Thursday, 25 March 2021

Two four-star films you need to watch: The Father and Seaspiracy


In a rather unlikely coincidence, I watched my first two four-star films of 2021 on the same day - March 24. I got to see one of them (The Father) at the cinema (my first visit to the cinema this year), which may have given it an unfair advantage.

The Father was technically released in 2020 (thus eligible for the Academy Awards), but it wasn’t released in cinemas until 2021, so it qualifies as a 2021 film for my annual top-15 lists (and will certainly appear on that list).


The Father was directed and co-written by Florian Zeller and is based on his 2012 play. It feels and looks like a play, but that’s not a bad thing as far as I am concerned (my second-favourite film of 2020 also felt like a play). Anthony Hopkins stars as Anthony, an 80-something man suffering from dementia. The film’s unique filming structure/vision allows us to view events as Anthony is experiencing them, which is hugely disconcerting and powerful. There were times during the film when I began to wonder whether I was suffering from a form of dementia (maybe it was the fact that I had just been sitting in a dentist’s chair for 75 minutes). 


Olivia Colman plays Anthony’s daughter, Anne, and Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots and Mark Gatiss play the rest of the film’s characters. All of the performances are excellent, but Hopkins’s performance is sublime, with Colman close behind. They very much deserve their Oscar nominations.The writing is intelligent, the direction tight and the score and use of music are outstanding. 


I am not generally a fan of films about dementia (there have been quite a number of such films in recent years), but the way dementia is presented in The Father, taking us deeply and empathetically into the mind of someone with dementia, is absolutely brilliant. The Father is nothing short of a classic and should not be missed. An easy **** and my favourite film of 2021, so far. My mug is up.


My second four-star film of March 24 is Seaspiracy, a documentary released on that day by Netflix. Netflix has been presenting some amazing and important documentaries recently, including Disclosure, The Social Dilemma, A Life on our Planet, Collective and My Octopus Teacher. Hats off to Netflix!


Seaspiracy pretends to be an exposé of the commercial fishing industry, but really it’s an 89-minute ad for the plant-based meat-substitute industry. A very effective ad! Seriously, if Seaspiracy was somehow connected to that industry, I would only applaud such a brilliant campaign (though I daresay that industry also needs some close scrutiny). 


I won’t try to go through the many horrific discoveries made by the filmmakers (Ali and Lucy Tabrizi) in the course of their investigations, because they need to be seen to be believed. I will say the filming and presentation are extraordinarily effective. The 89 minutes fly by, though not without a growing sense of despair (there are some hopeful comments, but they are few). I will also note that it’s not just the fishing industry that’s exposed - so are some non-profit environmental organizations. Devastating stuff!


Seaspiracy isn’t perfect. Ali Tabrizi focuses too often on himself and his incredible bravery and skill, which isn’t great for a documentary-maker, but it’s not enough to be distracting. And the film’s content is just too important to quibble about such flaws. **** My mug is up.


P.S. I love eating fish - by far my favourite meat - but I may never eat it again. Indeed, being a vegetarian (like my daughters, son-in-law) really seems to be the only sustainable life-affirming option out there, unless you are catching/raising/killing your own meat. 

Saturday, 20 February 2021

I Care a Lot


I love watching Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage act, so I couldn’t resist watching their new film, I Care a Lot, on the day it was released (on Amazon Prime - a company I do not promote but have not yet succeeded in completely boycotting).

I Care a Lot, written and directed by J Blakeson, concerns the timely subject of guardianship, a growing industry that focuses on providing court-appointed guardians for older people deemed unable to take care of themselves. In I Care a Lot, Marla Grayson (Pike) runs a guardianship company that ‘specializes’ in providing the court with embellished medical reports on wealthy older people with no family or relatives, resulting in Grayson becoming their legal guardian. Grayson places these older people in a specific care home (where she can control them), sells off their estates and ‘legally’ makes a lot of money (the goal of her life). However, Grayson doesn’t realize what she’s let herself in for when Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) becomes her latest victim.


To avoid spoilers, I won’t say more about the plot, though I am by no means recommending that you endanger your soul by watching this cold dark psychological thriller-‘comedy’. 


