On Churchill’s Darkest Hour, and Ours

On Monday evening I took the time to watch Darkest Hour, wherein Gary Oldman gives an epic performance as Winston Churchill during the days and weeks after he rose to the prime ministership on May 10, 1940. Toward the end of the film, there was a scene where Churchill decides to ride the London Underground to Westminster. While on the subway, he speaks with a woman carrying a five-month old baby on her lap. Now while that woman and her baby were likely fictional, it struck me that were that baby still alive today, he would be five months younger than my own father, who turns 79 next month.

As William Faulkner wrote in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Churchill, who led the United Kingdom during my father’s lifetime, refused to back down against Hitler’s brutal war machine which had overrun Western Europe and threatened to do the same to Britain, ignoring the advice of his own senior cabinet ministers who wished to pursue a negotiated peace.

I think of my Great Uncle Phil, a dual Canadian-American citizen who answered the King’s call and volunteered for service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, receiving a commission as a flight lieutenant as the Battle of Britain was underway in the fall of 1940.

I think also of my great-great-great grandfather Juan Francisco, a prominent politician in the then northern Mexican city of Laredo, suffering under the heel of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s brutal oppression, but ultimately leading his fellow Laredoans into an alliance with Texas and the United States. On April 25, 1847, he was administered his oath of American citizenship by none other than Mirabeau B. Lamar, former President of the Republic of Texas.

History is not made by the weak, but by those who have the courage to stand fast.

We face a similar reckoning at present, being told that to secure our southern border against alien invaders is inhumane and heartless. No less a personage than former First Lady Laura Bush has called for compassion in dealing with illegal alien children and their alleged parents.

Well I dare ask, where was this vaunted Bush compassion during her husband’s presidency, when on Thanksgiving night in 2005 some Mexican cartel members decided to have a shootout in my parent’s tony upper middle class neighborhood in Laredo, Texas? Nowhere.

Where was this vaunted Bush compassion when hundreds of innocent Mexicans were killed as a result of the Obama administration’s Operation Fast and Furious? Silence.

What of the confederacy of dunces and rats known as the Democratic Party? They make common cause with the illegals and other foreign interlopers against their own people.

And then there is the vile nest of copperheads in the Republican Party who call themselves NeverTrump. What is NeverTrumpism, but the philosophy of despair, the creed of arrogance, and the gospel of surrender?

I will have none of it. Like Horatius at the bridge and Churchill before the Nazi menace, it is time to stand and fight.

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Toronto, Canada’s Heart of the City

Anne suggested Heart of the City (2017), by Robert Rotenberg, in February as our Book Group’s Book of the Month for June. This gave me time to read it, and also read Rotenberg’s first book, Old City Hall (2009). He is a criminal lawyer in Toronto, Canada. This, obviously, has given him a good background to write crime fiction. Apparently he is moving out of Law so as to devote more time to writing. It would appear his books are becoming commercially successful, which is quite unusual. Very few people can make a living writing books.

Anne gave us a fascinating presentation with an in depth analysis of the characters and storyline. Admitting that this is not great literature, she pointed out that is well-written and a good read. The characters are memorable, and we find ourselves interested in them. It was agreed that it would make a great airplane, or summer beach, book. This opens it up to a larger market.

Rotenberg in front of Old City Hall

Everyone loved that it was set in Toronto, in the Kensington District in the 1970s. Some of our members visited the Kensington District to find the places that had been talked about in the book. They commented on how much that area has changed in the intervening years.

We were all pleased to have been exposed to the work of Rotenberg. It has been suggested that he is to Toronto what Ian Rankin is to Edinborough and Craig Robertson is to Glasgow, Scotland: they all write, setting their crime fiction in their respective cities.

Our Group had enjoyed reading Heart of the City, and will now be following Rotenburg’s writing career. Many of us wanted to know more about the characters, so will be reading his earlier works. We will be awaiting his next one with interest.


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Did you see The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz?

