Category Archives: Movies

Haunted by the Movie Wild Life

Haunted is the word that came to mind when someone asked me to describe the movie Wild Life.  My husband Dave chose Wild Life as a Valentine’s Day movie we could watch together.  Sadly, although it is a film about love, it chronicles the ending of a love story.

I was haunted by the stunning cinematography in this movie.  I kept thinking as I watched it that certain scenes on which the camera lingered could have been painted by Edward Hopper or perhaps Andrew Wyeth. It is beyond me how  this film could not have garnered an Oscar nomination for cinematography. 

I was haunted by the stunning performances of all three main actors.  Joe Brinson plays fourteen year old Ed Oxenbould, a nice kid who is finding out as every child eventually does, that the parents he loved and idolized are actually very flawed human beings.  Jerry Brinson, Joe’s father, is an out of work golf professional played by Jake Gyllenhaal who is struggling with trying to fullfill his expected 1950s role as family head and bread winner.  Carey Mulligan is Joe’s mother Jeannette who is trying to find out who she is in the 1950s when a women’s main role was wife and mother and finding an identity outside that expected framework was hard.  

Although each of the main characters in this movie makes some tragic choices you still are ever so drawn to them, you care deeply about them and you feel their pain. I cannot understand why all three were not nominated for an Oscar.  They are brilliant!

I was haunted by the wild fires in Montana that provide a back drop to this movie.  They give a scary edge to some scenes especially one in which Joe and his mother Jeannette go out the location where their husband and father Jerry is fighting the forest fires.  Joe is so scared his parents’ marriage is going up in flames and that adds an extra ragged shard of fear to a scene where Joe is way too close to the raging fire.

I was haunted by the final scene in this movie.  It was a brilliant bit of film making. A beautiful moment but oh so very heart rendingly sad.  

Wild Life probably wasn’t a great pick for a Valentine’s Day movie but it was a great movie!

Other posts about sad movies……..

Wedding Night

The Moral of A Star is Born

What If You Could No Longer Do The Thing You Loved the Most? 

Flaws Make the Character



Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

Leave No Trace

I was captivated by this movie! A young girl Tom, and her father Will, are living off the grid in the forests of Oregon. They have set up a camp but have no permanent home.  The father not only teaches his daughter how to survive in the forest but also provides her with such a well rounded education in math and history and science and literature that when authorities finally catch up to them the thirteen year old girl scores way above her peers on standardized tests.  I loved both of the main characters in the film Leave No Trace. I was intrigued by them.  I felt sympathy and sorrow for them.  The father and daughter’s love for one another was palpable and moving. 

Will, the father in the story, suffers from PTSD as a result of his military service. As the film progresses and Tom and his daughter come into contact with more and more people in the world, Tom realizes that her father’s illness and indeed his very survival depends on living unconventionally. But much as she loves her father and knows he loves her can she stay with him or does she need to carve out a different future for herself?  

Leave No Trace makes you ask hard questions about what is the best kind of parenting. Can people be good parents while struggling mightily with their own emotional and mental health? How can society facilitate keeping families together despite these difficulties?  Sometimes, even though it is incredibly hard,  do we need to separate ourselves from those we love in order to survive and flourish ourselves? 

In watching the movie Leave No Trace I was reminded of the book Educated in which Tara Westover tells the story of being raised by a father who deals with mental illness.  Her relationship with her father presents a stark contrast to the one presented in Leave No Trace. I was also reminded of the movie Manchester by the Sea in which a man suffering from the after effects of a horrific family event can not bring himself to serve as his nephew’s guardian despite his deep love for him. 

Based on a true story the movie Leave No Trace is one of the finest films I’ve seen in the last year.  Both Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie the main stars give stellar, honest and wonderfully realistic performances. How this movie did not garner a single Oscar nomination is beyond me.  

Other posts…….


Manchester By The Sea



Filed under Movies

Films That Mirror Life

The world of film offers a way to explore some important changes that are happening in families.  I’ve watched a variety of movies and television series lately that illustrate some of the new family dynamics developing in society.

The number of Canadian children living alone with their father has increased by 35% in the last decade. Statistics Canada says this reflects a growing acknowledgement of the important role of fathers in family life. 

eighth grade movieThe movie Eighth Grade available for rent on Amazon tells the story of a dedicated single Dad raising his teenage daughter who is beset with self- esteem issues, anxious about her appearance, her friendships and her online presence.  Although she finds her father bumbling and irritating at times he is the rock in her life always there to listen, tell her how great she is, and to provide protection and support.

