A Serious Man (Coen Brothers 2009 Five Star Creation)

Serious times calls for a serious man! Or does it? When life turns out to be far from the moggy’s meow we have to ask if demanding careful consideration of each situation is in fact the right course of action. This mysterious movie opens with a quote from bible scholar Rashi: “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you”. But then attempts to rationalize life’s problems using quantum physics via the hypothetical Schrödinger’s Cat paradox. Quite a conflicting stance given the movie focuses on one man’s unprovoked mid-life crisis that resembles a modern-day parable of Job. This peculiar picture is matinee magic that couples earnest undertones with subtle humor brilliantly creating an intense captivating seriocomedy. That said, this movie is steeped in Jewish kinship and arcana so it can be a bit challenging to follow, especially early on. Though if you can get through the first five minutes of the antiquated religious fable (all in Yiddish!) then this telling tale reveals itself to be well-worth the watch. But be advised, an incongruent theme runs throughout whereby the loop in this movie never really closes, which is satisfying and dissatisfying at the same time. Thus encouraging viewers to keep an open mind – questioning rather than fixating on the answer; a filmmaking method that is right up my alley (e.g. reflective functioning). This is a Coen Brothers film – say no more! These amazing American moviemakers constantly produce Hollywood gold, having won multiple Oscars for a bevy of incredible movies including Fargo, and No Country for Old Men. They are also responsible for crafting the refreshing 1998 cult classic (albeit ridiculous) stoner movie The Big Lebowski, which I love (mentions of ‘sitting Shiva’ in A Serious Man had John Goodman’s character popping to mind – ‘I don’t roll on Shabbos!’).

Set in conservative small-town Minnesota in 1967, where the hippie ‘free love’ movement spreading across the country at the time hadn’t quite taken hold. The entire story hinges on low-key Larry Gopnik (fabulously played by Broadway Actor Michael Stuhlbarg), an unassuming passive theoretical physics professor whose constant existence suddenly spins out of control into unharnessed motion that he can neither predict nor constrain. All at once Larry’s troubles become insurmountable. Under his roof he needs to contend with his physical and mental well-being, with wife Judith (Sari Lennick) insisting on a divorce because she’s in-love with someone else. His coming-of-age pot smoking son Danny (Aaron Wolff) distracted from his upcoming bar mitzvah celebration by Jefferson Airplane song lyrics Don’t You Want Somebody… among other things. His snappy complaining teenage daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) angling to get a nose job. As well as his aging underachieving live-in older brother Arthur (Richard Kind) who is not only unhealthy but unemployed. Inside the house Larry’s problems are bad enough, though even more trouble lurks on the other side of the door (job hassles, neighbor issues…). Out of desperation Larry, who is not overly religious, seeks the sage advice of three rabbis to try to understand why his once orderly life has suddenly fallen apart and what he should do about it. In short, Larry wants more than ‘somebody to love’, he wants answers to incomprehensible questions. In his own words, he has ‘done nothing wrong’, yet somehow his now dismal life parallels the sad song that keeps running throughout the narrative; ‘When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies’ – Larry’s problem exactly since nothing is how it once seemed.

As a serious man of science Larry attempts to apply Noble Prize-winning Physicist Edwin Schrödinger’s mathematical reasoning to solve his problems (Schrödinger ‘s Cat). This pop-culture favorite is a thought-experiment based on quantum mechanics that envisages the incarceration of a cat in a box with a flask emitting radioactive poison, which, as time passes, may or may not have killed the cat. Until the box is opened this quantum system of mixed states deems the cat to be both alive and dead until verified. Thus this is the paradox as the feline cannot be both [alive and dead] at the same time. Just like the oxymoron in Larry’s life; it cannot be simultaneously in-order and out-of-order. In science-speak one miscalculation can lead to endless failure. Much like Pandora’s Box, once unlatched there’s no closing it. An enigma that hearkens back to the opening sentiment of the movie; how best to handle life’s unfortunate mishaps? Which brings us to the take-away message of this film.

But before we get to that I want to make note of the dramatic inclusion of ‘Dream Theater’ this movie employs. Larry has three vivid dreams and until he awakes viewers do not know if such occurrences are happening in his real-life or not. Of course the directors seem to include the number 3 several times (3 rabbis, 3 dreams, 3 main problems – family, work, health…), which I am sure is infused with symbolism (e.g. Father, Son, Holy Ghost…), but since I’m not completely up to speed on the Jewish faith I will leave the embedded significance of this number alone. However, I can speak to the significance of dreams. Sigmund Freud (founding father of psychoanalysis) believed dreams to be unconscious representations of unfulfilled wishes in our conscious lives (aka hidden emotions and desires); a view most in the field still adhere to. Similarly, Carl Jung (psychiatrist/psychoanalyst) saw dreams as the psyche’s mechanism to communicate important details to the self in an effort to uncover what’s really going on. That said, the jury is still out on the exact interpretation of dream imagery. For example, some dream-interpreters contend that if you dream of someone you haven’t seen in a long time it means they are thinking of you. Perhaps this is true, but until empirical evidence can back it up such meticulous explanations of detailed snooze-time fantasies are just supposition with dream-content remaining a mystery. That said, one thing most professionals agree on is that dreams like sleep appear to be essential; research in neuroscience suggests that dreams may serve two important functions. First, dream-sleep heals and helps the mind to regulate emotions and stressful elements of life. Second, dreams are credited with enhancing problem-solving skills and creativity. After all Paul McCartney has publicly stated his hit Beatles song ‘Yesterday’ (often referred to as the greatest song of the 20th century) came to him in a dream. Wow! Larry’s dreams are clearly not that abundant. So then what is the life lesson this thought-provoking flick is trying to teach us?

Well it is not about interpreting signs, or dreams, or math, or rational reasoning. No. But it is about being asleep in life and when we tend to wake-up and seek its meaning. Here’s the thing – we don’t search for reasons to explain why good things happen to us. Maybe because we feel we deserve it or because we feel entitled. In contrast, the only time individuals really go on soul-searching journeys is when things go terribly wrong. Especially when it comes to life altering events, notably health scares, career crisis, and especially relationship break-ups. This is because losing a romantic partner is so severely emotionally devastating, and it’s much worse for the person being abandoned since they have to try harder to become whole again. It’s not easy to reclaim the part of the self that one so eagerly hands over to another person in the early stages of a relationship; a particularly grueling task for those individuals who were/are really all-in. Good-fortune vs. Misfortune: Life is like the weather – we get our days in the sun along with dark clouds, and despite predictions we hope for rays and pray ominous twisters miss our house. That’s life. Ambiguous at best, which is why a positive perspective helps. Though keep in mind it’s always up to us to decide if we are awake or asleep in our lives, alive or dead. Meow. I think the Coen Brothers nailed it a decade earlier in their epic film – The Big Lebowski. Things go wrong all the time and when they do maybe instead of trying to be so grown-up and seriously adult about it all we should just say, “F**k it Dude. Let’s go bowling.”  In short, life is a series of gutters and strikes – so let’s just roll with it – in style!

P.S. Like this film’s main character Larry Gopnik; Academics, including myself, appreciate precision and certainty but it’s the unknown that intrigues us the most. That’s why research never ends. Speaking of which I have been to Minnesota several times for this reason and found the state to have very lovely qualities indeed, conventional or not.