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) is a Canadian comedy-drama, set in Montreal, and based on the book (1959) with the same name, by Mordecai Richler.

Ted Kotcheff already was an experienced director, mainly in television, and mainly in the U.K., when he returned to Canada in 1974. Mordecai Richler was he personal friend, which probably added to his enjoyment of directing this film, which became an important film in Canadian film history. It was the first commercially successful film in Canada, and won many awards. Among those, was an Academy Awards Nomination for Writing Adapted Screen Play. It was said to be the coming of age of the Canadian Film Industry.

Richard Dreyfuss (70) played Duddy Kravitz, as one of his first major film roles. He was offered a part in Jaws at the same time, but turned it down. When he saw The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, he was so upset by his own performance, he took the part in Jaws. He hoped the public would see him first in that film, and not as Duddy Kravitz. He thought Duddy Kravitz would ruin his reputation.

Watching his performance as Duddy Kravitz, I could see what he meant. It was just on the edge of being overdone, narrowly escaping being a caricature. On the other hand, he did capture the unquenchable spirit of this young man growing up in a poor Jewish neighbourhood in Montreal. He also made the character likeable.

The film could be called a coming of age movie. We see Duddy as the younger son, causing trouble and being criticized negatively as a result. Instead of giving in, he rises above his situation. He buys property, putting it in the name of his gentile girlfriend, because at that time Jews weren’t allowed to buy in that area. This is his salvation. He is forced into bankruptcy, but those properties remain his as they are not in his name. In the end, when Duddy could pay his bill in the Jewish restaurant where the story began, the owner, knowing that he owned property, gave him a tab. Duddy had made it!

My Film Group all thoroughly enjoyed The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. It has the always attractive story of young people, learning from life, growing up, and leaving us knowing that they were on their way. They were now in control of their own lives, and will succeed in whatever they choose to do. This was all set in the interesting background of the struggles of immigrant Jewish culture in Montreal, Canada, in the 1950s.

The acting was good, we would relate to these people, and like them; the directing and screenplay were good. The whole thing was fun, and most enjoyable. An honest film, showing real life as it was then, warts and all, and with a good story. This is my kind of film!


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Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Ghost (1990) is an American romantic fantasy thriller film, directed by Jerry Zucker (68) and written by Bruce Joel Rubin (75). It was a huge box office success, grossing over $505.7 million dollars on a budget of $22 million.

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Score by Maurice Jarre (1924-2009), and Best Film Editing by Walter Murch. Whoopi Goldberg (62), for her part as Oda Mae Brown, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and Bruce Joel Rubin (75) won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

As an aside, Whoopi Goldberg is the professional name of Caryn Elaine Johnson. Her DNA revealed a 92% sub-Sahara African origin and 8% European origin. She is not Jewish, and says she is not African either. She says she is a black American.

Demi Moore (55) plays Molly Jensen; Patrick Swartz (1952-2009) plays Sam Wheat; and Tony Goldwyn (58) plays Carl Bruner: they each play competently.

I saw Ghost when it first came out, and remember enjoying it and “feeling good” as I came out of the Cineplex. I didn’t really remember much else about it, apart from the fact that I thought Whoopi Goldberg had acted very well. My Film Group friends and I all enjoyed it in the here and now. So much so, that munchies were forgotten during the film. Carol had very graciously lent us her lovely suite again, and the goodies were on her coffee table, within easy reach, but everyone was so engrossed in the film that everything else was shut out. It was obvious why it had done so well at the box office.

It was thought-provoking to revisit the film now, almost twenty years later. The audience has to be familiar with the Christian version of the comforting mythology that depicts the soul, at death, moving on to Heaven if they have been “good”, or Hell if they have been “bad”. Comforting, that is, for the “good”, of whom Sam Wheat was one. In the film, he is shot, dies, but is caught between this world and the next by his concern for his wife, Molly. He gets everything fixed with the help of Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic medium, before moving off into the light. We assume he has gone to Heaven. Lovely ending! Even if we are perhaps a bit sceptical about the mythology.