The acting of Pike and Dinklage was everything I had hoped for and expected: brilliant. But the characters they play (indeed, all of the characters in the film) are hollow and shallow, by which I mean they are lacking in both a moral compass and in any meaningful character development. They are thus incapable of eliciting an ounce of sympathy. Apparently this is forgivable in a dark comedy. 


Critics, who generally like the film, write things like: “The core conceit … is upsetting and infuriating, but Blakeson puts such a colourful over-the-top sheen on it … that you can’t help but be entertained by the criminal carnage and extreme shenanigans” (Truitt) and “a vicious and cheerfully twisted psychological thriller dripping in deception and dread” (Roeper) and “for those who prefer their pulp to carry the faint aroma of moral rot, this movie is a real treat” (Murray). I agree that I Care a Lot is vicious, upsetting and full of moral rot, and even that the film is entertaining, but I felt my soul being drained with every passing minute and that’s a steep price to pay for entertainment.


Critics also describe I Care a Lot as a satire of capitalism and the guardianship industry. That sounds like a good thing and I love good satire. This isn’t it. Besides the flawed moral compass (revealed throughout but especially in the violent ending), the film suffers from some massive plot holes (apparently also forgivable in a dark comedy).


I Care a Lot has no heart and deserves no stars at all, but I’ll give it one star for the great acting, especially by Pike. * My mug is down.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Walter's Top Films of 2020

I made it to the theatre once in 2020. (And that was a dud – more later.) The bottom line is that I barely saw ten 2020 releases, let alone choosing ten for "top ten" list.

What I will do instead is write about seven impressive films from this past year in a non-ranked order. And, as usual, I will also suggest a couple of honourable mentions and a few older films I saw this year that are worth recommending.

Three of the most notable films were documentaries. One of those was My
Octopus Teacher
, one of the few films that I reviewed earlier this year. It’s utterly unique, combining a beautifully shot underwater world with subtly luminous moments of contemplative insight. In a year filled with strange stresses and tensions, it was a perfect counterpoint and is much recommended.


The other documentary that I’ll mention is The New Corporation. This team’s first documentary, The Corporation, was the film that effectively called out the psychopathic nature (by practice and by legal necessity) of corporations. Now, they update their message by demonstrating the new face of the same old psychopathy among the “new corporations.” The new corporate emphasis on dangerously disingenuous charm, posing as though they are the best hope for the world, is surprisingly consistent with the psychopath diagnosis. Greenwashing and the myth of “corporate social responsibility” are just the surface; the corporate takeover of education in the developing world felt the most chilling. This isn’t the most scintillating entertainment in the world, but it’s solid quality and necessary education for all.

In between these two documentaries is David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet. The autobiographical form of this documentary gives it some of the personal appeal of My Octopus Teacher and adds a moving and effective urgency that is different from numbers alone, as we see the changes that have taken place during one attentive lifetime. The central portion of this film is hard-hitting - not for the faint of heart - but the ending, thankfully, adds some hope and optimism.

A couple of other very impressive films focused on court cases involving the fight for justice. The energetic and witty script of The Trial of the Chicago 7 saw Aaron Sorkin’s magic make an intense film (based on the trial of those falsely accused of conspiring to make the demonstrations violent at the 1968 Democratic National Convention) very watchable and entertaining. Of course, it also reflects Sorkin’s tendency to make a radical message more palatable to the mainstream, but I think there is some value in that – especially when others portray the grittier realities.

And Mangrove (part of the Small Axe film anthology by Steve McQueen) steps into this gap perfectly. This film depicts the struggle of the West Indian community in London to stand up against police harassment in 1970. While in many ways this depicts a similar court struggle, Mangrove centres racial hypocrisy (the West Indian community had been specifically invited to immigrate post-war) and the growing urgency for this community to come together and find their voice. In Mangrove, the energy comes less from fast and witty dialogue (though it is still a strong script) and more from the various life-giving threads within the West Indian community being woven together around a centre of food, music and socializing at the Mangrove restaurant. Watching the film, I couldn’t help but recall some recent wandering (in 2016 and 2018), when Carol and I saw the life of recent immigrant communities spill out into the streets of Paris (in edges of Montmartre and Belleville). I wonder about their struggles with police and other authorities.

