Category Archives: Movies

Swimming to Freedom

They swam to freedom! We watched the movie The Swimmers during the holidays. It tells the true story of two Syrian refugee sisters and their harrowing trip to Germany to escape the havoc created by the civil war in their home country. Olympic-calibre swimmers in their native Syria, the young women are called upon to exhibit a rare kind of courage and selflessness.

Interestingly two actress sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa play the roles of the real-life sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini in the movie

Like the story in American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings, The Swimmers does not flinch from showing us all the intense dangers many refugees survive in order to get to safety and a new country.

There were times when I literally covered my eyes, unable to watch the sisters’ excruciating escape, even though I knew one of them would go on to compete in the Olympics, so she at least, was sure to survive.

The director Sally El Hosaini does an excellent job of giving us a sense of what the two women’s lives were like before the war. We are privy to both the tensions and turmoil as well as the loyalty and love in the sisters’ relationship throughout the movie.

The film is a good reminder of how war and conflict can change lives so quickly-hopes and dreams dashed, families separated, education interrupted, precious possessions lost and security ripped away.

In the last decade, some 73,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Canada. Watching The Swimmers is one way to gain a greater understanding of the life they left behind and an appreciation for the strength and resilience it has taken for many of them to stay alive and start a new life for themselves and their families.

The Swimmers reminded me of the Freedom Swimmers I learned about during the years I lived in Hong Kong. These were young men and women who swam from mainland China to Hong Kong to escape the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yusra and Sara Mardini are not the first desperate refugees who have had to swim to freedom and sadly they won’t be the last.

Other posts……..

Supporting Refugees

Thoughts on Refugees

A Book is A Dream You Hold In Your Hand

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I Wasn’t Excited About This Movie But It Was Lovely

My husband Dave has been wanting me to watch the movie Phantom of the Open for awhile now but I wasn’t that excited. Finally this past week after Dave had cheerfully viewed Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris at my request I agreed to watch Phantom of the Open with him.

And……….I throughly enjoyed the movie! It made me laugh and cry. It’s an absolutely heartwarming story about a crane operator from Glasgow, Scotland, Maurice Flitcroft (don’t you just love that name) who has a dream to play golf in the British Open. And he does, even though he’s never played golf before and doesn’t even own a set of clubs.

The whole thing would seem like a kind of crazy but delightful fairy tale if you didn’t know the film is actually based on a true story. Maurice is played by Mark Rylance and he’ll steal your heart in his argyle golf vest and funky red bucket hat.

There is some stellar acting in the film. I especially enjoyed the performance of Sally Hawkins. (You may remember her from her stunning role as Canadian artist Maud Lewis in the movie Maudie). She plays Maurice’s wife Jean and never loses faith in him. Her life hasn’t been champagne and caviar and diamonds the way Maurice promised when he proposed but she recognizes the value in the love and loyalty he has given her and their children for so many decades.

This film pokes fun at all the rules and regulations and etiquette of the golf establishment which has been pretty exclusive in the past. I liked that.

We learn that following your dreams can be difficult and costly and create plenty of conflict but in the end the love and support of your family is really all that matters.

If you are looking for a feel good movie chock full of nostalgic 70s and 80s songs this is the film for you.

Other posts………

Romance on the Golf Course

I Did the Limbo on the Golf Course

A Prayer for a Golf Tournament

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It’s a Fairy Tale

Dave and I watched Mrs Harris Goes to Paris last night. I liked the reviewer who summed it up by saying the heroine, a cleaning lady in London in 1957, plays both Cinderella and her fairy godmother.

Ada Harris is played by Leslie Manville

A war widow, who makes a living cleaning people’s homes, Ada Harris sees a Christian Dior dress in the bedroom of one of her wealthy clients and decides she wants one herself. Through a succession of unbelievable strokes of luck, Ada accumulates the money to travel to Paris to buy her couture gown. That’s the Cinderella part.

Mrs. Harris is a fairy godmother changing the lives of the people at the Dior fashion house

Once in Paris another string of unbelievable strokes of luck land Mrs Harris not only with her Dior gown but a brand new set of friends and admirers at the famous fashion house. She transforms all their lives for the better in a whole variety of ways. That’s the fairy godmother part.

Ada Harris is a character who is pretty hard not to like. Almost too kind for her own good, she dreams big, is a loyal friend and is chock full of wisdom and wit.

