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BOOK REVIEW: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy & The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Rachel Joyce’s The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is a beautiful book and a companion piece to the The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry. Joyce writes with an impressive economy of words, yet surprises the reader regularly with bursts of poetry as sweet as the best of impressionist paintings. However, what I most admire about Joyce’s writing is the connection she makes with the human heart.
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Last month I visited a lesser known corner of Jamaica with my wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. We flew into Montego Bay on Jamaica’s northwest coast and from there rode in a van two-and-a-half hours south to the small community of Treasure Beach. It’s a town which really has no centre, more a collection of small villages spread along the shore.
It quickly became clear this was to be no resort holiday and that was all for the best. Treasure Beach has some small guest houses, cottages, B&B’s, but nothing resembling an all-inclusive resort. Instead we rented the lower suite of a home owned by an American couple Jeff & Evelyn who were wonderfully hospitable.
Our daily routine consisted of waking up with the sun (thanks to our 15-month-old granddaughter), having coffee and fruit (the bananas and pineapple were in season and wonderful) and then walking twenty minutes down to the beach. Below is the view from our deck.
First we would pass by a dozen or so goats grazing on the hill, then pass by a pond thick with egrets, ibises and ducks, straddle along the edge of a cricket field, pet a donkey tied to a tree with a hemp rope and, five minutes later, finally join a paved road which followed close along the shore.
There is a choice of beaches. Frenchmen’s Cove (A) is the most northerly and from there one can hire a boat to take one as far as Black River or Pelican Bar. Here the beach is wide and mostly sandy and quite good for swimming.
Just south of this beach is what we took to calling Jack Spratt Beach (B) but one could easily see it as simply an extension of Frenchmen’s Cove. Here the beach extends right up to the Jack Spratt’s restaurant which is a very popular spot. The food is good, reasonably priced and there is dependable Wifi and an ATM. You would have to work very hard not to relax and unwind at Jack Spratt’s
The beach here is quite narrow in width but picturesque. The swimming is quite safe and the area marked by buoys. Not far out you encounter rocks and quite weathered coral formations. The snorkelling is surprisingly good, particularly at the north end just before Frenchmen’s Cove.
Going further south and a little more distant is Old Wharf Beach (D). There are warnings here of a strong current but again a safe area is marked off by buoys. This beach does not seem much visited by tourists and provides a little more of a private bathing experience. Walking to its most southerly end you meet some impressive sand dunes and, rounding the corner, there is a great view of the coast looking all the way Pedro Bluffs.
The last beach we visited was at Great Bay (E). It took us nearly an hour to walk there but it was worth it. It is the longest, widest and least used of the ones we visited. In many respects it is probably the best. At the far south end are fishing boats and a few small restaurants. Walking to its northern extreme you come upon many lovely coral formations and tidal pools which can serve as your personal little jacuzzi. What fun to let the ocean water stream over the lip of a coral bank and into the chest-high pool of water you’re standing in.
The best thing about our stay in Treasure Beach was simply the laid back ambience. People were friendly. Almost always locals returned our smiles and greetings. There was no evidence of the “crime scare” which the media had made so much of recently. At no time did we feel threatened or even stressed. Mind you, we were far away from Montego Bay which was said to be the centre of the troubles.
I remember speaking to a man who was the local cricket coach for the under-17 team. He spoke proudly of what he and his boys had accomplished. He emphasized the importance of the community having activities to keep young men occupied and away from the temptations of crime. He was in the business, he said, of creating community leaders.
My wife and I also attended a local church service. Here too we heard references to the crime problem in Jamaica. Even in remote Treasure Beach it is a concern, on people’s minds, a source, perhaps, of some shame.
Even so, at least in this one tiny corner of Jamaica, I sensed there was a pride among the people and the culture. I had to admire how so many had found contentment without the need for extensive material possessions. Fresh fish, lobster, and fruit were widely available. Families tended to be large and close. The climate was gorgeous. The pace of life was sane, human and life-affirming. I could easily imagine falling in love with such a place.