What I liked, almost most of all, is that justice is done to the “baddies”, who both meet a gruesome end. We certainly see justice being done. They both are dragged off to Hell by horrible entities, screaming as they go. No cost to the taxpayer! 

This is still an entertaining movie, even gripping, and leaves its audience feeling good. 


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Did you find Winter’s Bone gruelling?

Winter’s Bone (2010) is billed as a drama, or a “gripping thriller.” It certainly is both. An honest slice of life among the people who live in the rural Ozarks of Missouri, it has an overall aura of fear. What are these people capable of, and what will they do next?

The Award-winning film is directed by Debra Granik (55), and adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini from the 2006 novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell. Direction, screenplay, cinematography, music, were all excellent. The acting is superb, and each character is totally believable. Apparently some of the cast are locals, conscripted for the movie. Jennifer Lawrence (27) is particularly good as Ree Dolly, and John Hawkins (58) is fantastic as Teardrop Dolly, Ree’s uncle.

Ree Dolly has been left by her father to look after her mentally ill mother, and two siblings: a twelve-year-old brother Sonny; and a six-year-old sister, Ashlee. She is coping, teaching the children to handle guns and hunt. They also are trained in preparing meat and cooking it. The family seems relatively happy until the sheriff tells Ree that they are in danger of losing the house. It had been put up as part of a bond to ensure their father would return for his court case. He had been accused of brewing and selling “crank.” Will Ree find her father in time? Will she find him at all? The local people try to intimidate Ree, but in the end, come through in a particularly gruesome fashion, that gives the title meaning. Ree doesn’t lose the house, and at the end of the film, Ashlee picks up the banjo and plays it with a natural, untaught talent. This leaves the audience with the idea that life will go on. It could be said, loosely, that the film has a happy ending.

In spite of that, the immediate reaction of my Film Group was that it had been a gruelling couple of hours. We had been watching a world totally foreign to us. We were impressed by the courage of the people, that they could exist at all in such an environment. Their world is outside the law of the United States, but inside their own brutal law, which has its own rational. They are free, and live their lives as they want, without any interference. I was left with the feeling that they were, in fact, feral human beings. Like feral cats, they look domesticated, but it doesn’t take too much to see that they are far from domesticated. We saw Ree Dolly grow up, as she accepted her world, and learnt how to cope with it.

We had all been gripped by that world, and were left a little shaken. We were glad to come back to our own world, which is dull by comparison.


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Did you watch the Royal Wedding?

My Film Group had a fun afternoon watching the Royal Wedding on Monday afternoon. We had all seen it by this time, but we enjoyed seeing it again. Carol had recorded the lead up to the ceremony, as people arrived at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Most of us had missed that, so we enjoyed seeing all the fashions and exchanging our opinions. Carol, graciously, had invited us to view her recording in her suite. The lovely surroundings increased our pleasure, as did the wine, chips and chocolates.

Everyone thought the Givenchy dress classic in its simplicity, and elegant. The tiara from Queen Mary was perfect, and the veil with its embroidered flowers of each Commonwealth country, was admired. The little pageboys and flower girls were adorable. It was noted that Princess Charlotte was well aware of her duties, and advised the others when it was correct to move into procession. This reminded me the Queen, when she was Princess Lilibet and looking after her little sister, Princess Margaret. The hats and fascinators were much admired; or not. We all liked the outfit of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge: correct shade of yellow, and the hat complimented the suit. Doria Ragland, Pippa Middleton, and the Queen all wore shades of green, and looked fantastic.

I liked it that Megan Markle walked alone into the church, and along the nave. This seemed to symbolize the strength of the modern woman, making her own choices. When Prince Philip stepped up to her in the chapel, it seemed a lovely symbol of the royal family welcoming her into the family. Harry was obviously admiring of her beauty, and it was heart-warming that the couple held hands throughout the ceremony. It seemed to me that they really are in love with each other, and I predict that they will be happy together.

