The last two movies we watched were Coda and The Power of the Dog. Both movies received excellent reviews from critics although audiences were slightly little less enthusiastic about The Power of the Dog. The movies were very different.
Coda which is set in the present day is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl trying to balance her love of music and her desire for a social life of her own with her love for her family members who are all deaf. They need her to translate for them at almost every point of contact they have with the outside world. Coda is inspirational and uplifting and shows that even though families are far from perfect they can still be an oasis of love and support.
The Power of the Dog which is set in the 1920s is the story of two brothers and the woman and her son who come into their lives when the one brother gets married. The son must balance his desire to protect his mother with the ethical use of the science he is learning in medical school. The married older brother must balance his love for his wife with maintaining his difficult but necessary connection with his younger brother. Like the family in Coda, this family is far from perfect but darkness, fear and secrecy haunt their relationships in a way that doesn’t happen in Coda.
ThePower of the Dog is more of an art film. The cinematography is simply stunning and many scenes are beautifully framed like paintings. There are lots of things about the characters you learn mostly by watching them rather than hearing them talk. The action is slow and there is sparse dialogue.
Coda is more of a mainstream kind of movie. The scenes set in the forest and out on the ocean are rich and lovely visually but there is also plenty of action and lots of dialogue- although much of it is in sign language with subtitles.
ThePower of the Dog was more like a literary novel and Coda was more like popular fiction. I enjoy reading both and I liked both of these movies too. I would probably watch both again- The Power of the Dog to see all the little foreshadowing details I missed because I didn’t know the ending the first time I watched it, and Coda because it made me feel happy and positive about how love sustains us in even the most difficult situations.
Yesterday Kathy Kyle a blogger I follow did a post called Welcome with a touching image of her husband greeting their daughter at the airport when she arrived home for the holidays. It reminded me of an illustration I used in a sermon I gave last year about staying positive during challenging times.
This is the excerpt from my sermon.
“One of my favourite film scenes of all time is the opening montage in the movie Love Actually. It takes place at the arrivals gate in an airport and shows passengers being greeted by loved ones, friends, and family as they get off the plane. The narrator says something like this….
Whenever I get gloomy about the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. The general opinion is that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that in an airport arrivals lounge love is everywhere.
Often, it’s not particularly dignified looking or even newsworthy, but it’s always there – children greeting grandparents, parents hugging kids, lovers exchanging kisses, old friends embracing.
When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the last phone calls the people on board made before they died, were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love is actually all around.
The writer of 1 Corinthians reminds us that these three things remain- faith hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.
So, when I am struggling to feel positive, I try to remember that our world is full of love, love that has blessed each one of us at different times and in different ways in our lives.“
You can watch the opening scene from Love Actually here.
We went into a theatre for the first time in nearly two years last night. It felt safe and comfortable, everyone masked, vaccination cards checked, people seated in little islands to maintain social distancing.
But Spencer the movie we watched was anything but comfortable. It tells the story of Princess Diana as she spends the Christmas holidays with the royal family at their Sandringham estate.
Plagued by bulimia and depression she is cutting herself and having strange hallucinations. The troubled princess feels trapped by the strange century’s old traditions that are maintained at Sandringham.
I thought as I watched the bizarre portrait of Diana that what we were seeing must be exaggerated but learned later as I searched for information about her online that Diana admitted herself she suffered from bulimia, inflicted self-harm, and tried to commit suicide. She once said her life was torture and the movie Spencer certainly portrays that.
There are some impossible to believe scenes in the film like Diana eating a string of pearls that were a gift from her husband and having conversations with the dead wife of Henry VIII Anne Boleyn, but the film’s directors say most of the film’s script was based on factual information they gleaned from detailed interviews with the staff who worked at Sandringham when Lady Diana was there.
The only bright spot in Diana’s life is her sons and the film does portray her as a caring and concerned parent, although one wonders if her sons weren’t troubled by their mother’s erratic behaviour. The boys do express worry about her unhappiness in the film. I hope they don’t watch this movie about their mother.
Although we all know Diana had many fine qualities and did some important charity work the movie Spencer allows us to see very little of that. What we see is a tortured soul.
I might have hoped for a film that was a little more uplifting for my first visit to a theatre in two years, but what I got instead was really a very sad story.