Wearing my serious academic doctor’s hat between trips to the University of Minnesota and attending the IAC in New York City.
Visiting Stillwater Minnesota at the Rivertown Inn with an employee (left) and a regular inn patron. The Inn, which has a small-town feel hosted me on a work related trip to the University of Minnesota as a ‘thank you’ for using them in conjunction with our OHF Online Auction Super Bowl 2018 Tickets Package held in Minneapolis generously gifted to the OHF by the NFL Denver Broncos Co-owners Kerry and John Bowlen.

Cinema And Covid-19 (Movies = Health Benefits)

I’ve always known that watching movies was therapeutic and good for the soul, but it turns out doing so may also be good for your health! Comedies and romance flicks have long been proven to decrease stress hormones, improve coping skills, lower blood pressure, while briefly providing relief from life’s worries. Whereas dramas have been shown to raise emotional intelligence, and fantasy flicks seem to expand creativity, which may both promote better mental health. However, scary movies might just top them all! Who knew! Research published in The International Journal of the Biology of Stress indicates that watching scary movies may boost the immune system via increased circulation and increased production of white blood cells (key to fighting off microbes such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses) due to a heightened fight-or-flight response that fear-provoking films often illicit. 

This is good news for people who already like scary summer shows. Though not to throw shade, I personally don’t really like creepy capers, but now I might have good reason to take up a few hot weather horrors. I am born on Halloween after all. One caveat to note; these positive health returns may be short-lived so using cinema to ward off Covid-19 can’t be one’s only line of defense. That said, staying home to watch petrifying pictures while continuing to social distance is a winning formula. In short, doing both together may just help. If you are interested in learning more about the positive health effects induced by viewing scary flicks (including elevated calorie burning and happier moods) an excellent article on the topic was published a few years ago in TIME Magazine (Health. Mental Health/Psychology) that discusses these interesting research findings in more depth. Click link. You Asked: Is Watching Scary Movies Good for You? | Time

Note: It is recommended that anyone with heart conditions should avoid watching scary movies. Stay healthy and safe – and keep exploring life’s meaning with me through the movies we watch.

Luv these reels and this town!

Captain America: The First Avenger

Today with America celebrating Independence Day (July 4, 1776) and given the epic fight the USA currently has on its hands battling Covid-19, I thought we could all use a hero! So what better crusader to the rescue than The First Avenger! But before we get started let me be clear, Captain America is not just a hero, or a man, he is a straight up full-fledged champion! This is why I absolutely love this movie and why Steve Rogers (aka Captain America played by Chris Evans) grew to be my favorite Avenger of all time. I will admit, I was late to the Captain America party. I was much more up-to-speed with the other Avengers series (Iron Man, Hulk, Guardians…), but once introduced to Captain America I was hooked, and for good reason. Directed by Joe Johnston this screen gem is set during wartime 1941, which is why Captain America is considered the 1st Avenger even though other series in the franchise were previously created. In short, Captain America predates his defender counterparts (e.g. Iron Man, Hulk…). With that information out of the way let’s recap the plot of this fabulous film and its deeply meaningful life lessons.

The picture centers on Brooklyn born want-to-be soldier Steve Rogers, an archetype of New York’s 1920s Charles Atlas (98-Pound Weakling originally 97-Pound Weakling), who has all the bravery in the world but no muscle to back it up. That is until scrawny Steve is accepted into an American Armed Forces Military Experimental Program that transforms him into a super-soldier, which makes him a prime candidate to lead the fight against the Nazis HYDRA Party. Without giving too much away this film is built on a strong story-line and to its credit includes a star-studded cast. Besides Chris Evans (Captain America – Steve Rogers) the movie features Tommy Lee Jones as stern strict Colonel Chester Phillips, Sebastian Stan serves as fellow solider and Steve’s best friend Bucky Barnes, Hayley Atwell is stellar in the role as Steve’s pin-up pretty love interest Agent Peggy Carter; not to mention Hugo Weaving as sinister villainous Nazi leader Johann Schmidt, and a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury WWII superhero, as well as Dominic Cooper who plays young scientist/inventor Howard Stark, (in case you missed it he’s the future father-to-be of Iron Man Tony Stark), and of course the always spectacular Stanley Tucci as lead US Government Scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (an exiled German) who spots Steve’s potential via his unmatched qualities. Which brings us to the discussion on the main take-away message of this film.

Unlike many of the other Marvel action-packed ensembles “Captain America: The First Avenger” does not heavily rely on special effects to win over audiences (though the CGI in this film is first-rate). Instead this movie smartly employs an inspirational foundation of rich contextual texture constructed on well-developed characters with substance, namely leading man Chris Evans as main protagonist Captain America. Depicted as an all-round good guy, Steve Rogers is unrelentingly bold, knows right from wrong, appreciates the opportunity to show what he’s made of, and never gives up despite the odds. As Winston Churchill so wisely stated, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ So true. Steve Rogers does just that – continues – even though he’s often pinned against the ropes. But regardless of Rogers’ newfound impressive stature and strength, his most redeeming quality throughout (prior to acquiring his brawl) is his prized possession – the innate makings of a good man. An aspect of the film that pointedly shows a beautiful body is only a shell that houses the soul and means nothing unless heartfelt quintessence dwells there. This story also epitomizes that with great power comes great responsibility, and that remaining gracious and humble when it would be very easy to become a self-centered narcissist is a testament of true character. However, the main take-away message is embedded in the representation of Captain America’s colorful shield. On the surface this emblematic armor is used as his primary defense to ward off danger. That said, the essence enveloped in needing a shield in the first place implies self-awareness of one’s own vulnerabilities. It is no surprise that the best leaders know and admit their weaknesses. They embrace their limitations and as a result are able to show compassion as well as empathy for the shortcomings of others. An admirable attribute indeed. Integrity vs. Arrogance – to be a strikingly handsome fierce man is to first be a formidable nobleman.

An aside; in my opinion the Captain America series weaves in the sweetest of all the superhero love stories. Gotta love a fella who knows what he wants and goes after it. Sure there’s heartbreak but being disappointed in love just means you aimed for something and took a shot. On this point here are some helpful Captain America romance notes for the chaps: gentlemen make and keep their dates, if you want a good woman be a good man on the inside, wait for the right partner, and if you need to take a rain-check, try not to stupidly miss out on what could be the dance of a lifetime. BTW if you’re a fan of the Big Three (The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Endgame) you will NEED to know the backstory of Captain America to thoroughly enjoy the full impact of how fantastic the ending is in Avengers: Endgame. A bit of trivia. I’m not alone in my preference for Captain America as top dog. He is tied for 1st Place with Iron Man as the all-time favorite Avenger. Too bad Endgame was just that for… Yikes! I will stop there for those who have not seen it yet! In closing, it’s a big viewership commitment but for anyone interested in watching Marvel’s fabulous Avenger Movies in chronological viewing order here is what some fans have suggested:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger (takes place during WWII)
  • Captain Marvel (takes place in 1995)
  • Iron Man (takes place in 2010)
  • Iron Man 2 (takes place after Iron Man)
  • The Incredible Hulk (time unspecified, pre-Avengers)
  • Thor (takes place six months before Avengers)
  • The Avengers (takes place in 2012)
  • Iron Man 3 (takes place six months after The Avengers)
  • Thor: Dark World (post-Avengers, pre-Ultron)
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier (post-Avengers, pre-Ultron)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (sometime in 2014)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (after Guardians)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (takes place in 2015)
  • Ant-Man (takes place in 2015)
  • Captain America: Civil War (post-Ultron, pre-Infinity War)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (post-Civil War, pre-Infinity War)
  • Doctor Strange (takes place in 2016)
  • Black Panther (takes place in 2017)
  • Thor: Ragnarok (post-Ultron, pre-Infinity War)
  • Avengers: Infinity War (takes place in 2017)
  • Ant-Man and The Wasp (ambiguous, but fits nicely between IW and Endgame)
  • (starts in 2017, finishes in 2022)
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (post-Endgame)

