Category Archives: Movies

Knock Down The House

Last Sunday over dinner my son and I talked enthusiastically about a movie on Netflix we had both just watched.  It is called Knock Down the House and tells the incredible story of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and how she defeated ten-term incumbent Democratic Congressman Joe Crawley to become a candidate in the 2018 election and subsequently was elected to the American House of Representatives.  Although Crawley was a prominent member of the Democratic caucus, was backed by big business interests, and spent nearly twenty times as much money as Ocasio-Cortez did, she still won.  Everyone knows this story but it is chronicled in exciting personal detail in Knock Down the House

What I learned while watching Knock Down the House that I didn’t know before was that AOC, as she is affectionately called, was one of many new candidates for office sponsored by the Justice Democrats an organization that formed after the 2016 election to promote Democratic candidates that were not in the pocket of big business, candidates that were not funded by wealthy individuals or major corporations. The movie details the bids of three other women besides AOC who also tried to defeat established corporately funded candidates to be nominated in their congressional districts. Although they didn’t win their primaries their stories are also inspirational.  

In Nevada, Amy Vilela ran for nomination inspired by her twenty-two-year-old daughter who died because she didn’t get the medical procedure she needed due to confusion over whether the young woman’s health insurance would cover it.  

In West Virginia Paula Jean Swearengin a coal miner’s daughter ran for nomination inspired by the poor living conditions and low wages of coal miners and her concerns over the environmental damage caused by the industry including the high rates of cancer among her neighbors. 

In Missouri Cori Bush a registered nurse, ordained pastor and community organizer ran for nomination inspired by her own experience as a single parent having to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. She wanted to change a justice system that over-incarcerates, an education system that under educates and was disturbed by the fact that millions of American children live in poverty. 

Some critics say Knock Down the House would have been a better movie if it had just focused on the story of AOC but I think it is stronger for also showing us the other candidates, equally passionate, equally bent on changing America, equally dedicated to giving government ‘back to the people’, but women who ultimately did not have the success AOC did and were defeated by corporately backed candidates. 

My son and I talked about what was the most moving scene in the film for both of us.  After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is elected to Congress she visits Washington DC  and remembers how her father who died in 2008 once took her there and showing her the great monuments in the capital said, “These all belong to us.” 

We have an election coming this fall in Canada and Knock Down the House is a good reminder that indeed our government belongs to us and that we each have an important role to play in determining our country’s future.

Other posts………

What Happens When A Women Take Power?

Women in Politics

Difficult Women


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Filed under Movies, Politics

Level 16

My heart rate was certainly at a pretty high level while I watched the movie Level 16 at Cinematheque last weekend.  I saw a matinee with two friends and while women our age can be known to nod off for an afternoon nap on occasion there was no chance of that during this heart stopper of a film about a girl’s school with a sinister purpose.

You don’t find out till right near the end what is really going on but as is the case with any good suspense film once you do know the outcome you can look back at various scenes in the movie and realize what a good job the writer and director did of foreshadowing.  

Another sign of a good movie is that the more you think about it the more you realize the film conveyed some great thought provoking messages to ponder while delivering a totally engaging story.  Level 16 makes you think about the way women have been taught to be submissive, our society’s preoccupation with outward appearance and way the powerful take advantage of the vulnerable.

 Level 16 which reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale and Get Out is directed and written by Danishka Esterhazy. She is from Winnipeg. Just one more good reason to go and see the film during this coming week when it continues to play at Cinematheque. 

Other posts…….

Two Films About Menstruation You Need To See

Haunted By the Movie Wild Life

Won’t You Be My Neighbour?


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What Should You Give Up For Lent?

The movie Chocolat tells the story of a  young woman and her daughter who move to a small French village just before Easter and set up a new chocolate shop directly across the street from the church. 

The mayor of the village, a very pious man, is appalled that a single mother would want to entice the community’s fine Catholic citizens with so pleasurable a thing as chocolate during Lent– a time of year when they should be denying themselves pleasure. 

In an attempt to reconcile the two,  the young priest from the village church delivers a Sunday message in which he suggests to his congregation that rather than give something up for Lent they embrace something new. They might befriend a new person or be open-minded enough to accept a new idea. 

I wonder if we couldn’t benefit the most by combining the ‘giving up’ and ’embracing something new’ aspects of Lent.

What if we……..

