Thursday, November 23, 2017

Lady Bird: Monday, November 20 2017

Lady Bird (2017) is the debut film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (34). She shows star quality. She is an actress, but her first love is writing, and now, directing. She does both well. I hope we see many more films by her, in a long career.

Saoirse Ronan (23), the Irish/American actress whom many will know from Brooklyn, Plays the part of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, daughter of Marion McPherson, played by Laurie Metcalf (62). Tracy Letts (52) plays Larry McPherson, the father of Christine. Jordan Rodrigues (25) plays Miguel McPherson, the brother of "Lady Bird." I assumed he was adopted as there is no way he could have been the biological son of the two parents. They had another adopted daughter, so it seems as if they might have adopted a son also. The acting is superb. The music is totally appropriate and unobtrusive.

The main theme in the film is the relationship between mother and daughter, as daughter goes through a coming of age stage in her young life. I totally related to it, as will any mothers of daughters. The person who has been a delight all her life, suddenly becomes someone different, seemingly overnight. Where before there had been a comfortable, pleasant connection, that has been broken and daughter becomes determined to have her own way in everything. If the mother understands the process, and can let her daughter become her own person, it is easier. In "Lady Bird" the mother is not too aware of what her daughter is experiencing, but is more concerned with herself. She is dogmatic, and tries to be dictatorial, which doesn't work. The father is a sympathetic figure, and helps the situation. I liked the ending of the film where "Lady Bird" becomes Christine, and grows up with a better appreciation of her mother.

Writer Director Greta Gerwig 
This is an entertaining film, with no violence, no "cause" being preached at us, no people who are so different from me I can't relate to them, no special effects. It's about ordinary people and ordinary life, but the storyline has been shaped with compassion and ends with hope. Christine is going to make something of her life, and become a mature, loving human being. She and her Mom will become friends. Simple story, but shaped as the writing experts suggest, therefore satisfying. It's a "feel good" movie.

It's impossible not to point out that this is a film made by a woman, about the lives of women, from a woman's point of view. From my point of view, this is so refreshing. I liked this film. It's sweet!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Orient Express: Monday, November 13 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) is an American mystery drama film directed by Kenneth Branagh. The screenplay is by Michael Green, based on the 1934 novel of the same name, by Agatha Christie.

The original story is now dated, and there have been many films and TV shows made of it. It is a classic. This is an unique version, and it is necessary to approach it with an open mind. If you are wedded to the depiction of Hercule Poirot by David Suchet, of the TV series, you might be disappointed. Kenneth Branagh interprets the character quite differently. For one thing, he has a real, monster moustache, and for another, he isn't short and dapper.

The cast is fantastic, with Johnny Depp as Samuel Ratchett, the victim of the murder. Judi Dench is Princess Dragomiroff, and although she says hardly a word, she is an asset. Willem Dafoe plays the German professor, Gerhard Hardman, and does it so well: I really like his work. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Caroline Hubbard beautifully, and Daisy Ridley is Mary Debenham. The list goes on.

The cinematography is outstanding, and gives the train, the Orient Express, a large part in the film. There are some wonderful shots of the train wheels, and of the luxurious interiors. The scenery is also shown, with the grandeur of the mountains overwhelming the screen.

Most of my film group had forgotten the ending, which was good, as it came as a surprise. As did the reaction of Poirot to his findings. It left a good feeling of true justice having been administered, even if it weren't quite correct legally.

Kenneth Branagh directed with a sure hand. His version of this crime mystery from the hand of a master author, Agatha Christie, transports it from being an ordinary film in which the chief emphasis is on the cleverness of Poirot, and the solving of the crime itself, to what almost feels like a beautiful dance. The master director and actor has created something quite different from anything that has gone before.

When I came out of the Cineplex, my first reaction was that this is a magnificent piece of Art. It reminded me of how I felt when on my birthday, April 15 2010, I heard the Danish guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, conduct the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for Concerto No. 1 and 2, by Sibelius. It was a magnificent performance and moved me to tears.

The Death of Socrates: Jacques-Louis David
It also reminded of when I walked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on Saturday, June 16 2010, and saw in front of me "The Death of Socrates" (1787), a painting by Jacques-Louis David. Socrates is one of my most favourite philosophers, and this depiction of his choice of death over betraying his love of, and belief in, free thinking is so vivid, I love it. He is teaching to the end, as is indicated by his upheld hand. It seems to me he is asking his friends to think for themselves. Even if he wasn't politically correct, and didn't believe in the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods, we know he considered death the door into another form of life.

Great Art in all its forms, always leaves me with a feeling of delight and satisfaction. Kenneth Branagh's version of Murder on the Orient Express left me with that feeling. If the judges of the Oscars judge the Best Picture with Art in mind, as they appeared to do last year with Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins, this film ought to win.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok: Monday, November 6 2017

Thor: Ragnarok is everything it promises to be: lots of fantastic special effects; lots of fighting; lots of action.

The simple storyline, gives the hero a huge, mythological task. Thor, who keeps telling us he is following the path of a hero, must escape from the planet Sakaar in to time to save Asgard, the home of the Gods, from Hela, the Goddess of Death, and Ragnarok, the end of their known world. After many battles along the way, of course he does save Asgard. Straight from the simple male mind, to the welcoming male mind!

Directed by Taika Waititi (42), screenplay by Eric Pearson and written by Craig Kyle (46) and Christopher Yost (44).

The gorgeous Chris Hemsworth does a great job as Thor. I really liked Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Cate Blanchett is fantastic as Hela. Jeff Goldblum is Grandmaster. Mark Ruffalo is Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk. Anthony Hopkins plays Odin. We also have Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange. In other words, a fantastic cast, having fun!

