November 2, 2020

So it snowed last night here in Toronto. Can’t say that I am anxious to see the Winter coming back this way. Add to the cold and the darkness, since we also fell back Saturday night for Daylight Savings Time, plus a new surge in Covid-19 cases, and it means that we here are more isolated once again and holed up inside our own places for the time being. It means no theatres (closed down once again) and watching some of the seemingly infinite content on the streaming services. So here goes:

Just Mercy: from the book by Bryan Stevenson, unread by me so far, about a young black Harvard schooled lawyer from Delaware, who decides after an internship in the criminal justice system in Alabama to head there and defend those on death row. Michael B Jordan (of Black Panther fame) plays the young Stevenson. He has managed to secure a grant from the Federal Government, and proceeds down to Alabama to meet clients. One in particular, played by Jamie Foxx is a young black man who was convicted of killing an 18-yo white teenager in a store in a small town where To Kill A Mockingbird was set. The irony is not lost on the viewer. This movie is timely in that it shows, once again, how in 1989 (not ancient history) that discrimination and unequal treatment (and defending) under the law is very prevalent. As this week there is a Presidential election, don’t forget too that in the US, District Attorneys, Sheriffs and Judges are all voted on as well. This is NOT the case in Canada, where these positions are appointed. Nevertheless, what the viewer sees is a system where the Sheriff and D.A. have on one man’s testimony, which was coerced out of him, had a man (Johnny D) convicted for first degree murder with the death penalty. This was a high profile case, where they relied on the shaky testimony of that previously convicted witness over 20 plus people in Johnny D’s community who swear under oath that he was not even in the town the day of the murder. The viewer will be amazed at the results. There are good performances all around, and I can easily recommend this movie.

Soul of America is a very interesting documentary which speaks to this particular time in American history. Seen through the eyes of Vanderbilt professor and former editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham, this is the story from his best selling 2018 book of the same name. In it, he explains how despite to hyperbole and protestations of news groups these days, he sees this time as a logical extension to what has transpired over in the US to date. In his mind, progress seems to made on issues like rascism, equality, women’s rights etc but then the tide will ebb back. He sees various Presidents, a couple notables like Woodrow Wilson and FDR are mentioned, but they still have their moments of questionable behaviour like the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. In his argument, there are Angels and Darkness, and for the time being we are in a time of darkness. This is no small part to a population who reads less, listens less (to radio for example) and gets their information from online sources. My more recent reviews will show how each person is targeted in that “newsfeed” and there isn’t a sense of collective understanding. So these factors have conspired to bring about this schism in American society. So rather than being surprised by what he sees, he thinks that we can learn from history (like the 1930s with the Depression, or the 1960s with the civil rights movement) and hope to find a leader who wishes to lead. This was instructive and informative and shed light on a checkered past which can hopefully guide the future that should be given direction sometime this month after tomorrow’s election.

Fahrenheit 451: Michael Shannon and Michael B Jordan star in this story from Ray Bradbury. From a Canadian perspective, it was filmed in and around Toronto and Hamilton. The story itself is another dystopian future society where a centralized government is burning all the books so that the collective society can be told what to think. It’s not a compelling story to me as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, which now is a new series out on Showcase. Overall it was okay. I can’t recommend it, even though I always enjoy the intense Michael Shannon in his roles.

You Are Here: Come From Away Story: If you haven’t seen the musical Come From Away, then this documentary will not only address the background source story, but also the reaction and follow up from its release and success. I have to say that this moving story makes me a very proud Canadian. Sure we Canadians are viewed globally as being “nice” and “polite” but this further shows small town Canada, Maritime Canada and all of its special gifts which we get as a country but can often forget. The story begins with the terrible events of September 11, 2001, where on a bright and sunny morning two commercial aircraft are hijacked and slammed into the World Trade Center in New York, as well as taken from midair over Pennsylvania. Once the threat is identified, all aircraft worldwide heading towards the US are grounded. For many that means being forced to land in Gander Newfoundland, the furthermost east airport in North America. Gander is a very small town, with a population of roughly 7000. Thirty eight (38) widebody jets landed at Gander that day, with total passengers of 6600. The passengers came from throughout the globe and were initially kept on board and told nothing about world events for the first 24 hours. The people of Gander didn’t know what to expect, but had to act quickly to find food and shelter for their new shocked guests. Boy did they respond! They housed, fed, clothed all of these guests and treated them as their own. They showed Eastern hospitality as only they can do so. When those planes left up to five days later, they left as new friends and family. A couple from the Sheridan College Theatre program decided to interview the people involved and created a musical called Come From Away. It has been a smash hit, and nominated for 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and won for Best Direction. The rest of the story is just heart warming, as you see the people who out of the kindness in their hearts did what they felt was the right thing, and get to see the results of these actions. This story does show that love can triumph over hatred; that kindness can overcome uncertain times. People can rise up collectively and be counted and view others as fellow human beings, worthy of assistance and a hug. If you haven’t seen Come From Away the Musical, check it out. If you don’t know this story, check out this documentary for a short time of warmth in cold and dark days that we have presently.

The Mandalorian Season 2: Disney has only released the first episode of season 2, to much fan fare. You see the practical part of me thinks on this story, that the Mandalorian really shouldn’t risk his neck or that of the child for the sake of this Marshall. Overpower him, kill him and get back what you want. Roll credits. But it’s not really an episode. Then again, this particular story doesn’t move the tale of returning the Child to his kind either.

1991: This a Canadian/Quebec film currently on Netflix. It is a university relationship movie with a young man who thinks he has found his partner, although he hasn’t really told her as such. She decides to take a semester in Italy over a summer and invites him to go along. His parents seeing a lack of funds and no real motive for him to go push back in colourful and funny Quebec style (certainly the Mom does). There are a couple of smiles as I watch this and you try to anticipate what happens to this young man on his travels. It was okay. I can’t recommend it beyond being an escape from watching reality TV.

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