Category Archives: Movies

The Oscars are Great


You may scoff at the title to this post. How could the Oscars be great? They are not good at determining which films and which actors or technicians did the best job?  No of course not. How naïve can you be?

But they are good at one thing. They point to some very good movies and, of course some dogs.  Yet they have made suggestions to me about movies I might not have notice otherwise. In fact, that I probably would not have noticed otherwise.

Every year I try to watch all the films nominated for Best Picture and this year, I believe for the first time I did it. I watched all 10 of those films so nominated. I watched 2 of them in Steinbach before leaving on our southern journey and then the other 8 in Arizona.  I watched 4 in one week since it was hard for me to find them all until a local theatre chain here had an Oscar film festival. They showed every film at theatres around this huge city and charged a mere $5 a pop. What a great deal!

As a result I saw films I would have never seen before. For example, I likely would not have seen Zone of Interest or Anatomy of a Fall or Past Lives because of the heavy use of subtitles. I find subtitles difficult.  I would have missed each of these 3 films is a gem. Actually, I liked all 10 of the films. Some more than others, but all worth it.  Some were outright gems of civilization. I think I am a better person for seeing them. Isn’t that what great art if for?  I am still not good let alone great, but I am a little better. That is enough for me.

I wanted to blog about the films so I have reflected on them. In some cases I actually read the entire screenplay. That is sometimes a task. But I have learned a lot about the films.  I have enriched my life.

Is the Academy Award ceremony absurd? Absolutely. How can you compare films and say this is the best? It is an absurd task. But looking carefully at films is well worth the effort. I actually think it is part of my spiritual quest in the modern world.

Now what is the best Film? I don’t think the Academy Award ceremony will help us determine that. I don’t know which is the best. I know the pundits have a very hard time predicting too. This year most critics say Oppenheimer will win. Will it? I have no idea at all. So I will just say which of all of these wonderful films I liked the best.  That was The Holdovers!

I am writing this literally one minute before the ceremony starts. So soon we will know. I also really like Past Lives, Zone of Interest and Killers of the Flower Moon. I also liked Oppenheimer a lot but don’t want to vote for the favourites.

Let the show begin! Let the best show win!

The Oscars are great. They inspire me.

Zone of Interest.



The greatest films and novels are those that change your life. That is the purpose of art.If seeing this film does not change your life, you should quickly make an appointment to see a psychiatrist before it’s too late.

This is the story of blind human indifference to the suffering of others. Not just by Nazis either! It is a story about all of us! It tells the story of an ordinary German family of a Commandant in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.  The family lived on the very edge of Auschwitz Concentration camp in Poland.

According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, unlike some of the other German Concentration camps during the Second World War,

“the Auschwitz camp was above all a place of extermination. In other camps, the death rate was lowered from 1943 in an effort to conserve the labor force. In Auschwitz, however, where new transports, mostly of Jews, arrived continuously and kept the camp supplied with labourers, human life never had any great significance.”

As a result, historians estimate that around 1.1 million people perished in Auschwitz during the less than 5 years of its existence. Of course, around 90% of these were Jews and it is estimated that the majority, around 1 million people, were Jews. Coming in a distant second were Poles. 70,000 to 75,000 of those killed were Poles and coming in third were approximately 20,000 Roma.

That are a lot of people who were slaughtered here, but this fact is ignored by nearly everyone in the film. The film is an examination of the way this carnage was ignored while people went about the minutia of their daily lives. The victims did not count.  They were outside the zone of interest. The Germans who lived their lives and tried to establish a civilized life next to the crematoriums were the ones who counted. How is that possible?

The German family of Commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) presided over their family home immediately adjacent to the Concentration Camp, from which sounds are emitted from time to time but pleasantly ignored. The Commandant is in charge of a facility in which thousands of people are murdered each week, but he is more engaged by the fact that the locals have insufficient respect for his prized lilacs while Hedwig, his wife, has time mainly for her children and her lovely garden of which she is justifiably proud. Rudolf and Hedwig were like the Lord and Lady of the castle. Hedwig loved it when Rudolf called her “the Queen of Auschwitz.”

The family has no time to give attention to the people being murdered. They don’t see them or hear them. It is as if they are not there. The victims don’t count. Only the Höss family counts. That is as far as their zone of interest stretches.

The Höss family appreciates their privileges but assumes they are natural and fully earned. The film shows how easy it is to take for granted one’s privilege. Privilege slips on as easily and as comfortably as a glove.  The discomfort—and much worse—on the other side of the wall is not allowed to disturb the peace of the Höss family. There is a complete moral vacuum in the family.

Even if you see the smoke from the Crematoriums, as we do from time to time, and even if people are being incinerated, and even if you hear gunshots or snarling guard dogs, you can ignore them and make a comfortable life for yourself and your family. As a result, Hedwig is able to curate carefully the clothes that are available as a result of Jews dying. She takes a fur coat for herself and gives dresses to her staff. She was disappointed that she was outbid by others when she tried to purchase clothes that had belonged to her Jewish neighbour before she was carted off to be transferred to a Concentration Camp—perhaps even Auschwitz itself. Hedwig just tried to create the best life for her and her family. No one else mattered. She was not interested in any one else.

Someone called this a “cerebral” movie. In some ways that is accurate. It makes you think.  But in other ways, it is completely wrong. This is a movie about how people don’t think. They don’t think about those outside their zone of interest.

I was particularly struck by the German officers—including Rudolf Höss—who dispassionately discuss how to improve the efficiency of the killing machine of the camps. They are each eager to make their own camp more efficient thus improving their chances of promotion. The more people are killed the better for the officers. The effect on the camp residents is entirely irrelevant. After all, they are outside the zone of interest.