The service was lovely. I particularly enjoyed the preacher, American bishop Reverend Michael Curry from Chicago. I liked his preaching on the subject of Love. The Christian message of the love of God, the Holy Spirit, for human beings, and the injunctions to love one another, seem worth becoming passionate about. He made it clear that those people who don’t love others, are not of the God of Love.

The Kingdom Choir, led by Karen Gibson, gave a flawless performance of Stand By Me (1961), the song by Ben E. King. The choir sang with passion, and sincerity. Their technique was professionalism of a high standard. I particularly liked that I could hear every word: their diction was impeccable. Especially with this song, and its lovely words, this is important.

Our discussion after the showing, touched on having a Constitutional Monarchy as compared with a Republic, such a the United States of America. It was mentioned that the monarchy provides continuity in the history of the country.The monarch is a figurehead, representing the country, and as such, is a uniting factor for the people. The British monarchy is self-financed as the royal estates used by royalty are administered by the government, which takes 85% of the revenues, and the remainer is used to maintain the royal household. Under a Constitutional Monarchy, regular elections are held to elect the Parliament, which is the choice of the people. The Monarch is still there as a check on the activities of Parliament, to make sure it is behaving correctly within the Constitution of the country.

There are disadvantages, but in my mind this is outweighed by the advantages. I prefer to be represented by a dignified figure, living a sensible life, rather than by the ever-changing procession of Prime Ministers, or Presidents if I were an American, many of whom I don’t particularly care for.

Altogether, it was a lovely memory of a pleasant and interesting afternoon spent with friends.


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Have you read “17 Carnations” by Andrew Morton?

17 Carnations by Andrew Morton, was suggested by my daughter as being a book that Maureen would enjoy. I agreed, as Maureen already knows so much about the subject: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It seemed to me that this would be an interesting book for our Book Group, and Maureen agreed to take the project. This month it was our Book of the Month, and our members couldn’t put it down.

When my daughter attended her book group, after reading 17 Carnations, she discovered that what was being read was Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury, which had been published the same day. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as Andrew Morton’s book, nor was it as well-written. She was so pleased she had misunderstood. So was I.

Maureen gave a presentation that began by highlighting the main points of the book. We all knew the story of the romance between David, the Prince of Wales, and Mrs. Wallis Simpson, that led to his abdication as Edward VIII of Britain. Not all of us knew the extent of the Nazi sympathies held by the couple, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They approved of Fascism, and thought that Britain should ally with Nazi Germany, as a bulwark against Communism. The Duke of Windsor had many German relatives, visited Germany many times as a child, and could speak German fluently, and considered himself German. It was thought that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were traitors to Britain by passing secret information on to Germany. Had they been from a different social class, they would have been shot as traitors. Their position in society proved to be a protection.

The Duke and Duchess, met Hitler during a visit to Germany, shortly after their wedding. Hitler wanted to put the Duke back on the throne as the President of the Republic of Britain, after the Nazis had taken over Britain. When the Nazis invaded France, the couple fled to Spain, then on to Portugal. Operation Willi was Hitler’s plan to kidnap the Duke when he had been enticed back to Spain from Portugal, so that he could negotiate peace with Britain. Winston Churchill made sure that didn’t happen by ordering the Duke to the Bahamas as Governor. The couple hated their stay in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. After the war, forbidden to live in Britain, they ended their lives in France. During the war, the Nazis had protected their property in Paris and the South of France, Here they were exiled, as they were forbidden to live in England. Many people considered them traitors, and Queen Elizabeth was adamant that they never again set foot in Britain.

Much of the book is based on files that the British Intelligence Services spirited out of Germany after the war. The Royal Family didn’t want their reputation besmirched by this information. The files have been released, and are now history.