Note: My husband Dave liked the music of the original soundtrack and I admired the expertise of the costume designers who had recreated so many of Princess Diana’s signature outfits.
Dave and I finally watched Nomadland a few days ago. Since it was the winner of six Academy Awards I had read about its plot and had watched some trailers before I saw the movie. From these bits of information, I expected it to be a very sad film but surprisingly overall it was not.
It tells the story of a woman named Fern who has no children. Her husband dies. The key industry in the town where they lived ceases operation and so the town basically dies too and Fern decides to leave. She puts most of her belongings in storage and sets off on a trip in her van which she has outfitted so she can live in it.
Fern drives through such beautiful parts of America. The landscape photography in the movie is stunning. One of the scenes in the South Dakota badlands shows Fern fairly dancing through all these wondrous rock formations and there are some scenes in Arizona where the camera shots of the desert are breathtaking. Fern whose character is played brilliantly by Frances McDormand thrives on the beauty of her natural surroundings.
Fern takes joy in the act of work, even the most menial tasks are attacked with determination. On her journey she picks up temporary jobs- working in an Amazon warehouse, cleaning a campground, doing food preparation in a restaurant kitchen, and harvesting sugar beets. She is able to view these jobs with humor and is thankful she has an opportunity to earn some money.
Fern makes friends easily. It seems everywhere she goes people are attracted to her for her empathy, her no-nonsense approach, her straightforwardness, and her helping hand. She stays for winter with a group of seniors in Arizona who all live out of their vehicles and with them she finds companionship and joy and a kind of peace. Fern’s marriage seems to have been happy and loving and that gives her comfort even though her husband has died.
Although difficult circumstances force Fern to develop the transient minimalist lifestyle she adopts after a time she grows to appreciate it and feels comfortable with it. She has a sister who dearly loves her and invites Fern tolive with her. Fern’s friend Dave also invites her to move in with his family. She just can’t! She prefers her own space. She likes living in her van.
Fern’s life is not easy, but she helps us to remember that when we take time to appreciate the wonders of nature, find workplaces where we can feel useful, are open to building human connections, and can maintain our sense of independence, then life can have meaning and mixed in with the inevitable sadness there can be a surprising amount of hope and joy.
Dave and I finally watched Minari last week a 2020 film that has been getting lots of attention recently. Here are some of the things I thought about as I processed my viewing experience.
1. Minari demonstrates why paying a living wage to people is so important. If couples are working hard at full time jobs they should be making enough money to provide for their family adequately. The film begins with Jacob and Monica Yi a Korean couple moving to Arkansas from California because despite the fact that both of them work full time at minimum wage jobs sorting baby chicks by sex they still can’t realize the American dream that brought them to the United States.
2. The family moves into a house trailer in rural Arkansas so Jacob can try his hand at farming and the film clearly shows that trailer living is no picnic. During our third year of marriage in the 1970s my husband and I lived in a house trailer in a small rural community and so I could relate. I remember how frozen pipes caused our trailer to flood and how the wind on the tin roof sounded like herds of bison were charging over our heads at night.
3. Life is hard in Arkansas and Monica is ready to leave while Jacob wants to stay and make a different life for his family. This causes lots of conflict and it made me think about how kids feel hearing their parents fight. My parents kept their differences basically behind closed doors although we kids knew they existed. Perhaps that gave us a more stable childhood but it certainly didn’t prepare me for the reality that married couples can fight vehemently and can have major differences which was certainly true in my own marriage. In Minari, the children David and his older sister Anne, make paper airplanes and write Don’t Fight on them to throw at their parents when they are having a big argument.
4. Interestingly the movie is not about racism. Thinking back to the various scenes after the movie was over I could not recall a single incident of blatant racist behaviour except perhaps an innocent racist remark made by a child at church to young David. The child later becomes David’s friend. While blatant racism especially against Asian Americans is definitely an issue today the film suggests that might not always have been the case. I think I might describe the relationship between the family in the film and their American neighbours as awkward, but not racist.
