It wasn’t that we haven’t seen some good films since our last posting, but it’s a bit late to go back and review them. Some that come to mind now you have probably found for yourself. But if you haven’t seen these six — By the Grace of God, Dark Waters. Knives Out, Ford Vs Ferrari, The Irishman, Saint Frances – we highly recommend them. They are all quite different from each other, but they all meet MillersTime rating of a four or five stars.
Between these and our post from the Philadelphia Film Festival, many of these are available in the “streaming” world now. But given the times we now live in, your MillersTime reviewers have to get over their “Big Screen” fascination and focus on television for movie watching. (Our TV is currently regarded as under-sized by our daughters and probably yours would be too, but it will have to do for the moment.)
So, we are renewing our commitment to bring you movie reviews — recommendations on “screened” films. We’re not sure if seeing these at home makes them different from seeing them in a theater, but we’ll return to that thought as we continue to watch from home.
So settling down in the chairs in our study a couple of evenings a week, so far we’ve enjoyed:
This is the story of an African-American family whose eldest son dreams of becoming a sommelier, despite his father’s wishes that he go into the family’s very successful BBQ business. The plot is somewhat predictable – family dynamics – but the acting and direction of the film creates something unique. It’s set in Memphis where we’ve always want to spend some time, and the vibe of that city lends a lively backdrop to the story behind a quite reserved film. All and all, it’s very enjoyable. Writer and Director: Prentice Penny, NETFLIX
Ellen **** Richard **** 1/2
The Good Liar:
We missed this film when it was out in the theaters and were delighted by it when we saw it at home. The film is about a consummate con man Roy, played by Ian McKellan, who sets his sights not only on Russian mobsters and the like, but also on a lonely woman, played by Helen Mirren. Without giving away the plot (it’s intricate and clever), let’s just say that was a bad mistake on his part. Cleverly written, and of course superbly acted, you’re not going to be distracted by other things around you house that need doing. Director: Bill Condon AMAZON PRIME+
Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film won the Best Documentary Feature at 2020 Academy Awards. With its pedigree – the producer is Participant Media with support from the Obamas’ new film enterprise and two expert directors by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert – you’d expect nothing less than near perfect in the telling of the story. And that’s what you get.
The documentary focuses on the story of an abandoned GM car plant in Ohio, purchased and repurposed by a Chinese billionaire. It is a tale of clashing cultures, of ideas, goals, and commitments of American enterprise vs the Chinese one. The strength of this movie (told artfully through personal interviews and great documentary photography) are the interviews of both the Chinese and Americans involved in this enterprise, allowing them to tell their story. The film’s approach is even handed. The issues of the future of modern day manufacturing are laid bare for all to see. It offers no answers, but it does raise questions for the future of American industry that are profound. Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. NETFLIX
Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is an older film (1995), a romance, and it was recommended on a list we found for people who enjoy travel. It tells the story of the two beautiful young people (Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine) who meet by happenstance on a train. Jesse is on his way back to the States, and he convinces Celine to spend 24 hours in Vienna with him. As they explore that classic city, they fall for each other. We’re not going to spoil the development of their relationship or the ending, which is predictably dramatic. Their conversations about love, marriage/partnership, and the meaning of life are thoughtful and ring true. This is not the type of movie usually in our wheelhouse, but we enjoyed it. Above all, it is a movie about taking a random chance that might just change your life. Director Richard Linklater. AMAZON PRIME VIDEO.
Ellen **** Richard ****
This very recently released film (NETFLIX) is a Holocaust tale of bravery and selflessness in the face of supreme Nazi evil. It tells the story a young Marcel Marceau (born Marcel Mangel and played by Jesse Einsenberg). Marceau, along with his brother and other young members of the French Resistance faced peril and the horror of Klaus Barbe to rescue orphaned Jewish children of all ages. There’s plenty of drama and suspense to keep your attention. This is not just another story of the Holocaust. Richard and I recalled that we saw Marceau preform many years ago, but neither of us knew anything about his past as is explored in this new feature length film. Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz.
Ellen **** Richard ****
.** ** ** Finally, please feel free to add your thoughts (in the Comment section above or in an email) on any of these films and consider recommending others that you have seen recently and have enjoyed.
I know we’ve all heard, read, watched all sorts of advice, much of it good, some questionable, and some simply not up-to-date or just inaccurate.
Below you will find links to two videos/advice from Dr. David Price, a critical care pulmonologist caring for COVID-19 patients at NYC’s Weill Cornell Hospital. (Hat Tip to David P. Stang for alerting me to this information.)
He will tell you some of the things you know, some things you may not be sure about, and some things you may need to know in the days and weeks and months ahead.
What is outstanding about these two videos is the level of practical advice that comes from someone who is on the front lines of caring for people who come to one of our best hospitals. Dr. Price is clear, straight forward, and seems to have the very latest experiences and knowledge from the front lines.
I’m sure there is something in these two videos for everyone, no matter how much information you may know or where you live in this country or abroad, or what you already know that is valid or perhaps not valid.
He is positive and focuses his remarks for a wide range of people.
Given the extraordinary times we are all experiencing, it occurred to me that rather than wait for a mid-year or end of the year call for your favorite reads, we should do something a bit different. Let’s share with each other, on a monthly basis, books that are entertaining and meaningful to us since the first of the year.
Here’s my idea and request and how we can start:
From the last three months, Jan. 1-Mar. 31, pick one favorite read (and one favorite listen if you listen to books also) and send me the title, author, and whether the book is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF). Please write Just three sentences about it so others may know more than just the title. Please follow these few instructions as it makes my job of compiling the list easier.
(Note 1: If you’re having trouble choosing just one title, save your other favorites for next month’s submission. See below).
To begin, send me your first favorite by April 7, and I will post the results on MillersTime by April 10th.
Then, at the end of the first week of May, the 7th, do it again, with the best single book you’ve read and the best one you’ve listened to in the month of April. I will post what you send by May 10th. (I, of course, will remind you to do this in one of my ‘gentle’ nudges.)
We’ll continue this sharing of a favorite read and/or a favorite audio book for the following few months too, if readers are enjoying it.
I hope you’ll contribute each month.
Get started now on sending me one favorite book and/or one favorite listen by April 7. I won’t bother to remind you or bother you this time.
PS – If you’re looking for ideas of something to read, here’s the link to Favorite Reads from 2019.
If you’re reading this post, then most of you are familiar with Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s Casey at the Bat, written in 1888 and first published in The San Fransco Examiner. If by some misfortune (bad parenting, for example) you don’t know it, or don’t remember it very well, you can read or reread it by clicking on the above link.
I’m not sure how many of you know that Grantland Rice about 20 year’s later wrote a follow up poem, Casey’s Revenge, published by The Speaker, 1907:
by Grantland Rice
There were saddened hearts in Mudville for a week or even more; There were muttered oaths and curses- every fan in town was sore. ‘Just think,’ said one, ‘how soft it looked with Casey at the bat, And then to think he’d go and spring a bush league trick like that!’
All his past fame was forgotten- he was now a hopeless ‘shine.’ They called him ‘Strike-Out Casey,’ from the mayor down the line; And as he came to bat each day his bosom heaved a sigh, While a look of hopeless fury shone in mighty Casey’s eye.
He pondered in the days gone by that he had been their king, That when he strolled up to the plate they made the welkin ring; But now his nerve had vanished, for when he heard them hoot He ‘fanned’ or ‘popped out’ daily, like some minor league recruit.
