Dear Evan Hansen

Normally I don’t write about live theater on my movie blog even though I love it so much. However, given the toll Covid-19 is having on peoples’ mental health globally I thought it would be fitting to pen about the highly acclaimed Broadway Stage Musical entitled Dear Evan Hansen as it tackles the reticent issue of suicide. Additionally, this live show will soon be coming to the big screen as Universal Pictures has apparently acquired the movie rights, so let’s count this appraisal as a prelude to the film.

Touted as ‘One of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history.’ – The Washington Post, this six-time Tony (and Grammy) Award Winning show is just that! This melodious play focuses on teenager Evan Hansen who is an insecure loner that suffers from an anxiety disorder. In a depressed state of isolation, he authors a melancholy memo to himself that accidentally gets mistaken for another equally dejected classmate’s suicide note. As a result, this socially awkward high school student becomes the center of the tragedy and in a misguided attempt to comfort his deceased peer’s grieving parents Evan pretends the two were best friends. As the story unfolds Evan becomes more entangled in his web of lies, which have shockingly and unintentionally increased his popularity at school overnight. His untruths also have the knock-on effect of gaining emotional and physical closeness to his departed classmate’s family, including his attractive sister. But it also causes a disconnect with his own single mother. Evan eventually needs to decide if he will fess up and tell the truth or keep living a lie. Loneliness and friendlessness are brought to the forefront when fellow students decide to start a movement to raise funds and awareness about suicide with Evan as the poster child of the crusade. This show does a good job of tracing the sadness that can drive young people to unthinkable acts of violence against themselves, while highlighting how easy it is to get caught up in deception and fabrications, especially when the overall intentions are meant for good. That said, I think the main life lesson of this influential show is more about shining light on the incredible sorrow and emptiness felt by those who lose someone to suicide. ‘Why’ – is the most inconsolable question left unanswered. Despair vs. Buoyancy – suicidal people are often blinded by their own sense of hopelessness, depression, self-loathing, and aloneness with death looking like the only option. That is why it is so important to take talk of suicide seriously. Anyone who feels like their emotional suffering is unbearable just wants the pain to stop. Intervention can help.

Having been trained in suicide prevention there are a few quick helpful hints to keep in mind when thinking someone might be at risk of committing suicide, as follows:

  • Be sensitive about their struggles/feelings and look for warning signs like talking about suicide or giving personal items away, buying a weapon…
  • Be direct and ask them straightforwardly if they are thinking of taking their own life. If the answer is yes,
  • Ask if they have a plan. If the answer is yes,
  • Talk to them and find out the plan and what matters to them. People still alive are living for something so try to find out what that is (e.g. spouse, family member, job, friend, pet…) and remind them of that reason to live…
  • If you are with them don’t leave them alone. If not, make them promise they will not do anything to hurt themselves for 24 hours. This will buy you time.
  • Get them help immediately.

NOTE: Covid-19 is creating tremendous anguish for all of us on so many levels of our being, so we all need to guard our own mental/physical health as well as those we care about. Watch out for each other and remember there is hope and there is help. Together we can and as the hashtag of this musical states ‘you will be found’ – we all will – stay connected. Bless. www.helpguide.org

P.S. I recently saw this magnificent musical in London’s West End and NEVER have I cried so much while watching live theater in my life as I did at this show. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone in the theater was deeply moved and many were openly weeping just like me. This show is so incredibly inspirational, sad, and heart-rending it’s easy to get completely caught up in the story-line. This speaks volumes of this musical as it is very rare that live performances can have such an emotive impact in real time, unlike their onscreen counterparts that seem much easier for audiences to get lost in the narrative. As a result, I highly recommend everyone see this amazing show ‘live’ if you ever get the chance. Oddly enough when I was away in the UK seeing this fabulous performance abroad the show made its debut in my hometown of Calgary Alberta (Feb 18-23, 2020). This is one musical that certainly lives up to the hype so I’m very glad it’s receiving the wide-reaching recognition it deserves. Well done and let’s hope we won’t have to wait too long to enjoy such wonderful outings again.

 At the Noel Coward Theatre in London March 2020. So happy I was able to see this amazing show and buy my fridge magnet for my collection!

Uncut Gems

As my isolation continues due to the Covid-19 crisis I continue to get caught up on films I wanted to watch but hadn’t had the time, and Netflix movie Uncut Gems was at the top of my list. This blistering dark thriller is an exhilarating yet exhausting ride riddled with anxious nerve-racking scenes that leave viewers equally captivated and frustrated at the same time. The central character is fast-talking Jewish New York City jewelry dealer Howard Ratner (brilliantly played by Adam Sandler) who is constantly trying to keep one step ahead of the loan sharks who dog his every move. As the movie unfolds Howard continues to be his own worst enemy making endless mistakes due to his insatiable appetite to roll the dice. Every aspect of his life is flawed by the delusion of better circumstances awaiting him right around the corner if only he could get that one break. Forever chasing the ‘if only’ sequences Howard is a troubled man who despite getting the odd break truly cannot help making perpetual bad decisions even though obvious good choices are blatantly right in front of his face. As Sandler’s character states, ‘Everything I do, it’s not going right, and I don’t know what to do.‘ An aspect of this movie that is so maddening for viewers.