P.S. Interestingly, Joe Johnston the director of ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ also directed ‘Jumanji’ with Robin Williams (who I happily met when he performed for the OHF in 2012), as well as Honey I Shrunk The Kids, which funny enough Owen acted in ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: TV Episode – Honey, I’m Wrestling with a Problem.’ Also, longtime former US Army Serviceman Ryan Johnston turned film producer (no relation to the director) recently sent me a fabulous picture taken of himself with Owen (who was an American & Canadian citizen – his mum was from NY) while visiting US Troops in Kuwait. A great picture to include in this post given the backdrop of the US July 4th celebrations. With this in mind, circling back to the movie; Captain America sacrifices all to save New York’s Big Apple, one of my favorite cities (I have visited NYC many times as a tourist and for work), and sadly also the first Covid-19 epicenter in the USA. All the more reason why the OHF is so happy to support NYC’s Hart Island Project and the amazing work they do to assist families of unclaimed loved ones with burial info on those lost due to Covid-19. Speaking of the pandemic, not since WWII as depicted in this film, has the world experienced such uncertainty about what is to come and the future of our planet. But much like the dark shadows of WWII all this too shall pass. Bless the United States of America today and everyday in their fight again Covid-19. Just know your Canadian neighbors to the north wish the best for you and everyone combating this hostile enemy.

Captain America’s hometown NYC, which he saves and I love – the pic is up top of The Rock (Rockefeller Center) with the Empire State Building in the distance.
With the one-and-only Robin Williams, Owen with then US Army Serviceman Ryan Johnston turned film producer, and on the set of Honey I Shrunk The Kids.

Da 5 Bloods (Black Lives Matter Tribute)

Spike Lee’s highly acclaimed new Netflix drama that centers on five Black American Servicemen (four of whom return to Vietnam) hits hard with impeccable timing. The release of this film suitably coincides with the recent heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter Movement that is now gripping the globe. More importantly this movie, much like BLM, reverberates the mantra of bringing justice, healing, and freedom to black people. Though like many of Spike Lee’s masterpieces (e.g. BlacKkKlansman – 2019 Oscar Winner Best Adapted Screenplay – superb and my favorite), this complex film is multi-layered with so many emblematic nuances to unpack.

To begin, viewers should be warned! This film opens with extremely powerful and very disturbing violent historical footage (Kent State & Jackson State massacres, execution of the Viet Cong officer Nguyễn Văn Lém…), that will leave many humanitarians shaking their heads in horror at the awful things human beings do to each other. Not to divulge too many spoilers but Lee also cleverly commences and closes with vintage recordings of two prominent black Vietnam War opposers (Muhammad Ali & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). All this initial priming really sets the tone of what’s to come and it’s not pretty.

The movie transitions from the graphic intro to four former American black soldiers Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and Eddie (Norm Lewis), reuniting in a Vietnam bar to discuss their two-tiered plan of recovering top-secret US gold bullion worth millions (an American war-effort payment intended for South Vietnam), along with the remains of their inspiring revered forward-thinking troop leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) who died in combat in front of his squad while trying to recover this government treasure. This jungle journey takes these four aging Vietnam Vets on a treacherous soul-searching trek of greed, materialism, longing, clarity, sorrow, forgiveness, and redemption. Without giving too much away veteran Paul (a deeply troubled PTSD sufferer and recent Trump supporter who dons a MAGA cap), is joined on the trip by his loving yet oddly estranged son David (Jonathan Majors) who aims to use the excursion as a means to bond with his dad. While Vihn (Johnny Tri Nguyen) serves as the group’s trusted Vietnamese guide. All that to say, summing the plot of this movie is a cinch compared with fleshing out its main message. 

Similar to other stories of war this movie dispatches the significance of camaraderie, unity, loyalty, and above all service and love of country. However, the stark difference in this tale is two-fold. First, this film chronicles the experiences of black American servicemen in Vietnam, whose descriptions in real life were habitually under-reported, despite the large role they played in the annals. Second, this narrative takes direct aim at the conundrum faced by young black soldiers who realize that the same nation they are willing to sacrifice and die for, do not value them or their lives. This rings true in this movie loud and clear when the five main screen warriors, while in the fierce throes of battle, learn of the assignation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968). Factually speaking it is no secret that African Americans were disproportionately summoned to the most dangerous duty on the front-lines during the Vietnam War and as a result had excessively higher rates of casualties. African Americans were also much less likely to have the contacts/means to avoid being drafted or sidestepping hazardous missions like their white counterparts. An issue civil-rights leaders protested, with some gains in reform that (later) slightly reduced such disparity in conflict. Though, regardless of the progress made, it cannot be overlooked that ironically the most oppressed American comrades were sent in full force to fight a war against equally oppressed people. That said, no matter how you slice it war is awful but there are lessons to gain from it too. As writings on the Duality of War underscore; “War is the most destructive and pitiless of all human activities. And yet the experience of war has a profound and strangely compelling effect on those who fight. Combat kills, maims, and terrifies, but it can also reveal the power of brotherhood and a selfless sense of purpose. It’s an experience that changes soldiers, and those changes last a lifetime.” So true.

Lee incorporates many of these elements of war into this film while using a great deal of political and personal allegory. Even the vernacular in the movie’s title Da 5 Bloods is loaded with significance. For example, the word Da in Vietnamese means Skin. The number 5 denotes humanity, and is fraught with endless substance. To elaborate, humans have five fingers, five toes, five senses, five major body systems (digestive, circulatory, nervous, respiratory, and muscular) and five appendages (two arms, two legs, one head) with the brain in control. Mystically speaking, the number 5 is associated with positive change, balance, health, independence, and adventure; taking a journey (mental/physical/spiritual) that includes expressing gratitude for the world and people around you while needing to pay attention to what you see, hear, touch, smell and feel. Lastly, the word Bloods is a well-known acronym for “Brotherly Love Overcomes Overrides and Destruction” a.k.a. blood-brothers. Also, Lee’s flashback method with the servicemen appearing as aged (not youthful as they were when the combative events actually happened), signifies that memories stick for life (good or bad) and are seared into the brain for eternity. It’s true that no matter how many years pass people carry their recollections (pleasant and painful) forever. NOTE: Distressing traumas can be resolved by learning new coping skills to help overcome symptoms, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). On this point, as so prominently echoed in this film’s fabulous soundtrack, we don’t always know ‘What’s Going On’ (Marvin Gaye) and we don’t always have power over life’s events. But how we view our experiences belongs to us, and us alone, which reminds me of a famous quote by Viktor Frankl, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.“

With so much intended meaning and symbolism embedded in this flick what is the main take-away message you ask? Some might say self-forgiveness. After all, internal wars will continue to rage until we accept ourselves, transgressions and all; only then will inner peace be attained. Others might say the moral of this story fixates on the deadly game of greed and chasing imperialist beliefs; the desire for the all mighty dollar and dirty money that can only be washed clean by using it for good (e.g. donations to blacklivesmatter.com) as highlighted at the movie’s end. Then of course there is also the blatant implications of selflessness, and racism plainly laid out and strewn throughout this film.