He soon began to sulk and loaf, his batting eye went lame; No home runs on the score card now were chalked against his name; The fans without exception gave the manager no peace, For one and all kept clamoring for Casey’s quick release.
The Mudville squad began to slump, the team was in the air; Their playing went from bad to worse – nobody seemed to care. ‘Back to the woods with Casey!’ was the cry from Rooters’ Row. ‘Get some one who can hit the ball, and let that big dub go!’
The lane is long, some one has said, that never turns again, And Fate, though fickle, often gives another chance to men; And Casey smiled; his rugged face no longer wore a frown- The pitcher who had started all the trouble came to town.
All Mudville had assembled – ten thousand fans had come To see the twirler who had put big Casey on the bum; And when he stepped into the box, the multitude went wild; He doffed his cap in proud disdain, but Casey only smiled.
‘Play ball!’ the umpire’s voice rang out, and then the game began. But in that throng of thousands there was not a single fan Who thought that Mudville had a chance, and with the setting sun Their hopes sank low- the rival team was leading ‘four to one.’
The last half of the ninth came round, with no change in the score; But when the first man up hit safe, the crowd began to roar; The din increased, the echo of ten thousand shouts was heard When the pitcher hit the second and gave ‘four balls’ to the third.
Three men on base – nobody out – three runs to tie the game! A triple meant the highest niche in Mudville’s hall of fame; But here the rally ended and the gloom was deep as night, When the fourth one ‘fouled to catcher’ and the fifth ‘flew out to right.’
A dismal groan in chorus came; a scowl was on each face When Casey walked up, bat in hand, and slowly took his place; His bloodshot eyes in fury gleamed, his teeth were clenched in hate; He gave his cap a vicious hook and pounded on the plate.
But fame is fleeting as the wind and glory fades away; There were no wild and woolly cheers, no glad acclaim this day; They hissed and groaned and hooted as they clamored: ‘Strike him out!’ But Casey gave no outward sign that he had heard this shout.
The pitcher smiled and cut one loose – across the plate it sped; Another hiss, another groan. ‘Strike one!’ the umpire said. Zip! Like a shot the second curve broke just below the knee. ‘Strike two!’ the umpire roared aloud; but Casey made no plea.
No roasting for the umpire now – his was an easy lot; But here the pitcher whirled again- was that a rifle shot? A whack, a crack, and out through the space the leather pellet flew, A blot against the distant sky, a speck against the blue.
Above the fence in center field in rapid whirling flight The sphere sailed on – the blot grew dim and then was lost to sight. Ten thousand hats were thrown in air, ten thousand threw a fit, But no one ever found the ball that mighty Casey hit.
O, somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun, And somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun! And somewhere over blighted lives there hangs a heavy pall, But Mudville hearts are happy now, for Casey hit the ball.
It seems a bit surreal in these times to continue to provide travel-oriented content — photos and tales from our recent trip to SE Asia for our readers. But while normal life has been upended, and may not ever be the same, we hope you will be interested in what we saw, how Ellen captured it, and what we learned. Think of this as a diversion, for you and for us.
As I said in the first post of this travel series, our most recent trip was really four different trips rolled into one. Each of the four major parts was focused on a different type of experiences and took us to four very different places.
This post covers our travels in the northeastern end of the Indonesian Archipelago called Raja Ampat. (Indonesia is a country made up of approximately 15,000 islands, 6,000 of which are inhabited. This chain of islands stretches for 3,200 miles and lies between the Indian and the Pacific oceans.) We spent seven days and nights aboard a small and well-appointed ship called the Aqua Blu, with 16 other passengers from all around the world. (We have traveled previously with this company, Aqua Expeditions, on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, and on the Amazon in Peru.)
The accommodations were great, and the food was superb. The staff was knowledgeable and helpful, and rather good at getting us in and out of Zodiac like boats and canoes without getting hurt. Our days were spent chiefly on the water – options included diving or snorkeling (we chose the latter), kayaking, swimming with sharks (!) and manta rays, and late afternoon chilling at a local beach. There were other excursions too, including a visit to a cultured pearl farm, an afternoon at a small local village, and also a hike to see the famous Birds of Paradise (not seen) and a swim down The Blue River. The latter was a true jungle experience where we literally floated down to the mouth of a narrow river for 30 minutes. (Ellen wondered whether we had signed a waiver for this activity. I know I didn’t, or don’t remember so doing.)
But for us, as good as the cruise, the scenery, and most of the activities were, they weren’t what made this a special week.
Ellen had a relatively new, inexpensive camera for underwater photography, and she gave it a real workout. It was difficult: the water was often cloudy as was the weather, she herself was moving in the current, and the fish were moving too (and pretty fast when they saw her coming). So you won’t see any amazing pictures of exotic fish even though we did see some. What she was mostly able to capture were beautiful corals, some schools of tiny fish, some ‘friendly’ sharks (six who circled me for at least 10 minutes, though Ellen claims it was only for 15 seconds or so), and some photos of our fellow shipmates and of each other.
For me, the highlights were something altogether different and had to do with the other 16 passengers and the local staff on the ship. We were fortunate to have a truly wonderful group of well-traveled and adventuresome individuals and families from around the world: a Japanese couple, a family from Mexico with their adult daughter, a family from Singapore with their 29 year old daughter, another couple with their daughter whose father was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and was likely near the end of his life. There was also a couple whose wife was from Indonesia and the husband from Boulder, Colorado, a couple from the UK, and a single man who lives part of the year in Bangkok and part time in NY.
Most nights for dinner Ellen and I would sit with one of the couples or families and talk well past the time most folks had finished the wonderful food and gone to bed. Those discussions continued throughout the day, at breakfast, at lunch, while on launches to other excursions, and in whatever free time we had on the ship. Generally, Ellen and I prefer not to travel with groups. What a stimulating and eye opening week of being with these truly adventurous and experienced travelers this was. I am still processing what I learned from them,
Below are the first dozen of Ellen’s photos from this second leg of the trip. (Check out Before They Pass Awayfor Ellen’s photos from the first week in Papua New Guinea if you have not seen that post.) After seeing the photos below, if you’re interested in viewing more from the Indonesian part, check out the link at the end of this post to see her slide show of 73 photos.
Even though Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an island, you wouldn’t go there for its beaches, leisurely drives through luscious jungles, or its native food. But you would, indeed must, go to meet the people to learn about their ancient cultures and practices, art, and how the people and the country come to terms with the modern world.
Ellen and I spent just a week in PNG, primarily in the countryside and highlands. We were so fortunate to have the visionary and extraordinary man, Alan Manning (South Sea Horizons), with us the entire time, a PNG native who is devoted to the future of the country and to its indigenous people. Alan cares deeply about their customs and preserving what is special about them as they face living in the 21st century. It was a privilege for us to have a glimpse into a world that we never knew nor would we have had access to without Alan at our side.
What you will see in Ellen’s photos below and in the accompanying slide show is not a travelogue nor an attempt to show what we learned in our very short time in PNG. Her photos focus on some of the practices and culture that the members of the six different tribes we visited are trying to preserve. (There are many hundreds of tribes and more than 850 known languages in PNG.)
Initially, we were in the Central Highlands near the town of Goroka. There we visited the Asaro People (where we learned about mud masks used to frighten invaders, death rites, and fertility rituals) and the Jonteve Tribe, Henganoffi District (where we experienced wedding ceremony traditions).