But alas as the film takes shape the audience starts to see that this inescapable nightmarish lifestyle is very typical of anyone suffering from any kind of an addiction (a complex condition considered to be a brain disease that is manifested by compulsivity despite harmful consequence) and the monkey squarely placed on Howard’s back is a toxic impetus to gamble, mainly on Boston Celtics basketball games. Unfortunately, those who suffer from the propulsion to gamble do not always recognize that this obsession is a true addiction much like a drug addiction that rewires neural circuits in the brain, and once established take a lot of hard work to undo. Addictions trigger unsavory behavior in the pursuit to achieve the addict’s ultimate goal, whatever that may be. To the addict over-engaging in activities releases heady dopamine into their system that gives them a heightened feeling of pleasure. This is why addicts have such a difficult time stopping compulsions even when it’s to the detriment of their own life, and everything that should matter is compromised (e.g. health, family, finances…). With gambling the added attraction is the illusion of control that in reality does not exist. As Howard states ‘This is how I win.‘ Wrong. Addictions typically stem from some type of emotional distress rooted deep in the psyche that is too overwhelming to address head-on, so the addiction serves as a coping mechanism. This movie doesn’t touch on the underlying causes behind Howard’s addiction, but the good news is that of those who experience issues with impulse control only 20+% (approx.) will develop an addiction, and for those who do there is always help (e.g. associative learning; training based on a new stimulus).

So with this in mind what is the main take-away message of this movie you ask? It’s easy. If you feed the beast of temptation that may live in your head your life will become uncontrollable chaos, so do not let your own mind be your prison. Find a way to break the cycle. Specifically as it relates to this movie – pay your debts and do not buy into the fantasy of long shots. Find the strength to walk away when you’re ahead and don’t look back. Risk vs. Security – foolish are those who do not comprehend the danger of the gamblers fallacy (an erroneous belief that if a particular event occurs more frequently than normal during the past it is less likely to happen in the future or vice versa, when it has otherwise been established that the probability of such events does not depend on what has happened in the past), which in layman’s terms means if you flip a coin nine times and it comes up heads it’s still just a 50/50 chances that the 10th toss will be tails – not more not less. As my favorite genius stated, ‘Any fool can know; the point is to understand.’ – Albert Einstein. 

Josh and Benny Safdie who directed and co-wrote this film should be commended for casting unlikely pick Adam Sandler to play the protagonist. Sandler fiercely displays his vast range of serious acting skills – so much so viewers quickly forget all the comedic shticks that made him a household name. The story-line cleverly convinces audiences to abandon all previously held views of Sandler’s repertoire as we follow his cheating lying unreliable untrustworthy character Howard down a sad road whereby he is placated into believing that some expensive gems still encased in stone (that he wrangled from poor black Jews in Ethiopia) are his saving grace, and once sold will solve all of his problems. The movie is a frantic roller-coaster of carrot-and-stick, reward-and-punishment money hunting whereby NBA basketball great Kevin Garnett plays prominent. The Weeknd also makes a small appearance in this film that adds to the plot. All and all, it’s a real shame this movie (and Sandler) was overlooked by the Oscars… as this flick is certainly a worthy contender of recognition.

P.S. I have visited Monte Carlo many times when attending the AFA-MIFF where the notion of the gamblers fallacy a.k.a. the Monte Carlo Fallacy originated in 1913 based on true events occurring at the Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco. Thankfully I have never been interested in the gambling aspect of the city. I imagine the relentless desire to play the odds must be a terrible thing and I truly sympathize with anyone who struggles with this addiction. So much so I always feel sad when I walk past any casino including the one in Monaco despite the sheer beauty of this historical glided structure. Bless those who suffer with addiction but remember there is always help; www.camh.ca

Pictured (left) at Monaco’s famous Cafe de Paris adjacent to the Monte Carlo Casino, officially named Casino de Monte-Carlo (top right) enjoying cappuccinos with my fabulous OHF Committee Members, Virginia Xavier, Oje Hart, Tammi Christopher and Ashid Bahl. Good times with good friends and family – oh how I miss those times right now!
Again at the Cafe de Paris with my OHF Crew with the Casino de Monte-Carlo in the background.

Jumanji: The Next Level

I was looking forward to watching Jumanji: The Next Level as I really enjoyed the first installment of this remake with Dwayne Johnson and crew, and I finally got my chance on my recent flight back to Calgary from the UK last week. Initially I wondered if this new version would compare to the original Jumanji flick with the one-and-only Robin Williams (1995) who had headlined for our 2012 Owen Hart Foundation Event, and this reboot certainly did (FYI: all of us at the OHF loved Robin Williams so much!).

Fantasy films like this one are meant to be pure entertainment and this movie is just that, though with a few good life lessons embedded into the plot along the way. This fun sequel directed by Jake Kastan follows its earlier story-line (with a few unforeseen twists) of four quite different teenagers who in the first treatment originally meet up in high school detention, each in trouble for various reasons, and who via their punishment are commanded to clear out an old storage room whereupon they stumble across a weird old video game entitled Jumanji. Of course, for fun they plug it in, pick their avatar profiles, and voilà – they are magically sucked into the game. The foursome includes studious student Spence (Alex Wolff) who at the outset picks handsome hulky Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), while odd ball indie girl Martha (Morgan Turner) settles on beautiful kick-ass biologist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and self-centered instragramer Bethany (Madison Iseman) takes nervous Professor Shelley who unbeknownst to her turns out to be a guy (Jack Black), while football athlete Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) selects jittery small in stature zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart). As the adventure begins none of the avatar characters turn out to be quite what the kids expect, which adds to the fun as the group go through a series of exciting and dangerous escapades to escape the game before all three of their lives are used up – a fate that would trap them in the game forever. Through the mishaps this unlikely quartet develop strong friendship bonds despite the differences in their real-life personalities.

The sequel picks up three years later with the same four friends now colleague students who have drifted apart on their adult quest to discover their way through life. This new chapter introduces Danny DeVito as aging former restaurateur Eddie (Spence’s grandfather) and Danny Glover as his elderly estranged friend/colleague Milo. The film opens with an uncertain Spencer (Alex Wolff) struggling with the direction of his adult life. In an attempt to recapture the invincible feelings he once felt as strong brave attractive adventurer Dr Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) he purposely slips back into the treacherous jungles of Jumanji where the adventure begins for a second time. Without giving anything away his distant friends join forces again and reenter the game to rescue him. Except this time there are a few added surprises reminiscent of the body switching Freaky Friday flick as the avatar profiles randomly pair-up game characters and players since the players in this continuation of the story did not pre-select them before entering the game.

