What were bright yellow taxi cabs with New York City licence plates doing in the laneway behind my Winnipeg Exchange District condo building yesterday? It didn’t take long to find out.
A movie with a New York setting was being filmed in my neighbourhood.
Movie crews in Winnipeg‘s Exchange District were a common sight before the pandemic. The historical buildings in our neighbourhood many of which date back to the 1800s provided a perfect setting for all kinds of films.
Several times a month huge trucks would fill up the parking lots and side streets and we’d see lights and equipment everywhere. In 2019 movie production in Manitoba hit an all-time high with the industry bringing in over $200 million dollars annually to the province. But of course, the pandemic changed all that.
Now the movie industry is gearing up again and there was evidence all over my neighbourhoodyesterday.
Camera crews were filming and extras playing New York shoppers were waiting for their turn to be part of the action.
Equipment was being moved from one filming location to another. In the morning a scene was shot in Kevin’s Bistro on Bannatyne. In the afternoon the crew and cast migrated just down the street near the Manitoba Theatre Centreon Rorieto shoot another scene.
The sign boards in our neighbourhood had new posters.
There were costumes hanging in the alleyway behind my building
Just outside the backdoor to my building a canteen had been set up with food and beverages for the film crew and cast.
I’ll admit that in the past we Exchange District residents used to sometimes grumble about the way having a film crew in the neighbourhood inconvenienced us and we tried to ignore them.
But yesterday we were so happy to have them back that people were out and about checking out the cast and crew and sharing information about the film. A notice put up in our building said the movie will be called Love By Design.
Having movies shot regularly in your neighbourhood is one of the things that makes Winnipeg’s Exchange District such a vibrant, exciting and interesting place to live.
My husband Dave and I watch a few television series and movies together but we have very different tastes so more often than not we are watching our own things independently.
A few recent solo views I’ve enjoyed are………….
The Lincoln Lawyer
There have been a book and a movie called The Lincoln Lawyer but this is a series with ten episodes. It’s about a lawyer named Mickey Haller who likes to work out of the back seat of his car. He is recovering from an opioid addiction that developed from the medications prescribed following a bad accident. Mickey is trying to rebuild the relationships he had with his daughter and her mother before the accident. Just as he is ready to return to his law career a colleague dies leaving him his practice and one very high-profile client.
Mickey is a lawyer with a conscience and adheres to his father’s mantra that it is better for a thousand guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to go to jail. This belief leads Mickey to make some difficult decisions that could jeopardize his professional future and his family relationships. Mickey takes on a client who is also a recovering addict as a chauffer and as he explains the ins and outs of the courtroom to her while they drive, the viewer gets an education as well in how the legal system works.
My engagement with the series has inspired Dave to start watching it now too.
There are only six episodes in this Danish series about a 37-year-old doctor named Nana who works in a Copenhagen fertility clinic and when she is inebriated one night inseminates herself with an ex-boyfriend’s sperm stored at the clinic. This leads to a pregnancy and all kinds of ethical and personal decisions that Nana is forced to make. In the process, Nana is also forced to reevaluate her relationships with her mother, her best friend and the two men in her life. This series viscerally illustrates where telling lies can lead you.
We see Nana consulting with many different clients who are trying to have a baby using the variety of services offered by the fertility clinic and I found this part of the show very educational because there are so many reasons people want to become parents and so many ethical and personal things for them to consider. I also noticed that in the process of trying to have a baby invariably unexpected things about a couple’s relationships come to light.
I think my husband Dave might like this series if he decides to watch it.
You might have to be in the right mood to watch this romantic movie set in Ireland but I certainly was and it made me laugh and cry. I would say it is definitely a level above a schlocky Hallmark Christmas love story. The gorgeous scenery of the Irish countryside is beautifully filmed and it made me even more certain that Ireland needs to remain firmly on my travel bucket list.
The main character Finley Sinclair is a violinist who goes to stay with a host family in Ireland during a college study abroad program. I was impressed to learn that Rose Reid the actress who plays the role is a violinist too and worked intensely with a violin teacher so she could play the pieces in the film herself.
She meets a well-known movie star on the plane to Ireland and wouldn’t you know it he is filming his latest movie in the same Irish village where Finley is staying. Although it is a romance the two main characters are really finding themselves more than they are finding each other.
My favourite part of the film is the relationship Rose develops with an elderly woman named Cathleen Sweeney who is played by the wonderful actress Vanessa Redgrave.
This is a movie I know my husband Dave would not like and I was glad I’d watched it on my own.