We were also in the Western Highlands near the town of Mt. Hagen (altitude 8,000 feet). We took a three hour hike with villagers to a burial cave of the Kemase Tribe of Lufa District and also visited the Kusom Tribe – Paiakona of the Tmabul Nebilyer District. We spent time with the Huliwigmen (learning about the rituals of wig making and face painting); the Melpa People in the Kogini Village (learning of traditions of burial and mourning activities); and in the PaitaKona Village with a Melpa Chief and his three wives, and finally at the Nam Cultural Village (learning about a courting ceremony).
If the first dozen photos below are of interest, you can see Ellen’s slide show of 43 photos by following the link below. Each slide has a detailed notation of the tribes or clans we met and the names of specific customs we experienced.
(**The title of this post, Before They Pass Away, is taken from the title of an extraordinary 300 page photo project and book by photographer and author Jimmy Nelson who has spent three decades traveling the world to capture the images and the majesty of “isolated and distant people” whose cultures should not be forgotten.)
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). You may have to click on the two angled arrows facing each other on the very top right to get the full page. They are much sharper, and the larger format presents them more powerfully than what you see above.
Not the kind of diet I’ve been on for the last three years, with some success, despite some ‘give backs.’
But a diet from the two to three to four hours a day I spend between email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of websites that provide me with some form of input about things important and not so important.
I’m starting by withdrawing from Facebook, which is something I’ve been considering for a year or more, not just because of the amount of time I spend on it, but also for a number of other reasons.
There’s lots I like about FB, particularly for being in touch with friends (and some foes) with whom I otherwise might not have frequent contact. Certainly I enjoy posting photos (mine and Ellen’s) and links to my MillersTime.net blog. And there are a number of links that I follow from various FB posts that I might not know about otherwise.But I’m choosing to start this diet with FB because of what FB has become and what its leaders, particularly Mark Zuckerberg, have done with this once promising social networking website. I’ll spare reposting Lisa W’s list and explanation of Ten Reasons Why You Should Quit Facebook Now. Suffice it to say that I agree with at least eight of her 10 points.
(I have previously posted (on FB!) Sacha Baron Cohen’s powerful three minute video of how FB’s platform and policies are allowing the spread of hate and lies in our political and other discourse and, in fact, makes what is occurring there even worse by their unwillingness to intervene. If you haven’t listened to Cohen’s message, stop now and click on the link above.
I will continue, for now, with my Instagram and Twitter accounts knowing that Instagram is owned by FB. As with any diet, you can’t cut out everything at once, but you have to start somewhere. In order not to just transfer my FB time to one of the other social media time killers, I will also limit my total time spent using these (and other) social media platforms.
So by the end of January, I will no longer have a Facebook account. Between now and then, I will figure out alternative ways to stay in touch with some individuals abroad and with friends here in the US. I’m open to suggestions as how to do that.
And if you want to help me (having partners in dieting has proven valuable to me with my weight loss), you can let me know if you’d like to be on my MillersTime.net mailing list, which at no cost to you will get you three for four emails a month that describe my most recent blog post (on travel, photos, family, grand kids, books, films, baseball, and an occasional attempt at describing something that is on my alleged mind.) Just email me if you want to get those notifications about new blog posts.
Finally, for now, I will retain my two Instagram accounts (samesty84 and millerstimeblogger). So feel free to follow me there and send me your Instagram handle (if you want to stay in touch that way).
There’s always that old fashion way of communicating – email (Samesty84 at gmail dot com) and texting. I am diligent in responding to email (and snail mail) from friends…and texts, which seem to be my wife’s and daughters’ preferred way of reaching me.
“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln
Each year, this post is always my favorite. It combines my love of reading with the opportunity to stay in touch with friends all around the country. My hope is that each of you will find a book or books that will bring pleasure in the months ahead. And I look forward to hearing from you about what you find here that is a good read.
This 2019 list is comprised of the favorite reads of 82 adults and six children (ages 2+ to almost 11). Slightly more contributors (51%-49%) were female, about the same as last year. There were an equal amount of fiction and nonfiction books cited. (Last year, nonfiction led fiction 53%-47%, and all the previous nine years fiction led nonfiction.)
I’ve organized the post in three ways:
I. The Books that have been cited by multiple readers are listed first.
II. Next, the Contributors are listed alphabetically by first name — to make it easy if you are looking for the favorites of someone you know — with the titles and authors next, followed by any comments they made about those books.
III.Finally, a Spread Sheetis arranged in alphabetical order by the first name of the Contributor for quick reference. You can print out this alphabetical list of the MillersTime Contributors whose names are followed by Book Title, Author, and whether it is Fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).
Also, at the end of this post, I’ve linked to the yearly lists beginning in 2009, just in case you need more suggestions or want to know what you or others favored in the past.
I. Titles that appear on more than one reader’s list.
A Woman Is No Man, Etaf Fum
Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate
Bruno, Chief of Police Mysteries, Martin Walker
Evvie Drake Starts Over, Linda Holmes
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan
No-No Boy, John Okada
Normal People, Sally Rooney
Olive Again, Elizabeth Strout
Someone Knows My Name, Lawrence Hill
Stoner, John Williams
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne
The Nickel Boys, Colin Whitehead
The Other Americans, Laila Lalami
The Overstory, Richard Powers
The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
American Prison, Shane Bauer
Bad Blood, John Carreyrou
Becoming, Michelle Obama
Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow
Educated, Tara Westover
Furious Hours, Casey Cep
Grant, Ron Chernow
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin
Almost every evening I stand at kitchen sink and look into our back garden while I’m fixing dinner.
Lately, I’ve been admiring the wonderful late fall colors, particularly of the Japanese Maple which dominates the space, and a new sculpture we purchased last spring in Santa Fe. The late afternoon light, the very red maple, and the bamboo all together made a glorious picture.
So, of course, over the last few days, with clear skies at near sunset, I picked up my camera to try to capture it.
Sometimes, we just have to look in our own backyard.
“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln
It’s hard to believe that this year begins the second decade when I request you share with other readers of MillersTime your most favorite books read over the past 12 months.
Here are a few revised guidelines (and one new category) that I ask you to follow in drawing your list and to make my compilation easier:
1. When I ask for your Most Favorite Reads of 2019, I’m seeking fiction and/or nonfiction books that stood out for you above all you’ve read in the past year. What have been the most enjoyable, the most important, the most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you have suggested others read?
2. You are welcome to send just one title or as many as meet the criteria in #1 above.
3. Feel free to repeat any titles that you submitted earlier this year for the 2019 mid-year review, particularly if, on reflection, the book(s) still meets the standards above.
4. In order to make the list most useful and so I won’t have to spend time researching this information, please do the following:
* List the title, the author, and indicate whether it is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).
* Feel free to write a sentence or two, or more about why a particular book was a favorite for you. Many MillersTime readers have said that this part of the list is what’s most important to them. Readers seem specifically interested in why a particular book is on your list.
5. Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists. If we get a number of similar titles, that’s just an indication of the power of a particular book/author.
6. Your books do not have to be ones that were written and/or published in 2019, just ones that you read over the past year.
7. If you have a child/children/grandchild, etc. who enjoys reading or being read to, feel free to include their current favorite book(s), along with the age of the child.
8. If you have listened to a book(s) in one of the various audio formats, Books on Tape, CDs, Audible, etc., and if they meet your definition of books “you’ve enjoyed the most in 2019,” please include those on your list also. Be sure to identify which ‘books’ on your list were ones you enjoyed audibly.