With the foundation of Jumanji and its follow-up now laid out you may be wondering what the take-away message is of this light-hearted pleasant film? This picture does somewhat underscore the significance of fortitude as it relates to the inner self, and implies that the outer shell can look nice but it’s really what’s on the inside that creates the essence of the person, though I wouldn’t say this is the main take-away message of this film. Instead, similar to the first installment this sequel’s theme is the enduring power of friendship and how truly priceless it is. As American columnist Walter Winchell rightly stated, ‘A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.’ Union vs. Division – the potency of friendship is its ability to construct loyal camaraderie whereby individuals’ compliment and protect one another at any cost despite personal shortcomings and differences. In short, good friends/partners bolster each other’s weaknesses and admire their strengths. It goes without saying, great pals are in for the long haul; a valuable life lesson I highlight in in my book BrokenHarts ‘True friends are there when the bombs hit and when the dust settles.’ – Martha Hart.

In closing, I must admit I liked the first installment of this reboot film a bit more than the sequel as I thought the entire premise of the initial remake was so inventive. To elaborate, in the first film I really enjoyed watching the insecure characters gain confidence, namely Spence and Martha (I always love to see a pleasant yet powerful ‘Martha’ character! ha ha) as well as the amorousness that continued to build between the two throughout.  With this in mind, you may ask why does Hollywood even make sequels instead of just creating original material? It’s simple – audiences enjoy watching extended stories with familiar characters, and when the actors are as well liked as the ones in this film it’s a no-brainer. Don’t be surprised if a third installment is in the works – watch the credits roll. Hint, hint.

P.S. My late husband Owen worked alongside popular Jumanji star Dwayne Johnson and thought of him as an exceptionally intelligent athlete/performer with loads of talent, but more importantly as a very nice person as well. In short, Owen liked him a lot. I met Dwayne a few times – a true gentleman indeed. Dwayne was a good friend to Owen throughout and even though I never really had the opportunity to tell him, I truly appreciated it. A Parting Note: Friendship is valued by those who share it but also by those who witness it. Bless.

Pictured on the last Air Canada flight back to Calgary March 23 2020 from the UK due to Covid-19 happily watching Jumanji: The Next Level. Owen & Dwayne back in the day (lower right).

Little Women

I recently returned from Europe so required to self-isolation to limit the possibility of spreading the deadly Covid-19 virus, and gladly so. However, quarantine can be such a challenge and since I’m such a demonstrative person social distancing isn’t easy either because I hug everyone – a common trait of many Canadians. As such I’m missing people, especially my family and since I’ve had time to catch up on some great movies, I thought a familial film like Little Women would fit the bill.

This imaginative coming-of-age picture based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel shows the immense power of sibling love and rivalry while touching on mother-daughter relations. Set in 19th century Massachusetts during the civil war this movie depicts the complex interactions between four relatively poor teenage sisters who are similar in their love for each other yet incredibly different in their beliefs, aspirations, achievements and what they think their ideal future should be. All sisters play prominent roles in the movie however the film is built primarily around the second born sister Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan), a feisty tom-boyish girl with loads of ambition and an aim on being a successful self-supporting, independent, unmarried author. In short, she’s a female with a lot to prove. The undercurrent of the film teases of a possible romance between Jo and her wealthy unfocused charming neighbor Laurie/Teddy (played by Timothee Chalamet), who has an affinity for all four sisters though Jo continues to be his main muse throughout. As Jo grows up and continues to chase her dream of being a writer who escapes to New York this movie reminds us of how interesting it would be if we could script our own life story. Of course, it would look very different than the way our real lives unfold as we would write all happy endings and good fortune. However, doing so would surely rob us of all the raw experiences that poignantly mold our character and teach us to grow. Although emotional pain and sorrow are not elements of our existence that we openly welcome, the upside of embracing such negatives is that some of the most outstanding accomplishments we will ever achieve are often born out of our worst misfortunes. With this in mind, the main message of this film is that life never really turns out the way we think it will – but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Fantasy vs. Reality – escaping the here-and-now via the written word has its rewards especially when real life can feel like such a disappointment. Though perhaps we could ease the dissatisfaction of our being if we could just learn to resist indulging in anticipated conclusions. Doing so might make the actual outcomes of our life feel more like a blessing. After all, as the most celebrated scribe of all time stated, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” – William Shakespeare. So true.

Directed by Greta Gerwig this congenially pleasant movie has a stellar all-star cast including Laura Dern as the girls’ mother, Meryl Streep as their grumpy rich aunt March, Emma Watson as sister Meg, Florence Pugh as sister Amy, Eliza Scanlen as sister Beth, and Bob Odenkirk as the girls’ absent soldier father, to name a few. As the title of the film suggests this movie heavily emphasizes the emergence of sibling relations in youth and its enduring quality despite the ebb and flow of rapport. In reality sibling relations are the longest fellowship individuals typically experience. This film, like real life displays how siblinghood is the only bond whereby the pendulum easily swings the full range of emotions on both extremes of the spectrum – positive and negative. Sibling rivalry, love and hate reign supreme in this film highlighting the variance in such connections.  Since full siblings tend to share approximately 50% of their DNA it’s not surprising that even though sibs share the same parents and are raised together in the same environment their personalities vary and their values can be quite dissimilar. But while semblances amongst siblings promote lifelong alliances, it’s the contrasts that make us unique and help foster tolerance and patience throughout the lifespan. Both of which are important notions of family life that this film beautifully imparts via a fresh look at this timeless masterpiece first printed in 1868. Well done.