The film is great fun, and my little girl enjoyed it. I gather that my Film Group enjoyed it too. We had a lively discussion afterwards in The Lounge at our Cineplex. This entertaining film left us all feeling good.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Wonderstruck: Monday, October 30 2017

Wonderstruck (2017) is based on the novel (2011) of the same name, by Brian Selznick (51), and who adapted the novel into a screenplay. Directed by Todd Haynes (56), the story is unfolded slowly. Very, very slowly! In fact, one of our Film Group said afterwards that it was a lovely movie, as watching it made him fall into such a deep sleep. I hate to have to admit, I had great difficulty also, in staying awake. This created problems for me in following the story; I had to catch up on a few details afterwards. Apart from that, the other members of our group said they enjoyed it reasonably.

Oakes Fegley played Ben, the chief character, who is struck deaf by lightening striking his home. It bothered me greatly that his face was half-covered by his hair falling into his eyes, too much of his time on the screen. For me, this detracted from his performance. I kept feeling I wanted to rush him along to a barber. Bad enough to be deaf, but unnecessarily blind also, seemed too much.

Millicent Simmonds played the younger Rose, a deaf girl, who is the other chief character. She really is deaf in real life, and was especially chosen for the part for that reason. Her hair didn't keep falling into her eyes, I was relieved to note.

Julianne Moore played the older Rose, and also the film star, Lillian Mayhew, whom the younger Rose runs away from home to find. Moore does look different in each part. The older Rose is still deaf. It's not quite as confusing as it sounds, but my falling asleep at times did make it difficult to keep up with the storyline. I think I got it right in the end.

The deafness of the two chief characters neither detracts nor adds to the storyline. It is incidental, thrown in for what reasons I don't know. It seems nowadays, that too many films have chief characters who are totally different from what one could call "ordinary" people. I find myself wondering what that even means. Which, of course, is the idea of this present crop of films. We are meant to be shaken out of our core beliefs as to what is an "ordinary" person. As I have many friends nowadays who are battling with hearing aids, deafness is not out of the ordinary in my experience.

One of the early displays at the Museum
The name, Wonderstruck, was relating to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. A lot of the story did seem to play out there. Apparently, the museum was among the first to create Habitat Dioramas as an early form of virtual reality designed to develop a concern in people for the environment and animals. Some of the scenes were around these exhibits, and perhaps more could have been made of the originality of their existence. I didn't get the feeling of wonder that possibly I was meant to feel.

If you like a movie that has a reasonably complex, if a little predictable, storyline, designed for children, you will like this film.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin: Monday, October 23 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a mainly accurate rendering of the true story behind the writing of Winnie-the-Pooh, the much-loved children's tales written by A.A. Milne. They were based on Christopher Robin, A.A. Milne's son, and the Alpha Farnell teddy bear he had been given for his first birthday, which he called Edward. When, at the London Zoo, he saw a female Black Bear from Canada, called Winnie, or Winnipeg, after that city, he changed the name of his bear to Winnie. This was the inspiration for the name. Included in the stories, were some of Christopher Robin's other toys.

The film is directed by Simon Curtis (57), written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce (58), the cinematography is by Ben Smithard and the music is by Carter Burwell (62). It's of a high professional standard in every aspect of production.

Domhnall Gleeson plays A.A. Milne, Margot Robbie takes the part of Milne's wife, Daphne de Selincourt, Kelly Macdonald is Christopher Robin's nanny. Alex Lawther plays the older Christopher Robin Milne. Wil Tilson as the younger Christopher Robin Milne is very cute, and adds greatly to the film. This is a well-cast ensemble, and the acting is of a high standard.

Having said all that, why did this film leave me feeling depressed? The world of Winnie the Pooh is magical, and has brought fun to so many children, but Goodbye Christopher Robin is neither of these things. It feels like a documentary, and tells the tragic story of a family adversely affected by the success of the books.

Alpha Farnell teddy bear
In the film, A.A. Milne was a miserable person, and always felt disappointed that these stories for little children were such a success, whereas his serious writings were not particularly appreciated. Particularly his Peace with Honour (1934) in which he propounds on the idea that war is so horrific that nations ought to ban war outright and insist on diplomatic resolutions of their quarrels. From this we can understand that he had no confidence on the League of Nations, perhaps justified. No doubt, the fact that no one listened to his idealistic approach to war left him further embittered.

In the film, Christopher Robin's birth takes place to Daphne Milne's screams. All my women friends questioned the scene. So much for natural childbirth; the Daphne Milne in the film is a natural drama queen! She is bitterly disappointed that the baby is a boy, as he will grow up and go off to war as did his father. The baby is handed over to his loving Scottish nanny, who brings him up in a well-planned routine. Meanwhile Daphne enjoys a lively social life in London with Alan Alexander. In the film, she seems like the classic narcissist. Both parents are totally unappealing.

A.A.Milne with Christopher Robin
When the stories around Winnie the bear become popular, Christopher Robin is lionized by an adoring media and public. Apparently, this he didn't like, and grew up blaming his parents for exploiting him. When he returns from the Second World War after having been lost, presumed dead, I couldn't have cared less.

What unattractive, negative, self-centred people! Why would anyone think an audience might be interested in such people? There is not one thing that is uplifting or motivational in this film. Anyone who has memories of pleasure reading the Christopher stories, would probably be better not to see this movie.

If you like being reminded of the horrors of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder this is the film for you. If you want to have the tired arguments against war presented yet again, you will like this film. If you don't mind seeing all the stereotypical images and characters of the early 1900s yet again, and won't find them too stale, you might even enjoy this movie. If you enjoy having your emotions manipulated, your in luck.

From what I gather, it isn't doing too well at the box office.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Florida Project: Monday, October 16 2017

The Florida Project (2017) is directed by Sean Baker (46). Chris Bergoch (40ish) joined him in writing and producing this drama film. It is beautifully made and well-written, full of the warmth and sunshine of Orlando, Florida, and the action is set immediately outside Magic Kingdom, the Disney World resort. The cinematography by Alexis Zabe makes the most of the bright colours that give a light-hearted feeling to the movie.