**** **** ****
New this year, sparked by a suggestion of one contributor, is to identify up to three books that most stand out for you over the past ten years. A book that was so fine, so powerful, so memorable, so important that you want to highlight that for others. (You can check out what you listed as your favorites over the past 10 years by using the links below.)
Send me your list in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) by Dec. 16th so I will be able to post the entire list by Dec. 31. (If you send me your list sooner than Dec. 16, you may be able to avoid my constant email reminders to do so, and that will also allow me more time to put the entire list together.)
Here are three more films we’ve seen since we returned from the recent Philadelphia Film Festival (see reviews). All three of these new ones deserve your consideration.
Also, if you scroll to the end this post, I’ve listed when and if each of the 18 films we’ve highlighted (Philly and DC) was or will be released.
Reviews by Ellen Miller
Harriet – Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is a blockbuster bio-epic of Harriet Tubman, the great heroine of the Underground Railroad. It is a ‘big film,’ and you-don’t-want-to-take-your-eyes-off-the-screen because of the superb acting, story-telling, direction, and cinematography.
Harriet is the story of the power of one woman’s desire to be free and to reunite all her family as free men and women. As an activist on the Underground Railway, she risked her own life each time she returned to the South to free her family and others. The film is a well-researched, fact-based inspiring portrait chiefly focusing on Tubman’s life just before the Civil War.
Harriet Tubman (played brilliantly by the British actress, Cynthia Erivo) was born a slave in Eastern Maryland until, improbably, she made her way to freedom in Philadelphia in 1849, when she was about 25 years old. There she connected with the Philadelphia Abolitionist network (Leslie Odom, Jr., plays the Abolitionist William Still). Then, between 1850 and 1860 she returned to free others, approximately 70 people, including almost all of her family, plus numerous other slaves in her 13 ‘return’ trips South.
Tubman remained active during the Civil War, working for the Union Army as an armed scout and spy. She was also the first woman to lead an armed expedition for the Union Forces at the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.
On all accounts, what the film has set out do, how well it’s done, and the value of doing it, Harriet is excellent.
The Cave – Ellen ***** Richard *****
It’s easy to rate this documentary with five-stars, but that doesn’t mean I would recommend it to everyone. It is a difficult, unrelenting story of the human cruelty in southern Syria inflicted by leader of the country — Bashar Hafez al-Assad and his Russians allies — and the people who tried to save lives in an underground hospital (“The Cave”). It takes place in the city of Eastern Gouta.
The film follows Dr. Amani Ballour, an extraordinary and inspiring woman who along with other doctors and assistants (many of whom are women) are indispensable to saving lives of the ordinary people. The documentary is so authentic that the audience — you — become part of the terrifying, frustrating, and murderous moments of brutal air attacks that occurred during a five year period by the Russians on their city. The film is drawn from hundreds of hours of footage shot between 2016 and 2018.
Taken from a wonderful review by Indie Wire, written by Eric Kohn is this summary:
“But as a pure cinematic immersion into Syria’s civil war, it’s an unprecedented look at the deterioration of a country with no ground left to stand on. The movie’s horrific final stretch is an eye-opening look at the aftermath of chemical attacks, and its graphic details prove essential: Introduced by an ominous yellow fog overtaking the city’s horizon, the sequence provides an jarring look at systemic genocide impossible to convey through reductive headlines from afar. As the stench of chlorine overtakes the room, Fayyad doesn’t hold back on disturbing glimpses of burnt flesh and cries of pain.”
Oscar nominee Feras Fayyad (Last Men in Aleppo) as director has made a critically important personal view of the Syrian war. It will stay with you long after you leave the theater, and it’s just right to awaken anyone to what is happening there (particularly if you haven’t paid much attention to this devastation). This film won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
See it. Just be prepared to avert your eyes.
Waves – Ellen **** Richard ****
Waves is another important movie, and, despite what I felt were some flaws in execution, I would urge everyone to see it. It’s fresh — a story of an upper class African-American family and their struggles. The story centers around a strong demanding father determined to push his son to be his best in all he does and particularly in his ability to be a wrestling star in his high school senior year in Miami. It’s also the story of the younger sister of the family and the husband and wife — a story of addiction, violent emotions, and heartbreak, blame and forgiveness. It offers a universal lesson.
This film works because not only is there a compelling family story but there is also extraordinary acting. The son is played by Kelvin Harrison who is mesmerizing. Sterling Brown (the father) and Rene Elise Goldsberry (the mother) are equally first rate. The acting is prize worthy.
If you go to see this film when it’s released (Nov. 15th), plan to spend a bit over two hours involved in a dramatic and a non-stop tension building narrative that you know from the beginning is not going to turn out well.
To give you some breathing room the director creates artificial breaks in the story as it unfolds using a blank screen followed by waves of light sequences. They punctuate each scene. I found the repetition of this annoying and an unwanted interruption of the story. These “breaks” also added, unnecessarily in my opinion, to the overall length of the film, but they didn’t ruin the film for me.
We had first flagged this film to see at the Philadelphia Film Festival but had a conflict, so we are happy that we had an opportunity to catch it at the DC Cinema Club. The writer/director Trey Edward Shults is one of the new bright lights of independent film. Like his first film Kirsha (it won both the Grand and Audience Prizes at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival), this one contains many autobiographical elements.
Combined Ratings (Ellen & Richard) and Availability of these 18 Films
By the Grace of God *****
Downton Abbey *1/2
Leftover Women ****1/2
Les Miserables *****
Pain & Glory ****1/2
So Long My Sons *****
The Australian Dream ****1/2
The Cave *****
Varda by Agnes *****
Waves **** – November 15, 2019
The Two Popes ***** – November 27, 2019
Marriage Story **** – December 6, 2019
A Hidden Life ****1/2 – December 13, 2019
Just Mercy ***** – December 25, 2019
The Whistlers *1/2 – February 28, 2020
Sorry We Missed You ***** – March 6, 2020
(Note: You may notice that we have rated the majority of these films quite highly. Our only ‘excuse’ is that we choose carefully, in advance, what we are going to see.)
When I last posted on this topic of baseball – my beloved obsession forever (at least 70+ years), this life giving and taking, romantic, heart-breaking, exhilarating, logical and illogical, and occasionally magical game – I wrote about a dilemma, whether it was better for my grandson’s learning if the Nats won or lost the final game of the 2019 World Series.
I knew, as FH reminded me in an email, that I had no choice in the game’s outcome. But I was leaning towards the benefits to him of a loss.
Wisely, a number of you reminded me that he could learn from a victory as well as a defeat, although the lesson(s) would be different ones. (See these Comments from readers like Charlie, Tim, Janet, Brian, Hugh, etc.).
Even (even?) my son-in-law who hasn’t even reached his mid-30s yet had some wise counsel:
“While exciting, I hope tonight isn’t a pivotal moment in Eli’s life. Win or lose, the lesson he should take is that when a champion is crowned, it is final. If it’s the Astros, it isn’t unfair, it’s unfortunate (for him but not for the Houston version of Eli). If it’s the Nationals, he will probably be happy, and he will go to school tomorrow with a nice memory. Hopefully, he learns to appreciate the ecstasy the champion feels and recognizes the hard work that was put into the accomplishment.”
Plus, I had told Eli the moment the Nats had lost the third straight game in DC that ” it’s not over yet.”