P.S. With the Covid-19 pandemic in full swing worldwide my sensitivities are heightened, which makes me feel even more compassionate for those who suffer but also more appreciative of those in my life that matter so much to me, namely my friends and family. As I’ve said many times, a big sister is a true gift to have on the road-trip of life and I have a great one. My hope is that when the dust settles, and Covid-19 is a dim memory, a kinder more benevolent world emerges. Bless our beautiful planet through this rough journey and all its precious dwellers.

Martha with big sister Virginia somewhat lost on a dirt road in Palo Alto California while attending the Positive Peace Conference at Stanford University (Oct 2019) as a representative of the Angel Film Award – Monaco International Film Festival, and as little little women (right) back in the day.

Dark Waters

With Covid-19 weighing heavy on all of our minds I thought I would try to refocus and get back to writing about movies that help us understand the meaning of life. This has proven easier said than done as I understand that so many people are deeply concerned about the state of our world right now including me. But as a strong advocate of looking for the positives in every situation I must say that through all the sadness and despair I am truly heartened with so many compassionate deeds I have witnessed and how amazing it is to see the human race pulling together to assist one another through this horrendous crisis (e.g. Russia is sending aid to Italy, the UK is imploring the USA to ease Iran sanctions to help fight the coronavirus, hotels in Spain are offering up their facilities to serve as makeshift hospitals, citizens are cheering on healthcare workers on their way to work, and people worldwide are more mindful of their vulnerable neighbors and counterparts…).There are endless remarkable acts of kindness happening globally and this is most certainly something to cheer about. With that said, let’s get chatting about the movie Dark Waters that was released in Nov 2019 in North America but was just recently released in the UK (Feb 28th), which is where I saw this extraordinarily unnerving film weeks before all the shutdowns in London were even a consideration.

This true story directed by Todd Haynes was inspired by a New York Times article from Nathaniel Rich entitled The Lawyer Who Became Dupont’s Worst Nightmare. Set in 1998 the story centers on unassuming Ohio corporate lawyer Rob Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo) who works exclusively for large corporations specializing in defending chemical companies. When West Virginia farmer Wilbur Tennant (fantastically played by Bill Camp) contacts Bilott in search of a lawyer about the dire condition of his cattle that are dying by the hundreds from what he suspects is water contamination via the nearby Dupont Plant’s chemical poisoning, he is torn. Initially Bilott tries to dismiss Tennant’s claims but when Tennant presses on and mentions he knows Bilott’s grandmother Bilott decides to go visit the farm and his Nana; an eye-opening revelation that leaves no doubt in Bilott’s mind that something sinister is definitely lurking in the mist. Bilott, an ethically moral man, yet a humble meek lawyer that up until that point spent most of his career defending big businesses like Dupont while discreetly sailing under the radar inconspicuously, is faced with a terrible conundrum. Defending a lowly farmer like Tennant would mean stepping out of his comfortable life, jeopardizing his career, and even his marriage to wife Sarah (played by Anne Hathaway). Of course, taking a stand against any injustice includes risks and often costs the crusader a dear price. This sordid tale is no exception. The beauty of this story is that Bilott, having the inside track on huge conglomerate operations, is able to cleverly use this knowledge to his new client(s) benefit. Without giving everything away I can tell you this movie will enrage you and leave you feeling beyond disgusted with the long-term negative effects each one of us has suffered according to this film as a result of Dupont’s selfish actions. I found this flick deeply disturbing and felt completely baffled at how a billion-dollar company that made their fortune from trusting consumers could act with such reckless egregiousness. It’s absolutely appalling. Given the depressing nature of this film and our current Covid-19 crisis you might ask why I have chosen to write about such a troubling movie at this time. The answer – this film demonstrates the overall inherent good in people and the sheer determination of the human spirit to fight the good fight against all odds – and win! This is just the type of message we can all do with hearing right now. The take-away meaning of this movie is to not ignore undesirable information or something you know is wrong. Turning a blind eye is not an option. Silence vs. Strength – “Never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way” – Martin Luther King. Well said Doc!

P.S. As a water lover and an avid swimmer the opening scene of this movie was upsetting – seeing fun-loving teenagers unknowingly jump into polluted noxious water to take what should have been a nice refreshing dip was sickening. Speaking of which mere weeks ago while on route to AFA-MIFF (bless Prince Albert of Monaco who is now infected with Covid-19) I was in Barcelona Spain enjoying my daily swims and in Northern Italy in Ventimiglia delighting in the beautiful oceanfront at sunset – just one day before the Covid-19 outbreak there. Who would have thought these beautiful countries and their lovely inhabitants would now be suffering so much. It makes me so sad; brings me to tears. I pray every day for good health to return to these regions and all regions universally. This got me thinking. Every person possesses an incredible inner energy and in times of great distress it helps to unite this force. It would be so wonderful if the whole world would have a concentrated moment of silence to unite us all in our isolation and to remind humanity of the powerful message that We Are One. Wouldn’t that be grand – how about starting a movement to bless our planet. After all, together we stand…

Enjoying the beautiful clean water and life in Monaco at the Palace with OHF Committee Members Virginia Xavier (left) and Tammi Christoper (right). swimming in Barcelona Spain, and visiting the seashore in Ventimiglia Northern Italy Feb 23rd 2020 – one day before the outbreak there when life still felt normal. Can’t wait to be back home in my own beautiful country of Canada – just hope the last flight leaves tomorrow with me and fam in tow. Bless this planet and its people.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a wonderful ride and a very British movie indeed. It’s an eccentric movie of madness that requires the viewer to shelve reality and just go with it. I really loved this Charles Dickens adaptation and genuinely appreciated how the film dismissed ethnic differences and skin color throughout. The story centers on a young David Copperfield (played by Ranveer Jaiswal and Jairaj Varsani) who gets sent away by his wicked stepfather shortly after his loving yet insecure widowed mother remarries. The story takes the viewer through endless adventures on its journey to a young adult David Copperfield brilliantly played by the very likable Dev Patel. Once into adulthood Copperfield is constantly attempting to improve his position in life while trying in vain to forget his tawdry upbringing where he survived mainly due to the kindness of strangers. The premise of seeking to rewrite one’s own history leads to the key takeaway message of this film. Namely, whatever life you have lived embrace it! Your real life is much more fascinating than anything you could ever make up because it makes you who you are. Own your true life (and your name) not how others see you or refer to you as. Fact vs. Fiction – as so smartly stated by legendary newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst ‘Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more interesting.’ Agreed!

