Octopus

The next time you are ordering sushi, think twice about choosing octopus. Not because an octopus might look unappetizing, but because an octopus is truly a remarkable creature, and like pretty much everything else that lives in our oceans, octopuses are at risk. I always thought that the octopus looks somewhat like an internal organ, or at best, an alien, as this one might lead you to think.

I was drawn to the topic by a segment that was broadcast recently on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Octopuses (not octopi) are brainy, very adaptable to their surroundings, and pound for pound, among the most powerful creatures on earth.

Here are some facts about octopuses: First, they are smart. Maybe not as smart as the photo below suggests, but smart enough to solve problems. They have a relatively large brain, disproportionate to body size.

Octopuses have arms, rather than tentacles. And they are able to regenerate an arm that has been severed.

There are more than 300 species of octopus, which is a cephalopod related to squid and cuttlefish. Octopuses range in size from just centimetres across to the impressive size of the giant Pacific octopus, which averages 16 feet in length and weighs in at 110 pounds, according to National Geographic. The largest known specimen of a giant Pacific octopus measured 30 feet in length and weighed 600 pounds. It was found washed ashore on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. The life span of octopuses are 3 to 5 years, so to get to that size they need to grow quickly. For the average octopus that means a lot of crab. It seems that crab is a favourite in the octopus diet, and while it spells problems for the crab world, it creates a real problem for crab fishermen. Crabs are easily attracted to crab traps, but not quite smart enough to escape the traps. Octopuses, on the other hand, get in and out of the traps quite easily, but not before cracking the crabs with their hard beaks, leaving nothing behind but crab carapaces. Because it lacks a skeleton, the octopus can get through the smallest of openings, with the size determining factor being its walnut-sized beak.

The photo above is from “down under.” An octopus is about to enter crab heaven.

One of the leading authorities on octopuses is Dr. Jennifer Mather, a comparative psychologist at the University of Lethbridge (Lethbridge, Alberta, ironically, is about 450 miles, as the crow flies, from the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Mather grew up in Victoria, BC, where she developed her interest in marine life.) Dr. Mather has been studying octopuses for 35 years, and says that … “What’s interesting about the octopus is about one third of the neurons (nerve cells) are in the brain. They have a huge neural representation in the arms, and there’s a ganglion controlling every sucker, so there’s quite a bit of local control. As humans, we’re very proud of having a pincer grasp—the thumb and forefinger—and we say that’s responsible for our ability to manipulate the environment so well. The octopus can fold the two sides of its sucker together to form a pincer grasp and it can do that with every single one. It has a hundred pincer grasps.”

Dr. Mather believes octopuses are intelligent, have personalities and like to play. They may also be impish, based on what Dr. Mather had to say in an article in “Scientific American” that read: “There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning. The aquarium lost several lumpfish before they figured out who was responsible.”

That’s Dr. Mather below. Seems nice. Love the colour of her hair.

“The Women You Should Know” website published a feature on Dr. Mather, in which the following was said about the octopus: “It has multiple hearts, like Doctor Who, sophisticated camouflage capacities like the Predator, jet propulsion like Iron Man, the ability to regrow limbs like Madame Rouge, copper-based blood like Mr. Spock, adaptable hunting strategies like Kraven, the ability to shoot acid like Alien, inject paralyzing venom like Viper, and throw out a senses-numbing ink cloud like a deadly ninja. And all of those attributes are housed in an eight-armed structure with independently articulated suckers that have both fine motor grasping capability (enough to untie surgical stitching) and sufficient power to pull apart a clam.” The next super-hero?

The Spanish Flu

A recent article authored by Douglas Jordan and published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided some sobering news, quoted here: “The 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic, sometimes referred to as the “Spanish flu,” killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including an estimated 675,000 people in the United States. An unusual characteristic of this virus was the high death rate it caused among healthy adults 15 to 34 years of age. The pandemic lowered the average life expectancy in the United States by more than 12 years. A comparable death rate has not been observed during any of the known flu seasons or pandemics that have occurred either prior to or following the 1918 pandemic.” The virus infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide, then a full third of the global population.