But I knew the Nats were now facing two hurdles, as a loss in either of the final games in Houston would mean the end of this dream. And in my heart and soul I thought the Astros would win. (It’s hard to overcome the ‘schooling’ of being a Sox fan. Tho, I guess I may have forgotten the full lesson of that ‘schooling,’ – that when the win does comes, and it eventually will, it’s an overwhelming joy.)
Hell, I even forgot, ignored (?), to some degree, what my then 21-year old daughter had written to me fifteen years ago and I had posted about lessons I had taught her about “never say never” and the importance of believing in miracles (more on that word below).
So as everyone everywhere now knows, the Nats did win that final game, coming from behind in the 7th inning, to complete a simply amazing series of comebacks and five months of truly extraordinary achievements.
I shoulda known.
I shoulda believed.
And for those of you who have a few more minutes to devote to this important topic, even if you’ve read, listened to, and talked about what the Nats achieved, I’m posting below an article that sums up how truly extraordinary what the Nats have done. It’s written by Jason Stark in the The Athletic.
He writes that this was a truly magical event.
If you remove ‘divine intervention’ from the definition of magical and stick to simply supernatural, then I totally agree with Stark.
Actually, maybe there was some divine intervention. See what you think.
HOUSTON – Do you believe in miracles? You should. Here’s all the proof you need that miracles happen in sports: The Washington Nationals just won the World Series. Just don’t try to explain how. That’s the miraculous part.
They just completed a journey unlike any that has been completed before. They just spent their season and their October doing things that no team has ever done. And then, for their final act – in a wild Game 7, on a shocking Wednesday evening in Houston – they won one more game they couldn’t possibly win, which finished off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the World Series. That’s all.
Do you believe in miracles? Well, when it’s the seventh game of the World Series and you’re getting one-hit in the seventh inning by a future Hall of Famer – against a 107-win juggernaut that needs just nine more outs to start comparing itself to the ’27 Yankees – you don’t need to consult the Win Probability charts to understand what a preposterous formula that is for winning that game, let alone that World Series.
But “preposterous” is actually an excellent way to describe the wild and crazy ride of the 2019 Nationals. So of course Anthony Rendon launched one more staggering home run into the Crawford Boxes in left, off Zack Greinke. And of course the apparently ageless Howie Kendrick then sliced a game-changing, Series-changing, life-changing home run off the foul pole in right. And of course the Nationals would perform their latest elimination-game magic trick and turn one more near-certain defeat into one more death-defying victory.
Because this is what they do. A little over four weeks ago, the Nationals were four outs from not even advancing past the wild card game. And now they’re the champions of baseball. Because if ever there was a baseball team you just couldn’t kill, this was it.
“OK, this is now the most 2019 Nats thing to ever happen,” said reliever Sean Doolittle, as the champagne dripped from his championship goggles after one final 6-2 stunner of a win over the mighty Houston Astros.
For two weeks now, Doolittle has been spinning off variations of that quote, all while we’ve been carrying on a running dialogue about whether this team qualifies as miraculous. He instructed us at one point to come up with some sort of metric to determine what constituted a true miracle. Weighted Miracles Created Plus maybe? That sort of thing. That part of this project didn’t go well. But Doolittle continued to weigh this heavy-duty topic.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this,” he said – but he still wasn’t sure, even as the champagne flowed. So we were forced to turn elsewhere. We then asked this team’s hitting coach, Kevin Long, if he thought what this team has just done could be called a miracle.
“Yeah, I do,” Long said instantly, then realized tears were welling in his eyes. “I’m going to get emotional. But the stuff and the things that these guys have overcome, it’s truly amazing.
“I really do think this was a dream team,” he said. “I really think this was one of the most amazing feats that any team has ever accomplished. If somebody had said that we’d beat the (2017) world champions in Houston tonight and they’d crown us world champions, I don’t think anybody would believe that.”
But there’s no choice but to believe it now, because they’ve done what they’ve done. So why do we think it’s safe to call these men the Miracle Nationals? It’s our mission today to make that case to all of you. It’s not as hard as you’d think.
The miracle of the elimination games
When we say that no team has had an October like the October of the 2019 Nationals, that’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. Let’s lay out those facts for you now:
Other teams in baseball history have won five potential elimination games in one postseason. But the Nationals put a slightly different twist on that feat – because they trailed in all five of them at some point. And how many teams in history have ever come from behind to win five elimination games in the same postseason? That would be none, says STATS LLC.
That feat is miraculous enough, but now let’s move along to the three winner-take-all games this team played. The Nationals trailed by two runs in the eighth inning of the wild card game against Milwaukee, with the fearsome Josh Hader on the mound. They trailed by two runs in the eighth inning of NLDS Game 5 in Los Angeles, with the great Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Then on Wednesday, they trailed by two in the seventh inning of this Game 7, with Greinke dialing up the most dominant postseason start of his life. So what happened? Yep. The Nationals roared back to win all three of those games.
So how many other teams have ever won three elimination games — let alone winner-take-all games — in one postseason after trailing by two runs or more in the seventh inning or later? How many do you think? There are no other teams that have done that, according to our friends from STATS. Ever. In fact, just one other team — the 1980 Phillies — has even won two potential elimination games like that.
We were down in the wild card game,” Long said. “I mean, are you kidding me? We were down five times (in elimination games). Really? I can’t say that enough. We were down in all these games late, and just continued to fight and come back and stay together. And the pitchers knew if they just stayed close, we’d find a way to win. And we certainly did.”
The miracle of the World Series
Now let’s think about the team the Nationals just beat in this World Series. The Astros won 107 games this year. That’s the most in baseball. But even that doesn’t adequately capture how good they were.
Teams like that don’t lose the World Series. Teams like that normally dominate the World Series. But that isn’t how this World Series turned out, is it?
Their powerhouse pitching staff had an Adjusted ERA-Plus of 127. Their deep, talented offense had an adjusted OPS-Plus of 119. That’s nuts. Want to know how nuts? Over the last 100 years, there has been only one other team that had both an OPS-Plus and ERA-Plus of 119 or higher. That team was Babe Ruth’s 1927 Yankees.
The Astros won 14 more games this season than the Nationals. And only two other teams in history ever had that large a win differential over the team they played in the World Series and didn’t win it. One was Vic Wertz’s 111-win 1954 Indians, who lost to Willie Mays’ 97-win New York Giants. The other was Three Finger Brown’s 116-win 1906 Cubs, who lost to Jiggs Donahue’s 93-win White Sox.
So just based on the history, this goes down as one of the biggest World Series upsets of all time.
There’s also the Vegas take on how large an upset it was:
Yet from the first inning of Game 1, the Nationals played like a team that never bought either of those narratives. And even after they lost Games 3-4-5 at home without ever leading for a single pitch, they still thought of themselves as 100 percent alive — because they never looked at the Astros as the unbeatable behemoth that Vegas thought they were.
“There was something going on,” Doolittle said. “We totally felt it. We totally fed off it. We kind of thought coming into the series that the pressure was on them. We could tell right away from the questions that they got on Media Day, versus the questions we got on Media Day. There was a totally different vibe to those questions.
“They were getting asked, ‘What are you gonna do after you win the World Series? What are you gonna buy?’ And people were asking us, like: ‘What does it mean to be in the first World Series ever in Nationals history?’ And we were like, ‘I don’t know. It’s cool. We’re happy to be here.’ So we were very aware that they were the team to beat and we were the biggest underdogs, according to Vegas, in the last — what? — 15 years? Something like that? But you know what Han Solo says: ‘Never tell me the odds.’”