Directed by Armano Iannucci, David Copperfield is set in the Victorian era in England and has a star-studded cast including Tilda Swinton who plays Copperfield’s welcoming odd aunt Betsey who is afraid of donkeys as well as Hugh Laurie as her outlandish kite flying yet lovable house guest Mr. Dick, and Peter Capaldi who does a wonderful job playing the endearing dubious schemer Mr. Micawber who looks after a young Copperfield, to name a few. The underlying plot of this foiled comedy seems to be acceptance of oneself and the trek it takes to get there, which sometimes means eliminating elements that do not serve you, including infatuations. Love is blind. Sometimes so much so that we try to make something fit that just doesn’t, which dilutes the authentic self. As Timerlake Wertenbaker stated, ‘To love the right person is a comedy. To the love the wrong person is a tragedy.’, and since this movie is a comedy you can guess which direction it took. A position that perhaps provides viewers with some unsolicited food for thought on the issue of loving the self first. After all, “The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.” – Mark Twain. Very true.

P.S. I recently saw this amazing movie at the old Picturehouse Central Theater located at Piccadilly Circus in London. It’s inside the Trocadero building that dates back to 1882 and is an incredible art-house cinema that includes seven theaters on four levels, a lovely restaurant, bar, and café where patrons can become members to receive preferential treatment while watching their favorite flicks. What a lovely moving-going experience indeed!

Angel Film Awards MIFF REVIEW

The Angel Film Awards – Monaco International Film Festival 2020 is now in the books and it was absolutely fabulous!! I really enjoyed watching the exquisite films from all over the world. The Angel Film Awards are a wonderful platform that allows international filmmakers to congregate and share their love of filmmaking with the backdrop of non-violence. The AFA is the perfect format for this endeavor and promotes veteran and upcoming filmmakers to flourish. On this point, it is important to remember that although Hollywood is often thought of as the gold standard when it comes to filmmaking there are so many great filmmakers globally who want to make movies in their own native language and it’s nice to honor their craft. That said, given that I love true stories it’s no surprise that the festivals’ documentaries and movies that focused on factual events were a big hit with me.

To begin, I loved Claudia Adams documentary LIKE NO OTHER, which thanks to the profile this film received at the AFA-MIFF will now be shown later this month at the United Nations in New York City at the Socially Relevant Film Festival that focuses on Climate Change and Women. This documentary (39:45 min) centers on the 2010 Pakistan floods caused by a combination of global warming and climate change which was the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history. Using “never before seen footage,” LIKE NO OTHER shows the world, first-hand, what happens to victims during and after a disaster of this unimaginable magnitude.

Second, I loved former NFL Detroit Lions starting tackle turned stunt man (6 foot 7 inches 315 pounds) Jim Warne’s documentary entitled 7th GENERATION (52:00 mins). The film is about Oglala Lakota tribal member Jim Warne’s efforts to help Tribal Nations find a way to succeed in a contemporary American system and still remain Indian at heart. The film exposes the atrocities that occurred via the Wounded Knee Massacre and Lakota medicine man Black Elk’s prophecy that it would take 7 generations to heal the sacred hoop, which has now arrived. This informative heartbreaking film is brilliant, and in my opinion, should be shown in all American schools (and possibly Canadian schools as well). Thankfully this film is making its rounds at a number of renowned film festivals and getting the message out in the public domain. Film Synopsis: The film is to help the public understand the hardships felt by Indian Country since those times, what really happened in the boarding school era, the historical trauma that tribal members still deal with today, what Mt. Rushmore looks like through a Lakota lens and the history behind Paha Sapa the Black Hills. This film covers generations of history, including the perspectives of Jim Warne.

Third, the short historical drama entitled REMEMBRANCE (11:00 mins) written and directed by the famed Kevin James O’Neill who has had a long career in the entertainment industry in film but also TV, working on many popular television shows including “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman”, “Beverly Hills 90121” and “Highway to Heaven” to name a few, with lead American actor Jordan Woods-Robinson of The Walking Dead & Homeland fame was spectacular. This short film centered on Dachua survivors of the Holocaust and takes place in a facility for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, most of whom are Jewish, where professional actor Dirk Kramer (played by Jordan Woods-Robinson) plays piano and sees a way he can use his acting talents at the facility. This film is a lovely unique picture of redemption and forgiveness.

Other notable mentions include the Finnish film ONE HALF OF ME (100 mins), which tells the incredible true story of Finnish woman athlete/mother of two kids Jaana Kiviaki who suffered a spinal injury and went on to compete in Para-Equestrian Dressage. Also, I really enjoyed the romantic drama TOKYO WINE PARTY PEOPLE (101 mins). Directed by Japanese Director Hideki Wada and wine connoisseur who firmly believes wine connects people; this film equates great love to great wine. I agree! Director Wada generously shared his prized bottle of Château Margaux 1990 with me, which I truly appreciated beyond belief. This incredible wine is rated the best wine in the world and the only wine that has ever scored 100 on the famed Robert Parker wine-scoring scale. I will be forever grateful and thankful to Director Wada for his true kindness and for such an unforgettable memory and experience. In thanks I gifted Director Wada a MONACO Mug and told him that every time he drinks from that cup to remember how truly thankful I am that he shared his precious wine with me. Bless.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the Japanese Drama THE REAL EXORCIST (108 mins) that took home the top Angel Film Award and rightfully so. This film really epitomized the MIFF message of non-violence by focusing on the increasing problem of suicide in the Japanese culture. Given that I am professionally trained in suicide prevention I can tell you that suicide is the most violent act one can commit on the self and it is a serious yet highly understated problem in Japan. Well done Director Shokyo Oda for bringing this important social issue to light and congratulations to lead actress Yoshiko Sengen for picking up the much deserved Best Actress Award in a Feature Film. The take-away message of this movie is to surround yourself with light so that you do not let deadly dark negative self-talk into your head and heart. Amen.

