Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of my blog readers!

This New Year’s Eve we engaged in a movie-watching marathon of three classics.

The first film was the 1938 Algiers. It’s mainly a morality tale of love lost and betrayed; of crime and the lesson that crime doesn’t pay—or, better yet, that one pays for one’s crime in the end. The French police set a trap for the criminal, jewel thief Pepe Le Moko, who is holed up in the tangled maze of the Algiers Kasbah. However, Pepe’s refuge in the Kasbah becomes his prison. He leaves his lover Ines in the Kasbah to chase another woman, Gaby; and the French authorities arrest and then shoot him as he attempts to escape on a boat headed to France with Gaby on it.

John Huston directed the 1953 Beat the Devil, starring Humphrey Bogart as Billy Dannreuther, an agent accomplice with four other criminals on their way to East Africa in a get rich quick scheme of exploiting the uranium trade there. The trip however is full of surprises, as they get entangled with an enterprising couple from Britain, which leads to a rather unexpected conclusion. The genre is that of adventure, and an interesting study of the repercussions of lies, half-truths, dreams, imagination, and infatuation. The most provocative quote in the movie comes from one of the criminals, Julius O’Hara, played by Peter Lorre: “Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.” The latter sentence ironically, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the 1933 romance drama, I Cover The Waterfront, Pacific coast rookie newspaper reporter, Joe Miller, in an effort to get promoted and a move to Vermont, seeks out the perfect, front-page story. He suspects that a sea captain, fisherman Eli Kirk is engaged in trafficking illegal Chinese immigrants. Finally he convinces his boss, after one unsuccessful attempt of the Coast Guard to arrest Kirk, to try again. This time illegal immigrants are found, but the plot takes a rather predictable turn when Miller realises how much he loves the sea captain’s daughter, Julie. The movie poses the ethical dilemma that Julie is in: Does she remain loyal to her dad’s agenda or does she share pertinent information to further Miller’s inquiry?      



Lincoln the movie

Brief Movie Review of Lincoln

By Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Colour, 150 minutes

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Produced by Steven Spielberg & Kathleen Kennedy

Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln

Based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

For this Canadian reviewer, Lincoln was full of surprises. I was surprised and disappointed that the movie was not as comprehensive as I had wished for and expected—it only covers approximately the last four months of President Lincoln’s life, late 1864, after he was re-elected up to his tragic death by assassination in early 1865. I was hoping for a more complete biographical presentation of Lincoln’s life than this.

Another aspect of the movie that surprised me in a more positive way is the lack of glamorizing civil war violence in the movie, which is a trademark of way too many Hollywood movies—for that I commend Spielberg.

The movie consists mainly of Lincoln meeting with various other politicians; in his tireless endeavour to pass the 13th amendment, banning slavery before the civil war ended and the Confederacy states rejoined the union; which would likely prevent any possibility of passing the amendment if the latter occurred first.

What surprised me with Lincoln’s political agenda was his willingness to wheel and deal with his political adversaries by political patronage—which, at best, was ethically problematic and misleading, and, at worst, illegal and even corrupt. Although at times Lincoln struggles in a genuine way ethically over such political tactics in the movie as well as with the tragic loss of life of the lingering civil war—nonetheless the behind the scenes political manoeuvring demythologizes this reviewer’s image of the 16th president of the U.S. as “honest Abe.”

One of the highlights for this reviewer was the stellar acting of Daniel Day-Lewis; who ironically is not an American, but holds citizenship in England and Ireland. Day-Lewis is a very convincing Abraham Lincoln. He is able to, in his down-to-earth, folksy style; regale his audiences with story, parable, and witty humour in such a fashion that gains the love and respect of everyone. Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln the ordinary, accessible, universal human being; as well as Lincoln the lonely, mysterious political genius.

Movie Review

Movie Review: Pelle the Conqueror

Directed by Bille August, Produced by Per Holst, Cinematography by Jőrgen Persson

1987, 157 minutes, colour, Danish with English subtitles

I don’t know where I’ve been all my life, but can’t believe that I haven’t seen this movie until now—2011! First off, I am somewhat biased, since I like most films directed by Bille August. The setting of this movie is late nineteenth century Denmark—filmed on location on Bornholm island.

   The protagonists, Lasse Karlsson—played by Max von Sydow—and his young son Pelle—played by Pelle Hvenegaard—have just immigrated from their native Sweden to Denmark in search of a better life. Lasse’s wife and Pelle’s mother has recently died. They are full of dreams, hopes and expectations of a bright, new future inDenmark. However, after being rejected by several employers because he is regarded as “too old,” Lasse and Pelle are hired as labourers on the aristocratic Kongstrup farm.

   Once they arrive, they face several unpleasant surprises, which threaten to rob them of a hopeful future. They live in poor conditions; the foreman is both prejudiced against them and a tyrant; Pelle is bullied by his classmates in school, who are equally as prejudiced as the foreman against immigrants; the food is poor; in short, the farm workers are treated like slaves.

   Yet, the love between father Lasse and son Pelle keeps their hopes and dreams for the future alive. This beautiful film is much more than a boy coming-of-age story. The film, in addition to exploring the significance of a father and son relationship; also addresses the following motifs: loneliness and aging, age discrimination, prejudice and discrimination against immigrants, labour relations, bullying, class divisions and the abuse of power, the power of hopes and dreams, and sacrificing one’s life for others.

   Although the closing scene of the movie is quite moving; my favourite segment was when Niels Køller a young farmer who has lost the love of his life now grief-struck, feels responsible for it—endeavours to do something sacrificial by managing to save the lives of sailors whose ship is capsizing, only to have the ice-laden sea claim his life.

   I appreciated this movie for many reasons—the acting by the protagonists in particular was superb, the cinematography was inspiring, the music was appropriate, the multilevel motifs of the storyline seemed to work well. All-in-all, a movie worth seeing.

Crude The Real Price of Oil

Over the holidays I watched a Joe Berlinger film, Crude: The Real Price of Oil

It is a hard-hitting, no nonsense environmental documentary of what giant Goliath corporations like Texaco and now Chevron have done in the Ecuadorian Amazon rain forests. David, the indigenous peoples of the region are now suffering from loss of their way of life, and plague of health issues as a consequence of their polluted environment. The documentary does a fine job of presenting the David vs Goliath lawyers fighting it out in a legal battle that seems unending. What is most commendable about the film is that Berlinger leaves it up to the viewer to draw their own conclusions.  My conclusion is that it is almost impossible for a judge to remain neutral in such a case as this, making the final decision shall have tremendous implications for both sides of this battle; which causes one to pray for the judge to be granted the wisdom of a Solomon to deliver the right decision. However, even if the right decision is delivered in a court of law, there are no guarantees that the losing side will accept the ruling and comply with it. God have mercy on us all. For more info on the movie, check out the website here.

Movie The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I recently watched, with my wife and daughter, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.” I realise that some Holocaust experts are critical of the movie–primarily for the reason that children, in most cases, were not allowed to survive in the concentration camps. The issue of a lack of security around the fence of the camp may also be anachronistic. That said, I still believe that it is an encouraging movie, which has the potential to build friendships and deeper understanding between Jews and Christians.

The two 8-year-old boys, one Jewish, in the camp, and one German, out of the camp, and son of the camp’s commandant, become friends. Bruno doubts the Nazi propaganda he is unwillingly subjected to, and continues to secretly visit his friend Smuel at the camp. The movie reminds me of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Fourth Gospel, speaking of the highest order of friendship: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)