Nearly 16% of Canadian couples will struggle with infertility in 2019. Only 5% had problems conceiving children in 1985. Many different factors contribute to this increased rate. While new ways of helping such couples are constantly being explored infertility is still very difficult.

private-life-poster-thumbThe movie Private Life on Netflix looks at a couple Richard and Rachel who desperately want to conceive a child. They’ve tried everything but won’t give up.  I found their story heartbreaking even thought it is told with a sense of wry humor.

There has been a significant increase in the number of same sex Canadian couples having children and raising families together. These families tend to live in urban areas. Their children may be biological or adopted or a combination of both. 

CIERRA RAMIREZ, TERI POLO, SHERRI SAUM, DAVID LAMBERT, NOAH CENTINEO, HAYDEN BYERLY, MAIA MITCHELLThe Fosters is a Netflix series that tells the story of Lena and Stefanie, a married lesbian couple living in San Diego. They are raising one biological and four adopted children together. Lena is the vice-principal at a charter high school and Stefanie is a police officer. Together they provide their children with a loving and stable home.

About 10% of Canadian children live in stepfamilies. About 30% of those children live in what is called complex stepfamilies, with both biological parents having some custody rights and stepbrothers and sisters playing a role in their lives.

The Netflix series Bonus Family examines just such a situation. Lisa and Patrick are a Swedish couple who have both left unhappy marriages to live together. Lisa has a son and daughter and Patrick has a son. They retain joint custody of their children with their former partners and Patrick and Lisa have a new baby together. It is a very complex situation and Patrick and Lisa seek help from a therapist team to try and sort it all out.

There are more Canadian children with disabilities and they are living longer. A Lethbridge University research report said this statistic raises concerns for parents who worry about who will care for their disabled children once they can no longer do so.

In the moving and inspiring Netflix documentary Far From The Tree we meet a whole series of families who are doing their best to find happiness even though their children face some major challenges in life.  One of the families profiled is that of Jason Kingsley a man with Down syndrome and his elderly mother Emily. Jason’s father has died, and Jason has no siblings. Emily expresses her anxiety about who will care for her son once she is gone.

Canadian families are changing and one way we can further understand those changes and think about them is to watch films and television series that explore a wide variety of family experiences.

This post was a newspaper column published in The Carillon recently. 

Other columns published on my blog…….

The Great Statue Debate

Women in Politics

On The Rock

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Media, Movies

Far From The Tree

What could make you stop loving a child?  

far from the tree movie posterAs I watched the movie Far From the Tree on Netflix I asked that question.  I marveled at the sets of parents it profiled who continued to love their children despite the fact they presented their families with fierce challenges and in many cases considerable heartbreak. Far From the Tree is a documentary that looks at parents with a child who is not like them, a child who defies that old saying about how much children often resemble their parents “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  

In the film we meet Jack who is autistic, often violent and can’t speak, Jason who has Down Syndrome, Trevor who has committed murder, and Joe, Lena and Lioni who are dwarfs. far from the treeThe documentary is narrated by Andrew Solomon a gay man who wrote the book on which the movie Far From the Tree is based. In his book Andrew explores how some families, including his own, handle having a child who is very different than his or her parents, a child who presents the family with unique challenges.

Two things shone through for me as I watched Far From The Tree.  The first was that every parent in the film loved their child unconditionally. There was nothing their child could do to make them stop loving them.  And the second was how the families in the film managed to find happiness in situations where being happy might seem challenging. 

I highly recommend Far From The Tree.  Although not an easy movie to watch it is inspirational and a testament to the power of love. 

Other posts about movies that look at parenting……..


Right To Have Children? 

Why Do We Share Our Worst Selves With Those We Love the Most? 

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Movies

Like Father Like Daughter?

movie viceWe saw the movie Vice on Christmas Day. It is a biography of Dick Cheney. While serving as George W. Bush’s vice president Cheney probably wielded more power than any vice president ever has.  The film claims it was because of Cheney’s influence that……. conservative news stations like Fox proliferated, ISIS was created, the United States invaded Iraq, efforts to promote alternatives to fossil fuels were stymied, and America heightened the brutality of its interrogation techniques. Also thanks to Cheney the current interpretation of the constitution implies that a president’s actions are always legal.  The movie didn’t leave viewers with much of anything to like or admire about Dick Cheney.

dick cheney's daughter mary holds bible for him when he is sworn in as vice president

Dick Cheney’s younger daughter Mary who has a same sex marriage partner holds the Bible for her Dad as he is sworn in as Vice President

The one moment in the film when I felt somewhat positively about Cheney was when he made it very clear to George W. Bush that if he became his running mate in 2000 there would be as he put it ‘be a concrete line’ in the sand with regards to the fact that Dick Cheney’s younger daughter Mary was a lesbian and in a same-sex marriage. Obviously same- sex marriage was something Republicans did not support but Cheney indicated he loved his daughter and his bond with her was of primary importance to him. In 2009 Dick Cheney made a public statement in favor of same-sex marriage.