A future film to watch out for is the true story of therapy support dog Tommy who was himself rescued from a terrible fate in India by writer Monique Golda Neman. Neman went on to write an award-winning screenplay entitle KING TOMMY about this amazing dog and brought this very special K9 to MIFF for all of us to meet. How lovely and what a magnificent duo. This is a true story of tragedy and triumph that I can’t wait to see on the big screen.

In closing, I would like to say I had endless fun with my OHF Committee Members Virginia Xavier, Tammi Christopher, and late comer Oje Hart, along with AFA-MIFF Founders and best friends Rosana Golden and Dean Bentley (with adorable pup Lola). Our time together is much too short, but I value every minute we spend together and enjoy our shared vision of a less violent world promoted through our love of film. Also, as Vice President of this incredible film festival I would like to extend a big thank you to our fabulous hard-working jury panel Emmy Nominated Producer and Jury President James Tumminia (LOVE, GILDA released by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films 2019 – a documentary on the late Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner), lovely Scottish Actress Vivien Taylor, beautiful Italian Actress Antonella Salvucci, and stunning EUN OH international Director, Writer, Producer, Composer & Editor from Seoul, Republic of Korea. What fun we had. I miss you already! Until next year when we all hopefully meet again. Bless.

Angel Film Awards Winners/Categories are listed below.

2020 Angel Film Awards – Monaco International Film Festival 
2020 Feature Film – Winning Category:

THE ANGEL TROPHY AWARD
FOR THE FILM THAT BEST EXPRESSES THE SPIRIT OF THE FESTIVAL
“THE REAL EXORCIST” (JAPAN)


Best Feature Film“THE REAL EXORCIST” (JAPAN)

The Angel Peace Award: 7th GENERATION” (DOCUMENTARY FILM) (USA)

The Best Humanitarian Angel Film Award:CLAUDIA C. ADAMS; AZIS AHMED “LIKE NO OTHER” (USA)

The Best Environmental Awareness Angel Film Award:“LIKE NO OTHER” Short Documentary film (USA) DIRECTED BY AZIS AHMED; WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY CLAUDIA C. ADAMS

Best Cinematographer: SHUNSUKE TARA “BULLET TRIP” (JAPAN)

Best Male Actor: KATSURA MAIGUMA “BULLET TRIP” (JAPAN)

Best Female Actor: YOSHIKO SENGEN “THE REAL EXORCIST” (JAPAN)

Best Director: TUUKKA TEMONEN “ONE HALF OF ME” (Finland)

Best Ensemble Cast: SAYURI MATSUMURA; ITO ONO; HYATO ONOZUKA; YOSUKE SHOJI; SAYAKA FUJIOKA; RISA SUDOU; KOSUKE KUJIRAI; YULI KUBOTA “TOKYO WINE PARTY PEOPLE” (JAPAN)

Best Producer: TUUKKA TEMONEN “ONE HALF OF ME” (Finland)

Best Male Supporting Actor: VILLE MYLLYRINNE “ONE HALF OF ME” (Finland)

Best Female Supporting Actor: RIN KIJIMA “THE REAL EXORCIST” (JAPAN)

Best Film Editing: JUHA KLAKKAINEN “ONE HALF OF ME” (Finland)

Independent Spirit Award: HIDEKI WADA “TOKYO WINE PARTY PEOPLE” (JAPAN)

Best Visual Effects: SHUJI ASANO “THE REAL EXORCIST” (JAPAN)
Short Film – Winning Categories:

Best Female Actor: ASHLEY BELL “DEAR GUEST” (USA)

Best Male Actor: JORDAN WOODS-ROBINSON “RESEMBLANCE” (USA)

Best Cinematographer: VICE & IZZY VAUGHAN “SECOND CHILDHOOD” (FRANCE/UK)

Best Director: KEVIN JAMES O’NEILL “RESEMBLANCE” (USA)

Best Costume Design: JANICE FISHER “RESEMBLANCE” (USA)

Best Ensemble Cast: TANDI WRIGHT; STEPHANIE WILKINS; KEIRA LANGRIDGE; ELYSA LANGRIDGE; TINIHUIA LEE-LEMON; MIRIAMA MCDOWEL; MOANA MANIAPOTO “LET YOUR SISTERS BE” (US/NEW ZEALAND)

Best Short Film: “RESEMBLANCE” (USA):

BEST NEWCOMER (SHORT FILM): TINIHUIA LEE-LEMON (US/NEW ZEALAND)

Best Producer: BETHANNE LEE WEISS “RESEMBLANCE” (USA)

Best Original Music: MARY SEWELL “LET YOUR SISTERS BE” (US/NEW ZEALAND)

Best Female Supporting Actor: NOUREEN DEWULF “DEAR GUEST” (USA)

Best Film Editing: HUNTER M. VIA “RESEMBLANCE” (USA)

Special Mention Angel Film Award: “AND THE WALTZ GROWS LAUDER” (RUSSIA)

Independent Spirit Award (short film): HIROYUKI YOKOYAMA “ON THAT DAY” (JAPAN)