It is important to remember that the Höss family was just an ordinary German family. Really, they were like families around the world during the war and at other times.  Ordinary people—people like you and I—are often indifferent to the suffering of others. Those victims are outside our zone of interest. How many of us consider how indigenous people on Canadian Indian Reserves live? How many of us worry about how poor African Americans live in American cities? How many ordinary citizens were interested in how slaves lived on American slave plantations? They were all outside the zone of interest.

We can appreciate how the Nazis in the concentration camp were not monsters. They were ordinary people. They were people like us! And this makes the film even more disturbing. Ordinary people could turn themselves with enthusiasm to the task of making the murder of people more efficient. The spouse of the Commandant could cheerfully ignore that a fur coat she coveted was owned by a neighbour. She could feel the injustice of a minor privilege being taken away from her, but could not feel the injustice of an innocent person being murdered right beside her. And the really scary thing is that we would probably be exactly the same in such circumstances. Do any of us have the right to think for one minute that we would have acted differently?  What gives us the right to think that?

I watched an interview with Jonathan Glazer the director of the film on Amanpour and Company.  He pointed out how the significance of the German family beside Auschwitz was that “they were so grotesquely familiar.”  They, like us, were able to compartmentalize the suffering. Those people on the other side of the wall were “them” not “us.” Here on this side of the wall, the family (us), played in the pool, enjoyed the lovely garden while other people (them) were burning on the other side. This raises the question of how this is possible. How can there be such a grotesque disparity between the treatment of us, our family, and the others on the other side of the wall? Why are some lives more important than others?

The victims of the holocaust are never seen in the film. We hear some vague and disturbing sounds but they are invisible. Glazer said enough films had been made showing the victims and how we should empathize with them. He wanted to make a film where, “rather than empathizing with the victims, we have the discomfort of feeling like the perpetrators.”  Our perspective is from the garden side of the wall. As Glazer said, “It is a film not about ‘look at what they did;’ it’s a film about ‘look at what we do.

The only element of hope in the film comes from a 9-year-old girl who lives nearby and fills small packages of food for the prisoners. Glazer actually met that girl, now an old woman, and talked to her. She still lives nearby. She demonstrated the best of humanity.

The deep horror is that the Germans living next to the concentration camp were people just like us. Not monsters at all. Ordinary people. They are us. We are them.

 The film establishes what Hannah Arendt said. Evil is not monstrous. Evil is banal. Evil is every day. Evil is ordinary. Evil is us and we are its cheerful and enthusiastic instruments. And that should scare the hell out of all every one of us. Sadly, our zone of interest is incredibly small. It is so small that we are moral pygmies.

Sometimes there is nothing more scary than us!


Killers of the Flower Moon


Killers of the Flower Moon is an outstanding movie directed, written, and produced by Martin Scorsese.  It is part of a larger story of the Osage Indigenous people in Oklahoma forced to relocate their against their will but it turned out the rocky stony land they got, which everyone thought was worthless  had oil and the Osage became fabulously rich. The richest people on earth with white servants.

At first, the Osage people were discriminated against in Oklahoma. “When they first moved to Oklahoma territory, people put up signs…”read “NO DOGS, NO INDIANS.”   Once they were rich, of course, they were much more welcome. In fact their wealth attracted a lot of hungry predators—white men.  Amazingly, wealth became almost as big a problem as poverty because it pulls in the white predators. I listened to a fascinating interview with Martin Scorsese in which he said, “I have made films about the gangsters, Cape Fear  and things like that, but this movie was about day-to-day evil which may be part of our human nature. How much of that are we capable of?”

We see Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) an unconventional leading man. First of all, he is not that smart. In fact, often he seems pretty stupid. Goofy might be the best way to describe him.  When he arrives on the railway platform, a well-dressed person hands him a flier – he reads it: “Make it Rich.” We instantly know we have arrived in a place where the American fantasies are running amok. People are unhinged. They are living in the Fantasy Land of the American dream. We should not be surprised if reality is kept firmly at bay. We also see 4 or 5 sketchy white men standing around, looking entirely unproductive, tipping over a common misconception, and they are looking hungrily at the well-to-do and well-dressed Osage who are sitting in their beautiful cars. You can just see it, they want them.

William King Hale (Robert De Nero) Ernest’s uncle,  is seen surveying his kingdom with a knowing smile. He knows the score. Nothing can surprise him except innocence.  He greets his nephew:

Times like this people put castles in the air, held aloft by hysteria, rush blind with greed, based on fear, unfounded fear. Fear running all over the place and screaming like animals. This is a cattle ranch. There’s no oil here. So I’m settled with no fear. These Osage have had enough trouble, they’re down to not too many of them left. There’s a way that nature moves and changes direction and that’s happened upon them. Time will run out, this wealth will run dry drier than the seven years of famine that plagued the Pharaohs of old. They’re sick people. Big hearted but sickly.


Hale tells his nephew there is a lot of money in Oklahoma now. More than Texas. He made a fine choice coming there.   Then Ernest makes an astonishing admission: “I love money, sir.” this of course is the problem with Ernest. He is a a good man, we think, but he loves money. Like so many white men he is driven by a lust for money that corrupts him absolutely. It mixes him up. He even hurts those he loves.

 Later Ernest realizes “I just love money! It’s true. It’s true. I damn near love it as much as I love my wife! I can’t help myself once I get thinking on things .” There is the crux. Ernest loves his wife, but maybe he just loves money more!

Hale tells Ernest, “You call me Uncle or King… remember?” Ernest is quick to reply, “King.”  Hale, like so many white men, wants to be king and his nephew is very quick to oblige

Then Hale asks Ernest if he likes women and once more Ernest is quick to reply, not bothering to hide his sins, “Yes, King, course I do, it’s a weakness.” And that is Ernest’s problem. He is a good man, with weaknesses, who is not shy about acknowledging them When asked if he likes women red, Ernest says unabashedly, “Red and white, I don’t mind. I like all of ‘em, I’m greedy. I like heavy ones, pretty ones, soft ones, ones that smell good.” 