Willem Defoe (62) is perfect as the manager of The Magic Castle Motel. His rough exterior contains a heart of gold, and Defoe doesn't overdo either side of his character. He just is that manager. Wonderful acting! Bria Vivaite (24) was scouted on social media and plays Halley, the mother of Moonee, a six-year old girl who is living with her mother, father unknown. They live in a community of extended-stay guests at the motel, in Kissimmee, Florida, originally designed as an overflow motel for people visiting Disney World. Moonee is played by six-year-old Brooklyn Kimberley Prince. Moonee's close friend, Jancey, is played by six-year-old Valerie Cotto. Their acting is very fresh, and surprisingly good. This also could be said of the other actors.

Sean Baker
The storyline is loosely about Mooney and her friends who are running wild, enjoying a lovely summer in Florida. Their summer break is full of the innocence of childhood, and they are happy, although the adults around them are struggling to make ends meet.

Mooney's mother, Halley, is still a child herself and loves her little girl. They have fun together, and Halley does her best to mother the child, showing her love; however, Haley having "visitors" to her suite is not considered by the manager of the motel, or the child welfare people, to be good for the little girl. The film ends sadly as the authorities arrive to take Mooney from Halley, whom they see as an irresponsible mother. Mooney runs away from the officials, to Jancey. I felt my emotions were being manipulated as Moonee cries bitterly, which she does well. Jancey tells her she has the answer to her sadness. Together, hand in hand, they trot off into the sunset towards the Cinderella Magic Castle in Disney World.

Children running wild in a Florida summer, wasn't enough to hold the attention of two of my Film Group; they walked out and got their money back. As one friend said after the film, when we were all enjoying getting together in The Lounge at the Cineplex, she hopes she doesn't see any other children for a long time. Especially ones who scream all the time as the ones in the film seemed to do. It didn't really "grab" anyone else either as they were all agreed they wouldn't recommend The Florida Project to friends.

Taken as an anthropological or sociological study, the film is very interesting. It is realistic, and certainly depicts the challenges facing some low-income people in trying to earn a living. Unskilled and unmannerly, they really don't present an attractive hiring prospect. The film ends sadly as the authorities arrive to take Mooney from Halley, whom they see as an irresponsible mother.

I was left with a feeling of sadness at the hopelessness of expecting irresponsible people to change their behaviour. Why should they? They don't want to change. Society is trying to socially engineer them by providing schools, health care, welfare programs, in the hope that they will change into more productive citizens. If they don't want to change, they will simply continue in the unacceptable behaviour that makes them not fit into society as contributors. They will never face the fact that there are consequences to the choices they are making in their lives. It's difficult to see how providing them with a Basic Income to replace present welfare programs would make any difference. I didn't like that feeling of having witnessed a deep tragedy.

I don't know if the message behind The Florida Project was that the children of low-income people are happy inspite of their circumstances. Perhaps there is no message, and this is simply meant to be a slice of real life. Either way, it really is not too entertaining. It certainly shows that the principles behind writing a good story as taught by the experts, are correct. I wouldn't recommend this film unless you need to pass some time rather mindlessly with uninspiring people. On the other hand, some people do find it entertaining as is demonstrated in its good reviews.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Monday, October 9 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is directed by French Canadian, award-winning, Denis Villeneuve (50), and written by Hampton Fancher (79) and Michael Green (50ish?). The direction was good, but tighter editing might have been an improvement. On the other hand, perhaps it was felt that dwelling on expressive faces was desirable. It also might have increased the understanding of the story if the actors had been encouraged to speak clearly. I felt subtitles would have helped.

The film is a sequel to Blade Runner (1982). The original film is considered a cult movie in the neo-noir tradition. It is considered by many to be the best science fiction film of all time. The early version was directed by Ridley Scott, and starred Harrison Ford (75) as Rick Deckard. It won many awards.

In Blade Runner 2049, Canadian actor, Ryan Gosling (36), is K, a blade runner, and plays the part well. Harrison Ford plays a much older Rick Deckard. I'm a fan of Harrison Ford, so I enjoyed his performance.

My Film Group saw a 2:30pm showing and the Cineplex was packed. The film definitely has a following. It ran for 163 minutes, that is two and a half hours, and 13 minutes. The audience was glued to the screen for all that time, without a rustle, or anyone leaving. Amazing! My friends said they enjoyed it, even if it was a bit too long.

I'm not sure that I can honestly say I enjoyed Blade Runner 2049. It struck me that it is probably would appeal more to the male mind. I am glad to be able to say that I have seen it. It probably will appear in the Oscars.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Victoria & Abdul: Monday, October 2 2017

Victoria and Abdul (2017) is directed by Stephen Frears (76). He also has directed many well-known films, including The Queen (2006). Lee Hall (51) wrote the screenplay, and is best known for Billy Elliot (2000). The film is called a biographical comedy-drama, and is a sequel to Mrs. Brown (1997).

Judy Dench as Queen Victoria in her later years, is, it goes without saying, fantastic. Many people viewed the film because of her, and were not disappointed. Oscar nomination would appear to be in the air. Ali Fazal is played by the very handsome Abdul Karim, and takes the part credibly. It is understandable that a bored out of her mind Queen Victoria would take to this very attractive Indian man, who was not in the least intimidated by her. He treated her as a person, while giving her his allegiance as the Empress of India.

Abdul Karim and Queen Victoria
The first thing I did when I had the opportunity, was to research the story, and some details about Queen Victoria. Much to my surprise, the story was, basically, true. My mother had told me a lot about many things when I was a little girl, but even she hadn't known about Abdul. She would probably have approved. As the queen says in the film, no one can know what her life was like. "A bird in a gilded cage" probably would have been an apt description. Abdul must have seemed like a breath of fresh air. That fresh air from an outsider must, also understandably, have been most unwelcome to everyone around Queen Victoria.

My mother had impressed on me the importance of good table manners, so she certainly didn't tell me that Queen Victoria didn't have any. I had to research that too, and apparently, it was well-known that she stuffed food into her mouth, and ate very quickly. Both definite no-nos. What a pity I didn't know that, as I would have had a good reply for my mother as she did her best to train me.