Best Arthouse Film Award: MADS OSTERGAARD HOLM “MYKORRHIZA” (DENMARK)

Best Original Story (short film): MEGAN FREELS JOHNSTON “DEAR GUEST” (USA)
Feature Documentary Film – Winning Categories:

Best Feature Documentary Extended Cut: “7th GENERATION” (DOCUMENTARY FILM) (USA)
Short Documentary Film – Winning Categories:

Best Producer: CLAUDIA C. ADAMS “LIKE NO OTHER” (USA)
Short Animation Film: Winning Categories:

Best Independent Spirit Awards (animation): MARK WARHOL “WHERE IS FLEURI ROSE?” (USA)

MIFF VP Dr. Martha Hart’s MIFF Highlights from left 7th Generation, Like No Other, Tokyo Wine Party People, King Tommy, Resemblance, One Half of Me, &
The Real Exorcist.
Candid shot of MIFF Founder, VP, Announcers, & Jury Members getting ready for Press Call Photos. Too cute.
Chatting about MIFF 2020

The Monaco International Film Festival (MIFF) Angel Film Awards 2020

MIFF kicks off this week and as Vice President of this great film festival I will be there with my OHF crew Tammi Christopher and Virginia Xavier in tow! This is my favorite film festival of all time because it’s the only one in the world that focuses on ‘non-violence’. It’s not that the movies can’t contain violence, but the take-away message needs to be ‘non-violence’ and that’s the best message of all! To provide some background, the Mission Statement from its fabulous founders Rosana Golden (AFA – MIFF Co-Founder – Festival Director) and Dean Bentley (AFA – MIFF Co-Founder – Festival Executive Producer) serves to motivate people to be a part of an amazing worldwide community, who celebrate peace, love, and the art of making movies with a unique collaboration of multi-talented writers, film score composers and filmmakers, producers and musicians. The Angel Film Awards’ mission is to entertain, inform, inspire, encourage and educate. MIFF honors those artists who, through their creative work, actively increase awareness, provide multiple viewpoints, address complex social issues, and strengthen ties between international audiences and the Angel Film Awards. MIFF provides an inspiring and intimate platform together with other writers, directors, and producers in Monte Carlo to create new opportunities, develop tools for success and forge new alliances within the international film and entertainment industry. What a lovely mission to have!

Over the years I have met many wonderful like-minded people at MIFF including twice Oscar nominated director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Mission…), Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Donovan (Hurdy Grudy Man, Mellow Yellow… sometimes referred to as the 5th Beatle due to his incredible influence on the band and all he generously taught them – see The Beatles in India Doc…), legendary British actor Guy Siner (Pirates of the Caribbean, ‘Allo ‘Allo! …) international award-winning composer/producer Michael Ladouceur (Ad Astra, Mission Impossible, Gemini Man, Emoji Movie…) and the beautiful English announcer/journalist Babita Sharma (BBC News, BBC World News…) who hosted at MIFF for several years, to name a few. This year looks to be just as exciting with 2019 Emmy nominated producer and Jury President James Tumminia (LOVE, GILDA released by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films – a documentary on the late Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner) who will be heading up the famed MIFF Jury this year to pick the lucky 2020 MIFF winners! I can’t wait!

P.S. Since I will be busy for the next few weeks my Movie Blog will be a bit quiet, but it won’t be long before I’m back writing about all the great new films that help us to understand the meaning of life through the movies we watch! See you back in March if not sooner and if you see any good movies you think I should consider please let me know. Blessings of peace and love until we meet again.

Dr. Martha Hart – Owen Hart Foundation – YouTube https://www.youtube.com › watch▶ 2:37 Dec 10, 2018 – Uploaded by kindethics Inspiring opening of the Monaco Film Festival “Angel Awards” with Dr. Martha Hart from The Owen Hart Foundation…

MIFF VP Dr. Martha Hart with MIFF founders Dean Bentley & Rosana Golden – and with OHF crew Tammi Christopher & Virginia Xavier.

The Oscars

Say what you like about the Oscars but I love watching them and this year did not disappoint! All the fanfare and glitz – how exciting. But most of all I really enjoyed seeing people rightfully recognized for their talent and hard work. Dressing up is so much fun – I love it – and the Oscars are full of swank voguish chic but one thing to remember, making movies is really hard work. Even the bad ones take so much effort and the good ones are off the charts dripping with grueling labor. So, for as dazzling as awards shows are it’s good to remember and give credit for the tremendous work ethic it takes to entertain and entertain well. On that point, Steve Martin (with Chris Rock) did a fabulous job opening the show. Martin performed for The Owen Hart Foundation in 2013 for our 14th Anniversary and was lovely to work with and hilarious to watch. Some other Oscar highlights for me – Eminem singing his Oscar winning song (2003) Lose Yourself – l love this song as it really sums up trying to make it in any entertainment platform – ‘you only get one shot…’ so true. As well, Elton John did a great job performing his Oscar winning original song (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again from Rocketman – he’s such a showman – congrats! And the In Memoriam segment set to the Beatles song Yesterday performed by Billie Eilish in tribute to all those lost this past year starting with Kobe Bryant and ending with Kirk Douglas. It was also nice to see fellow Canadian Keanu Reeves presenting. And of course, I was very pleased to see so many of my picks win! Especially Joaquin Phoenix picking up the win for Best Male Actor. Yippy! Few have been so absolutely deserving of this award. I actually jumped for joy!! I loved his speech too – inspirational words for all of us to endeavor to be better. In the same vein, I really like the new direction the Oscars are taking overall with regards to helping the planet; with their plant-based menu, focus on environmental issues… It’s an area I too need to work on if I want to be on the right side of history. Well done Oscars and everyone – what a great show!

Categories and Winner are in BOLD.