Any of these paradigms would be a good guess, but in my opinion the calculated lesson this movie imparts is about reverence and respect and honoring people for what matters – who they are on the inside. This movie exemplifies how American culture has historically devalued and wrongfully categorized certain citizens into ill-conceived groups of a lesser ilk. These past stains of subjugation and persecution have long been drenched into the fabric of the country and sadly still remain today. Watching the daily news is evidence enough of how said principled battles continue via the perilous quest for fairness and equilibrium through the Black Lives Matter Movement, which the OHF proudly supports. Consecration vs. Contempt – It’s difficult to comprehend the origins of discrimination, especially since our world is enhanced so much by individual differences, not diminished. As the exceptional book Man’s Search for Meaning states, you don’t have to look far to witness that “human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn” – Viktor Frankl. It’s sad that we need to remind people that none of us have control over our skin color (or our birth parents for that matter) – it’s all predetermined before we are born. Therefore, judging anyone based on this premise is absolutely futile and senseless. Anything less than showing and feeling true appreciation for all human life is beyond unacceptable. It’s just mind-boggling how such repressing tyranny is/was ever allowed or tolerated in the first place. But no more.

P.S. A few things to share with this movie in mind. First, on a recent humanitarian trip to Cambodia I stayed very close to the Vietnam border and all I could think of the entire time was – how could any country send their soldiers to war in such a place. The heat and humidity alone are brutally punishing – let alone fighting for your life in full gear! Second, I have traveled to Washington DC several times, and although I sincerely appreciate their many war memorials that rightfully honor all those who bravely fought for their country; it’s so heartbreaking to see the incredible loss of life. Especially that of Vietnam as so many US soldiers (black, white, brown…) who survived the atrocities of this war were so dishonorably disregarded. Lastly, my lifelong minister the late Reverend Risby who conducted my wedding ceremony, baptized both my children, performed my husband’s funeral, and basically played a major role in all the most important events in my life was black. He was very special to me and I saw him for exactly what he was – an amazing person who was very kind to me. I hope he saw me the same way. People are people. Period. Discrimination against blacks (or anyone) is appalling and something I will never understand. A final word. Since the Black Lives Matter Movement is currently such a relevant topic, in order to do this highly influential film and worthy cause the justice both deserve this movie-blog post is of a more extended variety than my usual posts. I apology if this write-up seems a bit too detailed in some parts but given the gravity of the current situation I felt it was required and necessary.

Photos: At the Phnom Da Temple – 52 miles from Vietnam; at the Lincoln Memorial facing the adjacent Washington Monument divided by the famous reflecting pool with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall of Names to my right (completed in 1982); and with dear Reverend Andrew Risby and witnesses Bruce and Virginia signing our marriage license.

Cast Away (Ultimate Isolation Movie)

Since new movies are hard to come by these days with Covid-19 still reigning supreme, I have really enjoyed re-watching some of my all-time favorites including one of the topmost isolation-based films of all time – Cast Away. This is not the first tale ever told about tropical island strandings (e.g. Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies…), but it’s one of the best in my opinion, and was a box office powerhouse almost two decades ago.

Released in December 2000 and directed by Robert Zemckis this extraordinary saga of survival earned two Oscar nods including a nomination in the best actor category for Tom Hanks who remarkably carried 75% of the entire movie single-handedly. The story is solidly built on character Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a FedEx employee whose cargo plane goes down somewhere over the South Pacific with him as the sole survivor of the crash. After barely getting through the harrowing experience of the plane plunging into an unforgiving ocean Chuck aimlessly drifts in what is left of an inflatable life-raft that eventually washes up on a deserted island. For years Chuck is trapped on this humid uninhabited land-mass with nothing but time to ponder what he misses most in the world – his would-be fiancé Kelly Frears played by Helen Hunt; who’s role in the film is quite small compared with Hanks but nevertheless very fundamental in many of the moral messages this film imparts on its viewers.

On this point, this parable converges on what really matters in life and how easy it is to take for granted essential basic needs (access to food, water, heat, and shelter). This movie also reminds us that life is unpredictable and doesn’t always go as planned, but sometimes it’s those forks in the road that make the journey so interesting. Sails do come in from time to time so watch for them and remember those who risk nothing get nothing. The notion is you never know what the tide will bring, so be open-minded and don’t miss opportunities. This flick also delves into our most nefarious emotions including deep despair, utter loneliness, damning frustration, and unimaginable fear, not to mention clearly emphasizing the stark difference between merely existing and actually living. Humans are highly social creatures after all, so what happens to ‘the self’ if others are missing from the equation? At first glance the main meaning of this movie might seem fairly straightforward – leave someone alone long enough and they will slowly go crazy. The mind will split in two, and they will start talking to a volleyball as if it’s a person. By the way, there is a reason why ‘Wilson’ had to be a volleyball instead of a football, soccer ball, bowling ball, bouncy ball, baseball, cricket ball, golf ball… it’s because communication between humans is a ‘serve and return’ interaction. I love symbolism in movies. Okay, a tennis ball, pickleball, or ping-pong ball could have ‘served’ this iconography purpose too but what fun would that have been. Anyway, back to the point. If none of these above-mentioned aspects of the film are the primary take-away message what is? Like a sixth- sense, it’s a familiar concept but not always that simple to comprehend, so let’s break it down.

Adversity is something we all face in life and when that experience is extremely overwhelming and excruciatingly painful, we feel so lost – like being abandoned in solitude on a forsaken island. We keep looking out for a rescuer, but no one comes because no one can reach us. We are truly alone. This is when the realization hits that the self has to save the self. It’s the only way – and it starts with listening to that little ‘Wilson’ voice we all have in our head. It’s called intuition, and if you let it guide you it will truly be the best friend you ever have. So often we focus more on our five basic senses (touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing) and we ignore the most important one – our instinct. Roy T. Bennett said it best, “You will never follow your own inner voice until you clear up the doubts in your mind.” This movie does a stellar job metaphorically bringing to the forefront what goes on in the human brain. Yes, we all constantly talk to ourselves! But it’s what these exchanges produce via our actions that counts. Attending vs. Disregarding – pay attention, collect your thoughts and feelings, communicate your issues to yourself, process your insight, do the hard internal work, be self-reliant, and you might just find manageable solutions. Of course, having others to help us work through our problems is great too when available – but the self is always the final gatekeeper.

Much like this movie, Covid-19 is still making so many of us feel deeply isolated and displaced from our lives not to mention worrying about our health and shortages of our most basic needs; a gap The Owen Hart Foundation is trying to address. But as unpleasant as the last few months have been (especially for people like Tom Hanks and his wife Rita who contracted and recovered from Covid-19) it has also awakened feelings of gratitude and appreciation for our everyday blessings including all the wonderful people in our lives. That said, now that our world is slowly starting to re-open, let’s hope we can resume our fully-functioning yet now enhanced existence soon.