King Hale wants to educate his young nephew. He tells him,


“Osage are sharp. They don’t talk much so that might make you run your mouth to fill the space. ‘Specially if you’ve been drinkin,’ but it’s better to be quiet if you don’t have something smart to say. Don’t get caught on that – it’s just what they call “blackbird talk” (imitating) “cheep cheep”. Just because they’re not talking doesn’t mean they don’t know things about everything. Osage are the finest and most beautiful people on God’s earth.


This is one of the great mysteries of the film.  Hale is a predator. He is a top predator, but he respects his prey. He knows they are smart. He likes them. But he wants their money. He thinks he is entitled to their money. To us I hope this seems astonishing, but in his day, it was not surprising. It was ordinary. I was every day evil. Banal.

King is mean, nasty, and ruthless, but he is smart. He recognizes that Osage are good people. Like Ernest, he knows Osage are good smart people but that does not mean he won’t try to cheat them to get money. He will do anything to get their money. That is a predator to be respected. And feared.

Lily Gladstone) Gladstone who plays the role of Mollie who marries Ernest  , is indigenous, though not from the Osage Nation, and she is a central character in the film. She is not just window dressing. Her role is important. Her character is important. This film is not just about white guys.

Mollie asks Ernest if he is scared of his uncle King. Ernest says no, “He’s the King of the Osage Hills. He’s the nicest man in the world but I know if you cross him what he can do. I’m my own man, I do my own work. I’m a businessman.” But Ernest is not very bright. He should be scared of his uncle King! We should be scared of any man who wants to be King.

Yet, like so many indigenous women I know, she tends to be quiet. She does not speak much but when she speaks, she makes sense. She is deeply worthy of respect. But she does not say a lot in the film. She is mainly quiet and listening.  At one point she tells Ernest, “We need to be quiet for awhile. Sit down. A storm is… well it’s powerful. So we need to be quiet now.” They need to respect the power of nature.

When Mollie arrives in town she does so with her guardian. Just like the Indian Act in Canada, the white people in Oklahoma have managed to manipulate the law so that many, but not all, Osage people need white guardians to hold their money in trust for them. When she comes for her monthly check she had to bring her guardian, who is Pitts Beaty—in his 50s, white, and a grand wizard KKK. That should be a reliable guardian!

When Hale suggests to Ernest that he should take an Osage woman for a wife, to get her money, Ernest says he has been driving Mollie around. Hale tells him she would be a good choice, “that Mollie’s easy to like and a full blood Estate at that, that’s something a man could work with…”. The fact she is full blood estate means she will get a full share of the money from her tribe.

 Ernest heeds the advice of his uncle King to read up on the Osage.  You must learn about your victims. One night after playing pool and gambling all night he reads that for the Osage “Dawn was always a sacred time for prayers…”  That explains why Mollie’s mother prays at dawn by the creek near the house.

Mollie’s mother, prays at dawn by a creek near the house. He also learns that they call the sun ‘grandfather.’ The moon ‘mother.’ Fire, ‘Father.’” He sees a sun through the clouds as they are driving. This is a crescent moon. They also see a wildfire burning the prairie. Wild fires were common on the prairies and often deliberately started because it helped new growth which in turn brough bison, a staple of their diet. A Wildfire burning the prairie they called a “flower moon.” The flowers will follow the moon. As the narrator said, “They call it the “flower moon” – when tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and prairies. There are so many, it’s as if a spring festival of the gods left confetti there.” As a wild flower guy myself I loved this idea. The spring flowers are like confetti spread by the gods.

Ernest also learned about the baby naming ceremony where the child is given an  “Osage name – it’s how you will be called to the next world – your Osage name can never be taken away from you.” I understand this because I have an indigenous grandson who was recently given such a name. Ernest also learns the word Wah-Kon-Tah, which means God. The special ones who went ahead in the fog to new places are called, “Travelers in the Mist.”

Unlike her husband Ernest, and even though she needs a white guardian to take care of her money, Mollie is smart.” She is smart and beautiful. Ernest tells her she has a nice color of skin and wants to know what color would she say it is?  She replies, wisely, “my color.” Mollie calls Ernest coyote, the trickster. She wants to know if he wants money. Ernest replies, “Well that money’s real nice, especially if you’re lazy like me… I want to sleep all day and make a party when it’s dark.” She also asks if he likes whiskey. He says, “I don’t like whiskey, I love whiskey.” At least Ernest does not hide his flaws from Mollie. He is completely open about them. He flaunts them.   If she is so smart, why doesn’t she run away? Is love blind?

Mollie has an interesting conversation about white men with her sisters. She tells them about Ernest: “He’s not that smart but he’s handsome.” Her sister Minnie says “he wants our money.”  One sister says that can’t be true for his uncle is rich. He doesn’t need more money. Of course, she completely misunderstands white men. They always want more money.  Mollie understands, this “Of course he wants money, but he wants to be settled. He’s not restless…”  She likes that about him. Another sister says she won’t need her guardian if she has a white husband. But that is still a problem. Even her white husband will want her money! Her sister Reta says he doesn’t want her money because he loves her. Again, that is still a big problem. Even husbands can’t be trusted.

Ernest tells his uncle he really loves Mollie and loves her and thinks she is a lady. King, pleased, tells him, I think you found a wife. After they get married King Hale says,

“I’ve known Mollie and her sisters since they were little girls running around making trouble… I just want to say on behalf of my wife Myrtle and my daughter Willie, I’m just so glad a member of my family is mixin’ with the great Pahsoo-oh-leen. Mollie’s dear departed father, Nah-kah-e-se-y, was my beloved friend of the heart. He used to tell the white men to just call him Jimmy, but I called him by his proper name…”


And Hale is not lying. He loves the Osage. But, of course, that does not stop him from exploiting them. Hale, is a complicated man. He understands what Whites have brought to the Indians. They have brought white man diseases that destroyed them. As he tells Minnie, “So many troubles. What we’ve brought on you… I’m sorry… I hear it in the wind, it screams like a woman who has the evil spirit.Hale even prays to the Spirits to take away her sickness. “Great Mystery Remove the sickness from her Remove the evil spirit from her You bless those who are sick I want you to bless Minnie He even prays in the language of the Osage!