The early part of the movie depicts the Cheney family- Dick, his wife Lynne, his younger daughter Mary, his older daughter Liz and their spouses and children as being very close, affectionate and supportive of one another. 

Interestingly then in 2014 when Dick Cheney’s older daughter Liz, a former Fox News contributor, was running for a Senate seat in Wyoming, with her parents’ approval she publicly took a stand against gay marriage and gay rights, a stance that created a rift with her sister Mary that has lasted to the present day.  They no longer see each other and Mary and her partner have publicly criticized Liz.  

liz cheney posted this picture on her twitter page

Liz posted a picture on Twitter of her father hugging her after she was elected to Congress

Liz lost her 2014 senate race but in  2016 the state of Wyoming elected Liz as their member of Congress to fill a position left open by a retirement and just this past November Liz Cheney was reelected and has been picked as the GOP conference chair which means she will be in charge of the party’s communications strategy and is the third highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. Liz has always been very supportive of her father and played a key role in his campaign for vice president. He in turn heartily supported his daughter’s run for Congress.

Seeing the film Vice and learning just how tragically and terribly Liz Cheney’s father changed the course of American history it is pretty scary to think that such a man’s child is now gaining power in Washington. Like father, like daughter? 

Other posts……….

Women in Politics

A President’s Funeral and a Statue in Hong Kong

Doing Something

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Politics

Don’t Trust The Trailer

instant familyI had watched trailers for the movie Instant Family and decided I didn’t want to see it because it looked like it would be one of those romanticized, feel good films about foster families and foster care.  But when we were trying to decide on a movie to watch with friends on Monday night I checked out Instant Family’s reviews and found it had received a positive response from critics and audience members alike.   I discovered that contrary to the cutesy trailers I had seen the movie was based on a true story and that Sean Anders the writer and director of the movie had been a foster parent himself.   Most reviewers agreed the movie presesented difficult but realistic truths about the foster care system. 

They were right.  The movie was engaging and didn’t paint a rosy picture of what foster care is like.  I learned or was reminded of some things.  

  • There are 500,000 children in foster care in the United States.
  • Although older children and teens make up the largest percentage they are the hardest to find placements for in foster care. 
  • Siblings benefit from being placed in the same foster home. 
  • The goal of foster care is to reunite children with their birth parents and this will be the top priority when decisions are made about children’s futures. 
  • Foster parents are a very diverse group and most, but not all, genuinely want to help children. 
  • Foster parents take an intensive course before being approved for fostering. 

When the couple in the film has just about reached the end of their rope with their three difficult foster children they go and see another set of foster parents for advice.  That foster mom reminds them…….”things that matter are hard.” 

That might be the core lesson of the film and applies not just to foster parenting but to every kind of family relationship. 

grandma sandy meets her grandkids instant familyI can recommend this movie. It will make you laugh and cry.  My favorite character was Grandma Sandy! I bet you will like her too!

And remember you can’t always trust a movie’s trailer to give you a true picture of what the film is about. 

Other posts……..

That’s Not My Kind of God Either

An Evening At the Forks

She’s Gone


Filed under Movies

You Will Be Charmed and Enlightened

“Here’s a comb,”  says Ethel kindly. She picks up a comb from on her hospital nightstand and hands it to her son Raymond. Ethel is on her death-bed but true to form she can’t help expressing her discomfort with the longer, rather messy hairstyle of her middle- aged artist son. 

ethel and ernestThat is just one of the rather charming incidents in an utterly charming movie on Netflix called Ethel and Ernest.  You have probably heard of Raymond Briggs the British artist responsible for such children’s classics as The Snowman.  The movie Ethel and Ernest is based on a graphic novel Raymond Briggs wrote about his parents’ lives. 

Ethel and Ernest are ordinary, hardworking Londoners but through their eyes we see how World War II impacted normal everyday people in devastating ways. sending raymond offSome of the most heartbreaking scenes occur when Ethel and Ernest must send their five- year -old off to live in the country with strangers because of the bombing in London.

ernest and ethelWe also see political events of the 60s and 70s through Ethel and Ernest’s eyes, the rise of socialism and feminism. We watch as they cope with a son who is something of a hippie and becomes an artist instead of having the solid kind of professional job his parents dreamed of for him. 

ethel and ernest movieThe animated movie Ethel and Ernest reveals a slice of world history in the most intimate way by opening the doors to a snug working class home in London and letting the viewer inside to see a family’s everyday life.  It’s charming and enlightening.  Thanks to my friend Esther for recommending it!

Other posts…….

What’s A Bonus Family? 

Warms Your Heart and Makes You Laugh Out Loud

That’s Not My Kind of God Either


Filed under History, Movies