I liked the historical bits in the movie. Paris is in the middle of a garbage strike in 1957 and the movie shows that in a graphic way. The film’s storyline also makes it clear how nearly twelve years after World War II ends it is still impacting the lives of so many people. We see how the class system both in France and England is flourishing in the 1950s although the plucky Mrs Harris will manage to challenge it.

I also enjoyed Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris because I’ll be going to Paris this summer. Seeing its skyline and some of its iconic sites and learning a bit of its history in the film, was a nice little tantalizer for the adventure ahead.

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is not going to make you think deeply and its follow your dream theme wears a bit thin after awhile. I also think with some good editing it could have been about twenty minutes shorter. But it is heart-warming and cheery and especially well-suited for an evening where you want to escape into a fairy tale world.

We enjoyed it with large sugary gingersnaps and rosemary tea. The perfect accompaniment!

Other posts……….

The Golden Age of Fashion

My Fashion Statement

Utterly Charming

Best Picture? You Must Be Kidding.

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They’re Back! Lights- Camera- Action!

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.

Crew shooting a film outside my condo building in 2012.

Movie crews in Winnipegs 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 neighbourhood yesterday.

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 Centre on Rorie to 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.

Other posts……….

I Live in a Piece of Winnipeg History

Celebrity Sighting At Breakfast

My Personal Winnipeg Alphabet

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Viewing on My Own

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

Lawyer Mickey Haller is played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and his chauffer Izzy Letts is played by Jazz Racole- photo from Netflix by Lara Solanki

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.

Baby Fever

Josephine Park plays Nana and Olivia Joof Lewerissa her friend Simone. They face some hard ethical decisions in the series Baby Fever– photo from Netflix

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.

Finding You

The scenery of Ireland plays a key role in Finding You which stars Rose Reid as Finley Sinclair and Jedidiah Goodacre as Beckett Rush

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.

Other posts……….

Borgen- Politics is Tough

Maid- Tender and Troubling

Have You Watched The Chair?

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Not Much New About Downton Abbey a New Era

“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.

Lady Mary ends up providing the voice for one of the characters in the movie being shot at Downton Abbey

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.

Two couples off to play tennis at the French villa which serves as one of the locations for the film

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.

Other posts about recent movies………

All My Puny Sorrows

I Couldn’t Feel Sorry For Her

Hive- A Must See

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All My Puny Sorrows- The Movie

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 parents Melvin and Elvira Toews who were colleagues and acquaintances of mine.

Mare Winningham plays Lottie Van Riesen in All My Puny Sorrows image from Mongrel Media

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.

Sarah Gadon and Alison Pill play sisters in All My Puny Sorrows– image Mongrel Media

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 unravels and 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 during the 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.

I felt Marie Winningham was perfectly cast in the film image Mongrel Media

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.

The staff at Elmdale School in Steinbach where Miriam Toews’ father was a colleague and I worked with her mother who was a social worker for some of my students. I am fourth from the right in the front row and Melvin Toews is in the row behind me just to my left.

Other posts………

Elvira’s Mantra

Miriam Toews Has A Complicated Relationship With Her Hometown

A Miriam Toews Sighting in Costa Rica

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I Couldn’t Feel Sorry For Her

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.

Tammy Faye Bakker was known for her over the top eye make-up and it took many hours each day for make-up artists to transform actress Jessica Chastain into Tammy Faye

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 community when 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.

Actress Rachel Grover plays Tammy Faye Bakker’s mother in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

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.

Other posts…….

What An Audacious Statement

A Story of Sexual Blackmail From the Old Testament

But Not That Long Ago

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A Touching Moment At the Oscars

Youn Yuh-jung played the role of a grandmother in the film Minari

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.

Troy Kotsur plays the father in the film Coda

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.

Troy Kotsur accepts the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor from Yuh-jung Youn -photo by Brian Snyder for Reuters

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.

Other posts………..

Ten Thoughts After Watching the Movie Minari

Coda and The Power of the Dog

Love is Everywhere

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Hive- A Must See

The movie Hive gets its name from the fact the main character tends faithfully to the beehives her husband left behind when he disappeared during the war.

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.

With inspiration and leadership from Fahrije the widows in the village start a business

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.

Actress Yllka Gashi embodies Fahrije’s melancholic stoicism

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.

Fahrije learns to drive a car after she realizes she will need to support her family

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.

Other posts……….

Coda and The Power of the Dog

Belfast- Through the Eyes of a Child

A Tortured Soul

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