The article continued: “The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919. In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918.” That the virus was so widespread and so lethal is not surprising. Men were at war or returning from war; there were no vaccines, nor were there antibiotics to manage the secondary bacterial infections; nor were there mechanical medical supports such as ventilators. Management of the infection consisted primarily of isolation, quarantine, the use of disinfectants and good personal hygiene.

But let’s shift for a few minutes to a gentleman named Johan Hultin. Dr. Hultin was born in 1924 in Sweden, later migrating to the U.S. where he obtained a Master’s degree and graduated medical school at the University of Iowa. Dr. Hultin, is now a retired pathologist, and during his medical career was described as the “Indiana Jones of the science set.”

As a graduate student in 1951, Dr. Hultin ventured north to Alaska, with a plan to find in the permafrost, ice-bound corpses that would yield tissue – tissue that could help scientists reconstruct the genetic underpinnings of the Spanish flu virus. In 1918, the village of Brevig Mission, Alaska, had 80 residents. Over a period of 5 days, 72 had died of the virus. Very carefully, conscious that the virus might be unleashed, Dr. Hultin was able to recover lung tissue from four Inupiaq Eskimos, having received permission for his “archeological dig.” That’s Dr. Hultin (left) and his colleagues above. Alas, the venture was for nought, as the virus would not replicate. Brevig Mission, by the way, is not far from Nome.

Dr. Hultin lived with his disappointment for almost 5 decades (although keeping quite busy: more on that later). In 1997 he learned of some research being conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger, a molecular pathologist with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. He was attempting to create a genetic map of the virus from small specimens that had been stored in wax in 1918. Asking Dr. Taubenberger if he would like some tissue if Hultin “could dig it up,” the response was “yes,” and Dr. Hultin was off to Brevig Mission again, on his own, at age 72, on a venture that ultimately cost $3,200 – which he covered. Dr. Hultin below, circa 1997.

In the same time frame, a much more elaborate expedition, headed by Dr. Kirsty Duncan, and including leading scientists from England, the U.S. and Canada, headed to Longyearbyen, a small Norwegian settlement on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the archipelago of Svalbard. They were in search of tissue from 7 miners who had perished from the Spanish flu in 1918. Unfortunately, the bodies were buried in ground subject to alternate freezing and melting; leaving no hope in finding the virus, which dies quickly when exposed to temperature changes.

Kirsty Duncan, pictured below, received her Ph.D. in geography (which presumably might have helped her locate Longyearbyen). She did say that she undertook a “crash course” in virology to prepare for the expedition. Dr. Duncan currently sits as a Liberal member of parliament in Canada.

Back to Dr. Hultin. He was able to provide Dr. Taubenberger with lung tissue from the remains of a woman he named “Lucy.” With fragments of RNA from Lucy, together with those from American army soldiers whose specimens had been stored in 1918, Dr. Taubenberger and his colleague, Dr. Ann Reid, analyzed the genome of the Spanish flu, discovering that most of the genes were very similar to a bird flu virus.

With solid evidence that the Spanish flu had avian origins, it had yet to be determined where the outbreak began. One theory is that the flu had it beginnings in an army camp in Kansas. The camp was one supplying soldiers for the American Expeditionary Force. A second theory involved another military camp, one housing some 100,000 British soldiers in France. In late 1917 hundreds of the soldiers in that camp fell ill, with more than 150 deaths. To this day however, there is no solid evidence as to the geographic source of the outbreak.

There were three waves of the Spanish flu. The first in early 1918 seemed much like the flu we experience today, with fever, chills, fatigue, and relatively quick recovery. The second wave, beginning in the autumn of 1918, produced much more severe symptoms – cyanosis, lungs filled with pus, and a high fatality rate. A third wave came with the end of The Great War. Celebrations threw cautions aside, and although not as deadly as the second wave, still millions were infected.

The Spanish flu had pretty much its course by the middle of 1919. Immunity had built up among those in the surviving population, and then of course, there were already millions who had perished.

You might ask, “How would the Spanish flu be managed today?” Seasonal flu vaccines might provide some immunity, as these vaccines target H1N1 viruses. similar to the Spanish flu. Furthermore, at least one anti-viral agent, oseltamivir, has been shown to be effective against H1N1 viruses. And of course, we now have available a raft of antibiotics to take on the bacterial lung infections that often follow a viral infection.