P.S. I really like going to tropical islands at Christmas to escape, not the other way around. Fingers crossed season greetings = slipping this seclusion. Amen!

Vanishing at break-time to my favorite inhabited beachy island in the South Pacific.

Gladiator (20 Years On Gladiator 2 Sequel Underway)

With Covid-19 lingering much longer than any of us can bear thus inadvertently testing the edges of our increasingly frazzled life-force resolve; I thought writing about a movie that epitomizes a supreme sovereign warrior spirit would be refreshingly welcomed. What better pick than the epic yet macabre battle-to-the-death blockbuster Gladiator! Also, since its creators are now taking a second stab at box office gold with plans to release a sequel sometime next year, denoting the poignant life lessons behind this conquering titan of a film seemed like a noble quest. Originally released May 5th 2000 Gladiator marched away with 11 Oscar nominations, 5 wins including Best Picture and Best Male Actor Award for chiseled strongman Russell Crowe who fabulously played ironclad sword wielding Maximus Decimus Meridius a Roman General – turned slave – turned heroic gladiator – turned rescuer of Rome. The upcoming sequel simply entitled Gladiator 2, plans to pick up the plot 20+ years on focusing primarily on then would-be child Roman Emperor Lucius (played by Spencer Treat Clark) now all grown up. It will be interesting to see who they cast and if this follow-up film will be able to mêlée its way to similar victory. A likely prospect given that so many legendary storylines have been somewhat successfully revisited in recent years (e.g. Alien, Bladerunner…).  Who knows, perhaps Russell Crowe might even turn up in a momentous cameo role. We’ll know in time – ‘but not yet, not yet’. Returning to the initial installment let’s summarize the plot before evaluating the invaluable take-away message this timeless modern classic imparts on viewers.

To recap, the story opens with Russell Crowe’s righteous character loyal general Maximus bravely battling against the barbarians in Germania shoulder-to-shoulder alongside his men in service to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (played by the late Richard Harris). Once victory is achieved patriot Maximus, who has been at war for several years, requests in gratitude for his service to return home to his beautiful loving wife, adoring son, and wispy shimmering wheat fields. However, ailing Emperor Aurelius has alternative plans for Maximus believing only he can end Rome’s corruption and successfully lead the Senate towards democracy therefore wishing to designate Maximus as the new head of state. However, doing so means outranking and overstepping his own cowardly incestuous depraved biological son Commodus (brilliantly played by Joaquin Phoenix), who undeservingly craves the throne, constantly drooling at the mere thought of the unfettered power it bestows. When Commodus gets wind of the plan he acts swiftly and unremorsefully snuffs out his own father. Then immediately condemns Maximus to death also ordering his family murdered. Maximus escapes his demise due to his commanding military skills but upon returning home his spirit is shattered at the sight of his slain family. In a state of exhaustion and despair he collapses yet wakes to find he has been picked up by slave-owners in Zucchabar (a Roman city that now is in Algeria). Once nursed back to health by follow slave Juba (terrifically played by Djimon Gaston Hounsou), Maximus’ long journey from commanding general, to slave, to gladiator takes shape. The excitement starts to build as a tormented Maximus beings to climb the gladiator ranks in foreign lands becoming a sensational marvel in no time with every defeat of his opponents; all done in an effort to win his freedom. Meanwhile miles away Commodus the new Roman Emperor continues to engineer the demise of the Senate in Rome while lusting after his sister Lucilla (played by Connie Nielse) a former lover of Maximus. The climax of the film comes when Commodus commissions gladiator contests in Rome to distract the masses from his exploitations; and as luck would have it Maximus’ endless wins have landed him in Rome’s famed Colosseum where he knows he must ‘win the crowd’ to be freed. As a mysterious masked good guy Maximus’ popularity continually raises amongst the Roman commoners with each victorious brawl. This in turn enrages the villainous Emperor Commodus who grows increasingly distraught that the crowd is starting to love a lowbrow gladiator more than the superior leader of Rome, including his young seven-year-old nephew Lucius. The story continues to unfold, which ultimately ends with an epic battle for the ages with the Roman Emperor Commodus pitted against an unknown, yet very admired gladiator simply referred to as Spaniard. What a spectacle indeed it turns out to be, which begs the question ‘Are you not entertained?’ For those who haven’t seen the movie yet, I will leave it there and instead now chat about the important life lessons embedded in this film.

First though it’s worth noting that director Ridley Scott does an amazing job bringing Gladiator to life in a very big way with well-scripted dialogue, and stunning cinematography that is visually spectacular. The original fight scenes alone are truly legendary albeit grim, which if nothing else are worth the watch. Although I detest gratuitous violence this film does a fantastic job depicting the bleak viciousness of the times and the unforgiving nature of our distant ancestors. Factually aware that throughout antiquity such unthinkable gore really occurred I appreciate the historic value of the carnage displayed in this film, mostly because the overarching message in the end is one of peace. Though achieving and maintaining peace is not the main life lesson of this movie as lovely as that would be.

Like so many battle-focused movies there are elements of loyalty, friendship, comradery, fairness, betrayal, competitiveness, rivalry… incorporated into the fabric of the narrative and this film is no different. That said, the beauty of Gladiator is that it calls attention to the bleakest undercurrents of the human psyche that if left unchecked loom and fester like rotting carcasses, stiffly leading lost souls to commit the worst of the seven deadly sins. Can you guess which one it is? Hint, hint, it’s not pride, or greed, or wrath, or lust, or gluttony, or slothfulness, although many of these elements prominently present in this movie. It’s worse. Truly the ugliest of all the seven deadly sins that in my opinion, unleashes so many other unthinkable evils is brilliantly displayed in this movie. It’s the crushing weight of ‘envy’ that Commodus feels towards Maximus that engulfs his entire being, eating him alive and propelling him to do the most heinous acts while simultaneously robbing him of any remaining admirable traits he has left. French author François de La Rochefoucauld said it best, ‘The truest mark of being born with great qualities, is being born without envy.’  

Jealousy vs. Confidence – a covetousness spirit spews out resentment, suspicion, distrust, possessiveness and so many other sinister emotions leaving its host corrupted and wary. Wanton desire to have what others have is a sickness of the mind born out of insecurities that steals precious time away from building oneself up, as the focus is directed at tearing another down. Such unhealthy behavior is often thought of as an abuse of one’s natural faculties (e.g. envy abuses one’s desire to be one’s best virtuous self). Self-doubt propagates inhumane fixations of the lowest depths. However, the guiding light to keep in mind is that whatever anyone else is or has, truly takes nothing away from you. In our modern world where voyeurism via the internet (falsely exhibiting endless disillusion of countless unflawed jubilant lives) is so prevalent it helps to remember that everything one needs is within the self to become. So if temptation to slip into a state of envy overtakes the practical senses practice self-awareness and recognize that negative feelings do not need to turn into vile actions. Most importantly, commit to memory the seven heavenly virtues (faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, and prudence), which can serve to redirect the mind towards merits of positive redeeming characteristics we are all capable of commandeering and conquering. Amen!