The road-field advantage miracle
The 2019 Astros didn’t merely run up the best home record in baseball (60-21) this season. They were one of the most unbeatable teams at home in modern times.
In fact, in the nearly six decades since baseball went to a 162-game schedule, just four teams won more home games in any season than the Astros won this season:
So just winning a World Series in which the Astros had home-field advantage would have been a sensational feat. But as you might have heard, that isn’t all that happened, right? In a very weird World Series, in which the home team won zero games, the Nationals did something unheard of:
They became the first team in the history of any of the four major professional sports to win a championship by winning all four games of a best-of-seven series on the road. How many times did the Astros lose four in a row at home all season? Yessir. That would be never. In fact, they didn’t lose four games at home over the course of the entire season to any team except the A’s — who beat them four times, but needed 10 games in Houston to do it.
“Remember the other night, when I said after Game 5, ‘Hey, we’re just fine. The road team’s winning every game?’” Doolittle said. “I was just joking. But hey, look at us now.”
The “Fall of the Titans” miracle
Before the Nationals wiped out those 107-win Astros, they pulled another monumental upset — by beating the 106-win Dodgers in the NLDS. So who does that — wins a World Series by upending two teams that won at least 106 games in the same postseason? Nobody does that, naturally. Or at least nobody did it until now.
“We believed in ourselves from the beginning,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki. “You know, everyone always says that to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best — and we beat ’em.”
The miracle of 19-and-31
Back on May 23, the Nationals were 50 games into their season — and somehow found themselves 12 games under .500 (at 19-31), just like the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers went on to lose 114 games. The Nationals went on to win the World Series. You don’t see that much.
OK, to be honest, you don’t see that ever. No team in history had ever had that bad a record after 50 games and gone on to win a World Series. But the Nationals did. And only one team had ever been 12 games under (or more) at any point in any season and gone on to win a World Series. That, as you also might have heard, was Possum Whitted’s 1914 Boston Braves – who have been known throughout history as the “Miracle” Braves.
So if there’s only one other team that has followed this path and their nickname is “Miracle,” doesn’t that automatically qualify these Nationals as a miracle unto themselves? We’ll get back to that in a moment.
What’s more important than what we call it is how they did it. And they did it by reminding themselves, as they finally started to get healthy, that they were way too talented to be hanging out with the Marlins and Tigers in the standings.
The road back from 12 games under began with a team meeting, in a conference room off the clubhouse in late May. All the coaches and position players were there. The message from the veterans in the room was firm and clear.
Long’s everlasting memory of that session: “I remember these guys saying, ‘We can do this, and it will be the greatest accomplishment of our lives.’”
Maybe that resuscitation alone — from life after 19-31 to triumph in October — isn’t enough to make you believe we should hang that “miracle” sign on this team. But now add in all of it — the elimination games, the upset of the Astros, the upset of the Dodgers, the four World Series victories in one of baseball’s most intimidating environments — and think about this one more time.
Also remember that this is a franchise that had never won a single postseason series since moving to Washington. And remember that no team from Washington had won a World Series in 95 years.
So now add all that up. Has there ever been any World Series champion — any league, any town, any year — that did all of that on the road to the parade floats? You know that answer. That answer is: No way.
And even if you weren’t sure about these guys before Wednesday, how could you have watched the final chapter in this story and not believed in this miracle?
Their starting pitcher, Max Scherzer, went from having to fall out of bed on Sunday to gutting his way through five innings Wednesday. That’s not a miracle?
One minute on Wednesday, Greinke was making the Nationals’ lineup look so overmatched that Long said that when he saw Gerrit Cole begin to throw lightly in the bullpen midway through the game, his reaction was: “‘Please bring him in,’ because that’s how good Zack Grinke was.”But next thing you knew, Rendon was lofting a Greinke changeup into the left-field seats, for just the Nationals’ second hit of the day. And even that seemed like a miracle at the time.
“You know, momentum’s tough to change,” Long said. “And something like that really, really lifted everyone’s spirits in the dugout. You could see it on the field. It was almost like those (Astros) said, ‘Oh no. Here they come.’”
Yep. Here they came, all right. Juan Soto would walk to end Greinke’s day. Kendrick would welcome Will Harris to the festivities with a what-just-happened two-run homer. And in a span of only eight pitches, the Nationals had gone from nearly dead to somehow leading. You mean that wasn’t a miracle?
“I had a flashback — to the wild card game,” Suzuki said. “I said, ‘This seems kind of familiar.’”
They were eight pitches that changed a game and changed the World Series. But if they seemed miraculous to those on the outside, they seemed like business as usual for the Miracle Nationals.
“It was just fitting for our season,” Suzuki said. “We’ve been playing elimination games since the middle of May. At least it feels like it. We had to fight for everything. So what a fitting way to end this season.”
We understand that your definition of a miracle may be different from ours, or Sean Doolittle’s, or Kevin Long’s. So when we ask, one more time, if you believe in miracles, the answer doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this somehow happened. In real life.
And so, on this one last crazy evening at the ballpark, it was the Washington Nationals standing on a makeshift podium in Houston, kissing their trophy and wiping away tears. It was all so powerful an experience that even they don’t completely understand how everything it took to hoist that trophy was even possible.
“You know, I was just talking to a friend of mine,” said right fielder Adam Eaton. “He was talking about all the things (that happened to us). He just went through, like, six or seven or eight different things. And when you hear them, it’s like yeah, it’s remarkable. If I was not here, I’d be home watching it. That’s for darned sure.”
“And if you weren’t here, if you hadn’t seen it and you hadn’t lived it, would you believe it?” we asked.
“No,” said Adam Eaton. “And that’s why I’d be watching.”
Good idea — because how can you believe in miracles unless you watch them with your very own eyes?
I awoke two days ago to the brief email below following the third World Series loss in a row by the Washington National’s to the Houston Astros in DC:
“I think I was happier when I didn’t care. It’s terrible to want something you have no control over. How about that, Dr. Miller!” – FH
The author is a long time friend who use to look askance at my interest in baseball. After listening to her for years, I invited her to attend Nats’ game with Ellen and me (she had never been to a MLB game in her seven plus decades!). Under my ‘light tutoring,’ and despite her skepticism, she found herself intrigued and interested, and surprisingly, to her and to me, she began to follow the Nats. Sometimes, intensely, it seems.
And that, FH’s quote, contains two of the many life’s lessons that baseball teaches.
First, some comments about last night. When facing elimination from the World Series, the Nats found a way to win game six (it often seems game six is a big deal (Buckner, etc.).
So now we go to the one game World Series, in Houston, that will determine who takes over from the Boston Red Sox as the new World Champions. (Yes. as of this writing, the Sox are still the World Champions!)
But it doesn’t matter who wins tonight.
Well, I guess it matters to the players for the two teams and for their fans and their two cities, including my 10 year old grandson who went to the fifth (disastrous) game with Ellen and me and stayed up until midnight – on a school night! – only to see his favorite team lose. (I did tell him after the final out to remember, “It’s not over yet.” But in my mind and soul, I felt the Astros would probably win the WS. After all, I was ‘schooled’ by my seven decades of following the Sox.)
But if the Nats lose tonight, at least there’s some solace. They didn’t give up. Even when they were behind and when that horrific umpire call seemed to change the direction of the Nats’ comeback chances. As they’ve done for much of the season, they found a way to win.