Then there are two films worth recommending that star Carey Mulligan (they couldn’t be more different from each other, underlining Mulligan’s incredible acting range – though apparently the Dig has to wait until next year’s list). This year’s film is Promising Young Woman, a highly unique film that hits hard. I feel that even subtle spoilers are sensitive here, and so I won’t say why (though I wish I could – maybe I’ll write a spoiler-filled review at some point). Let’s just say that the film is quite effective in doing what it sets out to do, and it is a syrupy sweet (at times) gut-punch if that makes any sense. I understand there are some flaws, though if one accepts it as a contrived moral tale, I think it works.


Finally, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a powerful drama that gives us Chadwick Boseman’s final, 
and magnificent, performance with some highly memorable monologues. I appreciate it when a filmmaker crafts a film that maintains the feel of a play.

Honourable mentions for the year include End of Sentence and Blow the Man Down, two indie dramedies that are well worth watching, giving us the depiction of characters and tales different from the mainstream as good indie flicks should. And as I watched the first half of Nomadland, I thought it would make my top list for sure, but then it just kind of wandered away and lost me. But it still deserves an honourable mention.

Over this year, I caught up on a few older films that I’d like to recommend: Just Mercy, And the Birds Rained Down, and from several years back a film that I never got around to, but clearly should have: Departures.

And this wouldn’t be complete without pointing out at least one disappointment: Tenet was a better film than those I usually add to my “spilled coffee list,” but it was such a disappointment, especially since it was the one film that I saw in a theatre. On top of serious plot problems, the pathetic sound editing (unforgivably) made me feel like an old man who couldn’t handle movie theatres anymore, until I heard Vic and others complain that the sound was indeed a serious problem. How on earth does that kind of mistake happen when so many millions are invested in a movie?? 

And now we brace for another year of the small screen...

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Vic's Top 15 Films of 2020





To say the least, 2020 was a bizarre year for film-watchers like me. Already hindered by living in a small town with limited access to independent films, the addition of COVID restrictions and not being able to attend film festivals meant I saw only a handful of films at the cinema last year. Of those, not a single one impressed me enough to make my top fifteen films of 2020. So all of the films listed below were watched on my TV or laptop, which, for me, is not the best way to asses a film’s quality. I was also forced to stream most of the films I watched last year, something I had only rarely done in the past, which is at least partly responsible for the astonishing fact that nine of my top fifteen films of 2020 are Netflix or Amazon originals.

The result of all of the above is that I watched only half as many new films in 2020 as I had watched in any of the previous ten years. For that reason alone, it is perhaps unfair to state that 2020 was one of the worst years for film in a very long time (a statement based solely on the films I was able to watch). Still, I saw many of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year and found them wanting, awarding only a small number of films a solid four-star rating. Of special note is the fact that I did not get to see The Father or Minari, two films I was told I must see (they should qualify for next year’s list). 

I watched five outstanding documentaries in 2020. Since it is difficult for me to compare documentaries to fictional films, I have decided to create a separate list of these five films, with only my favourite of the five (Disclosure) listed below. 


Once again, my list looks very different from the lists of the top critics (as reported by Metacritic), with only two of the seventeen critical favourites on my list. I very much appreciated  Nomadland, First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Da 5 Bloods, Promising Young Woman and Soul, but none of them engaged me enough to cross the line into my top fifteen. Among those seventeen critical favourites were two of my biggest disappointments of the year: The Invisible Man (I hated it in spite of Elisabeth Moss’s marvellous performance) and Palm Springs (a mediocre rehash of Groundhog Day).


Before I make some observations about my list, let me note what I viewed as an odd and distracting phenomenon of 2020 (in both TV and film), namely an obsession with teal and salmon (and similar shades of green and orange). Among the ten films/TV shows that suffered from this obsession were I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, Beanpole, After Life, The Queen’s Gambit, Shirley, The Personal History of David Copperfield, One Night in Miami and Martin Eden. I don’t know what this phenomenon is about, but I hope production designers take note that the beauty of these colours loses its appeal when everyone uses them.


Okay, some observations on the list below: 


  1. 2020 was another great year for films made by and about women. There are only two films on my list directed by women, but four are written by women and six have a female protagonist. It was also a great year for films featuring racial and/or gender and/or sexual diversity. This is reflected in six of the titles below. 
  2. Ken Loach had his second straight film in the number one position, an awesome achievement, especially considering he was in his eighties, that guarantees Loach a place among my all-time favourite directors.
  3. Only one foreign language film appears on my list this year, a huge change from last year.
  4. Two of my top three films star actors who died shortly after filming, making their great performances all the more incredible.
  5. Three of my top five films are Netflix originals (that exceeds the total number of Netflix films found in all of my previous lists combined).
  6. It’s been a year for great period films: Represented below, we have 1920’s and 1960’s Chicago, 1930’s California, 1950’s New Mexico, 1970’s London, 1950’s New York and 1970’s Italy.