5. I loved that the grandmother in the movie is not a stock character. When Monica is having a hard time adjusting to life in Arkansas Jacob agrees Monica’s mother Soonja can come to America from Korea to live with them. Young David is upset that his Grandma isn’t a traditional Grandma who bakes cookies. His Grandma smells like Korea and brings foul tasting traditional medicines with her to cure David’s heart condition. She likes to watch wrestling on television and play cards. She teaches her grandchildren to swear in Korean. Yet this grandmother brings unconditional love into the troubled household and in the end David and his grandmother develop a heart-warming relationship. As a grandma myself I liked the fact that the movie showed there are no ‘typical’ grandmothers. Each is unique.
6. The movie’s characters are complex. One example is an eccentric and religiously charismatic character named Paul who is a Korean War veteran. He doesn’t go to church but spends his Sundays walking down the rural roads of his community with a huge cross. He comes to work on the farm with Jacob and is helpful, supportive and encouragingwhen Jacob needs that most.
7. I liked thinking about the similarities and differences between this movie and Parasite an award winning film from the previous year that is also about Korean families. You can read my thoughts on that movie here.
9. I was intrigued that the movie is really an autobiography of scriptwriter and director Lee Isaac Chung. What part of my childhood could possibly be turned into an interesting movie?
10. Minari is about a Korean family in the 1980s in rural America but they could be anyone’s family struggling to manage finances, health concerns, complicated family relationships and trying to maintain hope for a better future for their children.
I just finished watching the television series Unbelievable. It isn’t an easy drama to view but it is an important one. It tells a true story about a serial rapist who attacks a young girl in Washington and then a string of women in Colorado. He meets his match when two dogged female detectives literally work night and day and leave no stone unturned to try and find him and convict him.
Unbelievable teaches you a great deal about rape.
Police can interview victims in a way that makes them feel like their story isn’t believable or they can interview them in sensitive and respectful ways.
Although it shouldn’t make a difference, a woman’s past, her race, her age or even her occupation can have an impact on how seriously her rape claims are taken.
Men with military backgrounds and police backgrounds are checked first as possible suspects because they have a much higher rate of violent behaviour.
Police in one district don’t routinely share information about rapes with police in other districts. In Unbelievable the fact that detectives from two different districts work on finding a rapist together happens just as a matter of chance.
Rape changes a woman’s life forever. As the victims shared their stories in the trial during this series it didn’t matter whether they were box store workers or college students or grandmothers or career women the rapes devastated them, totally turned their lives upside down and left them vulnerable and afraid.
I kept thinking as I watched Unbelievable that a series like this should be mandatory viewing for judges and politicians. In 2017 former Conservative party leader Rona Ambrose introduced a bill in Parliament ensuring judges in Canada were trained in sexual-assault law. The bill required judges to learn about rape myths and stereotypes and how biases of race, gender and other social factors could influence their decisions.
Rona Ambrose worked in a rape crisis centre in university and that experience made her realize the need for such a bill. She found support across the political parties for her legislation. Her efforts were definitely seen as necessary after an Alberta judge told a sexual assault victim she should have” just kept her knees together” and after a Halifax judge said a woman can give consent even when she is drunk. Ms. Ambrose said responses like those discourage women from reporting rapes and laying charges.
Rona Ambrose’s bill was passed unanimously in the House of Commons but Senator Don Plett from Manitoba and some of his Conservative colleagues decided to stall it in the Senate for over 700 days so it didn’t pass before the last federal election call. Ms Ambrose expressed her disdain that those “old boys” in the Senate had failed to protect Canadian women. She specifically called out Senator Plett for procedural stalling. A CBC article stated that “because of political procedural moves by the Conservative whip, Manitoba Sen. Don Plett, private member’s bills like Ms. Ambrose’s haven’t made it onto the Senate agenda.”
Such a response was hardly surprising since Senator Plett was a vocal supporter of President Trump who has faced some twenty-six charges of sexual misconduct, including rape, and brags about his skill at grabbing women’s genitalia. Senator Plett has referred to Mr Trump as his good friend.
Unbelievable makes you very aware that many things need to change if we want to adequately protect women from sexual assault and rape. I wonder if Senator Plett has watched Unbelievable? Maybe someone should suggest he do so.
Note: Something I found very interesting about the series is that one of the detectives on the case is a woman with a strong Christian faith and it helps her deal with the disturbing things she witnesses as she investigates rape incidents. Her partner on the case is an atheist because she can’t believe that if there was a God that God would allow such horrible things to happen to women. It is interesting to see how the two detectives influence one another in matters of faith as they pursue their case.