If you are looking for a Caribbean experience that is not resort-centred, where you can feel part of a community (admittedly only briefly and superficially), Treasure Beach might be worth exploring. It is not easy to get to which may explain how it has avoided the perils of over-development. It is a sleepy little town compared to many with a limited night life. For me, however, the“treasure” part of its name is not misplaced. From the deck of our suite I could see hummingbirds (including the amazing "doctor bird"), banana quits and anis. Here I was able to befriend all manner of goats and donkeys. The oceans waters were warm and the fish (including schools of thousands of sardines swirling around me) were a delight to the eye.
the amazing male "Doctor Bird", Jamaica's national bird
And at night—what stars! The sky here is as dark and clear as any I have known back in Canada. This was a surprise. Most tropical places I have visited suffer from very humid and murky night skies—not so in the semi-arid climate of Treasure Bay where cacti are regular sights.
Gazing at sparkling Orion straight overhead on a February night was a sight I shall indeed “treasure” for a long time.
Follow this link for my favourite Jamaica photos
The closest I have ever come to binge-watching is with the The Netflix series, Stranger Things. Over the last couple of weeks I have watched at least one episode per day, sometimes two—which, for me, is pretty radical behaviour.
I was not even aware of the show’s existence till I heard an interview on CBC radio with one of its principal stars, David Harbour, and my curiosity was piqued.
From this interview I learned that the show’s creators were concerned that the 80’s feel of the series might appeal only to a limited audience, but ratings have proven this not to be true. For many of us who do remember the 80’s (the movie ET, video arcades, VCRs, the whole pop-culture vibe of this decade), the series is particularly appealing.
This was a time when I was raising my own children, when we first brought an Apple IIe computer into the home, and when I was teaching young kids in an elementary school. All the details of these experiences are brought back vividly and faithfully in this series.
The ensemble acting is truly remarkable. The young middle school three muskateer characters (Mike, Dustin and Lucas) are marvellous to watch. I cannot recall a show where children of this age have been more authentically portrayed. Each individual is fully formed and complex as are the relationships between them. It mesmerizing to watch how they handle each new challenge thrown their way.
Most impressive of all, however, is the acting of David Harbour as police chief, Jim Hopper. My goodness! How completely he inhabits this role. I would recommend watching this series just to watch his performance. He’s gruff, wounded, capable, vulnerable and absolutely tenacious when spurred to action. He is as completely three-dimensional as one could ever expect a screen actor to be.
The show’s actors, across the board, are very good, some outstanding, but none of this would matter much if the writing and direction did not match the performances and it is most certainly does. I was quite taken in a recent episode when the characters Jonathan and Nancy approached a conspiracy theorist, Murray Bauman, who was trying to figure out just what was going on in the community of Hawkins, Indiana. Nancy and Jonathan delivered the goods which were both incredible and horrible. Bauman had to put on some music to calm him. He took several shots of vodka to “help him think”. Then he made this remarkable pronouncement, in answer to Nancy’s appeal that they just should tell everyone the truth and then everything could be fixed:
“They [the world at large] don’t spend their lives trying to get a look at what’s behind the curtain. They like the curtain. It provides stability, comfort, definition. This [the truth] would open the curtain and open the curtain behind that curtain, okay? So the minute someone with an ounce of authority calls bullshit, everyone will nod their heads and say, ‘See? Ha! I knew it! It was all bullshit!’ That is, if you even get their attention at all.”
This analysis about the difficulty of people accepting the truth is relevant to situations far beyond the plot of Stranger Things . . . .
What surprises me most about my sudden and unexpected affection for this show is that horror is definitely not my genre. I am, at best, ambivalent to dramas which make the paranormal central to the plot line. Stranger Things, however, has so much going for it, that I am totally willing to suspend my disbelief, in anticipation of the excellent acting and writing which are consistent throughout the episodes
Good grief, I think it’s about time to watch the next one!
I have taken many thousands of photographs in my lifetime and today they fill up the majority of space on my computer hard drive. My first photos were taken with a simple box camera used on family holidays.
By the time I was twenty, I was using a Kodak Instamatic in my first trip abroad to Europe.
Finally, a few years later, I bought my first SLR camera and began exploring the ravines of Toronto where I discovered the fascinating world of wildflowers.