Abdul and Victoria is neither a serious biographic film, nor a complete spoof of life in the court of Queen Victoria, but a bit of something in between. This I found a little disappointing. I had hoped for something along the lines of Downton Abbey; instead we were given something that seemed to be sneering at the stiff etiquette of the Royal Court. The comedy mainly consisted of cheap shots at the culture of the times. Those people brought up in that culture, wouldn't find it amusing.

The film is light entertainment, and many in the audience found it funny. My friends enjoyed it, and were prepared to recommend it to others. After some of the dreadful films we have seen recently, perhaps this one was light relief.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Battle of the Sexes: Monday, September 21 2017

The Battle of the Sexes (2017) is called an American biographical comedy-drama sports film. It is what it says it is. The plot is pretty accurate, based on events around the 1973 tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Jonathan Dayton (60) and Valerie Faris (58) direct the film. They have been married since late 1970, and have three children together. They have been partners in the film world too, directing and producing innumerable works. They are perhaps best known for Little Miss Sunshine (2006), nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture in the Oscars. The Battle of the Sexes is excellently-directed as one would expect from such professional people. It will no doubt be up for the Best Picture Award in the Oscars on March 4 of next year, plus other categories.

Written by Simon Beaufoy (50) (Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire), the script balances all the currents that were swirling around the tennis match. There is the issue of the fact that women tennis players were paid so much less than the men. The attitude of so many men about the inferiority of women to men is on display. We experience the conflict that Billy Jean King was having over her sexuality. Although she is married to the man she loves, she is bisexual and attracted to women. In reality, she had already met Marilyn Barnett, who was her secretary and was having an affair with her. It suits the storyline to present it differently, but it is made clear that it would ruin King's career if news of the affair came out. The lead up to the match, and the match itself, are exciting, as it was in reality. 90,000,000 million people viewed the match around the world, and it was a breakthrough of women's tennis. This script is award-winning stuff!

The cinematography by Linus Sandgrin is outstanding. The composition of each shot is striking: he certainly hasn't been just pointing the camera at the action.

Emma Stone: Billy Jean King
Steve Carall: Bobby Riggs
Emma Stone (28) has achieved an Oscar nomination performance as Billy Jean King. In fact, it won't be surprising if she wins the award for Best Actress. She IS King. Fantastic! I'm a fan of Steve Carell (55), so thoroughly enjoyed his performance as Bobby Riggs. This part is ideal for him, and he pulls out all the stops. Surely another Academy Award nomination, at least, is in the offing. Andrea Riseborough (35) as Marilyn Barnett, King's lover plays the part well. The sex scenes were tasteful, and didn't reach the stage where they would have become embarrassing. The acting by all the other characters was excellent. Alan Cumming (60) plays Ted Tinling, King's fashion designer and close friend, who supported her in her search for her sexual identity. I enjoyed his performance.

The Battle of the Sexes has all the ingredients that make an entertaining film: attractive actors; great story with the characters striving for a huge goal; characters pitted against each other; will they, won't they, and who will win? The socially-sensitive elements of women's position in the world, and Billy Jean King's sexual orientation, didn't add to the movie. In fact, there were times when it became a little boring as the action was slowed down by these facets. Feminists and sexually unconventional people probably found them interesting. Some of my friends didn't. In spite of that, it is an entertaining film.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mental Fitness Group

Friday, September 22 2017

Another delightful afternoon was thoroughly enjoyed by our Mental Fitness Group!

Thanks to Joan for leading us! She began by telling us a little about herself, including that she is an Anglican priest. Her work is in the spiritual realm.

She continued by pointing out the power of symbolic articles in the pursuit of our inner spiritual self. Sounding a beautiful brass bowl like a bell, she invited us to relax and move inside ourselves. After a time of meditation, Joan explained that our spiritual self is inside us. This is where we can feel ourselves in touch and in unison with spirit.

Joan invited input, and some of our Group said they could feel what Joan was describing, but others said they didn’t. There ensued a fascinating discussion. It ranged from the idea that true spirituality is shown in living a life of compassion and consideration of others, to the feeling of communion with spirit through one’s inner self, to a combination of both.

It was mentioned that Dean H. Hammer has written The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes (2004). Some of us get it, some of us don’t. Each of us gets it to some degree, and whatever we choose to develop within ourselves is what we consider is good for us. We have the choice. No one has the right to judge anyone else’s spiritual development.

Then came a discussion on why some human primates are allowed to do the dreadful things to each other that too often happen. War, genocide, and all the evils that spring from those were mentioned. Humans appear to have freewill to choose how we conduct our lives. Unfortunately, circumstances can lead to individuals committing unimaginable cruelties. The Group felt that each individual has to choose between good and evil, and that everyone lives their lives accordingly.

It was pointed out that we need only look at the wonder of the Universe to realize that it isn’t restricted to what we can experience through our human senses. It’s perhaps not so irrational to believe that there is more to life than we can see, hear, taste, smell and touch.

The question was asked as to what is the difference between spirituality and organized religious systems? Modern spirituality is defined as having a belief in an energy force outside the restrictions of human senses. This Force can be contacted through one’s inner self and invited to aid in personal growth towards maturity. This spiritual experience is personal, and not attached to any particular religious ideology. It is a feeling, an emotion, and is irrational.

In fact, most religious ideologies include this inner encounter with the Divine, and shade its meaning within the particular ideological system of the believers. People who are spiritual do not necessarily attach themselves to any particular religious ideological system. Many of these people feel no need for any rationalizations of their feelings. The contact with the Ultimate is enough.

Not all people who are members of a particular religious structure, may necessarily be spiritual. These people do feel the need of an explanation and rationalization they can understand, of all the deeper questions as to what life is about. Each culture has produced its own answers to this need, according to the environment it inhabits.  

We were all agreed that everyone has their own personal relationship with the Force, and whatever it is, is as it should be for the individual. It is their own personal business. No one has the right to impose their own beliefs on anyone else.