Note: The current Liberal government introduced a bill very similar to Ms. Ambrose’s and it passed in November. Because it is not a private member’s bill there is a much better chance it will make it through the Senate as well.
Note: The thing that makes Unbelievable so chilling is that it is almost 100% accurate in depicting a true story reported on the podcast This American Lifeand in a print story by Ken Armstrong and Christian Miller.
Ladies in Black is a pure treat of a movie, completely engaging but not escapist fare by any means. I just watched it on Netflix and it truly took me into another world for a blissful couple of hours. Set in Sydney Australia in 1959 the show follows a group of women who work in the dress department of a huge store called Goode’s.
Each woman has her own story to tell and each provides a lovely arc of its own as its intertwines with the other stories. We meet Fay who is looking for a prince of a guy and can’t find him. There is Lisa, the young high school student who longs for a life different than the one of her good-hearted working-class parents. Her eyes are opened to a whole new world of culture and style by Magda a recent immigrant from Slovenia with a deadly fashion sense who sells the high- end dresses in the department. Finally there is Patty who is struggling to figure out why her young husband is so cold and distant .
The sets and costumes are spot on and the film transports you back fifty years with aplomb and perfection. Ladies in Black accurately depicts the attitudes towards women and sex and immigrants that were just beginning to change in the 60s.
I also really loved the film because it was shot in and around the Sydney area where we visited once for a couple of weeks. One scene takes place at Manley Beach where we rented a picturesque cottage and another in the Blue Mountainswhere we stayed at a cosy bed and breakfast.
If you are looking for a delightful evening of viewing I can highly recommend Ladies in Black. (No relation whatsoever to Men in Black) If you care about such things the film got an 88% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes site. I totally agreed with Australian film critic David Stratton who said about Ladies in Black “It brims with subtext and nuance and at the same time succeeds in being thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.”
I found Ladies in Black utterly charming and can highly recommend it.
Two movies I watched this past week on Netflix were both based on true stories about families in tough situations. In each, a young boy had a key role in the plot and a healing discovery helps turn things around.
The Dig takes place in 1939. A young boy named Robert has lost his father who was an Air Force pilot. His mother is seriously ill. An ancient Anglo Saxon ship is discovered on his family’s estate and the interesting people who come to unearth it provide a diversion and some much-neededcompanionship for Robert. He strikes up a particularly close friendship with a local amateur archaeologist named Basil Brown who first discovers the ship.
Basil is not a trained archaeologist and others with a more academic background are eager to assume charge of the dig and take credit for Basil’s discovery. In this way the movie reminded me a bit of Joan Thomas’ book Curiosity in which a young uneducated girl named Mary Anning finds all kinds of dinosaur fossils only to have professional palaeontologists vie to take credit for her discoveries.
I liked The Dig but it was a bit of a curious film because about half way through all these new characters with new stories of their own were introduced. Fascinating characters but they turned the focus of the film away from Robert and Basil who I’d already learned to know and was eager to find out more about.
Penguin Bloom takes place in 2013. A young boy named Noah is vacationing in Thailand with his parents and two brothers when his mother suffers a fall that leaves her paralyzed from the waist down. Back home in Australia, Noah’s Mom struggles mightily to deal with her physical limitations and her emotional trauma is impacting her whole family. Then Noah discoveries a little magpie chick that has fallen out of its nest and brings it home. Noah’s Mom eventually grows attached to Penguin and caring for the little bird ends up providing healing for the whole family.
This film reminded me a bit of the book The Art of Racing in the Rain because in that story an animal helps a family in emotional turmoil as well. Enzo the dog brings healing to a race car driver and his daughter after their wife and mother dies of cancer.
I liked Penguin Bloom although the story does tend to be a bit too predictable and sentimental and the filmmakers leave little for the viewer to interpret, pretty much telling us what we are supposed to learn about life from the movie.
The Dig and Penguin Bloom provide viewers with two true stories of young boys and their families facing tough situations. An interesting discovery provides healing and a measure of happiness in each movie. These aren’t perfect films but I can recommend them both as being well worth your time.
I just watched two great movies each with a young man at their heart. Both boys are dealing with difficult challenges.