Dr. Johan Hultin, turning 95 in 2020, has packed much into his life. His interest in auto safety resulted in an auto safety award, and in 1968 he was commissioned to establish an automobile safety engineering unit at Stanford University Research Institute.

He was known as an accomplished mountain climber. In 1982 at age 57, he became the oldest person to scale Mustagh Ata, a 25,000 foot peak in China. At age 60, his final ascent took him to Pakistan and to the summit of Karakoram, which had never before been climbed successfully.
And lastly, Dr. Hultin long has warned of contagions being used to further bio-terrorism. It is not difficult to imagine a rogue state or terrorist organization producing a virus such as Covid-19 (or worse) to wage war that could decimate populations, cultures and economies.

With that bit of good news, there remains the question: “Why was this called the Spanish flu?” Spain was neutral during The Great War, and as a result there were few restrictions on media; whereas strict censorship was standard operating procedure among the allied and axis powers. In mid-1918 influenza hit Spain particularly hard (with King Alfonso XIII gravely ill), and as the news came out, the rest of the world labelled the viral infection the “Spanish flu.”
The Spanish, however, called it the “French flu,” believing that migrant workers crossing from France into Spain brought the disease with them. But “Spanish flu” stuck. Alfonso XIII below, looking debonair, and yes, he did recover from the flu.

Ciabatta

If you want bread that is a little more substantial than focaccia, then try ciabatta. Ciabatta was created in a collaboration between Francesco Favaron, a Verona baker, and Arnaldo Cavallari, the owner of a large flour mill in Polesine, in northeastern Italy, in 1982. These gentlemen felt it necessary to create a sandwich bread alternative to French baguettes, which had become a threat to the baking business in Italy.

That is Signor Cavallari, above; a man who seems to enjoy his work.

My version of ciabatta is of the no-knead variety. A short-cut that probably would not meet the approval of Signor Cavallari. As with other no-knead bread recipes, a little planning is required. The bread dough has to rise about 18 hours, so for a Saturday dinner party, the process has to start mid-day Friday.

Take 3 and 1/2 cups white bread flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat bread flour and mix in a large bowl with 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast and 2 teaspoons of salt. Then add a tablespoon of oregano, half a tablespoon each of basil and thyme. Mix all the ingredients well before adding 2 cups of barely warm water. Mix the mess with a fork. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and the lid of the bowl (if the bowl comes with a lid.) Keep at room temperature for 18 hours.

Spray a cutting board with water and then cover the surface with plastic wrap, then sprinkle the plastic wrap with flour. Pour the dough onto the wrap and press it to form a rough rectangle. Separately, lightly oil a sheet pan, and cover the surface with corn meal. Take the dough and flip it over onto the sheet pan, and then sprinkle the dough with more flour. Cover with a non-terry towel and let it rise for at least 2 hours.

Heat your oven to 425 degrees F. Put the sheet pan in the oven (after taking the towel off – ha!) for 25 minutes. Pull the bread from the oven and lightly cover the surface with olive oil and a little salt. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool and cut into it. Great as is, with butter or tapenade; or for sandwiches; and as toast the next day … Buon Appetito!

Reparations

A friend at my gym told me of an interview he had heard on CBC radio about a theatrical play, “The Whip,” the subject of which was the slave trade and resulting “reparations” in Britain. I knew I had to do some research.

This depiction of African slaves being loaded on a ship for transport to the New World appeared in The Guardian, along with a story about reparations for slavery. In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, formally freeing some 800,000 African slaves indentured to British owners. The British government’s compensation committee decided that reparations would be paid in 1834 – not to the slaves, but to their owners!! The 46,000 slave owners were entitled to receive a total £20 million (roughly £17 billion in today’s currency), which represented 40% of the British government’s budget for 1834. Were that not bad enough, the reparation money was borrowed, with the final loan payment made in 2015!! Yes, that also deserves two exclamation marks.

The slaves received nothing, except that for 4 years after being “freed,” they were required to provide 45 hours of toil a week – gratis. The Slave Compensation Commission kept records – lists of slave owners, the numbers of slaves owned and where the slaves lived (mainly the West Indies) and how much compensation each owner was paid.