In the midst of our serious conversation, the occasion arose during which Eti told us what she claimed as a Jewish joke. This encouraged some other of our Jewish friends to entertain us also. We were all agreed that the Jewish sense of humour is highly amusing and entertaining. When I mentioned that I thought the Infinite has a sense of humour, Joan asked the pertinent question as to whether I was personalizing Spirit. Obviously I do at times.

The afternoon ended with Joan again using the bowl as a bell to invite us to re-enter our inner worlds. Afterwards, everyone thanked Joan for giving us such an enjoyable and enlightening afternoon.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

mother!: Monday, September 18 2017

Director and writer Darren Aronofsky (48) wrote the script for mother! in five days, and filmed it in 12 weeks. He is a prolific directer, and included in his work is Pi (1997), Black Swan (2010), and Noah (2014). This film comes flowing out of his artistic, subconscious mind.

Jennifer Lawrence (27) stars as Mother, Javier Bardem is Him, Michelle Pfeiffer is Woman, and Ed Harris is Man. The acting is superb, as is the direction. The cinematography is interesting, and there is no musical score, per se.

mother! (2017), billed as a psychological horror experimental film, it is something quite different from the billing. The audience doesn't seem to be "getting" it. It would appear that the general viewing public are giving it an "F" grading, which would seem to be a "Fail". The box office is responding accordingly. When I came out of the film, the impression I had been left with, was that this was the very worst movie I had ever seen. My friends echoed these sentiments.

The problem for the film viewer lies in what should be the story. mother! is not the ordinary psychological horror film it is billed as being, where there is at least some rational behind the story. The unfolding we see on the screen seems unreal, and Aronofski says he is using dream-logic narrative, and nothing should be taken too literally. This leads on to the reason why the critics are not all panning the film. It has to be taken as allegory. As such, everything falls into place.

Darren Aronofski
There is more than one allegory that can be deciphered. The first one that came to my mind was that of the narcissistic Man who destroys the women in his life: first his mother, then his wives. The second was that of the narcissistic Artist who allows his need for adulation from an audience to ruin his relationship with his mother, then his wives. The third allegory is related to the present political world of American politics. The fourth obvious allegory is to the idea that the human primate is ruining Mother Earth. Lawrence as mother, represents Mother Earth. Javier Bardem as Him is the Creator God. Michelle Pfeiffer as Woman is the first woman, Eve. Ed Harris as Man is the first man, Adam. And so on!

Symbolism is another strong feature in mother! The House could be taken as the Life of Him. It is destroyed with the death of his mother, and his second wife is doing her best to restore it for him. In the end, she only destroys herself, along with the House. The Crystal could be symbolic of the Life Force in Him. He takes it back out of his mother when she is destroyed, and also out of his second wife when she has been ruined. We could go on and on. Everyone would have their own interpretation of the symbols.

Guernica by Picasso
This is the genius behind this film. There are layers upon layers of meaning to be extracted from it, even if a little bit obviously. It's not meant to be an ordinary film, although it unfortunately is being billed as being such. It reminds me of Guernica by Picasso. That painting wasn't meant to be beautiful, or entertaining. It was meant to evoke strong emotions. It is considered by many as the most powerful anti-war statement in the history of art. mother! also isn't meant to be simple entertainment. It is Art in its highest form. The film evokes the same dark emotions that any of the allegories it represents arouses in the viewer. It is a brilliant piece of cinematic Art. It is no more to be enjoyed than is Picasso's Guernica.

If you are expecting to enjoy being frightened by a horror movie, this film is not for you. It is horrific; it is not enjoyable. But then, narcissistic men, narcissistic artists, ugly political worlds, and ecological disasters are not enjoyable either.

If you want to have an opinion on a film that will long be talked about, mother! has to be viewed so that you can develop your own opinion on the work. Art is meant to create discussion, and provoke thought. mother! does both.

Stray Cats and Other Loves: Evelyn Wolfe 2017

Evelyn Wolfe is the author of Stray Cats and Other Loves, which is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read. I literally couldn't put it down, sitting up after my bedtime to read more. She paints such a strong picture of life for Jewish people in Toronto, I found it fascinating.

Evelyn writes with such sincerity and candour, it is unbelievably refreshing. She writes what most other people simply gloss over. I found myself drawn right into her stories, and could relate to her. The word pictures she draws are so clear I could see them enacted before my eyes. Her account of her visit to Russia during the eighties made the atmosphere in Russia at that time come alive.

Wolfe's writing style flows along, so that she is easy to read. Her use of English had me chuckling. She is brilliant in her turn of phrase. What an inspiration for others who want to write their memoirs! But Wolfe would be a hard act to follow! I have become a fan.

Her follow-up book, After the Ball is Over! is also a delightful read. I hope she will write another book, in her own inimitable style!

This brilliant poem is by my friend, Evelyn Wolfe.

The Human Primate
Evelyn Wolfe

In the guise of evolution
We lost our hair, our tail
Our simian features.

When will the process
Become complete
And Man, life’s highest creature
Lose his great love for

The Banana?

Toronto, 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tulip Fever: Monday, September 11 2017

Tulip Fever (2017) is a historical drama film, based on the book by Deborah Moggach (69). Director Justin Chadwick (48) ensures that the film flows smoothly. The actors all work well, and Judi Dench is practically unrecognizable as the Abbess of St. Ursula's, but does a good job, of course.

Cinematographer Eigil Bryld has done an exceptional job of the cinematography. Each setting looks like a Dutch painting from the 1600s. As the film is set in Vermeer's Amsterdam, during the height of the Tulip fever, this is totally appropriate. The original paintings in the film are by Jamie Routley. The costumes by Michael O'Connor, hair and make-up by Daniel Phillips, and production by Simon Elliott and editing by Rick Russell, combine to add to the creation of a film that is a feast for the eyes. The delightful music by Danny Elfman (64) adds a feast for the ears.