Hales seems genuinely concerned but we suspect her disease is not accidental as so many diseases were brought by white men to Indigenous people. But with the Osage some were deliberate because the white men wanted the money the Osage had.

When Mollie inevitably gets sick too, Hale wants to make sure Ernest does it the right way. And Ernest listens attentively to his uncle. First, Hale asks Ernest how Mollie is feeling.  Ernest says, “Alright. She takes care of the little one…”  Hale understands, “That’s the Osage way. They’ll tolerate anybody – even whites – for their children. That’s their riches.”  Osage women don’t need money. Their riches are their children! Ernest starts to understand too.

What is clear is that the “reign of terror” has begun. That was the time when Osage died in waves and their money went  eventually to their white heirs. It was a mass killing that the FBI failed to investigate. They just blamed a few bad apples. Funny how that happens. In the movie a long list of suspicious deaths is referred to and in each case, there was “No investigation.” And many of these were young people, healthy before they contacted white people and yet they died mysteriously.

As well, some were outright shot. In those cases, no one thought it necessary to camouflage the murders. The white men were killing the flowers of the moon. In other cases, they made the murders look like suicides.

Mollie changes her legal documents so Ernest to replace her current guardian so the money stays in the family. He tells Mollie: “I love you. I love you. I’ve always loved you, Mollie.” That is probably true but did he love money more?

It is sometimes difficult to remember, when watching this film, that it is a love story. A very complex love story. It is not a Hallmark film where everything works out fine in the end. It is complex. The characters are complicated.  For one thing, it is a remarkable story about a man, Ernest, who loves his wife, but has a hard time  stopping from trying to poison her for her money. What is more powerful in him we ask—his love for her or his love for money? And how can be possibly love both?  That is the real question. How is that even possible? These are interesting questions this film addresses, even if it does not provide answers that are obvious.



The Holdovers


The film takes place over the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays in 1970, mainly at a New England boarding school. Barton, for the sons of wealthy parents. Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) has no love for the students clearly believing they are, privileged and entitled philistines. He  is a strict teacher of ancient history who is unpopular or even hated by the students and fellow staff members. Because he refused to “lift up the marks” of a wealthy donor’s son, who as a result was not accepted in Princeton, Paul was punished by the headmaster and made to stay over at school to chaperone 5 students who had no place to go for the holidays. He was  stubborn that the school should not “sacrifice our integrity on the altar of their entitlement.” In each case the parents had reasons for leaving these students at the school rather than bringing them home for the holidays.

Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph),  the black cook, whose husband died earlier,   understands why Paul had to flunk the boy: “He was a real asshole. Rich and dumb. Popular combination around here.”  Mary was another holdover, but by choice, because she did not want to go home where she would be reminded of the recent death of her son in Vietnam where he had been stationed. These were “the Christmas orphans.” 4 of the boys get lucky and were rescued by the father of one of them, leaving the unlikely three alone at school. It is their Christmas story.

Paul has little sympathy for the students who don’t religiously follow the rules. As a result, he punishes them to

“clean the library. Top to bottom. Scraping the underside of the desks, which are caked with snot and gum and all manner of ancient, unspeakable proteins. On your hands and knees, down in the dust, breathing in the dead skin of generations of students and desiccated cockroach assholes”


And then he tells them that are lucky and they should

“consider yourselves lucky. During the third Punic campaign, 149-146 B.C., the Romans laid siege to Carthage for three entire years. By the time it ended, the Carthaginians were reduced to eating sand and drinking their own urine. Hence the term punitive.”

The students, needless to say are unimpressed with this ancient history.

Angus Tully (Dominic Sesa) the one Baron student who did not get released because Paul could not reach his parents for consent, and Paul approach each other as opponents, if not enemies. Yet they come to realize that they have a connection.

Paul gives the other two a Christmas gift of a classical book, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. Paul says, “For my money, it’s like the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita all rolled up into one. And the best part is not one mention of God.” Maybe Paul’s quest is not a religious one.  At least he doesn’t think it is.  

The three of them enjoy a lovely Christmas dinner in a huge room in the school. They exchange looks and all seem to realize there is in fact an intimacy of some sort between them. Much to his surprise, Angus, finds out that “I don’t think I’ve ever had a real family Christmas like this. Christmas dinner, I mean — family style, out of the oven, all the trimmings. My mom always just orders in from Delmonico’s.

Each of three them learns a valuable lesson. It is a lesson from a great Classic writer, much admired by Paul, Cicero, who said, “Not for ourselves alone are we born.” It really is a religious insight. Each of them must learn it in their own way. I think it is the theme of the film.

Paul as a teacher of ancient civilizations knows that, but  he does not really understand it. He needs to really learn it, like the other 2. Paul must learn it by living it, as do the other 2 members of the trinity.

Paul has an unexpected gift that helps him.   Underneath his crusty surface, he has a surprising amount of empathy.  He is not a cynic. To Mary, spending her first Christmas without her son, he says “Mary, we remember Curtis as such an outstanding and promising young man, and we know this holiday season will be especially difficult without him. Please know that we accompany you in your grief.” The students have to learn it however.

When the privileged students mock Mary Paul says,

Will you shut up! You have no idea what that woman has… (reining it in) For most people… life is like a henhouse ladder — shitty and short. You were born lucky. Maybe someday you entitled little degenerates will appreciate that. If you don’t, I feel sorry for you, and we will not have done our jobs.”