And here is my list, counting down from fifteen:


15. The Nest - Perhaps the most flawlessly-made film I watched in 2020, it is only the overall coolness, especially of the characters, that keeps Sean Durkin’s The Nest from being much higher on my list. Jude Law and Carrie Coon are terrific as a couple trying to deal with many setbacks after moving, with their two older children, into a very old and sinister mansion in England.


14. Martin Eden - This old-fashioned Italian epic by Pietro Marcello looks and feels like it was made in the 1970’s. Based on a novel by Jack London, this beautifully filmed and acted story about socialism versus individualism stars Luca Marinelli as Martin Eden, a self-educated young man trying to find success as a writer.


13. Blow the Man Down - A delightfully quirky indie film from Bridget Savage Cole & Danielle Krudy, Blow the Man Down exhibits a perfect small-town (Maine) look and feel as it follows two young women trying to cover up a crime in a town full of secrets. The all-women (almost) ensemble cast is universally good. (Amazon original)


12. Sylvie’s Love - A gorgeous old-fashioned romance from Eugene Ashe that could have been made in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s (when it is set), except for the cinematography and the fact that it involves a Black couple. Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha are excellent as the young couple in question (she a would-be television producer and he a struggling musician in New York City). (Amazon original)


11. I’m Thinking of Ending Things - Charlie Kaufman is the master of original offbeat filmmaking and this film about a young couple visiting the man’s parents on the farm in a snowstorm does not disappoint. Gorgeous cinematography, a great score, an intelligent (if incomprehensible), screenplay, and outstanding performances by Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis make I’m Thinking of Ending Things a captivating treat. (Netflix original)


10. Saint Frances - Alex Thompson’s raw comedy-drama is written by Kelly O’Sullivan, who stars as Bridget, a thirty-something woman, struggling to find meaning, who gets a job as a nanny to six-year-old Frances (a wonderful Ramona Edith Williams). A wise, warm, funny and unabashedly sweet indie film about life as a woman (includes some heavy and controversial subjects).


9. The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Based on a true story, this Aaron Sorkin film about the trial of anti-Vietnam War protestors in Chicago in 1968 features excellent performances from its ensemble cast, highlighted by the work of Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen. A compelling courtroom drama, told through well-structured flashbacks and a real feel for 1968. (Netflix original)


8. Mangrove - Also based on a true story (this time in London in 1971), this Steve McQueen film about institutional racism could be called ‘The Trial of the Mangrove Nine’. More passionate than the Chicago 7 (and perhaps a little over-the-top), and more relevant to life in 2020, Mangrove also features a very strong ensemble cast, led by Letitia Wright and Shaun Parkes. Great period detail. (Amazon original)


7. The Vast of Night - Set in small-town New Mexico in the late 1950’s, this low-budget indie sci-fi flick from Andrew Patterson tells the story of teenagers Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator who hears strange sounds n a phone line, and Everett (Jake Horowitz), a disc jockey at the local radio station who hears the strange sounds on the radio. Stunning cinematography and great atmosphere (with the look and feel of the 1950’s), with superb writing and acting, The Vast of Night is destined to become a sci-fi classic. (Amazon original)


6. The Assistant - Kitty Green’s haunting tale of one day in the life of an assistant in a film production company brilliantly captures the many levels of abuse in a toxic work environment (overseen by a Harvey Weinstein-like boss who is never seen). Julia Garner is perfect as the assistant, and Matthew Macfadyen stands out as the head of the company’s HR.