Let me know if you have watched any of these Netflix offerings and if you have what you thought. I’d also love to hear your suggestions for series or movies to watch.
“The film’s sentimental plot may be thinner than a sheet of tissue paper, but it was still moving to this stalwart viewer.” I’d have to agree with that reaction to the latest Downton Abbey movie by the critic in the Toronto Globe and Mail.
Although my husband Dave couldn’t understand why……… I admit I laughed a little and cried a little while we watched the latest Downton Abbey movie in the theatre last Sunday with friends. It is called Downton Abbey a New Era but there really isn’t anything very new about it.
Scriptwriter Julian Fellowes has not strayed from the formula that worked for him in the original television series and having watched all six seasons as well as the first movie based on the series I guess I was a little nostalgic at seeing characters I had come to know so well again and had a tear in my eye when the matriarch of the family Violet played brilliantly by actor Maggie Smith is on her death bed.
The two plot lines that keep this new film going are Lady Violet unexpectedly inheriting a villa in the south of France which brings up an intriguing story from her past and a movie company descending on Downton Abbey to film one of the first talkies. I learned something about the way those first talking films were made and that was interesting.
Seeing a movie about England’s upper crust last week was timely since they had been on full view in the media as the Queen celebrated her 70th year on the throne.
While I enjoyed connecting with familiar characters in Downtown Abbey The New Era I was less charmed by this latest movie because it kept reminding viewers how in 1928 those who had inherited privilege and wealth had enormous advantages the rest of the population could only dream of.
Of course, that is true today as well as a new kind of upper class has emerged filled with billionaires who control the direction of society in almost every area as they take over ownership of the media and use their wealth to influence politics.
While I am not sorry I saw Downton Abbey A New Era I’d suggest the story has probably run its course. I think this should be the last film we see about the infamous Crawley family.
As proof my feelings may be shared by others, we and our friends were the ONLY people in the whole theatre last Sunday night. It seems audiences may have had enough of Downton Abbey.
I was curious to see the actors who would play Jake and Lottie Von Riesen in the new film based on Miriam Toews’ novel All My Puny Sorrows. Their characters were inspired by Miriam Toews’ own parentsMelvin and Elvira Toews who were colleagues and acquaintances of mine.
I felt both Donal Logue and Mare Winningham were brilliant choices for their roles as Jake and Lottie Van Riesen, their characters appealing, sensitively drawn and charming to watch despite the sad story they told.
In fact the acting in this movie adaptation of All My Puny Sorrows was all- round terrific. Alison Pill is riveting as Jake and Lottie’s daughter Yoli a less than successful writer going through a divorce and struggling to parent a teenager.
Sarah Gadon playing her sister Elf, gives a subdued but heart wrenching performance as a famous concert pianist struggling with her mental health. Yoli is trying to be a support to her family even as her own personal life unravelsand isn’t easy for her to manage her anger as well as her envy and fierce love for her sister Elf.
There are plenty of flashbacks meant to help us figure out the current situation in which the Van Riesen family finds itself, but I did wonder if viewers who were being introduced to Miriam Toews and her books for the first time while watching the film would have enough background information to fully appreciate its story.
As the film’s scenes moved back and forth in time I thought perhaps the reason they seemed fluid rather than disjointed to me was because I had read All My Puny Sorrows and had also read the Toews’ novel Swing Low which provides a kind of back story for this film as well as Fight Night which in some ways takes the All My Puny Sorrows story on into the future.
I experienced an emotional jolt duringthe first scene of the movie which shows the father stepping in front of a train because I distinctly remember hearing the news that Miriam Toews’ Dad Melvin had done just that.
It was only a short while after he had stopped by our Steinbach home for a glass of iced tea on one of his afternoon walks. Our teenage son who was out doing yard work had invited him in. Our son had Melvin Toews for a teacher in elementary school and I remember later trying to help him understand why his former teacher had committed suicide.
At his funeral Melvin’s widow Elvira did such a wonderful job of explaining what had happened in a compassionate way to all his former students in attendance. Lottie’s warm and honest eulogy for her sister in the film All My Puny Sorrows very much reminded me of the tone and spirit of the talk Miriam’s Toews’ mother gave at her husband’s funeral.
In this Globe and Mail story about the movie we learn Marie Winningham and Miriam Toews established an e-mail correspondence that helped the actress learn to know Miriam’s mother. That dedication to craft and detail shines through in Winningham’s performance.