The world of digital photography was still some years away then. Every photographic sojourn was accompanied by anxiety over whether or not I would run out of film and even, more pressing, the worry about whether I could afford to print all the exposures. Time and time again, I would ask myself, should I buy a roll of 36 exposures or just 24?
In the era of digital photography, these concerns have largely evaporated, yet old habits linger. I do not take pictures of everything—far from it. I do not try to document an experience or worst yet a life. I look for visual moments that are somehow unique or iconic or just heart-breakingly beautiful. I have taken photos of the same tree, or same mountain, or same river over and over again, trying to capture just a little more precisely the magic of the place or moment. It is an ongoing project. Moreover, I am fully aware that almost everything I photograph has been photographed already by a professional and generally more successfully. So why do I bother? Why must I take the photo? Why must I re-invent the wheel, so to speak?
It’s a good question; the best answer I can give is that, for me, photography has always been an act of adoration. It is my intimate way of responding to the universe. To quote from one of my favourite movies, Avatar, when I take a good photo, I am saying to the object of my attention; I see you . . . .
Over the past few months I have been reviewing my collection of digitized photos (I still have some quite ancient black and whites to add to the collection!) with the aim of sharing some of my favourite “moments of adoration”. I have tried to limit myself to fifty photos in each category which has been a great challenge in many cases. I’m starting with “Winter Photos”. I’ll keep them posted for the rest of January and post from a different category the following month.
Waiting in line at our local community-owned cinema, there was a great buzz in the air. Like me many spectators had seen the original Blade Runner when it was first released in 1982. The popcorn was popping and expectations were high. Too high as it turns out.
To be fair, Blade Runner 2049 has big shoes to fill.
It tries very hard to be faithful to the overwhelming atmosphere of gloom and hopelessness in the original and its opening scenes are memorable and haunting, starting with the flight over a massive solar farm, yet I am left wondering how such a farm could be viable in a world which seldom sees the sun and knows no trees.
Perhaps the solar farm is a relic, long un-used, but some clarity would be helpful. Also, in what must pass for a future Los Angeles, sometimes it rains and sometimes it snows, yet away from the big city, the land is barren, showing little sign of precipitation at all—again, a little explanation wouldn’t be amiss.
The movie’s depiction of future technology is interesting, but not ground-breaking. Drones are heavily featured which makes perfect sense, as does the prevalent use of holograms, including personal holograms which may serve as household companions (a step up from inflatable dolls to be sure). In fact the relationship between our hero (Joe) and his pretty hologram, Joi, was for me the most engaging part of the movie.
An emotional relationship with a holographic character does push to another level the question of what it means to be human. Can one love a person who has no physical reality at all? Apparently. Though a replicant you can actually wrap your arms around seems a better option. Of course this question was addressed a long time ago with the doctor on Star Trek Voyager.
I think what troubles me most about this movie are several fuzzy points in the plot line. The big “reveal” is the knowledge that somehow (via a “miracle” as described by one character) one of the replicants has given birth. So now it will be possible for the replicants to reproduce themselves without the aid of a human engineer. I might swallow this premise if it were part of the Star Wars franchise where there is no pretence about sticking to scientific principles, but the first Blade Runner movie is very self-consistent in this regard and doesn't depend on “miracles” to advance its plot. And even if one replicant has managed to give birth, is this any guarantee that its offspring will be similarly fertile? What about the male replicant’s contribution? None of these questions are addressed.
Also it is never clear to me why there are two groups of replicants with quite different aims: one group, freedom-fighters, I suppose, and the other led by an evil character, Niander Wallace, who seems intent on creating an army of slave robots for his own self-gratification. This villainous character belongs in a Bond film, not here.
I admit that I may be confused about the dynamics between these two groups, but that is no great testimony to the overall impact of the movie. Maybe what I need to do is watch Blade Runner 2047 a second time, 45 years later, to get a proper perspective. Good luck with that.
Perhaps the moral lesson to be drawn from the two Blade Runner movies is that--human or replicant--take any self-aware creatures, and some will be good and some will be bad.