5. Disclosure - My favourite documentary of 2020, Sam Feder’s critically-important film looks at the portrayal of trans people in Hollywood over the past century. Full of film clips and expert commentary, Disclosure is captivating, intelligent and highly informative - a must-see documentary for our time. (Netflix original)


4. Mank - David Fincher’s riveting biographical drama about Herman J. Mankiewicz (Mank) writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane is a beautifully-structured flashback-driven film. The gorgeous black & white cinematography, the great period feel (1930’s California), the perfect score, the clever and insightful screenplay by Fincher’s late father (Jack Fincher) and the sublime performance by Gary Oldman as Mank make Mank a classic. (Netflix original)


3. Driveways - This quiet, reflective, compassionate film from Andrew Ahn, about the importance of community and connection, couldn’t be more timely. Kathy (Hong Chau) and her 8-year-old son Cody (Lucas Jaye) move next door to Del (Brian Dennehy), a widower. All three are experiencing pain, sadness and loneliness, portrayed perfectly by the spot-on performances of all involved. Dennehy, one of my favourite character actors, died just weeks after the film’s release.


2. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - A masterpiece in every way, George C. Wolfe’s film (based on a play by August Wilson) about the recording of a blues album in 1927 Chicago is all the more miraculous because it stars an actor (Chadwick Boseman) who was dying of cancer when he delivered his Oscar-worthy performance. Boseman’s gut-wrenching performance is matched by Viola Davis as Ma Rainey. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom features gorgeous cinematography, brilliant dialogue, wonderful music and good period detail. (Netflix original)


1. Sorry We Missed You - Released in Canada in 2020, and thus eligible for the 2020 list, Ken Loach’s raw heartfelt film is about the ordinary lives of average people in 2019 England. Kris Hitchin and Debbie Honeywood deliver perfect natural performances as Rickie and Abbie, who experience crisis after crisis in their ongoing struggle to make ends meet and make their lives a little better in an alienating and dehumanizing environment. There is no sentimentalizing melodrama in Paul Laverty’s masterful screenplay; just empathy and endless tension. 

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Great Netflix Films of 2020: Ma Rainey, Disclosure, Mank, Chicago 7, Ending Things, Social Dilemma

I haven’t decided whether COVID was the result of a conspiracy initiated by Zoom, Netflix or Jeff Bezos (NOT a serious accusation), but Netflix has certainly benefitted hugely from the pandemic. As I have no doubt written in a previous post, I am not a huge fan of streaming services, including Netflix. That’s because they cause people to watch inferior films and TV shows, along with some excellent ones. When people are limited to what’s available for streaming, they can’t (or usually don’t) pick and choose the films they want to see and often watch films they would not have wasted their time on if they had been renting from Blockbuster (for example). I haven’t tried to do a careful study, but my glance through various lists suggests the bad films being offered on most of the streaming services far outnumber the good ones.

Nevertheless, after 2020, my feelings toward Netflix are somewhat mixed. That’s because Netflix’s big year (of COVID) happened to coincide with by far its best year for producing films. Until 2020, only two Netflix films (Roma, The Two Popes) had made it into my lists of top ten/fifteen films of the year. In 2020, an astonishing six Netflix films are likely to make my list of top fifteen films of the year, and that’s not counting the too-violent Da 5 Bloods, the too-simplistic The Midnight Sky and the too-meandering Dick Johnson is Dead, all three of which I thought were otherwise excellent films. Here are the six four-star (my rating) films Netflix released in 2020, in order (best first):



Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


An absolute masterpiece in every way, George C. Wolfe’s film (based on a play by August Wilson) about the recording of a blues album in 1927 Chicago is all the more miraculous because it stars a man (Chadwick Boseman) who was dying of cancer when he delivered his Oscar-worthy performance. Watching Boseman perform is gut-wrenching at various levels, though his performance is matched by that of Viola Davis as Ma Rainey. The other actors are almost as good. Meanwhile, the cinematography is gorgeous throughout and the dialogue is superb. The negative critique that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is too stagey doesn’t work for me because I love intelligent play-like film adaptations if the production design provides good period detail and a strong film feel, as this film did.




Disclosure


Previously reviewed on this blog, Disclosure is a critically-important documentary about the portrayal of trans people in Hollywood over the past century. Full of film clips and expert commentary, Disclosure is captivating and intelligent throughout (though I wish it hadn’t focused so much on Hollywood and, in the last half of the film, on TV). 




Mank


David Fincher’s biographical drama about Herman J. Mankiewicz (Mank) writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane (one of the greatest films ever made) is a beautifully-structured film. Those less familiar with the context for the film might find the beginning of Mank to be somewhat challenging, but once the flashback-driven story comes into focus, I found it riveting. The black & white cinematography is perfect, as is the score and the performance of Gary Oldman as Mank. The screenplay by Fincher’s late father (Jack Fincher) is clever and insightful and the production design provides a great feel for 1930’s California. 