As always when I am immersed in a Miriam Toews’ work I can’t help but make connections to my own memories of growing up in The East Village (Steinbach). My experience with the role of music in the community and the history of the Steinbach Public Library would be quite different than the ones portrayed in the film, but of course Miriam’s work is fictional and it is interesting to see things from her point of view especially when it differs from my own.
I would highly recommend All My Puny Sorrows. I am not sure how long it will be in theatres so I’d suggest you see it soon. Hopefully it will also be available for viewing on a streaming service once its theatre run is over.
We watched the movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye about tele-evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker who along with her husband Jim Bakker rose to fame in the 1970s and 80s by promoting the prosperity gospel idea that following Jesus was the way to wealth, happiness and fame. Later Jim Bakker went to prison for using funds he and Tammy had raised through their television ministry to build their own personal fortune and to pay off a woman who had accused Jim of rape.
Jessica Chastain who plays Tammy Faye Bakker in the movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye won an Oscar for her performance and it is certainly praise worthy. The movie tries to make us feel some sympathy for Tammy who to her credit tried to educate the public on the devastating impact of AIDS and promoted acceptance of the LGBTQ communitywhen it wasn’t at all popular in Christian circles to do so.
I have to admit however that I found it hard to feel sympathy for Tammy Faye who must have known deep down that what she and her husband were doing was wrong – using their Christian ministry to take money from people and diverting those donations to build mansions and a religious theme park and buy fur coats and other luxuries.
Tammy’s mother a strait laced dour woman who raises Tammy with a judgmental, doomsday kind of Christian faith warns her daughter that her ministry isn’t ethical and Tammy must have known it wasn’t. Perhaps Tammy’s own misgivings about the morality of what she and her husband were doing led to her addiction to prescription drugs which is vividly portrayed in the film.
There were some scenes in the movie that help viewers understand how so many members of the fundamentalist Christian church in America have become intertwined in the successes of the Republican Party. Tammy Faye and her husband were supporters of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1984 and their now defunct theme park Heritage USA which was once bigger and more popular than Disneyland promoted the idea that patriotism and Christianity were the keys to wealth and success.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye points out the perils of the prosperity gospel and gives us a glimpse into how religion and politics have become bedmates in America.
It think it may also want to convince us that Tammy Faye Bakker was well-meaning, had a genuine innocence about matters of faith, was led astray by her husband, and should be the object of our sympathy. In that regard it failed for me.
Last year Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role in the film Minari about a Korean family struggling to make a life for themselves in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. Her character was a feisty, non-conventional grandmother who loved her family fiercely. She was the first Korean actor to win an Academy Award.
In the Oscar tradition that meant this year she would present the award for best supporting actor. It was won by Troy Kotsur who played the role of a deaf father trying to understand his hearing daughter in the movie Coda. Like the character Youn Yuh-jung played in Minari, Troy’s character in Coda was feisty and non-conventional and he loved his family fiercely. He is the first deaf man to win an Academy Award.
When Youn Yuh -jung opened the red envelope to reveal the name of the Oscar winner she started speaking with the traditional phrase “and the Oscar goes to” but then paused and signed Kotsur’s name before saying it aloud into the microphone.
Since Tony Kotsur is deaf he wouldn’t have heard his name called, but because Youn Yuh-jung signed his name first, he knew that he was the winner before the rest of the audience heard the news. It was such a respectful and thoughtful thing for Youn Yuh-jung to do.
Once Kotsur was up on the stage and Youn Yuh-jung had given him his Oscar statuette she was perceptive enough to realize Kotsur would need both hands to sign his acceptance speech to the audience so she gently reached out and graciously offered to hold the Oscar for him while he did so. She cradled the statuette carefully while watching him give his speech.
It was such a touching moment motivated by genuine caring, courtesy and respect.
Have you heard of ajvar? I hadn’t till I saw the Albanian-Kosovan movie Hive a few days ago. Now I’d really like to taste this Balkan spicy relish made with red peppers that proves to be the salvation of a group of war widows in Kosovo.
Led by a brave and resolute single mother named Fahrije the women start making ajvar and selling it to a local grocery store to bring in the funds they need to care for their families. Their husbands have been declared missing in the war and they are all struggling to financially support their children and elderly parents. But………they live in a patriarchal community that very much disapproves of women running their own business or asserting their independence.