The sex scenes, I am glad to say, are not too explicit, and are filmed as artistic portrayals of human primates coupling. The impression is given that the sex is not too pleasant from the viewpoint of hygiene, nor too fulfilling as to the end result. One of our chief character's "little soldier" is not up to the task. The lighting is exquisite, and the bodies are arranged to remind of paintings by great artists. A lot of the sexual groping is done over and under clothing. I'm not sure what that is meant to convey. It didn't grab me. I find it difficult to understand why it has been given an 'R' rating.

Tom Stoppard (80) wrote the screenplay. He is a much-awarded writer of highest repute. This script will not be seen as his finest. Deborah Moggach has written a huge body of work, including These Foolish Things which was made into the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, so it would seem reasonable to expect that the story of Tulip Fever would be fairly gripping. This, it is not. Perhaps it is the direction that is the problem. I found I couldn't care less about any of the characters. They are not even particularly pleasant. They almost seemed to be models for the lovely sets, not real people. It would appear that is how the director viewed them. Could it be that this was his intent?

This is a beautiful film from the point of view of "Art", but leaves the feeling that the story was just an excuse for everything else. What makes directors think that an audience would like this? Or even more pertinent to the $25,000,000 cost to make the film, what makes anyone think that any but the very few would actually pay to see it? So far, it has made $4,500,000.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Viceroy's House: Monday, September 4 2017

Viceroy's House is a historical drama, a British-Indian film directed by Gurider Chandha (57). It is written by Paul Mayeda Berges (48) Chandha's spouse, Moira Buffini, and Chandha. It is an accounting of events in the Viceroy's House shortly before, and during the Partition of India on August 15 1947. The Hindu version titled Partition: 1947 was released in India on August 18 2017, three days after the Indian 70th Independence Day.

Chandha says she used as her main sources, Freedom at Midnight (1975), by Larry Collins, and The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition (2006), by Narendra Singh Sarila, who based the book on secret documents discovered in the British Library.

Hugh Bonneville, of Downton Abbey fame, ably plays Lord Louis Montbatten. Gillian Anderson, an American actress best know for X-Files, plays Lady Edwina Mountbatten extremely well. Manish Dayal as Jeet, a Hindu, and Huma Queshi, a Muslim, as Aalia, play the young couple whose romance is complicated by their political and religious environment. Mahatma Gandhi is played by Neeraj Kabe; Jawaharial Nehru is played by Tanveer Chani; and Denzil Smith plays Mahammad Ali Hinnah.

Director Gurider Chandha
The story of the retreat of Britain from India is many-sided, and director Chandha has created a film that tells the story objectively. Ghandi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, had fermented rebellion using non-violent civil disobedience. It was made clear that the time had come for the British to leave India. Clement Attlee, the Labour Party Prime Minister of Britain, at the urging of the King, sent out Lord Mountbatten to oversee the handover of India. The Hindus wanted India to remain one country, inclusive of all its many different peoples. Violence had already broken out between the Muslims and Hindus, making the point that the Muslims wanted their own country. Mountbatten realised that to cut down the violence as much as possible, the whole process had to be as speedy as possible. Unable to obtain agreement between the Hindus led by Nehru, and the Muslims led by Jinnah, Mountbatten came to the conclusion the only solution was Partition of India. The country was divided into secular India and Islamic Pakistan. This triggered a huge relocation of 10 to 12 million people as Hindus were driven from Pakistan to India, and Muslims moved from India to Pakistan. This refugee crisis was accompanied by great violence.

I enjoyed Viceroy's House. This was a huge subject, and at times the film felt like a documentary. The romance between the two young people seemed to have been thrown into the story as an effort to make it more entertaining. I loved the too short Bollywood touch, a salute to the Indian film industry. The cinematography is colourful, and a feast for the eyes. The music by A.R. Rahman is delightful. The cast rose to the challenge, and were engaging. In spite of being a little bit rough in patches, the overall effect is entertaining.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Wind River: Monday, August 28 2017

Wind River (2017) is an American murder mystery, thriller film. It is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (47), who says he likes to entertain his audience with a straightforward story and strong characters. He has won awards for his screenwriting, and that is obvious in this film. His firm grip on direction is also evident. He keeps his audience riveted to the screen. My Monday Film Group thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Sheridan has achieved his stated goal, using the recipe for success with the audience.

Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a US Fish and Wildlife tracker, and Elizabeth Olsen stars as Jane Banner, an FBI agent. Both have star quality and add greatly to the film. The acting is of a high quality, and the characters are believable. I liked them and found them attractive. I did wonder if the FBI really would send a lone woman agent to deal with a possible rape and murder on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. However, this salute to the present-day young women certainly demonstrated that they can handle a gun and shoot people equally as well as some men, and better than most. I really liked that justice is done, and is seen to be done. All the criminals are killed. No extra cost to the taxpayers. The most horrible criminal comes to a very nasty, and appropriate, end. Very satisfying!

Gil Birmingham
Tantoo Cardinal played Alice Crowheart, and another Canadian actor, Graham Greene played Ben, the Tribal Police Chief. Both were excellent, as were all the others in the cast. I particularly liked Gil Birmingham as Martin Hanson. He has such a beautiful face. The beautiful Kelsey Chow was excellent as Natalie Hanson.

Director, Taylor Sheridan
The film ends with a title card announcing that the FBI doesn't have statistics on missing native women, whose numbers are unknown. This made me realise that the film had been carrying a message about the issue around how many aboriginal women go missing and are never found. Obviously, this is of concern to director Taylor Sheridan and those others involved in making this thought-provoking movie.

Recently, there has been a great deal of almost hysterical talk in North America about missing and murdered aboriginal women. The RCMP report on the subject of missing women in Canada, states that the majority of cases are solved, and that there is little difference in the solve rate between aboriginal and non-aboriginal women. Most are solved. From the report, based on research, most women of any ethnic origins, are murdered by their spouse, or a family member, or someone they know. It appears that it is not unusual that both parties have been drinking or using drugs and become involved in a fight. Women who work in the sex trade are at greatest risk, and it is said that the rate of murders and missing women between aboriginal and non-aboriginal is fairly similar.