Paul must teach empathy to his students.They have a lot to learn.  After Angus annoys young boys in a bar who want to exact retribution from him, Paul buys them each a beer to keep Angus out of harm’s way. Angus wonders why Paul would do that for such “assholes,” but Paul asks him to look at them. One has a metal hand.

“How many boys do you know who have had their hands blown off? Barton boys don’t go to Vietnam. They go to Yale or Dartmouth or Cornell, whether they deserve to or not.?”

Angus catches on quickly.  He learns. He says, “except for Curtis Lamb.” Curtis was Mary’s son who joined the armed forces in Vietnam to earn enough money to go to a university, but he died there. He never got to go to college.

Mary has to teach Paul that he must also have empathy for his students, Angus in particular. Paul gets mad at Angus when Angus begs him to let him go back to a party so he can try to connect with a young lady. As a result, Paul yells at him and says he did not want to be with the Christmas orphans. Mary rebukes Paul “You don’t tell a boy who’s been left behind at Christmas that you’re aching to cut him loose. That nobody wants him. What the fuck is wrong with you?” This helps Paul to come to his senses. Paul catches on and realizes that Angus deserves some empathy too. He has actually had a difficult life even though he was the son of a woman who had married a rich man.

Paul told Miss Crane that he taught because he thought he could make a difference and she asks him what that means. He says,

“I used to think I could prepare them for the world, even a little — provide standards and grounding, like Dr. Green always drilled into us. But the world doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s on fire, the rich don’t give a shit, poor kids are cannon fodder, integrity’s a punch line, trust is just a name on a bank.”


But I guess I thought I could make a difference. Miss Crane smiles at him, “dazzling even with the dark sentiments. A bittersweet Christmas moment.” She tells him that if that’s all true then now is when they most need someone like you.”

Paul tells Angus,

“I find the world a bitter and complicated place, and it seems to feel the same way about me. I think you and I have this in common. Don’t get me wrong — you have your challenges. You’re erratic and belligerent and a gigantic pain in the balls, but you’re not me, and you’re not your father. You’re your own man. Man. No. You’re just a kid. You’re just beginning. And you’re smart. You’ve got time to turn things around.”


 In the film Angus makes a big sacrifice for Paul and Paul makes a big sacrifice for Angus.  They are life changing moments. They complete, for each of them, what I have called their religious quest. The film does not use this expression, but I do. In a sense each gives his life for his new friend. It is no accident that the words “sacrifice” and “sacred” have the same root.   At the end, Paul dismisses that any suggestion that he was heroic. “All I did was tell the truth, mostly” he says. But that is enough.

But that is not easy. Sacrifices are never easy. And Paul’s face reveals “the terror and hope.” The consequences of telling the truth can be painful. But they are important.

American Fiction


American Fiction  is , as its title suggests, yet another film about Fantasyland.  In some respects it is not real. In other respects it is all too real.  This is a very appropriate title for a film that explores one of America’s many Fantasy Lands. Walt Disney’s Fantasyland is an American creation that has stood the test of time. Just like America as Fantasyland itself.

The protagonist in this film is Thelonious “Monk” Ellison a black writer and professor in Los Angeles. His novels have received academic praise, but sell poorly, and publishers have rejected his most recent manuscript for not being “black enough.”

Monk’s literary agent tries to urge Monk to be realistic and take another approach. Give the public what it wants, even if it is crap. The agent says to Monk, “Your books are good but they’re not popular.” His publisher has rejected his latest book. The agent tells him  “They want a black book.” What is a black book? Monk has an answer: “They got a black book. I’m black and they’ve got the book.” But this incident causes Monk to embark on a flight of apoplexy.

Meanwhile his the University where he teaches has put him on suspension over intemperate politically incorrect remarks he made to his students about racial issues. Teh university bosses  suggest he attend a literary seminar  and spend time with his family in Boston. Of course, he doesn’t really want to be with his family. As he says, “All successful writers are tormented by their families.” His family is certainly no exception.

Monk’s mother is in the early stages of dementia. HIs sister Lisa is a physician who  tries to cheer Monk up. Lisa tells him, “Your books change peoples’ lives!” But Monk asks her, “Has anything I’ve ever written changed your life?” She responds, “Absolutely, my dining room table was wobbly as hell before your last book came out. It was like perfect!”

Monk attends a literary event in Boston in which black novelist Sintara Golden is reading from her new novel We’s Lives in Da Ghetto which seems to pander to black stereotypes. It is immensely popular, unlike his work.  It is filled with black stereotypes that Monk cannot stand. How could she be a successful “black” writer while he is suffering in the wings of the boondocks?

Monk’ literary agent encourages him to do the same thing that worked so well for Sintara. Monk listens to her reading from her novel which he despises. In disgust, Monk decides to write his own black novel as a joke. As Monk said, “If they want stereotypes, I’m going to give them stereotypes. “Dead beat dads. Rappers. Crack.”   He calls the book My Pafology and it contains every trope white readers expect from black novels. It has a melodramatic plot involving bad dialogue, deadbeat dads, gang violence, and drugs. As Monk says, “I just want to rub their noses in it.” And much to his surprise the book publisher loves it and pays him a $750,000 advance which is money he really can use. They won’t even take back their offer when he insists the book be called “Fuck.”

And it turns out to be a book the whites in the Hamptons will love. His black book is a spectacular success. Even though he wrote it as a joke, as his agent says, “its the most lucrative joke you ever told.”

Yet I kept wondering if his book was  really as bad as he claimed. Maybe the readers knew that his “serious” books were crap and his “junk novel” was actually a gem. In the world of fantasies who knows where the truth lies? Not I.

Monk’s family adds elements of great comedy. The film is filled with surprises.  Monk’s brother Cliff is a cantankerous gay man who does everything he can to rock the boat.  When a white neighbour, married to “the rules,” tells them they can’t spread the ashes of their mother in the ocean as she had requested,  Cliff tells him if you try to stop me, “I’ll eat your sweater vest for dinner.”