P.S. I feel very lucky to have visited Italy, and specifically Rome a number of times as a tourist, for work, and even on route to MIFF. Each trip would not have been complete without a drop-in to its spectacular Colosseum (aka: Flavian Amphitheatre), Rome’s top tourist attraction! A true jewel of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum is one of the seven wonders of the world and was built in 70-80 AD. It could house 50-80 thousand spectators (averaging 65,000) and was used for gruesome gladiatorial contests, executions, mock battles, persecution of Christians… but its use as an entertainment venue ceased in medieval times. With all the grim exhibitions the Colosseum played host to over its long history, one fact of the Colosseum’s past that I really love is that the marble façade where ancient blood-thirsty spectators sat enjoying endless deadly performances was stripped off and used for the construction of St Peter’s Basilica. Looks like the devout got the last laugh in the end. Travel tip – Una Hotel is reasonable, close to the train station, and within walking distance of all attractions. Simply amazing.

Grainy footage of Oje fooling around playing from memory Gladiator’s famous musical score Now We Are Free.
In Rome at the Colosseum when Oje and Athena were younger, on a work trip snapping a pic with sword bearing Roman actors, and on route to MIFF with my ever present OHF entourage.

Dark Side of the Ring ‘Owen Hart’s Final Days’ (Vice Media Docuseries)

Since I haven’t written about any documentaries yet I thought it would be fitting to christen my movie blog with what for me is certainly the most important story ever told. I was married to world famous wrestler Owen Hart who tragically died in the ring on May 23rd 1999. At long last this forty-four minute docuseries episode produced by Vice Media’s Dark Side of the Ring entitled ‘Owen Hart’s Final Days’ has done a phenomenal job capturing our beautiful life together, the final few days of Owen’s life, the raw tragic events surrounding his death, the shock and horror of the egregious negligence that led to his 8 story fall from the top of Kansas City’s Kemper Arena to his death, the ugliest David & Goliath lawsuit battle that followed against the WWF (now WWE – a billion dollar powerhouse wrestling mogul), my unwavering fight for justice, the betrayal and fallout experienced with the Hart family, and the wake of the aftermath that inspired the creation of The Owen Hart Foundation (OHF). Viewers hear from former WWE staffers who were present at the pay-per-view that night including commentator Jim Ross, referee Jimmy Korderas (who was in the ring when Owen fell), wrestler The Godfather (Charles Wright) Owen’s would-be opponent, wrestler colleague/friend D’Lo Brown (Accie Julius Connor), manager Jim Cornette, wrestler and narrator Chris Jericho, me and my children Oje and Athena.

This exceptional documentary effectively informs audiences how a billion-dollar company hired substandard ‘hackers’ to conduct an unsafe stunt using the most inappropriate equipment and set-up to save money while disregarding the commonsense advice of top qualified rigging experts not to do so. Equally sickening is how this company went on with the show after Owen died in the ring and paraded match after match out onto a wrestling mat stained with Owen’s blood and where the boards underneath the ring were broken from the ravaging impact of his fall, with wrestlers feeling the dip in the ring as a result. This true tale also delves into how this company sued me, a young grieving widow, for breach of Owen’s contract in Connecticut in order to try and evade punitive damages that otherwise would be awarded in a Missouri held trial where the wrongful death lawsuit was filed. Not to mention the manipulation of the Hart family, so much so that some members worked against me and even stole my legal documents – handing them over to the defense, while others remained painfully silent. This documentary is harrowing and certainly underscores a cruel side of humanity. However, as awful as some of the elements of this story are, there are also so many uplifting positive messages to take away, which is what I hope viewers do.

On this point, this story touches on many fundamental aspects of the human experience such as duty, loyalty, respect, persevering, and forgiveness. Yes, I have forgiven them all and I wish them all the absolute best in life. This story reminds us that life is not fair or easy but it’s much harder if carrying ill-will, which is why it’s important to incorporate the daily practice of wishing life treats everyone kindly. Lighter means brighter and I will take that any day of the week. But above all this story is about fighting the good fight, knowing right from wrong, being brave even if that means standing alone, true grit, and never giving up. It’s about taking the worst things this world throws at you and refusing to let it destroy you or define you. In life, we don’t really know what we’re made of until we are tested. Adversity acts like a mirror into the soul and when it strikes it reflects a person’s true character. Experiencing hardship isn’t nice but it begets growth. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes some of our most prized accomplishments occur as a result of our misfortunes. This is because motivation to transmute into a higher being generally does not happen when life is stress-free and perfect. Losing Owen shattered 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 deep humility and compassion that would propel me to assist those most in-need via the OHF. Given everything said on the best and the worst moments of my mine and Owen’s life together, what then do I think is the main take-away life lesson of this extremely emotional documentary? It’s simple. No matter how difficult, how heartbreaking, how challenging, how grueling, how unpleasant, how exhausting, or how unbearable the task at hand is, do not fret – LOVE will always find the courage no matter the situation or circumstances. Destruction vs. Reconstruction – Note: when trials and tribulations find their way to your doorstep embrace them and let them be a vehicle for reform – not a vestibule for devastation.

I started dating Owen when I fifteen years old, we were betrothed by age 22, had our adorable son Oje a few years later, followed by our beautiful daughter Athena a few years after that, and the rest is history. This was an amazing chapter in my life, and I wish it had been my entire book, but life doesn’t always turn out as we plan. So, walking on we all must do. I shared Owen and our life together with the World and I was happy to do that – it was an amazing First Act that I am so grateful for. Thank you so much Owen for a wonderful life and thank you to everyone who dearly loved him, as I did. He was special and precious and funny and kind and generous and all the lovely things that every person should aspire to be. He is missed. But now my Act 2 is my own and still a work in progress… Please wish me luck and thank you so much to all the magnificent people who have supported me over the years. Bless.

Dark Side of the Ring – S02E10 – The Final Days of Owen Hart …www.dailymotion.com › video44:05Dark Side of the Ring – S02E10 – The Final Days of Owen Hart – May 19, 2020 || Dark Side of the Ring ..

At Calgary International Airport with my late great legal counsel Ed Pipella of Pipella Law LLP (OHF Proud Sponsors) on our first of many trips to Kansas City MO., and with the fabulous Vice Media Dark Side of the Ring Crew – producer Evan Husney (left) with Adam, Dan, Andy & Director Jason Eisener (missing). Thank you so much guys for having the guts to tell my story. Special thanks to my legal team Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP Lawyers Casey Chisick & Stephen Henderson, all of my friends, family, OHF Committee Members, Sponsors, and supporters who always have my back. The episode ‘Owen Hart’s Final Days’ airs in North America on Vice on TV in the USA and CRAVE TV in Canada with encore showings slated to air next week. Be sure to watch as an added 4-minute clip of ‘Owen the Prankster’ is included and it’s priceless!
Vice Media’s Dark Side of the Ring ‘Owen the Prankster’ added 4 minute video clip that highlights some of Owen’s many funny ‘Ribs’.
Commemorative Owen Hart T-Shirts On The Road To #1 Best Seller !
The OHF received the news that the Owen Hart commemorative t-shirts with all proceeds going to the OHF are on the road to #1! Bless everyone for supporting the OHF and for buying these very special t-shirts. Click the link for more information: https://www.prowrestlingtees.com/owenhart

Groundhog Day (Modern-Day Classic Return)

Since we all feel like we are living the same day over-and-over again due to the Covid-19 lockdown I thought it would be fitting to write about one of my all-time favorite modern-day classics Groundhog Day. Incidentally, this iconic silver-screen gem has made a comeback in recent years as a dazzling Broadway musical attended on several occasions by the one-and-only king of deadpan Bill Murray, who brilliantly played the film version’s lead.