It’s also worth noting that there is a lot shooting and stabbing the Blade Runner 2049—quite a bit more than in the 1982 movie. Is this one of the a priori elements of American Cinema? More guns, more explosions, more gratuitous violence? Where will it all end? There is one scene where Niander Wallace stabs another replicant for no apparent reason that I can see except to show that he is evil. Hmm. Surprised this scene didn’t get
cut. . . .
The 2017 version of Blade Runner has its strengths: The special effects are very good. The movie is more than respectful to the original. The acting is adequate though not spectacular, though Harrison Ford stands a little above the rest in my eyes. Certainly he makes a more interesting blade runner than the dour Ryan Gosling who spends way too much time wondering if he can ever become a “real boy”.
Overall rating: Nice try, but not quite . . . 7/10
The original Blade Runner is a very good movie. I knew that at its first release back in 1982. Watching it again in 2017, I think I underrated it. Here’s what struck me on a second viewing:
1. How extraordinarily prescient this movie is. In the 45 years since its first release, climate degradation has become a real thing, not just a sci-fi writer’s speculation. The scenes of gloom, smog and incessant rain seem all too real, all too “just around the corner”. The story is told within the matrix of a Beijing/L.A. nightmare.
2. How prescient too to have Chinese as the dominant language of commerce in this city which I take to be American. Back in 1982, I don’t think it was clear to many what a political-economic power China was to become. Good guess!
3. Prescient also is the vision of a world which clings stubbornly to the last vestiges of capitalism despite global climatic collapse. Neon signs for Coca Cola, Atari, and other multi-nationals still penetrate the thick smog our blade runner must navigate through.
4. The technology imagined for 2017 was a little off, which is absolutely to be expected. No flying cars yet (though driverless cars are imminent) and no smart phones in sight, but who could ever have predicted the smart phone? Really, did anyone see that coming?
1. The gloom that pervades every scene in this film is remarkable, most remarkable, I think, for its unwavering consistency. It is always there, infuses every seen, indoors and out.
2. The rain. Oh, the rain! It is unrelenting. It seems to drip down the faces of every character again and again at key moments. In many contexts, rain can be a cleansing force, a force of renewal, but not here. Here the rain washes away all hope. It is force with no emotion, no sympathy, undermining every human ambition.
PACING & CHARACTER
1. In a movie so dominated by mood and atmosphere, I might have expected the pace to flag in places but, for me, it did not. Even the so-called static scenes, dominated by talking heads around a table, are saturated with tension. The characters are all like tightly wound springs, ready to explode at any moment.
2. Roy Batty has to be one of the scariest, yet compelling, characters ever to grace a movie screen. His every word and facial expression reek with danger. He speaks with exaggerated slowness—as if at each moment he is making a choice whether to use this word or that word—and each choice might result in a different outcome for the scene. He is a replicant with S.S. credentials, a Byronic hero, single-minded, yet complex. His final action is to save a man who has been his mortal enemy, only so that he might deliver his final words: “And so now we die.” Then his head falls to his chest and the incessant rain beats down over him. It is a death scene worthy of Hamlet.
3. To a lesser degree, Pris, Roy’s fellow replicant and lover demands our attention. She too is full of danger, hidden by a veneer of friendliness and sexuality. She too is a coiled spring, ready to explode, and yet one is left feeling that, with this character, there is a possibility for tenderness that exists beyond her programming.
4. Rachael, the replicant, who at first doesn’t realize she is a replicant, helps the viewer cross the emotional bridge from replicant to human, blurring any division we might want to make between them. Her emotions, her tears, seem genuine and her ability to love as a human does, unquestioned.
5. Finally there is Sebastian, the quirky genius who lives together with his robotic toys. He is the most vulnerable character of all. He is like a Shakespearean fool, providing some badly needed relief in a dark Macbeth-like story. The viewer hopes for the best for young Sebastian but clearly his fate is sealed. How poignant that he should be a master engineer and chess player when, in the hands of Pris and Roy, he is a mere pawn.
How amazingly well this movie holds up. And how lovely to see Harrison Ford not flying the Millennium Falcon. The Blade Runner world is flawless and consistent in its depiction. The movie’s plot is fine-tuned with no superfluous story lines. Its characters are varied, many of them difficult to shake from your memory. Blade Runner is truly a “classic” in a genre that cannot boast many.