This film is a black comedy in more than one sense of that word. It really mocks the woke world of liberal white society. And there is no easier target in modern American society than that. The move is an intellectual romp through the racist memes of the publishing world and beyond.  It will make for a fine cinema experience.



I once attended a wedding in which a friend of the groom was making the toast to the bride. He started off his toast by saying he did not really know the bride. That seemed shocking. And mystifying. Why would he deliver the toast? Well, I feel a little like that. I saw the film Oppenheimer a number of months ago before coming to the US. I sheepishly admit that I don’t remember very much about it. So why would I review it? That’s a good question for which I don’t have a good answer.

I do remember a few important things about this film which is favoured to win the Oscar for best Picture this year. This is a fascinating movie made by an acknowledged film genius Christopher Nolan.  The film revolves around American efforts to develop an atomic bomb before the Germans and Russians. This happened before and during World II and before the start of the Cold War with Soviet Russia. The stakes of that competition were as high as they possibly could be. To think the Nazis in Germany might be the first to develop the bomb fills many of us with dread. Both Russia and Germany were totalitarian countries who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. Of course, the same could be said about the United States, the only country to have ever deployed an atomic bomb in war. And they did it twice in Japan. That competition is the background to this fine film. The events are very dramatically presented. As I said, Nolan is a genius too.

Oppenheimer was once asked why he agreed to develop the bomb for the Americans. His answer was interesting: “I don’t know if Americans can be trusted with the atomic bomb, but I do know the Germans can’t.”

Robert Oppenheimer was given the task of directing American efforts to produce an atomic bomb by Leslie Groves (Matt Damon). This was not without controversy because he had personal connections with Communists.

In the film there is a fantastic scene in which Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and Albert Einstein, (Tom Conti)  the two geniuses, are engaged in an earnest discussion. We don’t know what they are saying to each other. We are too far away and can only wonder. And wonder we do, particularly with one important piece of information we are given.

Oppenheimer met Albert Einstein after getting appointed to head this vital project to develop the bomb as quickly as possible before the Germans or Russians beat them to the punch.  And what a punch! There is some disagreement on what happened, as some have said Einstein later told Oppenheimer about his doubts. Some said they discussed scientific doubts about the project in letters. Some scientists had calculated that there was a big problem with developing such a bomb. Oppenheimer said he had been given a a mathematical formula from one of the scientists which he had not yet fully absorbed. According to the formula which might be true or not, the nuclear reaction that would be triggered by setting the explosion off would not end before the world was destroyed. In other words, even a test might destroy all life on the planet! He wanted to know if Einstein agreed with that conclusion. Einstein said he should check with other scientists.  Oppenheimer actually thought the possibility that this would happen was slight. But think about it, he and his team were willing to press the button that might mean the end of all life on the planet! That was hubris of the highest possible order.

Later, in a flashback, Oppenheimer said that he believed he and his team actually did set off a never-ending chain-reaction. They started a nuclear arms race that is with us today and which today seems much more likely to destroy the world than at any other time in history! Putin has made veiled threats that he would use the atomic bomb if things don’t as planned in the war in Ukraine.

The scenes where the scientists in the plains of New Mexico were getting ready to press the button to possibly end the world, were incredibly exciting. What could be more exciting than that? How could they do it? They might destroy all life. Christiane and I have driven through the desert in New Mexico where those tests were made.  It is a beautiful but desolate area. I will never again be able to go by it without thinking how life on earth might have ended right there. Or might still end as a result of what happened there.

The film also delves into the personal  life of Oppenheimer and his family and associates. He marries Katherine “Kitty” Puening, (Emily Blunt) a biologist and ex-communist and then had an affair with another troubled communist, Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh). I was struck by Oppenheimer’s coldness to both women. He didn’t seem to really care about either one of them. I thought his attitude to the two women he “loved” mirrored his attitude to other people in general, especially other people in the world who would be, or might be, affected by the decisions he made. In other words, the two women like all of the people in the world might die as a result of his work, but none of these people mattered. He was largely indifferent even though later in life felt keen guilt for what he had done. It seemed to me, that they just did not count, compared to the great man, the great scientist. Like so many geniuses, he counts and his work counts. Nothing else matters.

Later Oppenheimer, though publicly praised for his work, expressed his personal guilt to the American President Harry Truman, who in response told him not to be a cry-baby! What a cold and unthinking reply. Of course, what else should we expect from an American president? The film also goes into some interesting later history where Oppenheimer ran into trouble in the US because of his communist associations. Particularly at that time, but also now, Americans are quick to look under every bed to see if any Communists are hiding there.

The film goes into Oppenheimer’s personal history after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing at least 100,000 and perhaps as many as 200,000 people.  It is understandable to us, even if not to the wooden-headed and wooden-hearted American President Truman, that one might feel a twinge of guilt for playing an important role in the death of so many people. After all, he was “the father of the atomic bomb.” And he had given birth to a monster.

The great French film director, François Truffaut, once said “war films, even pacifist, even the best, willingly or not, glorify war and render it in some way attractive.”  I admit I got a bit of that feeling when we saw the incredible light of the test explosion. It was described in the film as a “terrible beauty.”  We never see the one dropped on the Japanese cities. The film refers to them at most obliquely. But Oppenheimer knew what he had done, even if Truman did not understand. Oppenheimer said, after the first dramatic test, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” I guess he was a cry baby. 

Nolan also understood, that after 1945 too many people came to love the atom bomb. People quickly forget, if they even caught on at all, what they had done. There are many Trumans. Too dull to catch on. Too few Oppenheimers  who think about what they have done.