The Independent newspaper revealed that the largest amount was paid to John Gladstone, the father of William Gladstone (above). John Gladstone received £106,769 (£83 million in today’s currency) for the more than 2,500 slaves he owned in several plantations. It is alleged that William Gladstone, having spent 60 years in politics, including 4 stints as prime minister, “was heavily involved in his father’s claim.” According to Wikipedia, William Gladstone, “was known affectionately by his supporters as “The People’s William” or “G.O.M.” ( for “Grand Old Man,” or, according to his political rival Benjamin Disraeli, as “God’s Only Mistake”). I will go with the Disraeli characterization.

David Cameron, the former British PM, will long have to live with his brilliant decision to hold the referendum that resulted in Brexit. But he has managed to live with the fact that his first cousin (albeit 6 times removed) General Sir James Duff was awarded £4,100 (equal to £3 million today) in compensation for giving up his 202 slaves. Cameron’s wife, Samantha (pictured with Cameron above), descended from William Jolliffe, who received £4,000. Cameron, as prime minister, was taken to task during a visit to Jamaica by Sir Hilary Beckles, who, as a native of Barbados and chairman of the Caricom Reparations Committee, wrote of Cameron, “You are, Sir, a prized product of this land and bonanza benefits reaped by your family and inherited by you continue to bind us together like birds of a feather.”

Over the course of 5 centuries, more than 11 million slaves were transported to the New World. Countless more were tossed into the sea – sick, dead or dying of hunger.

It was the British taxpayer that footed the cost of these reparations – described as the second biggest bailout in British history after the bank bailout of 2008-2009. That bailout bill was also sent to the British taxpayer. It seems that, whether here in North America, or in Britain, that that the friends of government – the barons, baronesses, the bankers, the beacons of industry – get the dough. The common taxpayer gets stiffed.

Elmyr de Hory

Here is a gentleman you might like to invite to dinner. Ah, the stories he might relate. Alas … far too late. Elmyr de Hory passed on in 1976. Just recently I noticed an article in the NY Times about Mark Forgy, who, to quote the Times, ”owns the largest collection of work by Elmyr de Hory, one of the most notorious art forgers of the 20th century. In the 1950s and ’60s, de Hory is believed to have forged over a thousand works by major artists. Many have been removed from museums. Others, some experts say, have not.” (I noted, as you might have, that the name “Forgy” is disturbingly close to “forgery” – but whatever.)

That is Mr. Forgy in a photo that appeared in the NY Times; the photo
capturing two paintings by de Hory; a self portrait on the left, and a portrait of Mr. Forgy on the right.

Elmyr de Hory was born Elemer Hoffman in Budapest, Hungary. His father was a wholesaler, and not an ambassador, as Elmyr would have people believe. His mother was not a socialite, nor did his family have horses, carriages, servants, or any of the symbols of wealth. Elmer was not an aristocrat. None of this was true, and starting with rather dubious descriptions of his family and its roots, Elmyr continued through life leaving a trail of contradictions. To quote one observer of the arts, “Everything about Elmyr de Hory was a grand gesture of artifice.”

Despite attending art schools in Hungary, Germany and France, de Hory could never seem to cut it as a painter in his own style. However, he was not immune to adopting the styles of the masters.

According to Wikipedia, de Hory’s forgeries were sold for more than $50 million (in today’s dollars). In 1955 de Hory sold several forgeries to a Chicago art dealer. The dealer discovered the fakery and pressed charges, but not before de Hory took off for Mexico. He soon returned to the U.S., and feeling the pressure of the authorities, resumed creating his own artwork, where again, according to Wikipedia, “he had limited success, mostly selling paintings of pink poodles to interior decorators.”

He quickly reverted to fakery, and came under the influence of a young Fernand Legros, a con man in his own right, who convinced de Hory to let him sell his forgeries. Legros duped de Hory into thinking there was a fair share of the profits. Not so. De Hory split from Legros and moved to Europe. But it was not so long after that de Hory resumed his relationship with Legros, with Legros setting de Hory up on the island of Ibiza, where the artist could comfortably resume his work as a forger. The photo following is of Legros in later years. In my opinion a man in whom you might not place your trust.

