place over the years (Elvis Presley, James Dean, Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor, The Beatles…). This famous haunt was even home to actor Cary Grant for 12 years who lived on the 27th floor in one of the executive suites! Of course it goes without saying that Hearst spoiled soulmate Davies with expensive homes, riches, and rooms upon rooms full of beautiful clothes and stunning shoes. Davies was quite the fashionista in her day with fabulous fancy footwear fashion-sense to boot. Therefore, it’s no surprise that swanky Spanish shoemaker extraordinaire Manolo Blahnik has openly voiced his infatuation with the late Hollywood icon and even set up one of his famous high-end shoe shops (with full-time security guard parked at the locked door) just steps away from the Warwick Hotel built just for her. Perhaps some of his exquisite world-famous shoe-art designs are inspired by her timeless style. On the topic of fashion, talented Mank costume designer Trisha Sommerville will likely receive acclaim for her vintage clothing and shoe picks used in this past-time picture. Ah what a memorable era!
Since quality feature film releases are so limited these days due to COVID-19, many amusement seekers including myself are investing their time in series watching. Two Netflix grim-reaper picks worth considering are After Life, and Dead to Me. Both have a similar premise but differ in their approach. Let’s start the discussion and find out what life lessons each has to offer.
After Life: Depicting death’s sorrowful effects in a real-life way while maintaining a high-level of entertainment is a very tall order. Especially since most of us gravitate to film as a means of escaping heartache, not immersing ourselves in it. Audiences typically do not like to be reminded that our human experience consists of worst-case scenarios and painful losses. Since grief is the most searing of all emotions, stories that focus on its rippling force rarely hit the mark. But contrary to what some viewers might initially think, After Life (a Netflix original series) manages the task in a most extraordinary way. It is so unconventionally refreshing watchers find themselves completely hooked before the end of the first episode! From the onset, this British based dark comedy-drama mesmerizes onlookers, so much so, it’s impossible not to binge watch. Like a domino effect, viewers knock down one show after another in a quest to get to the conclusion. It’s no surprise this series has now signed on for a 3rd Season.
This extremely captivating story is written, produced, and directed by comedian Ricky Gervais (of The Office UK fame) who also plays the lead character Tony Johnson, but it is nothing to laugh at. The opening scene sets the tone for the entire series with Tony’s deceased wife Lisa (Kerry Godilman) who died of cancer, conversing to her very sad husband on his laptop monitor via a videotaped interview she created as a guide on how to survive life without her. Even though this series deals with difficult subject matter do not let that scare you away. Words cannot describe just how raw and engaging this gut-wrenching journey of the grief cycle is. From shock, pain, guilt, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, reflection, loneliness, reconstruction, and acceptance – this masterpiece clearly covers all the bases in a very charming and witty way without being too morose, maudlin, or melancholy. But the most remarkable quality of this series is that viewers are not required to have lost a significant other to understand and appreciate the compelling life lessons of its storyline and how all the amazing cast of interesting characters are intertwined. As Tony (Gervais) walks audiences through every emotion associated with grief and recovery it is so enthralling to watch how his friends, family, and unexpected acquaintances act as buttresses supporting him despite his hot temper and lack of coping skills. However the most endearing performer in the bunch is Tony’s loyal dog Brandy, whose dependency on her owner saves him from himself time and time again. Dog lovers will absolutely adore how the healing power of man’s best friend is highlighted from start to finish. This probably has something to do with Gervais’ real-life efforts as a staunch advocate for dog-rescuing. Bless.
In my opinion After Life is definitely Gervais’ best work ever. Even non-fans of Ricky Gervais will love him in this role and will enjoy his cynically funny and ever so clever demeanor. So what’s the life lesson of this film sequence you ask? In fact, there are many meaningful messages that viewers will pick up with each episode. For example, the importance of caring for others is emphasized a lot in different ways, as is speaking one’s mind and the import of honestly displaying one’s feelings, as well as how lovely love is, finding hope in hopelessness, and the never-ending challenges associated with trying to move on. But the key take-away is actually in the title itself though in the reverse. Instead of ‘After Life’ think Life After…!Death of a loved one knocks us off our game, but the sad reality is life goes on. Period. This is the main message of this series and it’s truly the hardest part about losing someone special. The clock keeps ticking even when we don’t want it to, leaving those left behind struggling to find a way to wind their new existence back into the timepiece in order to travel on. Endings vs. Beginnings – ‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.’ – Albert Einstein. That means no full stops until the race is finished. Let’s see if this theme continues in Season 3.