In fact, for all those of you who were sure the Nats didn’t deserve to be in the World Series, perhaps some rethinking is in order. After all, they had the best record in ALL OF BASEBALL since their horrendous 19-31 start to this season in May and that includes being better than the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Astros, etc. Plus, they did win the Wild Card suicide game and went on to defeat the Dodgers and the Cards, coming from behind in almost all of the games they won.
So if they lose do lose tonight in what hopefully will be a memorable game with Scherzer against Greinke in this winner take all game, the solace for Nats’ fans will be enough to take them into 2020.
Now, back to FH’s wise words and my dilemma with my grandson.
First, baseball’s life lessons, starting with the importance of caring and the wanting of something so badly yet you have no control over the outcome, two realities that baseball has taught me, and also my younger daughter. (If you’ve never read what she wrote when the Sox won the World Series in 2004 for the first time in 86 years and in my lifetime, read The Email on the Kitchen Table, written for / to me by my then 21 year old, daughter which said, in part:
“Being a Sox fan prepared me for disappointment; it taught me that there are some things that no matter how badly you want something, sometimes you just can’t make it happen. I think my perspective on life has truly been shaped by the virtue of my fanaticism for baseball. It’s taught me that life isn’t fair, you don’t get what you want, and other people can just be downright heartless.”
“More than anything, my father taught me to believe. And not just in the Red Sox, but in myself. Because if my team can come back from down 0-3 to the Yankees, and sweep the Cardinals in the World Series, really, there is no such thing as never. “
“I guess in the end, my obsession ultimately taught me that good things do come to those who wait. So I sit back and say to the rest of Major League Baseball, sit down; wait ‘till next year.”
And, finally, my dilemma.
Is it better for my grandson for the Nats to lose tonight so he learns these two lessons than to experience the joy he would have if they win it all? After all, he’s only 10.
I’m not sure I know the answer.
But I know I have no control over what will happen.
We were back in Philadelphia this year for their terrific film festival, having missed last year because of other travel. This was our 5th or 6th year attending, and every year we enjoy our long weekend, crammed with outstanding films.
How many films can you see in a day you might ask?. Our record one year was five; generally our pace is three, but if we try hard enough (and decide not to eat anything other than popcorn), we can make four. Not surprisingly we can’t recall all the film names from memory, but, astonishingly, we remember the story, the direction, or cinematography, or the overall impact of each one. Not every film we saw this time is ‘for us,’ but we’ve come to appreciate what film artists are doing as they hone their craft.
There was great diversity in our choices this year. The films we saw came from around the world: Australia, Korea, Austria, France, the Vatican, Romania, China, England, and the US. There were documentaries (Vardaby Agnes, The Australian Dream, Leftover Women); commentaries about current social/economic inequities (Parasite, So Long My Son, Les Miserables, Sorry We Missed You); stories of modern day heroes (A Hidden Life, Just Mercy,The Two Popes,); insights into modern day life (Marriage Story). Some of the films we saw fit more than one of these categories.
So, in the order we saw them:
Parasite – Ellen ***** Richard ***
An avant-garde South Korean film by well-known director Bong Joon-Ho, this film focuses on the economic and social disparity between the poor and wealthy in ways that are sometimes outrageous, laugh-out-loud funny, shocking, and horrifying. A working poor family — mother, father, son, and daughter (all talented in some way but out of work and living on the edge) — worm their way into an upper class, clueless household to take advantage of them. The confidence game the family plays comes unraveled in unpredictable ways, with horrifying consequences. The plot and dialogue were clever and constantly surprising. But there were times when I had to cover my eyes.
Parasite is not a film for everyone (Richard gave it only three stars) and was certainly ‘over the top’ for me, but standing back and judging a film not from the perspective of “did I like it,” I can say this is a fine movie, if you can take it.
Just Mercy – Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is a bio-epic of a personal hero of ours – Bryan Stevenson – the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization that has become a tireless and successful crusader for wrongfully accused death-row inmates in the Alabama prison system (and elsewhere around the country). The film is based on Stevenson’s book of the same title, which I know has justifiably been popular among MillersTime.net readers. Two strong actors play the lead roles: Michael B. Jordan is cast as Stevenson; Jamie Foxx is cast as the inmate, Walter McMillan, whose wrongful conviction is the focus of this powerful story. The producer was Destin Daniel Cretton.
The film reveals how the state of Alabama made up murder charges against McMillan for the killing of a young white girl, and for which he is wrongfully convicted. It tells the story of how Stevenson and his team fought for his release. It is populated with other real clients of Stevenson’s, telling their own compelling stories. It also compellingly documents the steadfastness of Bryan Stevenson and his team at the beginning of their work some 30 years ago.
The greatness of this film is in the narrative, although the acting, particularly by Foxx, is very compelling. In sum, this film documents the ongoing unequal justice system that is driven by racism and hate.Adding to the evening was an after-film discussion that included Stevenson himself along with others involved in making the movie. Just Mercy is a must-see (and a must-read if you have not already done so).
Sorry We Missed You – Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film offers a devastating social critique featuring a hard-working British couple taken advantage of by an employment and economic system that doesn’t provide adequate pay or personal support in their jobs. In the “gig” economy in which they operate, this family faces increasing financial debt along with emotional trauma of their children. As the husband and wife strive to cope, they are dragged further and further down. These are good people, beset by a system that simply doesn’t care.
Ken Loach who has tackled unfairness of political and economic systems in the past directs this British film. (This one is similar in tone and approach to another one we “enjoyed” several years ago in Philly, I Daniel Blake.) The acting is superb with Kris Kitchen and Debbie Honeywood in the leading roles. The movie is difficult to watch as the family spirals out of control. There are no solutions at the end.
(Richard: Probably my favorite of the 12 we saw.
Leftover Women–Ellen **** Richard ****
Are Chinese women who reach their late 20s and early 30s “past their prime” for marriage? It appears that a lot of people in China think that way, and the pressure that is put on the unmarried women (many of them with professional careers) is old fashioned in this modern world. This is a story of a Chinese cultural transition (or lack thereof) regarding marriage.
In this thoughtful Chinese documentary (directed by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam (oddly, both Israeli)) we learn about the marriage markets and government organized meet-ups as men and women search for mates (China has 30 million more men of marriageable age than women), and the pressures that women not yet married face from their families is enormous.
The film presents three personal stories: the first is of a woman lawyer who wants to marry but is already considered too old and too “aggressive.” (She ultimately finds a mate and makes compromises to live as good a life as she can); the second woman, under severe pressure from her family to find a mate, ultimately leaves China for a new and single life in Europe, losing her family in the process; and the third can’t seem to satisfy her mother who criticizes every possibility as inadequate.
The film is most moving in the very private and personal conversations with their families, all of which are filmed in real time.
This is a very thought-provoking movie. See it if you can. E
The Whistlers –Ellen * Richard **
A modern day international crime caper with a dozen or so major actors from one of Romania’s “new wave” directors — Corneliu Porumboiu. It was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys (were there any good guys?). You need a diagram to keep the “game” straight, and without it, you’ll likely be as lost as we were.
The essential story is that a bad cop from Romania goes to the Canary Islands to learn a secret whistling language that is key to pulling off a heist, which involves collecting millions of “dollars” hidden in mattresses. This cop is joined by a femme fatale with a subplot of attempting to keep her boyfriend out of jail. All of the antics of this bunch take place in the dark, further obscuring who is doing what to whom or why.