The Trial of the Chicago 7


Aaron Sorkin’s film about the trial of anti-Vietnam War protestors (known as the Chicago Seven)  in 1968 is as compelling as one would expect from a Sorkin-written film. The story of the protestors, who were accused of inciting riots at the Democratic National Convention, is told through flashbacks and court proceedings. I would have liked more background on the war protesting itself, but that’s not what this film is about, and I do love courtroom dramas. Excellent performances by an ensemble cast are highlighted by the work of Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen. The major criticism of The Trial of the Chicago 7 was that it wasn’t true to history. I grow tired of such complaints. This is a dramatic presentation based on actual events; it’s not a documentary. 




I’m Thinking of Ending Things


Charlie Kaufman is is an eccentric filmmaker. In spite of that (or because of that) I have very much liked every film he has made. So while I expected I’m Thinking of Ending Things to be quirky, I did not expect the film’s story to completely elude me (i.e. I never had any clear idea of what was going on during the film’s 135 minutes). But the incredible thing is that I loved every captivating minute of this film even without knowing what was going on. That’s a singular achievement, if a little disappointing. The cinematography, acting (by Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis) and score are all outstanding, the screenplay (based on a novel, set in Ontario, by Iain Reid) is super-intelligent (if sometimes incomprehensible), and I adored the unpredictable originality (I never had any idea what was coming next). I can’t tell you what I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about, but the heart of the story (a psychological thriller?) is a young couple’s visit to the man’s parents (they live on a farm somewhere in New York) during a snowstorm.


The Social Dilemma


Another must-see documentary on Netflix, Jeff Orlowski’s The Social Dilemma is an informative and entertaining look at the dangers of social media. Featuring interviews with former leaders in companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter as well as a dramatization of one family’s experience with social media, The Social Dilemma provides a fresh look at ideas that have been written about for many years but have not really been taken seriously. It does so in a way that doesn’t talk down to people but is relatively easy to follow, which is quite the feat. Whether people will be induced to wake up to the fact that they are in the ‘matrix’ before computer algorithms take over the world remains to be seen. 


Saturday, 31 October 2020

To Sean Connery

Perhaps my all-time favourite actor (certainly my FIRST favourite actor, after watching Dr. No and From Russia With Love at the theatre one marvellous day in 1972) has died (at age 90). I was first introduced to Connery’s work at the age of 13, when I saw Darby O’Gill and the Little People at the theatre (re-release of the 1959 Disney film). Three years later I watched the re-release of the first two James Bond films and Connery was my hero. While those two Bond films remain among my favourites, I most admired Connery’s acting in Outland, The Name of the Rose and The Russia House, all three of which are, in my opinion, very underrated films. But I enjoyed watching Connery in almost every film he played (notable exceptions were The Avengers (1998) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I thought were very much not worthy of his talents).

Thanks for all the memories, Sean.


Friday, 25 September 2020

My Octopus Teacher

This unique documentary would have had a strong appeal for me even if I hadn’t gone through a childhood phase of wanting to be a marine biologist. The film invites us into a world that is ours, even though most of us don’t know it. 

Watching this documentary is a contemplative experience. For a while, I wanted to make the filmmaker’s underwater journey into a metaphor – and I’m sure that could be done. But I soon gave that up and preferred entering the experience of watching and absorbing the film as an act of contemplation unto itself.

Questions that can’t be put into words arose while watching. But approximations are ponderings like, “What is going on here?” and “What shifts in my feelings about the universe?”

OK, writing the latter question makes me nervous because I know some people will watch this and wonder what on earth goes through my head. Of course, everyone will see a film like this in their own way. Maybe it even functions a bit like a Rorschach test – providing an ambiguous stimuli upon which we all project our own meanings.

More prosaically, there is amazingly beautiful photography, and the narrator’s journey is told with humility and humanity. And, it must be said, this Netflix film has nothing whatsoever to do with politics – and perhaps that is enough reason in itself to watch it and is the source of its healing potential. I’ve seen reviewers refer to it as a love story. True enough, but one quite unlike what you’ve seen before. **** and a mug held high.