Rutger Hauer, whose portrayal of Roy Batty deserved an Academy Award in my opinion, sums things up nicely with these words: "Blade Runner needs no explanation. It just [is]. All of the best. There is nothing like it. To be part of a real masterpiece which changed the world's thinking. It's awesome."
Last Sunday at the cinema I watched two movies, back to back: Guardian of the Galaxies 2 and Maudie. The contrast between films was “galactic”. The former movie was much as I expected: fast-paced, humorous, and entertaining. After all, who could have anything bad to say about Chris Pratt and his crew?
Maudie, by contrast, was a “small” film, with no galactic pretensions. Viewers were treated to an impressively tight and intimate script, focusing on a short period in the life of one obscure woman living in rural Nova Scotia.
Our first view of Maud suggests she might have some mental impairment; certainly she suffers from a physical one—her severe arthritis making it difficult for her to walk. We soon learn, however, that Maud has the heart of a hero. Rejected by her own family, she pursues her own path—finds a job when no one thinks she’s employable, gets married when no one believes she is marriageable and, most importantly of all, unlocks from within herself a talent for painting.
Here is a story that examines the human heart with great delicacy. The acting is superb. In the title role Sally Hawkins must surely be nominated for an Oscar. The performance of Ethan Hawke, as Maud’s husband, Everett, is almost as stellar. If one were to count the actual number of words spoken by Everett, they would be very few. Much of the story is told simply with body language.
Maudie reminds me in some ways of best picture nominee, Nebraska, from a few years back, a film I admired very much It also was a “small” film, one which owed nothing to special effects, and had no potential for spinoff merchandising. But it would be a mistake to under-estimate such films. Leaving the theatre after watching Maudie, I felt a little more human than I was before I went in, “connected” in a new and wider way to my species.
The great writer Leo Tolstoy, in distinguishing art from other human endeavours, insisted it must be “uplifting”. By this definition, Maudie is true art. It is a tale of love and endurance which prevails even against the cold of winter, the isolation of a rural community and a marriage which is sometimes abusive.
And yet . . . Maud Lewis paints. Pictures of flowers and cats and birds and horses—love— gushes from the tip of her paint brush. That this is a true story, makes it all the more poignant. This Canadian/Irish film is shot largely in Newfoundland. Those familiar with this magical island will recognize Trinity and Brigus in many of the shots. Somehow the fact that the film is so unabashedly local (not in some galaxy far, far away) paradoxically makes it universal—for what is more universal than an attachment to one’s home?
Not being a Hollywood blockbuster, this movie may not be as widely distributed as it deserves. But it’s worth the trouble to track down. Best picture I’ve seen in 2017! Go see it.
Flippancy is hardly a new phenomenon. To a large extent it defined the world of my adolescence. It was expected that my friends and I would make light of everything, especially anything which showed the least pretense of being serious or important.
Twenty-first century flippancy seems to be alive and well, even thriving. As a substitute teacher, I see it in the playgrounds and classrooms, beginning to come to the fore as early as Grade Four, becoming fully-blown in the Junior High years and then. . . . Well, that’s really the problem, I think—I’m not sure it ever comes to an end any more.
It sometimes evolves into satire, which can be outrageously funny, biting, and on occasion (though rarely, I think) the spur to constructive political action. All too often, however, it stays stuck in its adolescent form: an aimless disrespectful levity, which really takes us nowhere, other than providing a transitory chuckle and a likely unwarranted sense of superiority.
It took some time, but eventually I found myself ready to say goodbye to flippancy. Okay, I would say to myself. Very good, you have made light of some behaviour you think is pompous, absurd, hypocritical, but what now? What do you propose to do about it? When sharing these questions with my peers, I was generally greeted with a shrug and the unspoken message that I was “not cool” and should really “get a life.”
Flippancy has followed me wherever I have gone. It is the mainstay of many genres of Hollywood movies, a prevailing attitude among young literati; it defines the locker room banter of many male athletic teams. I get it. Disparaging others can be a powerful bonding agent. And, I admit, I like good satire as much as the next person—I’m a fan of the TV show 22 Minutes and I find some of the skits on Saturday Night Live side-splittingly funny.