The audience at Cannes apparently loved it. We did not.
So Long My Son – Ellen ***** Richard *****
I rolled my eyes as I sat down for this three-hour Chinese drama focusing on the impact of the one-child policy on two different families over a 40+ year period. But I got up three hours (and five minutes) later impressed by this well-paced, complicated, and tragic story. The director was Wang Xiaoshuai.
The film unfolds as a mixed chronology of these families’ lives, and while it was somewhat confusing at times, the whole was more than equal to the sum of its parts. It presents a different narrative of the initiation of China’s one child policy and the psychological/social impact on their lives. This is a story of unspoken secrets, sorrow, and resentments. No spoilers here.
If you’re interested in China’s cultural and political history, this is a must see.
A Hidden Life – Ellen ***** Richard ****
This French period drama (set in 1943) is based on the true story of a devout Catholic man (Franz Jagerstatter, played by August Diehl)) who refused to pledge his support to the Nazi party. The family lives in an idyllic Austrian community, which becomes increasingly hostile toward him and his family until (and even after) his eventual arrest. Jagerstatter’s wife (played by Valerie Pachner) stands by his side as she continues to farm their land and raise her children. Her husband’s steadfastness in his principled opposition to the Nazis drives the beauty of the film.
The film’s director is Terrence Malick, and the film has dramatic pace (fueled by music) and stunning cinematography. There is little dialogue and the thoughts and feelings are portrayed (slowly!)essentially though lighting, soundtrack and impressionistic images.This film came highly recommended, and we can see why. I suspect this will be nominated as a Best Foreign Film, and it could well win.
I personally found it a bit over dramatic.
The Australian Dream – Ellen **** Richard *****
We were attracted to this documentary because of our recent travels to Australia and our continued interest in the lives of the Aboriginal people. The film tells the story of one of the greatest players of the Australian Football League — Adam Goodes — and traces the rise of both Goodes’ career as a sports icon and fighter for indigenous peoples’ rights. Goodes was attacked and vilified for his outspokenness, particularly after he was named “Australian Of the Year” in 2014. The film presents a sobering reminder of the continuing racism and hatred that plagues every country in the world.
The Australian Dream is composed of actual game footage, spliced with interviews with various observers of the political phenomena created by Goodes. Together these interviews present a multifaceted examination of Goodes’ sports activism and its impact.
This film was executive produced by former Australian basketballer (and current Philadelphia 76er) Ben Simmons by Good Thing Productions and Passion Pictures. Simmons was present at the film to discuss it afterwards.
Varda by Agnes – Ellen ***** Richard *****
Wow. Just Wow.
We are latecomers to the superb talents of film director Agnes Varda and her phenomenal career. (We saw our first film by and about her several years ago at this same festival). This French documentary, which she directs and in which she is the only actor, was produced just before her death at age 90 in March of this year. It provides a time capsule of her 60-year career work in a charming, self-effacing way.
The structure of the movie is quite simple. We see and listen to a series of lectures that Varda is delivering to audiences in which she is discussing her inspirations, her creative process, and the goals of her work. These lectures are illustrated with examples of specific excerpts from her films. It is very much a “show” and not “tell” documentary. She discusses her work as a feminist, a woman sympathetic to the poor and downtrodden, and her love for her husband. It’s a phenomenal story – a memoir — of the artist by the artist. It is also an inspiration for others: artists, directors, and photographers.
It’s a must see. I was mesmerized by it, perhaps because of my continued interest in my ‘second career,’ photography.’ I wish I had taken notes. (Richard: So see it again if it becomes available.
Les Miserables –Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film takes its title from the Victor Hugo book of the same name, but updates the situation to modern times. Do not go expecting a movie version of the play. What makes this French film so compelling is that the situation it depicts hasn’t changed since Victor Hugo published his book in 1862. It’s stunning and shocking.
The story: a new cop on the beat (played by Damien Bonnard) is paired with a racist cop (Alexis Manenti) and his driver (Djebril Zonga) who have highly suspect ways for keeping the peace. As they patrol their territory – largely a poor outlying Muslim neighborhood in Paris – problems develop and tensions between power factions in the neighborhood escalate quickly into an all out community riot. The police suddenly face a situation they can no longer control.
This is an all too familiar story of the suppressed and harassed lower classes and police brutality and while it takes place in Paris, it could be Baltimore or St. Louis. The ending is brutal, a warning, a primal scream.
A first time feature director Ladj Ly directs the film. I suspect we’ll hear more about him when it’s Academy Award time.
The Two Popes – Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film has US, UK, Italian, and Argentine roots. And, perhaps appropriately, we must thank God for the subtitles, since Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Latin and English are all spoken in the film. The director is Fernando Meirelles. The acting of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce will take your breath away. The dialogue is witty and brilliant, and amusing.
The film based on a 2012 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis (then known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio). Pope Benedict summons the Cardinal (an outspoken critic) to meet with him as faces a series of scandals and considers retirement (something that hadn’t been done in over six centuries). The intellectual jousting and sharing of ideas (they are ideological opposites) between these two men is mesmerizing and brilliant. I didn’t want it to end.
This will hit the big screens. It too is a must-see.
Marriage Story – Ellen **** Richard ****
The more I think about this film the less I l liked it. There is some very fine acting in parts (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are the film’s stars), and it conveys the pitfalls of modern day marriage and divorce in a very subtle and compelling way. But something is missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. The director Is Noah Baumbach who is well known for various films about family relationships. Perhaps the characters are a bit too formulaic (self-interested, career driven New Yorkers) for my tastes.
Here we have a lovely young couple in New York: he is an up and coming stage director in New York; she’s an up and coming actress, very involved in his work. They have a young child. The wife is drawn to Los Angeles for a new role and uses that as an opportunity to take a break from coupledom, ultimately deciding she wants a divorce, an amicable divorce. But soon that amicable divorce becomes complicated, and mean and nasty, and out of the couples’ control. (Very stereotypical lawyers fight to get whatever they can get for their clients.) There are heart-rendering moments of love, heart-break, and fury which will tug at you.
I suspect this will be a popular film, despite my hesitations about it.
Before the Philly Film Festival we saw three films that are now generally available in movie theaters. A few highlights from them:
By The Grace of God–Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is the story of three men who take on the Catholic Church after experiencing abuse from the same priest during their youth. What separates this film from others that deal with similar topics are the intimate portraits of each of these now middle-age men. The attempts of the church to excuse, coverup and take no action against one specific priest speak is ab outrage. The courage of the men to bring the issue forward was beyond brave. It was well filmed and acted.
The film is based on a true story in Lyon, France. There was a recent conviction (March 2019) of the Cardinal of Lyon for concealing the conduct of the priest.
We highly recommend it.
** *** **
Pain and Glory –Ellen ***** Richard ****
This was an absolutely stunning film by the great writer and director Pedro Almodovar. It tells the story of a retired film director (played by Antonio Banderas) and his accomplishments and failures. It is exquisitely filmed and a story hauntingly told. Penelope Cruz is cast as the director’s mother and she is as mesmerizing as always.
** *** **
Downton Abbey –Ellen * Richard **
I was a fan of the TV series. But the money it cost to make this two+ hour manufactured, multiple plot, extravaganza should have been spent on another TV season. In the film the characters were caricatures of themselves, the plot trite. and disjointed and the end was sappy.