Speaking of which, this movie opens with Phil Connors (Bill Murray), a jaded pessimistic weatherman finishing up his newscast before reluctantly travelling with his film crew (producer/love interest Rita played by Andie MacDowell and cameraman Larry played by Chris Elliott) to small town Punxsutawney for the 4th year running to report on the annual Groundhog Day festivities. Phil scoffingly perceives the soft media piece as a meaningless story of a town’s obsession with a rodent (also named Phil) and his shadow (any sight of which equals 6 more weeks of winter – yikes). The news crew overnights in the sleepy town to get a quick jump on the early morning fluff story, but then wraps abruptly on the woodchuck silhouette narrative so Phil can get back to the big city asap. On the journey home an unexpected snowstorm hits and the crew is turned around with the threesome forced to spend another night in ‘Hicksville’. This is when the fun begins. The next morning sets off a series of déjà vu wake-ups with Phil experiencing endless repeats of February 2nd. Each day starting with a sharp 6am rousing to Sonny & Cher’s tune ‘I Got You Babe’. In short, like a broken record that won’t stop skipping, Phil finds himself perpetually living the same day over-and-over again with no reprieve in sight.

In relation to life’s meaning this fantasy comedy is packed with so many priceless take-away messages all cleverly veiled behind a backdrop of humor that is unmatched. To begin, when Phil realizes the inescapable reality of being stuck in the same reoccurring day his dominate response is to be increasingly curt, condescending, and rude. When that gets him no where he switches gears and preys on people’s weaknesses. When that doesn’t work either he becomes indifferent, and eventually suicidal, which again just plops him right back to reliving Groundhog Day. For a time he’s sorrowful but then ultimately he turns his sights on winning over female producer Rita (a woman he secretly admires but feels she’s out of his league) and strategically uses each day to gather personal information from her about her likes/dislikes. All done in an effort to artificially mold himself into the type of man he thinks Rita is worthy of having, but one he is naturally not. Initially Phil is encouraged by the limited success he achieves as Rita starts to warm up to his advances. But since all his conversions are a façade it’s not long before his methods are met with frustration. The harder he tries to win her over the more inauthentic he becomes thus creating the opposite desired effect. As a result, Rita senses he’s a fraud and becomes increasingly repulsed by him. This disenchantment finally prompts Phil to give up the ghost. As Albert Einstein stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Phil begins to realize that appearing one way but acting another just doesn’t cut it; learning that legitimate self-improvement is required to stop the repetitive garbage-in garbage-out cycle. Alas, after many failed attempts Phil embraces sincere shifts in behavior and comprehends that true change is the only change that matters. He accepts it’s okay to get it wrong – and lucky for him he receives endless second chances to get it right. Phil slowly learns to be a giver not a taker and discovers that charm can attract quality people into your life, but it can’t keep them there – that takes unfeigned substance! Most importantly Phil ascertains that when it comes to love, aspiring to be a better person is always worth the effort, even if the desired outcome evades you. Acclimatization vs. Transformation – disabling undesirable individual attributes requires a genuine mindset makeover. People can alter their dominate negative responses by training the brain to engage in positive thinking/behaviors as mental reboots are the only bona-fide route to personal reconstructive adjustment. As the old adage goes, ‘change your thoughts and you change your life’. Doing so, may just lead to the highest reward of all – actually being a good person. Amen. This movie reminds us that achieving one’s best self means transforming without a hidden agenda since life-altering transition involves more than just superficial modifications. But the process needs to start with caring about others over oneself even when such noble deeds go unappreciated and unrecognized. When people engage in random acts of kindness with virtuous intentions and without expectations good things tend to follow. This is what life is all about. As my favorite genius so eloquently stated, ‘only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.’- Albert Einstein. It’s never too late to reach your full potential and this in my opinion is the ultimate life lesson highlighted in this movie.  

While we are all living through our own form of never-ending Groundhog Days (I have named Quarantine Days) perhaps we too can use our time effectively to change some of our own undesirable behaviors or learn new skills that otherwise might never have been on our agendas. As nicely emphasized in this movie, all that matters in the end is kindness and it’s contagious (which is a good thing in this case); and always a magnanimous aim. Let’s hope we all wake up soon from our very long Covid-19 slumber with 6:01am on the clock radio (digits = lucky #7) wiser for the valuable humanitarian lessons we learned via our collective caring and self-isolation sacrifices but instead now forever chanting to our fellow-man ‘I Got You Babe’. What a silver lining that would be given concern for others will be the only philosophy that gets us through this persisting plague. Bless.

PS. I traveled to the charming town of Brodheadsville Pennsylvania shortly after 9-11 located just a few hours away from the very quaint famed town of Punxsutawney – where groundhog Phil is known to dwell. I was there visiting the brilliant Dr. Frank Romascavage (one of Owen’s favorite people – and in my opinion the only appointed MD in the biz worth his salt) and his lovely family. We had a wonderful stay, which included a limo drive with Doc to Boston Mass for my graduate-studies interview at Harvard University. Fantastic memories with fabulous friends.

The Gentlemen

As the title of this movie implies this film is most definitely tailored to a male audience and with Guy Ritchie as director this is no surprise. In sum, Guy likes making guys movies – namely crime capers – a genre that put him on Hollywood’s map! But females may like this movie too as Ritchie’s films are typically full of good-looking men (this one included) due to his ‘fascination with the male ego and macho bonding’. A pleasant bonus for lady viewers no doubt. Ritchie also normally manages to drop in a few humorous elements; a nice treat for all. That said, this film has more of a hardcore edgy approach with some seriously disturbing content and some gratuitous violence. Ordinarily not my type of movie but with the recent film freeze due to Covid-19 newer cinematic selections are wearing thin. That aside, this movie is captivating enough with a stellar cast and some pretty good life lessons to pass along too.

On this point, there are understated themes of ‘honor amongst thieves’ and degrees of loyalty woven in. Though what stuck in my mind the most about this picture was the inconceivable cost these men pay to climb and stay on top of the success ladder. It’s easy to understand and appreciate ambition but when the business is a shady setup, the questionable lengths required are beyond most people’s comprehension. In short, gentlemen they are not! To be a true gentleman, one needs to be a ‘chivalrous, courteous, honorable man’, which isn’t easy when running an extremely lucrative high-stakes illegal grow-op. Deviance vs. Decency; corruption corrupts – plain and simple. This is human nature – or is it? It might help to remember that the root of most evil is grounded in excessive self-preoccupation of one’s own wants over the well-being of others; and that external acts of debauchery are only expressed when internal seeds of malice are planted in the heart/soul; nurtured and ‘allowed’ to grow. Only then is the game ‘kill or be killed’ where the players are takers with agendas so slippery; it’s like trying to catch oil in a sieve. Dirty money has always attracted dark creatures and it’s ugly, unscrupulous, dishonest, foul, and soiled. It makes you wonder who would ever pursue such an exhausting vicious cut-throat self-interested existence in real life. Yikes. I’d rather be poor with a clear conscience and able to sleep in peace – than with the fishes! Always take the high road – the view is spectacular.