Is it not true that we—you and I and everyone—have become death. We are not insulated from what is done by our leaders in our name. We too are destroyers of the earth. We are not off the hook. And, even worse, we too are getting ready to kill. Again.


Past Lives


Past Lives is delightful film that resists all the conventions. I like films like that. I never knew where it was headed right from the opening scene. Thats why I won’t tell you much about what happens,  You have to see it develop to appreciate it.

In that opening scene, we see but cannot hear 3 people sitting at a bar.  There is an Asian woman sitting between an Asian man and a Caucasian man and we are invited to consider why the three of them are there.  The Asian woman and Asian man mainly ignore the Caucasian man. What is the story behind this?  I had no idea. I doubt that very many people would guess what was going on.

During the rest of the film we learn how they are connected and how those connections change over time. There are some deeply poignant scenes that pull at your heart strings in remarkable ways, always without following conventions and also with keen insight.

I loved the cinematography both in New York City and Seoul. The scene where the young “couple” go their separate ways in a fork in the road.  They look at each other with heart-breaking sadness. There will be  reunions and separations. The scenes of New York were also quietly lovely without being overbearing. . The images of flowers reflected in the water are gorgeous. The city is quietly beautiful. How can that be? Can New York City be like that? Not what we would expect. But this is a movie that will challenge your expectations. That is what makes it so interesting.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Arthur, the quiet American who again is played against conventions. Arthur is not the stereotypical American. He is gentle and loving and does not impose his will on the others. And his gentleness is strong.  The movie will challenge your expectations.

This is a little gem of a film that I likely would not have seen except for the fact that Christiane and I are trying to see all 10 of the films nominated for Best Picture of the year. After all much of it is in Korean with subtitles. But a friend of mine told me in Europe everybody watches movies with subtitles. After all they are civilized. And cultured. Get used to it or be a Philistine. Had I missed this film my life would have been significantly poorer.

Anatomy of a Fall



The director of this film is Justine Triet who won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with this film that later became a hit in France. She was only the third female director in the 76-year history of that festival to win that top prize.  That the movie was a hit there and not in North America tells us much about the two cultures.

The film is centred on the death of a man from a fall from a French chalet and the sole issue is whether or not he fell or was pushed by his wife. Disturbingly, the corpse was discovered by the son of the couple.

First, I was fascinated by the details of the French Inquisitorial legal system so unlike our English adversarial model of trials. It seemed like the principals at the trial, the judge, the prosecutor, the expert witnesses, and defense lawyers were engaged in a psychological inquiry that felt penetratingly real and satisfying.  In many ways better than ours.

The really haunting actor in the film is Machado Graner who plays Daniel, aged eleven, the son of the accused woman and the deceased.  He says “I want to understand.”   We all want that of course. And that seems to be enough for the French court to permit an 11-year-old child to attend in court while awkward intimate details about his parents are revealed. Yet Daniel is central to the film Even though he is legally blind, what he “sees” or hears or doesn’t see or hear,  is vital to the mystery and its unfolding. It is he who has to decide if his mother killed his father or his father committed suicide. Not a great choice for an 11-year-old kid.

This is a mystery with a deep feeling of reality, even though the lawyer for the accused novelist, Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud), tells his client Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller), speaking of her murder trial, “this is not about the truth, this is about perception.” The lawyer also counsels the wife “you have to start seeing yourself how others are going to perceive you.” She tells her lawyer “I did not kill him.” And he responds, “that’s not the point.” If that is not the point what is?

The director Justine Triet who also wrote the script with her partner, said to the New York Times this about why he liked his choice of her as leading actress:

“the absence of any kind of seduction both on and off the set… [she] says what she thinks and is very direct.”..[this honesty], is probably what gives her such power on set: She’s real.


I agree with that completely. The fight she had with her husband felt hyper real. It was spell-binding.

The mother wakes up her son the day before her son has to testify in her trial for the murder of his father, and tells him, “I’m not a monster.”

When truth unravels the result is not necessarily a revelation. In fact, it might not even be the truth.  It can just as well be another veiling of the truth.

The family dog, Snoop, may be the only witness to the murder, if it was a murder. In a weird way the dog does bring out the truth. And I mean that literally. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.


Maestro is a supercharged film. It needs to be for it is a story of life that was huge. It is the story of Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper)  the legendary Maestro and his prickly but loving relationship with his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan).  From the opening scene where Leonard Bernstein, an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, is called to the big stage as the conductor, his career was explosive. He was called up on very short notice to replace the conductor who was sick. Needless to say, Bernstein was up to the challenge. A new star was born. Immediately.  For Leonard Bernstein was an absolute star. He conducted with astonishing exuberance. The audience seemed to enter a state of rapture with the performance. When I watched Bradley Cooper play the star I was as mesmerized as I think I would be seeing a supernova’s birth. Compelling is not a strong enough word.

Bernstein said this about art: “A work of art does not answer questions it provokes them, and the essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.” That is what Leonard  Bernstein did and this film is true to that fact and those tensions.

In the film Bernstein was interviewed on television by the famous Edward Murrow who wanted to know what was his primary occupation. After all Bernstein was a world famous conductor and  composer of music. Added to that he was a teacher of music. So what was his main occupation? He had a good answer that neatly ducked the question—he was a “musician” he said.  “Anything that has to do with music is my province. Whether it’s composing it, or conducting it, or studying it, or playing it. As long as its music I like it and I do it.”  That was the central point of the film No one occupation could contain him. And no one person could contain his love. It overflowed. Like many great artists he needed many lives to live. And that can be very hard on those he loves.

The first part of the film is shot in black and white and the latter in color. Ultimately, as his wife Felicia eventually realized, Bernstein could not be constrained by 2 choices. They could not contain him. He loved his wife. And he loved having sex with men. Such a man must be experienced in color. Black and white alone is not enough.