The story goes that the 17 Carnations were flowers sent by the German Foreign Minister, Jaochim von Ribbentrop, to the Duchess of Windsor every day, representing the number of times they had sex. This is told to the FBI by Father Odo, a benedictine monk in a Franciscan monastery in the United States. He went on to say that Wallis Simpson had been suspected of passing on secret information to the Nazis via Ribbentrop. When the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited the States during the war, they were closely watched by the FBI.

Ribbentrop was Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany from 1938-45. He was tried at the Nuremberg trials for his role in starting World War II in Europe and enabling the Holocaust. He was executed in 1946 by hanging.

A lively discussion followed Maureen’s presentation. It ranged from the Windsors’ part in the Second World War, and what a good thing it was that he had abdicated, to the horrors of Holocaust and the ghastly news films that were shown after the war. Out of the two world wars, came the European Union as an effort to prevent such devastation happening again. It is estimated that over 80 million people died in the Second World War, in Europe alone. It was agreed that war is horrific, and this book had reminded us of that period of history.

Andrew Morton had written 17 Carnations objectively, and we all liked that. It could have been salacious, as the social set of the Windsors appears to have had sex with each other at an incredible rate. Mrs. Simpson having sex with Ribbentrop wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Considering that the social mores of that time were still so Victorian, and monogamy was meant to be the norm, it was obvious the people of this class considered themselves above everyone else, and could behave as they liked.

We found that Morton’s style was such that we couldn’t put the book down. We were all pleased that Maureen had presented it.


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Did you enjoy “Catch Me If You Can” as much as we did?

As usual, my Film Group settled down happily with their choice of red or white wine, and chips. We really are enjoying this way of viewing films. Catch Me If You Can (2003) was the choice, and is a fun film. We all enjoyed it. In fact, everyone clapped when it finished, they had enjoyed it so much. It was such a change from all the much more serious stuff we have been watching.

What can I say! The direction by Steven Spielberg (71), the screenplay by Jeff Nathanson (52), the music by John Williams (86) and the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski (58) ensured that the film was of a highly professional standard. Leonardo DiCaprio (43) as Frank Abagnale, and Tom Hanks (61) as Carl Hanratty, completed the picture (pun intended). Christopher Walken (75) as Frank Abagnale, Sr., and Martin Sheen (77) as Roger Strong, added to the great cast.

The film is based on the real life of Frank Abagnale, who as a teenager, became a con artist of great talent. He conned over a million dollars as a pilot with Pan American World Airways, a doctor and a lawyer. Carl Hanratty is also a real person, and did catch Frank Abagnale after being led a merry chase. In the end, Frank Abagnale is invited to work with the FBI to catch checking forgers. He made a fortune designing fraud-proof cheques.

The film was a great hit when it was released in 2003. It’s budget was $54 million, and it’s Box Office was $352.1 million. It succeeded where it really matters. It was entertaining, and left its audiences feeling good, as it did us.


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Go see this movie now – “The Death of Stalin”

Now this is comedy (but, also very dark comedy):
[Video is NSFW:Language]

While watching this movie I laughed uproariously but some of the laughs were strongly drenched in horror at the fact that the movie actually presents rather accurately the history of this horrific time and this horrific man, Josef Yugashvilli and his pants-pissing sidekicks — you know, like Kruschev, Molotov, Malenkov, Beria — just for starters.

The proof that it’s accurate is that Putin doesn’t like it at all.

There’s some wonderful slapstick in this movie and all the antics are really very funny. The deputy secretary, Georgy Malenkov (played by Jeffrey Tambor), looks like someone from The Addams Family or Nosferatu. He gets put in charge for the interim of the funeral and that’s what this movie mostly deals with.

General Zhukov (played by Jason Isaacs) steals the show, BTW. Steve Buscemi plays Kruschev pretty well but he doesn’t have the right body type. No big deal. Beria (played by Simon Russell Beale) is hilarious and gets most of the gallows humor lines.

Go see this now.


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Cambridge Spies: Heroes or Traitors?

My Film Group settled down with wine and chips, to enjoy Cambridge Spies (2003), a four part series created by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Thanks to Kristine and Ivor for lending the DVD to us!