PS. Ever since I can remember I have always loved the luster of movies. I credit my mum with instilling this interest in me. Our house was never short of books and magazines highlighting Hollywood’s best, and we watched the Oscars faithfully together every year. On top of that although my mum had me later in life (she was pushing age 50) to me my mother was so lovely and glamorous her whole life. I remember as a kid seriously thinking she was a movie star because I thought she was so fashionable, and pretty; this despite not having wealth to go along with it. And lucky for me, as attractive and elegant as she was on the outside, she was doubly beautiful and refined on the inside; a testament that class and generosity of spirit transcend prosperity. My mum left me too soon and I still miss her, but her impact lives on in my love of movies and style, love of humanity, love of hard work, kindness, integrity, humility, honesty…, and in so many other ways. You get the picture – no pun intended! ha ha

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” *WINNER

Best Animated Feature
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
“Klaus”
“Missing Link”
“Toy Story 4” *WINNER

Best Animated Short Film
“Dcera (Daughter)”
“Hair Love” *WINNER
“Kitbull”
“Memorable”
“Sister”

Best Original Screenplay
“Knives Out”
“Marriage Story”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”
“Parasite” *WINNER

Best Adapted Screenplay
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit” *WINNER
“Joker”
“Little Women”
“The Two Popes”

Best Live-Action Short Film
“Brotherhood”
“Nefta Football Club”
“The Neighbors’ Window” *WINNER
“Saria”
“A Sister”

Best Production Design
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” *WINNER
“Parasite”

Best Costume Design
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Little Women” *WINNER
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Best Documentary Feature
“American Factory” *WINNER
“The Cave”
“The Edge of Democracy”
“For Sama”
“Honeyland”

Best Documentary Short
“In the Absence”
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” *WINNER
“Life Overtakes Me”
“St. Louis Superman”
“Walk Run Cha-Cha”

Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story” *WINNER
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”

Best Sound Editing
“Ford v Ferrari” *WINNER
“Joker”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Best Sound Mixing
“Ad Astra”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Joker”
“1917” *WINNER
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”

Best Cinematography
“The Irishman”
“Joker”
“The Lighthouse”
“1917” *WINNER
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”

Best Film Editing
“Ford v Ferrari” *WINNER
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Parasite”

Best Visual Effects
“Avengers: Endgame”
“The Irishman”
“The Lion King”
“1917” *WINNER
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
“Bombshell” *WINNER
“Joker”
“Judy”
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
“1917”

Best International Feature
“Corpus Christi”
“Honeyland”
“Les Miserables”
“Pain and Glory”
“Parasite” *WINNER

Best Original Score
“Joker” *WINNER
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“1917”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Best Original Song
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4”
“Into the Unknown” from “Frozen II”
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman” *WINNER
“I’m Standing With You” from “Breakthrough”
“Stand Up” from “Harriet”

Best Director
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite” *WINNER

Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Sam Mendes, “1917”
Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”

Best Actor
Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker” *WINNER
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

Best Actress
Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Renee Zellweger, “Judy” *WINNER

Best Picture
“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“1917”
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”
“Parasite” *WINNER

Oscar glam – with love to mum

Parasite

Firstly, I must say this foreign language film is brilliant – even with the English subtitles for 2+ hours straight! The movie is a dark comedy set in South Korea and has some funny moments but also contains very serious undertones surrounding the stark lifestyle differences between the very rich and very poor. The film does a nice job illustrating how some of these disparities can be camouflaged but it’s hard to shake the smell of poverty, and for me this was the saddest part of this movie. When personal hygiene is compromised it happens for one of four reasons; (i) the person doesn’t know, (ii) the person doesn’t know any better, (iii) the person knows and doesn’t care, or (iv) the person knows and can’t do anything about it. At any rate it’s heartbreaking as any homeless shelter regularly reveals, and which I have witnessed many times via my work with the Owen Hart Foundation. This picture is so multilayered with meaning it’s hard to pick the paramount message of this movie. I really admired the family loyalty aspect the film portrayed and how each member truly tries so hard to help their own. There are also countenances of human dignity, respect or lack of it, despair of never getting ahead, disappointment of flopped plans, ignorance, and the heavy burden men still carry as head of the household; add in the debilitating humility of being cut down in that role, especially in front of your family who look up to you. That’s what this film offers up. Although this movie taps into a lot of mores the main lesson of this film is without a doubt a cautionary tale to NOT be a poser. Fake vs. Authentic – God has given you one face, and you make yourself another. – William Shakespeare. Let’s remember being anything but ourselves is a waste of time and will never deliver even half of what being our true self will.  

Director/writer Bong Joon-ho does such an amazing job of telling this story of duplicity and trickery wrapped in empathy with such vivid shots of Korea, some of which I marveled at. The primary cast members (Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam) are also incredible! The acting is truly outstanding. I really appreciated how much detail went into making this complex thought-provoking film that effectively crosses cultural barriers with its simple, yet emotive plot riddled with the constant threat of scarcity. It’s worth noting that it is never an easy task to tell a story when using subtitles as there is always a risk that the message the director is trying to convey will get lost in translation. I don’t want to drop any spoilers and because this movie is quite linear in its story-line despite being steeped in virtuous code of ethics warnings, I will stop here. But when watching this film ask yourself – Who is the parasite? Those who serve others or those who pay others to serve them? You decide.

PS. I was so happy to see this film on the big screen as it was only in select theaters for a short time when first released – but with all the acclaim this movie has received recently some theaters have now brought it back. This flick is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture and although my official pick for this category is the movie 1917 I would not be disappointed at all if this picture won. It’s that good. I guess we will find out soon enough. The red carpet at the Dolby Theatre awaits its stars arrival as the 92nd Academy Awards will take place tomorrow Sunday, February 9, 2020 in Hollywood at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. Enjoy your Oscar watching experience and come back tomorrow night to check out my take on the event and its wins!