But why has our appetite for satire and a flippant world view grown to such heights? I’m not sure. Is it our default reaction to a sense of powerlessness? If you feel you can’t bring about constructive change (as adolescents, surely we all have felt this) well, at least you can complain. If you can complain in a witty manner, and entertain your friends, all the better. Who would dare argue against laughter?
Well. . . I suppose I would—not all laughter certainly—but excessive, unrelenting, even compulsory laughter, yes. I have heard people insist that the trait they value most in others is a sense of humour. Okay, I like a good laugh too. And it is good when people do not take themselves too seriously. It is good to be reminded that each of us is flawed. But is a sense of humour more important than honesty, generosity, compassion, or a thirst for justice?
Yes, I think it’s true: for at least a generation, we have abandoned our respect for gravitas. Certainly we’ve lost our respect for authority. It’s not hard to understand why. Unquestioned obedience has led to war, sexual abuse and many other crimes, but the rejection of gravitas wholesale has come at a price. Now we seem to have entered the age of alternative facts, and fake news, and a world in which everyone’s opinion is treated equally. This is a sure recipe for societal disaster. When contemplating brain surgery, I’m absolutely going to prefer the opinion of my doctor over my plumber.
Mahatma Gandhi had gravitas. So did Martin Luther King Jr. So did Winston Churchill. But who has gravitas today? There are such people to be sure, but they are harder to find. Too often serious-minded people come under immediate suspicion simply for wanting to discuss complex issues in depth. Critical thinking among the general population has never been more important. And, while it’s true that people’s words should never be accepted on mere authority, it is a huge mistake to dismiss opinions outright, simply because they are nuanced and smack of gravitas .
I think people who work daily on important issues of justice and truth appreciate humour as much as anyone, maybe more so. I believe this is also true for scientists and artists, and for anyone who devotes his life to seeking truth. For me, some best senses of humour can be found among astrophysicists who often laugh themselves silly over puns. (Some regard puns as the lowest form of humour, I’m told, in which case, I am a poor lowly creature, I’m afraid.) Gravitas and a sense of humour go together very nicely, but generally, in this duet, you’ll find humour of a different flavour. Humour that does not disparage. Humour that dances, and finds joy in the commonality of humanity.
Flippancy, and its better-dressed brother satire, have a place, but should also have an expiry date. A devotion to it is almost a right of passage for adolescents, but its place in the world of a fully-integrated adult should be limited.
A satirical skit to point out the absurdity of a political policy is just fine, much appreciated. But don’t give me a steady diet of such humour. I worry about a world in which satire makes up our only real response to corruption and injustice. Satire turns too easily into cynicism, and cynicism leads very quickly into inaction and even helplessness.
Yes, my friends, while it may be true that what the world needs is “a little more cow bell”, it needs also to be tempered by a good deal more gravitas. There is a lot of work to be done. Put your shoulder to the wheel. And do it with a light heart and laughing voice as might the Dali Lama do, or Pope Francis.
Here are my thoughts on the 2017 Best Picture Oscar nominees. First, let me say, it’s a pretty good list. All the movies are worthy of attention. Three I’ve not seen so this makes my pronouncements a little suspect, I admit.
My very favourite movie would be Lion. On the surface this is the story of an innocent, lost child, but of course it’s more than that. The theme is epic, recalling Odysseus, and tapping in to the universal theme of seeking home. The story is told chronologically (a rare thing nowadays), starting with the circumstances leading to little Saroo being inadvertently sent from one side of India to the other aboard a decommissioned train. I think I shall remember forever the scene where he yells his brother’s name as the train pulls out of the station: “Guddu! Guddu!” Two days later Saroo arrives in Calcutta, where he doesn’t even speak the language. Somehow he navigates through the dangers of the big city and finds his way to an orphanage. From there he is adopted by a family in Tasmania. His new mother is played by Nicole Kidman. How wonderful to see her doing an age-appropriate role, speaking in her native accent, and playing the mother to an adult son. She does an outstanding job. I watched with intense interest the complex dynamics of family life with adopted children which Nicole so expertly portrayed.