This is not the BBC’s best miniseries ever. Written by the experienced writer for television, Peter Moffat, and directed by Tim Fywell, a not so experienced director, it is slow and not always coherent. Cambridge Spies is not a documentary, as the story had been changed a bit to make for a more dramatic production. The basic facts are correct: the spies came from privileged families and had Cambridge University in common; they were homosexuals; they were communists; they all spied for the Soviet Union. They continued in their belief in the Communist Ideology all their lives.

The cast consists of attractive actors. Tom Hollander plays Guy Burgess, Toby Stephens is Kim Philby, Samuel West takes the part of Anthony Blunt, and Rupert Penry-Jones plays Donald Maclean. Watching them perform made the three hours we spent watching the first three parts of the series well worth while. It helped overcome the poor direction. I first saw the miniseries when it was released, butI don’t remember the homosexual sex scenes. Perhaps I had just forgotten. We enjoyed the miniseries in spite of its flaws.

Before labelling the spies as traitors, it’s necessary to examine the times in which they lived. The Great Depression and the Stock Exchange Crash of 1929, had cast the promise of Capitalism into shade. The rise of Fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain, was seen as a threat. The only hope for the world seemed to many to lie with Russia and the Communist ideology. The unfeeling arrogance of many of the incredibly rich English upper class and the extreme poverty of many of the working class, also influenced the Cambridge Spies. They wanted to see change in the world. Their ideology told them they were not traitors, but rather, heroes wanting the greater good.

The Cambridge Spies thought they could contribute to that change by working for the Soviet Union. In the beginning, they were young idealists attracted by the Utopia preached by Friedrich Engels (1820-95), Karl Marx (1818-83) and Lenin (1879-1924). They probably had read The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867-83)  and other writings by Engels and Marx. They believed the Communist philosophy and Socialist economics that form the ideology. It states that history consists of the “class struggle”, and that “the forcible overthrow of all social conditions” was an unfortunate, but necessary prelude to creating a Socialist society. A Utopia where “the workers of the world” have followed Engels and Marx’s exhortation, united and taken over the “tools of production.” Russia interpreted this to mean that it was necessary to take all businesses, including farms, from their owners and give them to “the workers”, in the form of the State. The Soviet Union become the embodiment of the ideal Communist and Socialist Utopia. Even Burgess was disappointed when he had to flee to Russia and he saw the reality.

Of course, at that same time between the two World Wars and just after the Second World War, many people were convinced that British society had to change even more than it already had been. The gap between the wealth of the richest people, and the extreme poverty of the poorest, was too wide. After the Second World War, the electorate voted into power the British Labour Party, who instituted many changes. Among these changes were heavier taxation, the implementation of the National Health Service, and other social programs to help the poorer sectors of society. Businesses were “Nationalised” for a while, before it was understood by the results, that this is not always too good an idea. Britain had its revolution, but from within, and without violence. Those people who worked for change within the society were considered reformers, not traitors.

I saw this program when it first was aired on TV. I enjoyed it then, and enjoyed seeing it again. It was thought-provoking, and revived my memories of reading the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital in the 1960s. These writings appalled me at that time as being so radical. I had to read Das Kapital three times, taking notes, to be sure that I was understanding what Marx was expressing. I did get it the first time, but found his argument that the only true worth of a widget is the labour that goes into producing it as showing his lack of understanding the true nature of business. If only it were that easy! I found when I was in business, that there is a market out there at will only pay so much for what is being sold. Also, there are the costs to a business capitalizing it and of managing it, and also of the equipment and materials, and then the cost of labour. Engels and Marx didn’t appear to have studied economics.

When history is revisited and all the millions of deaths that have resulted from this philosophy and economic system are considered, the mind boggles. When one considers that Hitler, or Stalin, might have invaded Britain, and contemplates the horrific pictures that possibility conjures up, it rather puts the Second World War into perspective.

Cambridge Spies provoked lots of thought and discussion.


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