Fahrije is played brilliantly by Yllka Gashi. She is desperately missing her husband and doesn’t want to believe he has died but finally realizes she needs to get on with her life. She learns to drive a car and figures out how to start a business. As a result, she must put up with abuse from the deeply misogynistic men in her village, the critical opinions of her wheelchair-bound father-in-law who lives with her, and the frustrations of her teenage daughter who desperately misses her dad.
Despite the melancholic stoicism Fahrije seems to exude as she deals with all of this, there are moments in the film when we see her true emotions break through. She weeps in the shower over her lot in life, is terrified and angry when the man she buys vegetables from tries to rape her, tenderly reassures her daughter when she gets her menstrual period for the first time, breaks down when forensic workers think they have found her husband’s remains, and dances with abandon and joy when her business succeeds despite all kinds of adversity.
I loved everything about this movie which is based on a true story. It was engaging, meaningful, heart-warming, and thought-provoking. We saw it at the local theatre Cinematheque which is just two blocks from our home and where vaccine cards and masks are still required and social distancing of seats is an offered option. It was so nice to be back in the theatre enjoying a foreign film, especially such a fine one.
Dave and I have been trying to watch the movies nominated for the upcoming Academy Awards. This past week we saw two about motherhood.
Although society has a tendency to paint a rosy picture of all the love and happiness and fulfillment motherhood brings to women, few films honestly examine the realities of the stress and sacrifice and sorrow that is also involved in the role. Two of the films nominated for Academy Awards this year do exactly that.
The Lost Daughter has been nominated for three Academy Awards. Its writer and director Maggie Gyllenhaal is in the running for the best adapted screenplay honours while Olivia Colman is one of the nominees for best actress and Jessie Buckley is being recognized in the best supporting actress category.
Olivia Colman plays the role of Leda, an English professor on a seaside holiday in Greece. As Leda gets to know a young mother she meets on the beach, she is reminded of her own years of intense motherhood when she tried to juggle the demands of her two little daughters with her budding academic career and her own needs and desires.
Jessie Buckley plays Leda as a younger woman in scenes that take us back in time. We see how much Leda loves her children but also how much she wants to be fulfilled and satisfied in her career and personal life. Those two desires clash and collide. Nothing is easy and Leda must make some hard choices. Her relationship with her daughters is messy and emotionaland continues to be that way even now when the girls have become adults.
Parallel Mothers a Spanish film, has been nominated for two Academy Awards. Penélope Cruz is in the running for best actressand the film’s music score has also been given a nomination nod.
In Parallel Mothers Penélope Cruz plays a professional photographer named Janis who is in her forties and about to have her first child. The father of the baby is married to someone else. Janis shares her room in the labor and delivery wing of the hospital with a young girl named Ana played by Milena Smit who doesn’t know who the father of her baby is.
The lives of these two single mothers will become intertwined in all kinds of ways and in the process we are given a front row seat to witness the heartbreak, difficult decision making, sacrifice and hard work involved in mothering.
These are not simple straight forward films to watch. The main characters Leda and Janis are so multi-faceted and complex that viewers are often left struggling to understand them. Both women are dealing with a disturbing family historythat impacts them and their decision making.
In a longer discussion about the films I might raise some issues I had with plot, character arcs and pacing but I felt both movies were definitely worth watching because they make us ask some hard questions about how we view the role of mothers and I would certainly agree that Olivia Coleman and Penélope Cruz richly deserve their best actress nominations.
We saw the movie Belfast last night. It is set in Northern Ireland in 1969 just when ‘the troubles’ began, a time of conflict between Catholics and Protestants that would last some thirty years. We view the political events unfolding through the experience of one close knit three generational family and more specifically through the eyes of a nine- year- old boy named Buddy with a smile you’d have to be a total curmudgeon not to have warm your heart through and through.
Although the violence and turmoil in the city of Belfast strikes very close to home sometimes happening right on the street where Buddy lives, he appears more concerned about his grandfather’s health, his crush on a girl in his class, the toys he gets for Christmas, where he places in the school’s academic rankings, missing his Dad while he is away working in England and the latest movie his family is planning to see. He brandishes his million dollar smile while watching his grandparents dance in the living room, after completing a successful science fair project, as he’s picking flowers or watching Star Trek on television.
I found that surprisingly comforting. I have four grandchildren, the oldest who is nine just like Buddy and I often worry about how the pandemic and its attendant problems and conflicts are impacting their childhood.
The movie Belfast reminded me that while we can never fully protect our children from larger events in society and history if they have a caring and supportive family they can still feel safe and lovedand have the chance to experience many of the normal joys and sorrows that accompany any childhood.
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.