Speaking of nice scenery, this movie in set in England (one of my favorite places) and opens with sophisticated intelligent yet seedy drug lord Mickey Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) entering a typical neighborhood pub. As he sits quietly at a table gunfire erupts. Then without explanation viewers are left to wonder about his survival until the end of the film. I like stories that start with the ending first then walks the audiences back in time to see what led up to the current dramatic moments. The English musical Blood Brothers does this brilliantly, and similar to this popular West-End play, differences in social class are weighted heavily in this movie with a smidgen of racism thrown in just for fun (not). It’s a basic ‘kill what you eat and eat what you kill’ type of film. The story takes viewers on a walk through the circle of developments that shapes the yarn. Without giving too much away Hugh Grant who plays Fletcher, a sleazy despicable evasive night-crawler tabloid type journalist turned screenwriter thinks he’s got the goods on Mickey and is trying his hand at blackmail to turn a quick buck/quid. It’s a long winding road that includes likable mobsters’ Coach (played by Colin Farrell) and loyalist Raymond (played by Charlie Hunnam) as well as Mickey’s wife Rosalind (played by Michelle Dockery) whom he is lovingly and completely devoted to – his one redeeming quality. In the end the path narrative leads back to the incident at the pub and then the whole story ties up in a perfect bow and the tale all makes sense. Walla! Clean and simple. Well maybe not clean. ha ha

P.S. I crossed paths with Colin Farrell in London at Heathrow Airport in 2015. His movie The Lobster filmed in Dublin was just coming out and he was featured in Men’s Health Magazine, so he was having a good year. He looked like he just came right from his Cover Shoot – wearing jeans and a white T-shirt looking handsome as the ‘black Irish’ do with their dark hair and brown eyes, and he was just getting his arm tattoos removed. It’s a process so they were faded but still visible and given his sleeves were rolled right up it seemed to be irritating him. Ouch. Notwithstanding, I must say he’s a really sweet guy and it was nice to run into him. He was overly apologetic about autograph seekers that chased him relentlessly, though he was very polite to his fans, which I thought was most kind. Bless.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Throwback 2013)

With everyone feeling down with the grim reality of Covid-19 looming I decided to do a feel-good throwback on one of my favorite movies entitled The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), an adaptation of James Thurber’s classic short story. I love this movie! Probably because at the core I am a nomad, living for the unknown, never afraid to take a calculate risk. Given we are all feeling endlessly restless from many weeks in lock down what could be better than to virtually escape into foreign lands and roads untraveled. As LIFE’s Motto states, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” And I’m lovin it!

This film opens with daydreamer Walter Mitty (fabulously played by Ben Stiller), a very bland white-collared negative assets manager/picture researcher at LIFE Magazine in New York City living an uneventful vanilla lifestyle trying to take a gamble on a dating website. When his online attempt fails due to his unfinished eHarmony been-there-done-that profile the movie tumbles into a fabulous daydreaming-turned-reality adventure of self-realization. The film highlights that living in your own head is not living at all. Stepping or jumping out of the box is required to really experience the present and live a big life. Pushing the limits of the human spirit is what it is all about. Not letting everyday problems and doldrums rule the day. This movie entertainingly rolls out how taking chances allows the authentic self to be revealed. In short, live in the moment and just enjoy every minute. This is an important message no doubt, yet not the primary take-away of this film. Instead the overriding life lesson this flick imparts is more about understanding, recognizing, cherishing, and acknowledging all the amazing people hidden behind the scenes of our being that propel us forward and make us shine so bright. Unseen vs. Unnoticed – Sean Penn who plays sought after (successful, brave, tough, fearless, rugged, handsome) illusive LIFE photographer Sean O’Connel said it best ‘beautiful things don’t ask for attention’ but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it. Hats off to all the Ghost Cats in our lives.

Directed by Ben Stiller, this movie incorporates a star-studded cast starting with Kristen Wiig as Mitty’s colleague/love interest Cheryl Melhoff, Shirley MacLaine as his mother Edna, Kathryn Hahn as sister Odessa and Adam Scott as boss Ted Hendricks to name a few. All of which did a great job in their roles though I thought Ben Stiller outshone them all. He did such an excellent job portraying Walter Mitty as someone who wants more out of life but does not come across as depressed or completely unhappy. Instead he is just a regular guy that zones in and out of reality indulging in fantastical delusions of grandeur to cope with his boring life. That is until he can’t locate the most valuable film-roll negative slated to be LIFE Magazine’s last-ever print issue Cover, which in turn reluctantly propels him on a quest to find it. Doing so unexpectedly helps Mitty expand as a person and unwittingly increases his confidence and self-belief. Basically, he finds identity through his adventures. In the process Mitty evolves into his best self by learning he is valued by those he values. Something I think we all strive for. After all, ‘Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.’― Voltaire. This film also humors viewers with some nice illustrations of the imagination before snapping us back to the now. I liked the inventive fantasist components almost as much as the factual aspects of Mitty’s life. Although this story could be contrived as too airy and perfect, I happen to like a good RomCom once in a while. On that note, I loved how at the end of Mitty’s journey the real thing turns out to be so much better than anything he could have made-up. I know that sounds sappy but what’s wrong with a little fantasy every now and then. And of course, I loved how Mitty’s mum saved the day too! Mums are the best after all. ha ha

PS. Similar to the Walter Mitty character, for me living my best life means travelling as much as possible. I worship freedom and being on the go wandering the world. Lucky for me a lot of my travel is humanitarian based or work related, which adds another meaningful layer to my expeditions. That said, I also really enjoy my structured everyday life, but some of my best moments are when I’m in some incredible foreign land seeing and doing spectacular things while not even knowing or caring what day of the week it is. This is when I feel I am truly awake in my life and I love that feeling. On that point, it is worth noting that the cinematography in this film was delightful in its display of stunning landscapes, some of which I have visited. This movie also gave Iceland its first leading role in Hollywood, which definitely made many explorers like me want to visit this enchanted place even more. For the record seeing Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull was phenomenal and witnessing its famous Strokkur Geyser erupt in front of my eyes was truly life altering. In a flash I genuinely comprehended just how alive our planet really is. Amazing. Cheers to all the roving gypsies like me (in practice and at heart). It won’t be long before Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, and we are back on the road again. Bless.

Literally standing/walking on the rift path between two continents this pic was taken in the World Heritage Unesco site of Iceland’s Þingvellir region located 49km east of capital city Reykjavik in the active volcano rift valley created by the drifting apart of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that are still drifting in opposite directions at the rate of 2cm annually. Other pic on a ship much like the movie’s Erkigsnek vessel just off the coast of Iceland and one at Strokkur Geyser as it erupted. Other pics taken while trekking the Himalayas while on a humanitarian trip – receiving official Mount Everest Certificate for traveling to (not climbing) the majestic Sagarmatha ‘Goddess of the Sky’ a.k.a. Peak 15! Such great adventurous memories. Can’t wait until we can all travel the world again! Bless this beautiful planet and all its inhabitants. BTW happy belated Earth Day – we love you.