Murrow then asked him what is the difference between the life of a composer and the life of a performer. Bernstein replied:

“It’s a personality difference between which occurs between any composer or creator versus any performer.  Any performer whether its Toscanini    or…whoever it is, leads a kind of public life. An extrovert life if you will. It’s an oversimplified word, but something like that. Whereas as a creative person who sits alone in his great studio that you see here and writes all by himself and communicates with the world in a very private way and has a rather grand inner life rather than a grand outer life. And if you carry around both personalities. I suppose that means you become a schizophrenic and that’s the end of it.”


Bernstein has more than 1 life. He lives with his wife whom he loves, but he has another life where he has affairs with men. One life is not enough. His wife Felicia thought she could survive on what Bernstein had left for her. But she wanted more. It was not enough.

These lives were still not enough for Leonard. As he told Murrow, “Music was the greatest thing I could do and when you add it all up, I haven’t done much.”

As a result of not being able to give Felicia all that she needed, Bernstein said “she has a deep sense of futility.” Therefore, he felt he was not creative enough. “I feel like the world is on the verge of collapse. I’m quite serious. The grinding of creativity which is coming to a grinding halt.”

Bernstein knew that he needed time alone, but because of his performing personality it was hard for him to be alone. That was part of his struggle as a composer. “Can one ever believe that man is just this trapped animal. He is a victim of his own greed and folly. And either one believes in the divine element in this or one doesn’t. As long as I believe it, which is I assume I love people so much, that I have to believe in a remote corner of my soul, there is a way out.”

After one stirring concert of a work, he had created he is sitting in a box seat with his wife Felicia and his lover Tommy. She sees Leonard holding hands with Tommy and not with her, right beside her. They did not even try to hide it. They had always agreed that he would be discreet with his dalliances.  It upsets her terribly. But Leonard is the great artist. Everyone has to bend to his desires.

When Leonard and Felicia have a terrible fight and she denies what he said about all the love in his heart. She says, he has “hate and anger” in his heart. Not love.  “Your truth is a fucking lie,” she yells at him.

Leonard’s sister Shirley tells Felicia, “He is a horribly aging old man who just can’t be one thing.”  She understands him well. He can’t be contained by one thing.

Yet perhaps Leonard’s best person came out when Felicia was dying of cancer. He was relentlessly there for her. Felicia has a change of heart and tells Leonard lovingly, “There is no hate in your heart.” He becomes a devoted husband until she dies. And he learns a valuable lesson: “All you need is to be sensitive to others. Kindness.”

That is all that anyone needs.


Leonard also shows the same feelings to his music students.  He tells the orchestra: “I think the whole point of the piece is becoming one.” All the instruments and all the players become one. Then when he meets a student at the bar, and quotes Edna Vincent Millay to her:  “If summer doesn’t sing in you, nothing will sing in you. If it didn’t I would have jumped in the lake a long time ago.” There was no doubt that summer sang in Bernstein for a while. A considerable while in fact. But not forever. Eventually his life of great music, great wealth, fame, sex, alcohol and drugs took its toll. The summer song could no longer be heard in him. But of course, summer is just a season. It is not a life.


But this film sings. For a season. And that really is enough.

Poor Things



One afternoon this year in Arizona, with our friends MaryLou and Dave Driedger who were staying with us for a couple of days, we went to see a movie.  We try each year to see as many of the films as we can that have been nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts for Best Picture of the Year. Presumably, those films are worth a look.

As a result of doing that we see a lot of movies we probably would never otherwise see. Poor Things, the movie we saw today is probably one of those we would never have gone to see. My first reaction to the film was not very positive. In fact, I thought the title referred to us. We were the poor things who paid to see the film. It was pretty close to porn. Frankly, I considered it “claptrap.” Its ideas seemed clunky.  By and large I considered it messy nonsense.

So I thought at first.  Later, I had time to moderate my opinion. Maybe it was not claptrap. It was not pornography. First, because it was nominated for an Academy Award, for Best Picture, and earned11 nominations in total! How could it be pornography? It was performed by big name stars including Emma Stone for best actress and Mark Ruffalo for best actor. Perhaps I was wrong. It does happen.  So what had I missed?

To begin with,  I asked myself was it pornography? Pornography is notoriously difficult to define. Many people say—I have said it myself—I don’t know how to define pornography but I know it when I see it. I had to admit to myself the sex was obviously not inserted to arouse sexual desire. It wasn’t at all arousing. It was clinical and comic. Besides there was a point to the sex. It was a vital part of the story of the film.

The first thing viewers must realize is that there is a lot of sex in this film. But is that really so bad?  Why? Bella knows nothing about sex and nothing about conventional attitudes about sex. She is free to explore and that is exactly what she wants to do.

The story of the film is the story of a young girl Bella Baxter (Emma Stone)  created by a scientific experiment by an unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). He is like a father to Bella or even a god. In fact, Bella refers to him by the short name, “God.”  The Doctor does in many respects play the part of a god. A very unusual god.  Bella is brought to life by a transplant performed by God of the brain of a very young child into the body of an older woman. Her mother in fact. As a result, Bella has no preconceptions and this is the point. She knows nothing about any of our conventions so she feels no need to be shackled by them. Soon it is obvious they don’t make sense. Why do we feel bound by them unless they actually make sense?

The first thing Bella notices is that there is a lot of pleasure involved in sex. In fact, she asks, “Why don’t we do this all time?” Now that is a pretty good question. Secondly, Bella, has no sense of shame. She does not understand why anyone would feel shame about sex. Well, why should she?

As a result, Bella embarks on what most of us would consider an ill-advised trip to Europe with a debauched lawyer (not an ideal travelling companion) who becomes mesmerized by Bella. But it does turn into a trip of discovery, which of course, every trip should be.

No wonder this is a good movie. All of these are interesting questions and a film that explores them is well worth the look.

I must admit that the rest of the film was not very inspiring. But was it claptrap? Probably not.