Note: this series contains a lot of swearing with some choice curse words frequently used, but it might help to know that some UK profanity is not as frowned upon as it is in North America. For example, the word ‘cunt’ in the UK equates to ‘asshole’ in NA. Also, on the topic of phraseology, this show uses a number of British expressions that NA viewers may not be familiar with (e.g. skip=dumpster, bloke=guy, bird=girl, crisps=potato chips, jumper=sweater, bender=gay…). That said, none of the foreign dialogue interferes with the brilliance of this series or with grasping the overall gist of the story. I really love this series and give it two thumbs way up. Quick trivia: Oje crossed paths with Ricky Gervais, his agent, and Canadian Actor Will Arnett in the UK while out for dinner with a friend at London’s trendy Italian Restaurant Bocconcino and all three were most polite. Bless.
Dead to Me: This series (another Netflix original) also focuses on death and grief associate with losing a loved one but unlike After Life, this time around it is wife Jen (Christina Applegate) who loses her husband, not to an illness, but in a horrific hit-and-run car/pedestrian accident. The story opens with Jen fresh in the throes of grief, with the story soon revolving around her newfound friendship with Judy (Linda Cardellini), whom she meets in the first episode at a grief counselling session. What transpires is a wild and crazy ride with lots of interesting and unforeseen twists and turns along the way. Ed Asner is also featured in a small but meaningful role, which I enjoyed. This series starts off a bit slow, but once viewers get past the first few episodes it really starts to ramp up. Though unlike After Life whose storyline is very realistic, this show has more of a Desperate Housewives feel with a few genuine moments of realism in relation to bereavement. That said, do not let that deter you from indulging in this crime/mystery dark comedy. It’s quite the tale for audiences to follow as Jen tries to recover from her loss while hunting to find the reckless driver who so heartlessly mowed down her husband, left him for dead on the side of the road, then drove off scot-free into the night. Although this series is a distant second choice compared with After Life, it’s still gratifying and worth the watch, especially during this awful COVID-19 era of endless doldrums. The show has also been re-signed for a 3rd Season, so what’s this stringed-along-saga trying to teach us?
Like the series After Life, the take-away message of Dead to Me is very similar. Fairness is illusive, death is final, and life goes on. But this series also taps into the concept of what goes around comes around, especially in relation to soul-collecting. Intervals vs. Cycles – ‘A boomerang returns back to the person who throws it.’ – Vera Nazarian. In short, karma is a bitch and speaking of bitches, there is also a lot of coarse language used throughout this series, mostly by the females. I’m not a big fan of overdone swearing but then again, nothing goes better than some dishy curse words with a side of anger spurred on by grief! ha ha
PS. On a serious note, death is a very difficult subject to tackle in film and in real-life. This is because nothing will ever rip you apart worse than the wrath of grief. It’s an exclusive club that no one wants to join, and as member I know this to be true. Losing a loved one (spouse, partner, child…) is an agony that relentlessly traps and ravages its captives. It’s hard to say what’s worse; the confusion, vulnerability, aloneness, despair, or the unforgiving depression that spirals its victims into a pit so deep that clawing a way out is nearly impossible. Grief is such a dark torturous place it stings just thinking about it. But somehow through all the pain and misery there is a supreme enlightenment that can occur once through to the other side. As awful as grief can be it also has the power to transform in the most beautiful way. But like all of life’s journey there are inevitably a few directions one can choose. Having suffered terrible grief myself, I would never wish it on anyone. Though there is one amazing outcome I am forever grateful for. It made me a better person. How you ask? Grief broke my heart into near irreparable shards, but what I didn’t expect was that in its place a bigger one would grow – a heart of immeasurable humility and kindness. Now that’s some parting gift! A final word on the topic of death, Canadians were very sad to hear of Christopher Plummer’s recent passing (age 91). As Canada’s national treasure this amazing actor had endless accolades to his credit (Emmys, Tonys, Oscar…, even a Grammy nomination) and was also awarded our country’s top honor, the Order of Canada in 1970. What a legendary icon! He will be terribly missed, but we will forever celebrate his remarkable career and remember his classic elegance, tremendous talent, and the pride he took in being a true Canadian eh!