De Hory maintained that he only copied in the style of the masters, and that he did not forge their signatures on his paintings (although it is possible that Legros signed the forged paintings). The photos following capture on the right, the Italian master Modigliani’s “Portrait of a Polish Woman,” and on the left, de Hory’s forgery in the style of Modigliani. According to the NY Times, the forgery hung in a Miami museum for decades.

   

 

By 1966, more and more of de Hory’s paintings were revealed to be forgeries, and de Hory left Ibiza to evade the Spanish authorities. Tired of living in exile, he returned to Ibiza, spent two months in jail, not for his forgeries, but for a conviction for homosexuality. Upon his release, he was exiled from Ibiza for a year. It is almost fateful that de Hory, returning to Ibiza, would meet Clifford Irving. Irving wrote de Hory’s biography, “Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory, The Greatest Art Forger of our Time.”

There is much irony here. Irving went on to write an alleged autobiography of Howard Hughes. It was a hoax. Hughes sued Irving and his publisher, and Irving went to jail for 17 months. So there you have it: The author of a fake “autobiography” writing the biography of a fake. De Hory, it seems, was always in bad company. Below, Clifford Irving going to court circa 1972. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 87.

Some final words about Elmyr. Facing the possibility of extradition to France from Ibiza, de Hory committed suicide in December, 1976. True to form, Irving at the time claimed that de Hory may have faked his suicide to avoid extradition. It seems that in this brief history, only the truth was avoided.

And, by the way, a Modigliani painting of a nude woman reclining, sold at auction in 2015 for $170 million. Here she is …

Focaccia

I will get to focaccia, but first …

Victoria, British Columbia’s capitol, provides a nice getaway, just two hours from home in Qualicum Beach. We always stay in Oak Bay, the leafy enclave I have described in an earlier post, and a lovely part of Canada. The photo preceding captures sunrise at Oak Bay’s Willow Beach with a rather fit, silver-haired, and some might say attractive older gentleman, enjoying his morning 5 mile run.

While in Oak Bay, we keep eyes out for Harry and Meghan, but still no sign. Seems just a matter of time, as the Queen has been be rumoured to say, “well rid of those two!” But what of Archie?

During our stay a visit to the Royal BC Museum proved to be time truly well invested. We were able to view the annual wildlife photography exhibition. Remarkable photography with contestants as young as ten. The image above comes from the 2019 exhibition. The 2020 exhibition runs until the end of March.

For dinner it was off to downtown Victoria and Il Terrazzo, long a favourite restaurant (and rated the third best restaurant in the city by Trip Advisor). Our dinner was wonderful – Caesar salad followed by pasta (seafood linguini for me) and as a prelude to dinner, focaccia bread that arrived with olive tapenade. Delicious. Upon returning home I decided to try my hand at making focaccia, and the result was quite satisfying. I am into bread baking big time, and I have had good success using “no knead” approaches.

The following, adapted from a PBS recipe, requires 2 and 1/2 cups of bread flour, thoroughly mixed in a large bowl with 2 teaspoons of salt and a teaspoon of active dry yeast. Add 1 and 1/3 cups of warm water, a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil and mix well to form a gooey mess. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and the lid to the bowl (if you have it) and keep at room temperature for at least 18 hours.

Once the dough has risen, pour the dough into a 12 inch cast iron skillet that has been generously coated with olive oil. Turn the dough to ensure coverage with the oil. (if you don’t have a skillet a sheet pan will do.)  The dough is pressed into the skillet, covered with a cloth and allowed to rise for another hour. Heat your oven to 400 degrees F. Once the dough is ready for the oven, press it down again with your fingertips, creating the dimpling effect characteristic of focaccia. Just before baking, liberally sprinkle the surface of the dough with oregano, thyme, sesame seeds (better with black sesame seeds) and about a half teaspoon of coarse sea salt. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the top is golden brown. It turns out just fine, as shown below.

Cut the focaccia, while warm, into half inch strips and serve with tapenade; having blended together 1 and 1/2 cups canned ripe olives, 2 garlic cloves, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons capers, a tablespoon each of thyme and rosemary, a shot of hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste. I omit anchovy fillets – not to my taste – but they are often added to tapenade.