Gave up jealousy and joyfully celebrated the success of others

Gave up holding grudges and forgave those who have wronged us

Gave up worrying about our health and started doing something to improve it

Gave up gossiping and looked for positive things to say about people

Gave up losing our temper so quickly and tried to practice more patience even with the most frustrating people in our lives

Gave up being self-centered and thought about what we could do to help someone else

Gave up expecting the worst and hoped for the best

Gave up wishing our lives could be different or better and took steps to make that happen

Gave up__________ and ___________

This approach could have consequences. Researchers have found it only takes six weeks to establish a new habit. Lent, which lasts for forty days is just about that long. Who knows? If we do give up some negatives and embrace more positive alternatives for Lent we might just change our lives forever. 

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Filed under Movies, Reflections, Religion

Free Solo- What If He Falls?

What if he falls?  That question must have been going through the mind of every person on the camera crew who filmed the National Geographic movie Free Solo which just won the Oscar for best documentary.  

We watched it last week in a Merida theatre.  In the movie legendary rock climber Alex Honnold scales El Capitan a rock face in Yesomite Park that has claimed the lives of thirty one people in the past and they……….. were climbing with ropes.  Alex reached the top of El Capitan without ropes or any kind of protective gear, not even a helmet in just under four hours. A crew of photographers led by husband and wife team Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi filmed Alex’s ascent.

Alex with his friend Jimmy Chin who co-directed Free Solo

In a New York Times video some of the crew on the movie, who by the way, were all expert climbers and friends of Alex’s, say they had to mentally prepare themselves for the fact that Alex might fall and they would witness his death.  In order not to distract Alex, remote control cameras were placed in the most difficult sections of the climb and their footage collected later. After watching the film I thought about………….

Alex and his mother have climbed together

  • What makes some people do death defying things like Alex did?  The film implies that his relationship with his mother who had very high expectations for her children was a factor. The film also suggests that people who attempt dangerous things like Alex does may have a brain abnormality that makes it difficult for them to feel fear. You can read more about that here. 
  • Practice certainly makes perfect.  Alex prepared for his solo climb for two years. He trained with weights and stretches and climbed other mountains to practice and………… he had climbed El Capitan countless times with ropes before he did his free solo feat. He had a notebook where he wrote down almost every single motion he would make on the mountain.  He knew exactly where he would put his hands and feet with each move upward. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel Alex says it was like cheorographing a ballet and he was basically doing the meticiously planned dance almost intuitively as he climbed El Capitan. 
  • What will Alex do now?  He has achieved the pinnacle feat in his career.  He has made a great deal of money from sponsorships. He has bought a house with his girlfriend and started a charity that supports solar energy intiatives worldwide. But I can hardly see him being content. He says there are several rock faces in the world that are perhaps higher and more difficult than El Capitan but they are in such isolated places it would be almost impossible to even get to them. So what do you do when you’ve done everything in your chosen field? 

I can recommend watching Free Solo.  It will give you plenty to think about and the cinematography during the actual climb is utterly amazing. 

Other posts………

Two Films About Menstruation You Need to See

Haunted by the Movie Wild Life

Leave No Trace

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Filed under Movies, Sports

Two Films About Menstruation You Need to See

One of good things about watching  the Oscars this year was learning about the film  Period. End of Sentence. It  won the award for best documentary short subject.  I watched it on Netflix the very next day. The film was the brainchild of a group of highschool students in Los Angeles and their teacher Melissa Berton who wanted to tell the story of young girls in India who don’t have access to affordable sanitary pads. Because of this the girls stay home from school when they have their period or suffer serious health problems because they use dirty rags or sometimes even ash instead of sanitary napkins.

Set in rural India the film brings to light the deep stigma still attached to menstruation in much of the country.  Directed by award-winning filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi and produced by Guneet Monga the film also highlights the work of Arunachalam Muruganantham an Indian inventor who created a simple machine to make affordable biodegradable sanitary napkins. In the film the inventor teaches a group of women in the village of Hapur to make the napkins with his machine and they sell them and use the money to finance their own education and improve their lives. Arunachalam Muruganantham is inspired by these girls trying to build a future for themselves.  He says “the strongest creature on earth is not the elephant, not the tiger, but the girl.” 

After watching Period. End of Sentence I also watched Padman on Netflix. It is an inspiring movie which tells the story of inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham and shows how his sanitary pad machine is enabling women all over India to have access to affordable personal hygiene products and in the process helping them to become independent, educated and empowered. Padman is certainly worth watching as well. 

At the Oscars Melissa Berton accepted her award saying “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.” Her film as well as Padman profile an important initiative. You can support it at The Pad Project which is directly related to the two films.  Here is a list of ten other organizations that have similar initiatives in other countries. 

Other posts………

Meeting the Street Children of Dehli

Indian  Dinner

Love in a Lunch Box



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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



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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



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