The 2020 movie Summerland takes place during World War II. At its heart is a schoolboy named Frank who has been evacuated from London to escape the bombings there. He misses his parents terribly and is worried about his father who is an airforce pilot. Frank has been sent to live in a small seaside village with a cynical and self-absorbed writer named Alice Lamb who takes no delight in having a child underfoot while she pursues her scholarly interests in myth and magic. Of course the charming Frank eventually charms his cantankerous hostess and he transforms Alice into a person she had forgotten she could be.
Cinematically beautiful storytelling takes us back into Alice’s past to help us understand her transformation in a new light. Although this movie is certainly about Frank, it is really more about how Frank changes Alice. This film is a feast for the eyes and the heart.Even critics who call out its convenient plot twist near the end admit the movie tugged at their heartstrings in ways they hadn’t expected.
The 2017 movie The Children Act is about a court case. At its heart is a 17-year-old boy named Adam who has leukemia. Doctors insist Adam needs a blood transfusion or he will die. His parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and don’t want him to have the transfusion because it goes against their religious beliefs. Enter Judge Fiona Maye who must decide whether the hospital can provide treatment to Adam against his parent’s wishes. In order to make her final decision, Fiona goes to visit Adam in the hospital and talk to him personally.
The meeting sparks a friendship that Adam desperately wants to pursue once he recovers. Fiona whose personal life is a mess and who is totally absorbed in her work resists. Eventually, however, Adam manages to break through the wall around Fiona’s mind and heart, and in doing so he changes her in ways she couldn’t have imagined. This movie has some brilliant acting by Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci.
I can recommend both of these films. Children have the power to change the adults around them. Both Summerland and The Children Act make that point in a convincing way.
Posts about other movies with children at their heart……
Poverty porn was a term used in the headline of Winnipeg Free Press film reviewer Alison Gillmor’s article about the new Netflix movie Hillbilly Elegy. Poverty porn in movies is when the filmmaker objectifies people living in poverty for the sake of entertaining a privileged audience. One of the qualities of a film defined as poverty porn is that it primarily displays the negative and fails to highlight the positive.
I think that is true of Hillbilly Elegy. One is hard-pressed to find many good qualities in the two main female characters in the film, a mother played by Glen Close, and her daughter played by Amy Adams. Although they each have one or two tiny tender moments in the script they are portrayed overall as deeply damaged harsh women whose life circumstances have all but defeated them.
This may look like a tender scene but Bev is actually trying to convince her teenage son to provide a urine sample she can pass off as her own for a drug test. She is using drugs and will lose her job as a nurse if a drug test comes back positive.
Reviewer John Miller says the women’s characters are almost completely defined by their suffering and poverty. He would have liked to see more moments of genuine happiness in the film.
As I watched Hillbilly Elegy I was reminded of a 2010 film also set in Appalachia. Winter’s Bone stars Jennifer Lawrence. It does not shy away from depicting the desperation of much of life in Appalachia but it does give us a courageous seventeen-year-old heroine named Ree Dolly who we can really like and admire. Ree Dolly leaves the viewer with a sense of hope.
Jennifer Lawrence plays a courageous Appalachian woman worthy of admiration in Winter’s Bone
Although I felt sorry for Bev and Mawmaw the female characters in Hillbilly Elegy and the terrible lot life had dealt them I just could not like or admire either of them. The movie ends with Mawmaw having died and Bev addicted to heroin and still trying to manipulate her son and ruin his life.
In an excellent article in The Atlantic, Cassie Chambers Armstrong writes about some of the caring, positive women in the Appalachian community where she grew up. Could some of their qualities have been part of Bev and Mawmaw’s personalties or could some characters like them have populated the movie?
I learned recently that the Appalachia area got its negative reputation fr0m President Lyndon Johnson who used it as an example of why things had to change during his war on poverty campaign in the United States. Johnson may have had the best of intentions but in a way, he was engaged in poverty porn as well, although for political rather than entertainment purposes.
I have to say that the movie Hillbilly Elegy did entertain me. There is plenty of action and some stellar performances by great actors. But Hillbilly Elegy was not easy to watch and after reading Alison Gilmour’s review I couldn’t stop thinking about how a group of people was being stereotyped and vilified for the purposes of my entertainment.