Harry and Meghan

Let’s imagine for a few minutes that this is June 2020 and that the
former royal couple have settled in. Their new home? An 8 million dollar, 7000 square foot waterfront mansion in Oak Bay, the tony appendage fewer than 4 miles from downtown Victoria, BC. The home, purchased in some secrecy, had been undergoing extensive renovations, which included a combination bedroom and playroom for Archie, adjacent nanny’s quarters, and a complete re-do below ground that will provide kitchen facilities together with living quarters for servants (cooking staff, a butler, maids, a gardener, a dog minder and a chauffeur). Think Downton Abbey on a smaller scale. There is also a newly erected residence on the 2 acre property that will accommodate the former royal couple’s security detail (and for the sake of brevity, why don’t we refer to the former royal couple as the FRC.)

The photo above is of Frogmore Cottage, close to Windsor Castle (too close perhaps?) and that was gifted by the Queen to Harry and Meghan. When the FRC made it clear that they wanted to be at arm’s length from royal duties (that arm now extends some 4700 miles from Buckingham Palace), it remains uncertain whether they will retain Frogmore for their return trips to England. In January of this year it was revealed that the FRC would have to repay the roughly $3 million in renovations undertaking at Frogmore. By the way, I attempted to get a photo of the Oak Bay house, but was shooed away by security.

The FRC have taken to Victoria and to Oak Bay in particular, like Brits to steak and kidney pie. The happy couple were recently spotted strolling down Oak Bay Avenue, on their way to Starbuck’s. Harry ordered a flat white for himself, and a vanilla latte for Meghan, who along the way had ducked into a hat shop. Young Archie, just turned a year old, seemed content in his stroller, having graduated from a pram. The FRC were followed by two burly, bullet-headed gentlemen in black suits, while two black Range Rovers with tinted windows crept along the leafy street beside them. Traffic was backed up for two blocks; unusual for Oak Bay. The Avenue below, prior to the FRC’s arrival and with traffic moving smoothly.

In a recent interview with a local newspaper, Harry stated that the FRC did not want to be fussed about and that they should be regarded as “regular folk.” “We are delighted to be in Canada, especially here in Victoria, as the weather and the surroundings remind us so much of home. Plus you have polo and cricket here, and I am sure I can locate some kippers. Meghan and I look forward to having members of my family come to visit. My grandmother and grandfather are unlikely to make the trip, but my father and Camilla are already making plans, as are William and Kate and their brood. Uncle Andrew has not been extended an invitation to visit.”

The FRC have been very visible since their arrival. One of the their first stops was for high tea at the iconic Empress hotel. Harry, Meghan and Archie feasted on smoked sockeye salmon, cucumber sandwiches, egg salad and raisin scones. Archie particularly like his scone, although he picked out the raisins. The Lobby Lounge at the Empress was closed to other customers while the FRC and Archie enjoyed their tea, although two burly, bullet-headed gentlemen in black suits were seated nearby. Prior to the FRC and Archie being served these gentlemen were charged with sampling the food servings – just in case. One of the serving staff, when asked about waiting on the FRC and Archie, had this to say, “They were delightful, so down-to-earth, dressed very much like tourists, and ate with their forks in their left hands!” Impressive.

The Empress Hotel below. Named for Harry’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.

Much has been made of the FRC’s decision to “step away” from their royal responsibilities. Harry has stated that the FRC desires to be financially independent. Harry’s background is primarily military, and to his credit, he has flown helicopters, served in Afghanistan, more recently has been a patron of the Invictus Games, but it remains to be seen what he can actually do over the longer term. Meghan, of course, might well return to acting, and could easily shuttle down to Los Angeles from Victoria. But in truth, the FRC will likely have their comparatively frugal lifestyle supported through proceeds accruing to the Duchy of Cornwall, the revenues of which derive from the more than 50,000 hectares of land owned by Harry’s father, Prince Charles.

Much has been made of the security needs of the FRC and Archie, and top-of-mind for many Canadians is the question of where the security costs will land. Canada’s prime minister, pictured below in a turban, has stated that his government has yet to make a decision, while apologizing for the delay.

Flicks Again

I have been on a pre-Oscar binge, and the following observations are proof:

Richard Jewell

Not going to win any Oscars, but there are two astonishing things about the movie, “Richard Jewell,” with the first being that Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Jewell, is “brilliant” (as described in the NY Times). The second is that “Richard Jewell” is produced and directed by 89 year old Clint Eastwood. The man never stops!