Without bogging the viewer down in too much detail we watch Saroo grow up, become a young man, and share the moment when he realizes he must return to India to find his family. It seems an impossible task. He doesn’t even know his family’s name, nor, it seems, the name of the town where he lived. It is task fit for a hero or, at least, for a man with an open heart and good intentions.
Only at he very end of the movie do we learn why it is called “Lion”. This is sweet icing on the cake.
Speaking of high expectations, La La Land is the last of the contending movies which I saw. I’d been hearing for months that it was the favourite for winning the Oscar, and the writer and director of this movie is Damien Chazelle whose movie Whiplash I adored, so I was stoked. Besides all that, Singin’ in the Rain is one of my all-time favourite movies. So . . . with such high expectations, would I be disappointed? No . . . not really. La La Land is a lovely. The cinematography is beautiful, dreamy, the acting very good, especially Emma Stone. There were so many lovely touches in the movie such as Emma Stone entering the elevator after an audition and being joined by two other aspiring actresses who looked just like her. An inside joke! But hilarious to anyone who’s ever auditioned for anything.
If it were not for Lion, I think La La Land would be my choice for best movie. In what way does it not measure up? I think simply in its scope: it’s a smaller story, and I’m surely a fan of the big story—the story with epic themes and far-flung vistas. My favourite movies include Ghandi, Lawrence of Arabia, 2010, Avatar--you get the idea. Making it in Hollywood is just a little too much on navel-gazing selfie-taking spectrum for me to give it a final thumbs-up. But a very good movie, beautifully crafted.
For a similar reason, I would not choose Moonlight for best picture. The acting is superb in this movie and I was emotionally engaged at every instant, but again, essentially, this is a ‘small’ story, not suited to my epic tastes.
Fences is yet another fine movie, with great performances, especially from Viola Davis whom I hope will get the award for best supporting actress (though Nicole Kidman definitely deserves consideration). This movie is based on a play so the viewer should expect the dialogue to be crisp and riveting and so it is. The viewer hardly gets a breather while watching this emotionally charged film. Nonetheless, for me at least, the story is just a little too insular—speaks too much of a particular family for me to make universal references with it. Great movie, but not the year’s best.
Now just a few comments about the movies I’ve not yet seen:
Hell or High Water: A neo-western crime thriller. Well, I did like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bonnie & Clyde had a certain charm but . . . I’m just not into guns. I can understand how this story might appeal to the rage many people have in America about how poorly they’ve been treated of late but . . . sorry. I want my movies to be uplifting in some fashion. Part of a solution. A way forward. Not just a reflection of how bad things are.
Hacksaw Ridge: No matter how well done, my taste for war time movies has been exhausted. Not sure I’ll even bother to track this movie down. I don’t doubt the talent of the makers of this work, but such movies are just not for me.
Manchester By the Sea: I’ve heard many great things about this movie, especially the acting. . . but . . . I’ve also heard that it’s very depressing. All I can say about that is many things are very depressing right now. In politics especially, and my cups overflows. Sorry.
Good luck everyone!
The image above depicts Adolph Hitler learning to use a personal computer. It’s taken from a scene in the German movie with English subtitles called “Guess Who’s Back?” It’s quite brilliant and available on Netflix. Here’s the premise: Hitler is resurrected from the site of his 1945 bunker into modern day Berlin. He is none the worse for wear although initially disoriented. People immediately recognize him as the Fuhrer but, of course, think it’s a joke. Seeing him on the street many offer a campy Nazi salute, slow to realize he is the real thing. Hitler has lost none of his slyness and quickly sees how he can advance his agenda with the aid of modern technology. He becomes a media sensation, at first evoking gales of laughter on German television but very soon having many people nodding their heads and thinking, “hmm, this man makes some good points.” Resurrected Hitler identifies the refugee crisis as the key to his success. “I can work with this,” he says.
This is a film which is both very funny and very scary: the idea of a buffoon coming to power, someone no one took seriously initially, who taps into a general undefined dissatisfaction in the electorate—it seems very current and adds yet another layer of insight to the amazing goings-on south of the border.
But please don’t get complacent; it can happen anywhere, folks.
Brian d'Eon, fiction writer: whose work modulates between speculative, historical and magical realism.