This violence towards women and girls of all ethnic backgrounds is not the main problem, although it would appear that it is, and should be. Wind River Reservation is, in fact, in Wyoming, and has been troubled by crime and drug abuse. Wyoming is next door to Dakota, which has had problems with "man camps" erected by oil companies to house the workers needed on their projects. If they are situated close to an aboriginal community, the aboriginal women visit the camps to party, and earn money as sex trade workers. Some are beaten up or murdered. This is the problem that Wind River is addressing, as are all the street protests against the resource industries activities. This is why some people from aboriginal communities in Canada and the States are opposed to resource development. Many leaders of aboriginal communities, understandably, want the economic benefits that come to communities from having resource developments close by. These aboriginal leaders, the resource companies and governments are now well aware of the problems associated with the man camps. Consideration is presently being given to preventing them, if possible.

I have mixed feeling about being subjected to subliminal propaganda by what I had been led to believe is purely entertainment. Surely it would be better to make a documentary putting forward the facts of the legitimate concern? Better still, if said documentary puts forward all sides of the issue, factually, without pointing fingers. On the other hand, it has made me do some research so that now I do have a better understanding of the challenge to the resource industries.

What is very rarely mentioned by the social agitators, or the media, is that the FBI has statistics which show that many people go missing in the States: white people; black people; men; women and children. As an article in USA Today states, the smallest number is of native American women. If any cases are not reported to the police to appear in statistics, whose fault is that? This makes me wonder who is funding the agitation against the resource industries?

In spite of those misgivings, as pure entertainment, this is satisfying film. But I wonder who put up the money to make it?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Menache: Monday, August 21 2017

Menache (2017) is an American drama film set in Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish populations outside of Israel. It uses Yiddish, the language of the Hasidic Jews who are the subject of the film, with sub-titles in the filn. The actors are Hasidic Jews, not professional actors.

Joshua Z. Weinstein is a documentary film maker. This is his first feature film, and his background shows. It feels like a documentary.

Hasidic Judaism originated in the Western Ukraine, as a spiritual revival in the 1700s. It believes in the immanence of G-d throughout the Universe, emphasising spiritual union with G-d as being the most important aspect of religion. All life can be a spiritual act, including the most mundane.

You wouldn't have known that religion was important to any of the Hasidic Jews in this film. It's practice seemed some garbled words, and a few customs left over from the 1700s in the Ukraine, including the separation of the male and female lives. Very few women appear in the film, and those who do seem most unhappy, bowed down with bearing and looking after seven, or even eight, or many children. The men get together to eat, drink, sing and dance together. Male bonding? A drowning of sorrows? Not a happy culture!

The film lacked a strong storyline. The main character was a shemiel (loser) rather than a shlimazel (unlucky person). He really was not competent in any meaning of that word, and in this instance the culture seemed to have it right. It is better for a child to be brought up in a home with two parents, rather than by a single father, especially one such as this. It was difficult to feel any sympathy for him. None of the other characters seemed attractive in any way either. The thesis of Menache seemed so promising: insight into a secretive, strange culture, interesting story. It didn't live up to the promise. The ending left us wondering what it had all been about. There was a final shot of a young Hasidic man, dressed in their costume with the ringlets, talking into an iPhone. My friends, who were looking for some resolution of the story, liked to think that was the son of the chief character, grown up successfully, into a reasonably happy man.

Not a film any of us would recommend!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Glass Castle: Monday, August 14 2017

The Glass Castle (2017) is based on the book of the same name by Jeannette Walls. Directed and written by Destin Daniel Cretton, it is an American drama, filmed mainly in Welch, West Virginia, where much of the story of Jeannette Walls' life is set. The acting is superb, and the characters brought to life are almost too realistic. Woody Harrelson as Jeannette's father, is incredible. Brie Larson as Jeannette Walls, is also totally believable. Jeanette's mother, elder sister Lori, brother Brian, and younger sister Maureen, are all played so well and sincerely that they remain in my mind as memorable people. It was almost too true!

What a pity that the film doesn't treat the story as did the book. Jeannette was perhaps a little kinder when she drew the picture of her parents, emphasising their eccentricities. She looked at them without judgement. The book left us with the feeling of a family that may have been poor due to the addiction of the father to alcohol, but, nevertheless, loved each other. This love was what eventually saved Jeannette. Instead of herself becoming like her parents, she was able to encourage her elder sister, Lori, to go to New York, and then, to follow her. Their brother Brian joined them, as did their youngest sister, Maureen. Jeannette completed her education in New York on scholarships, and became a newspaper reporter, columnist and writer.

The book is a story of a family of children overcoming what seem almost insurmountable difficulties, to achieve success in life. It's the story of a hero, in this case Jeannette Walls, overcoming a ghastly childhood and encouraging her siblings to do likewise. It entertained us, and left us "feeling good", sort of.

The film presents us with the too realistic picture of the dysfunctional family of two totally self-centred people, who should never have been parents. They are both so narcissistic it seems to border on mental illness. In fact, it made me ask myself, is a narcissistic personality actually mentally ill? The appalling life led by the children as a result of the actions of their parents, is revolting. Even when the children all move to New York the parents follow, and still create havoc in the lives of their off-spring. When it is revealed that the mother has been resisting selling land that would have brought her $1,000,000, and given her children a much better life, we are appalled. In the film, when Jeannette allowed her family to destroy her first marriage, she lost my sympathy. She had made the move to New York to leave them behind, yet not made the final severance from them. Her younger sister, Maureen, finally does make that break, and moves to California.

Maureen said that she has never, ever seen a film she liked less that The Glass Castle. Sheri found it depressing as it hit too home for her comfort. Kalpna said that, in her opinion, one has to be a masochist to enjoy this film. This seems to be the general opinion about it. If one wants a realistic anthropological study of a dysfunctional family, this would be ideal. The one thing missing, as far as we know, is that the parents didn't use physical abuse on their children. As a social study it is also interesting and raises many questions. But entertainment it is not. Nor does it leave the audience "feeling good". In fact, it left me feeling disturbed. I didn't like any of these people. I was appalled by their behaviour. I really wanted nothing to do with them, even if only in a film.