This is what “Movieguide” (which says it provides, “movie reviews for Christians,”) had to write about “Richard Jewell:” “RICHARD JEWELL is brilliantly made. It has humor, suspense, drama, and deeply moving, heartfelt scenes. The acting by Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell and Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother is terrific. RICHARD JEWELL tells a powerful human story and tells an incredibly timely story about seeking justice and the dangers of Big Government and Big Media. Sadly though, RICHARD JEWELL has way too much foul language, including some annoying, unnecessary strong profanities.”

Not a website I normally go to for movie reviews, as profanities are a way of life for me, spending as I do quite a bit of time on the golf course. So, WTF?

The movie is about a security guard who was accused of planting a bomb during an event at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, GA. Mr. Jewell was that guard, and was essentially treated by both the media and the FBI as guilty, without ever being charged. “Richard Jewell” has not done well at the box office, and when I viewed the film it had failed to make half its $45 million budget. It deserves to do much better.

By the time you read this “Richard Jewell” may have left theatres, but catch it streaming or on demand if you can.
Mr. Hauser in the following.

 

1917

“1917” surprised a lot of viewers, picking up two major awards at the 2020 Golden Globes telecast. The movie won Globes for Best Motion Picture Drama and Best Director. I have always felt uneasy about contests where entertainment arts are the focus. Can you imagine a late 19th century award ceremony citing the Best Impressionist Painting? Leave the contests to the NFL and NHL. But this is “Awards” season, and the Globes were only the beginning. We have had the Directors’ Guild Awards (“1917” was a winner for director Same Mendes) and Screen Actors Guild awards, then on to the Oscars, and Academy Award voters will choose among “1917,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” “Parasite,” “Ford V Ferrari,” “Marriage Story,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” and “Little Women,” as Best Picture.

The reviews for “1917” are solid. The AP reviewer wrote, “The special sauce here, which you may have heard about: “1917” appears as if it were shot in one seamless take — or two, if you include one spot where it seems clear a break probably occurred. Actually, there are dozens of cuts, but they’re ingeniously hidden by editor Lee Smith, and the longest continuous shot is only about eight minutes.

Yes, it’s a dazzling technical feat. One could also consider it a gimmick, or at least a method that threatens to distract the viewer’s attention. But that ignores the fact that this very filmmaking style is also hugely effective at delivering this particular story, in the most visceral way possible.” Could not agree more as the continuity just added to the tension.

The Great War was the most gut-wrenching of wars. Four years in the trenches, on both sides. Thousands of lives lost to gain hundreds of yards of territory. Territory that was quickly lost. Officers who felt compelled to lead from behind. Below, director Sam Mendes with his featured actors, Dean Charles-Chapman and George MacKay; both excellent, as was Mr. Mendes.

 

Parasite

“… how do critics convey when a film truly is unexpectedly, brilliantly unpredictable in ways that feel revelatory? And what do we do when we see an actual “masterpiece” in this era of critics crying wolf? Especially one with so many twists and turns that the best writing about it will be long after spoiler warnings aren’t needed? I’ll do my best because Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” is unquestionably one of the best films of the year. Just trust me on this one.” Words from the Roger Ebert website. I trusted Rober Ebert when he was alive, and I trust his website critics (Brian Tallerico in this case). “Parasite” is a comedy, a drama, a thriller, and is fascinating, devastating, and yes, unpredictable.

Richard Roeper, critic at the Chicage Sun-Times, wrote of “Parasite,”

“This is a film of such dramatic power and innovative comedy and romantic poetry and melancholy beauty that upon exiting a screening, you might well feel the urge to tell everyone in the lobby of the multiplex to delay their plans to check out some mainstream offering because if they truly love cinema, they should see THIS movie, immediately.”

“Parasite,” directed by Bong Joon-ho, is a masterpiece of social commentary, wherein a truly impoverished family (they fold pizza boxes to make a living) is able to insinuate itself, with much ingenuity, into the lives of a wealthy Seoul family. Events take a turn, much for the worst, and the comedic moments vanish under a wake of violence. But in the end, you come to understand where the title truly fits.