It left me questioning how it is that I, who haven't taken any courses in storytelling, have a pretty good idea of what makes a story entertaining and how to leave the audience feeling happy? Perhaps it was all those hours spent reading Shakespeare in school, and later, for pleasure. The time spent reading so many of the classics perhaps haven't been wasted. It would appear that so many of the people producing films, who, we presume, have been trained, forget all the efforts of their teachers. Otherwise, why would they make such awful movies?

This is not a film I could recommend anyone pay money to see!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Atomic Blonde: Monday, August 7 2017

Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron, is pure entertainment. It's an action, spy thriller, directed by David Leitch. Based on a graphic novel, The Coldest City (2012), by Sam Hart, the screen play is written by Kurt Johnstad. It is set in Berlin during the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989), and the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Exciting times, and Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a top-level M16 field agent, sent into Berlin on an exciting mission. She is good at her job, which includes being able to fight and shoot the bad guys. This she does, to great effect. The film opens with a shot of Lorraine in the bath, but when we see her back, we also see the muscles rippling across it. This is an unusual woman! It would also be unusual for many men, too.

There is everything we expect: the twists in the plot; the exciting chases; and fantastic fights. I loved it when Lorraine went to work beating up the bad guys who were trying to kill or capture her. This she did dressed beautifully, with hardly a hair out of place, and in the highest of high heels. Loving the martial arts, I was with her during every blow. Go for it, girl! Fantastic! All those weak, little women who cowered in corners during times of crisis have always irritated me intensely. Like James Bond, 007, she can take care of herself, and look so good doing it.

In the movie, everyone is smoking nicotine cigarettes and drinking alcohol, including Lorraine. This is the 1980s, after all, and the bans on smoking in public places were not in effect. The myth was still in place that real men smoked and drank to excess. Lorraine was part of that myth. She has a brief affair with Delphine Lasalle, played by Sofia Boutella. Another male myth, exemplified by James Bond, 007. The one time Lorraine weeps is when she learns that Delphine has been shot dead.

Ten days after Lorraine is sent into Berlin, she is back in London accounting for what has happened. Her face has changed from the beautiful woman who went off, to one who is now recovering from a black eye and bruises from those fights: the experience has left its toll, and it shows. In spite of her efforts she didn't find the document she was after. Disappointment all around, and case closed by the British Intelligence M16.

The film ends with Lorraine on a plane, flying to the States with Emmett Kursfeld, the CIA agent working with M16, played by John Goodman. We now know who is Satchel. We learn what really happened to the List. It is obvious that Lorraine has been working for the CIA. This final twist in the plot is amusing and satisfying, and sets the stage for the sequel. Charlize Theron has brought to life an unforgettable character in the Atomic Blonde. This story is the first in a trilogy, and I'm glad as I will certainly be going to see the subsequent movies.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dunkirk: Monday, July 31 2017

Dunkirk (2017) is written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. It is a highly professional production in every way.  The music, by Hans Zimmer, is amazing, and heightens the tension throughout the film. He uses the auditory illusion of a Shepard tone to great effect: brilliant and beautiful! This film is the creation of its director, and is Art! No doubt it will appear in the Oscars. It won't be surprising if it wins the Best Picture award.

Taken as a fictional recreation of the evacuation of the British Army from the beaches of Dunkirk, in France, from May 26 to June 4, 1940, Dunkirk allows us to imagine how it must have been for the people involved. We experience it from the beach at Dunkirk, on the sea in the large ships and little ships, and in the air from the cockpit of a Spitfire. We feel the tension: the boredom of waiting; the terror of being bombed; the dangers on the sea and in the air. We see how ordinary people were affected by the events. As an imagined sliver of time in that place, this is an amazing film. It does have the feeling of being a documentary. The direction could perhaps have been tightened up at times as it even felt a little boring. On the other hand, as has been said, war has its times of boredom. Without the music to convey tension, would Dunkirk have seemed a little dull?

If anyone in the audience needs an answer to the obvious question, "What was this all about?", the answer is in Wikipedia. The film does not attempt to even address that query. Nor does it mention that the 330,000 men evacuated were vital in winning the Second World War. Almost alone, Britain battled the threat of a German Nazi takeover which, it was believed, would have brought about the destruction of the free world. Those British and French soldiers were crucial in gaining victory. None of this is important to Dunkirk. Nolan is not an educator, he is an artist recreating reality. As a storyteller, he is following the stories of the smaller players in the war, not the larger issues of the leaders of the world conflict.

Born in 1970, Nolan is 47, and a Generation Xer (1965-1979). His viewpoint on the Second World War and Dunkirk seems different from earlier generations. Has he escaped the indoctrination of those generations in the ideology of the glory of war? The heroism of being loyal to one's country unto even death, is ignored. These ideas are necessary to countries who are aware that it may necessary to defend themselves against possible enemies. Perhaps younger generations who haven't experienced war, or a threat to their countries, don't even understand that thinking. It begs the question of how would they react to such threats? Roll over or run away!

Dunkirk is an interesting film, but if you are expecting an exciting war film, you will be disappointed. Moments that could have been emotional, are downplayed. My emotions were not affected at all, and I was left feeling disappointed that the history wasn't addressed. I didn't learn anything new, nor was reminded that Dunkirk was a great victory that was snatched out of defeat.

Even Sir Winston Churchill's motivational speech in Parliament to the country after Dunkirk, was downplayed. His emotional plea to the New World of the United States was read objectively by an actor, and we didn't hear Churchill's voice.

Here is the part that is remembered best by all those who heard it, and many who didn't.
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I for not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
The United States of America did "step forth". Without the States, the world would have become a very different place. If the ideals of freedom of the individual, the rule of Law, and the "government of the people, by the people, for the people", as extolled by Lincoln on the fields of Gettysburg, don't really mean anything, then perhaps the efforts of so many were in vain. Without the deeper understanding of what Dunkirk was all about, I almost got that feeling from Dunkirk.