Not to everyone’s taste (of course there are subtitles), but do not be surprised if “Parasite” receives the Oscar for best picture. Below: folding pizza boxes to make ends meet.

 

The Gentlemen

This has nothing to do with the Oscars, as the movie was only just released in January. And it will not be up for any major Academy Awards next year. But I have been eagerly awaiting the release of “The Gentlemen,” as I have been a fan of Guy Ritchie, the director. Guy directed, among other films, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” I never tire of either – face-paced, done with humour, and great casting. “Snatch,” for example, gave us Brad Pitt as a barely intelligible “Pikey” (a gypsy). Both “Lock, Stock …” and “Snatch” introduced Jason Statham, who has gone on to become a fixture in any movie that requires martial art skills (“the Transporter” for example), and a feature player who seems never to crack a smile.

But back to “The Gentlemen.” According to the NY Times, “mostly the movie is about Ritchie’s own conspicuous pleasure directing famous actors having a lark, trading insults, making mischief. There’s not much else, which depending on your mood and the laxity of your ethical qualms, might be enough.”

I like gangster movies, especially those with tongue in cheek. Here Mathew McConaughey plays a drug kingpin (it’s only marijuana, as he doesn’t want to “hurt” people, meanwhile disposing of rivals through less-than-subtle means). The movie worked just fine for me. Lots of twists and turns, some very funny moments, but with some very graphic scenes.

The cast also includes Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”), Jeremy Strong (“Succession”), Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant and Colin Farrell. The movie belongs to Grant, Strong, Hunnam and Farrell. Dockery? Better left to doing historical fiction.


Hugh Grant above, a little scruffier on the left than we are used to seeing him.

A Few More Flicks

Ford v Ferrari

The Guardian summarized the movie saying: “A relaxed Matt Damon brings his familiar, untroubled boyish charm to the role of Carroll Shelby, the racing-driver-turned-designer who was hired by Ford in the late 60s to put together a car and a team that would defeat Ferrari, those arrogant Italian artisans who presumed to think that their tiny little outfit had an artistry and flair superior to the corporate mass production of Ford.

Christian Bale plays Ken Miles, the difficult, impulsive, grumpy but brilliant Brit hired by Shelby as his star driver – to the irritation of the pointy-headed, bean-counting suits at Ford, who want an obedient team player. Tracy Letts plays Henry Ford Jr with gusto and Josh Lucas plays Leo Beebe, his creepy assistant. Jon Bernthal does what he can with the underwritten and underimagined role of Lee Iacocca, the Ford executive whose idea it evidently was in the first place for Ford to go into the glamorous but costly world of motor racing.”

Assuming that both Damon and Bale are well-known to you, I thought I would instead include a photo of the Ford car that was designed to take on the Italians at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Guardian headlined its review, “… motor-racing drama gets stuck in first gear.” Hardly an endorsement. The NY Times reviewer was far more charitable, writing that, “Ford v Ferrari” is no masterpiece, but it is — to invoke a currently simmering debate — real cinema, the kind of solid, satisfying, nonpandering movie that can seem endangered nowadays.”

I liked the movie despite its length, and in large part for its racing scenes. But at two and a half hours in length, you might want to invest in a large bag of popcorn.

The Peanut Butter Falcon

This is a charming movie. You may have missed it in theatres, but see it on demand, if possible. Rotten Tomatoes ratings were in the mid-90’s (out of 100) for both critics and audiences.

The movie stars Zac (Zack Gottsagen) as a young man with Down syndrome who has been placed in a nursing home simply because there are no alternatives. Zac escapes the home, goes on the run, and over time, bonds with Shia LaBeouf’s character, Tyler (pictured with Zack’s character above), and with his care-giver Eleanor (played by Dakota Johnson), who has been instructed to bring Zac back to the nursing home. Great cameos by Bruce Dern and Thomas Hayden Church, but the movie belongs to Zack Gottsagen. A great little movie.

The Irishman

“The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano and Harvey Keitel. It goes in many directions, but at the core is the emergence of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino’s character) as head of the Teamsters Union, and his subsequent “disappearance.” The Roger Ebert website had this to say: “… clocking in at three-and-a-half hours, the movie is an alternately sad, violent, and dryly funny biography of Frank Sheeran, a World War II combat veteran who became a Mafia hitman and then a union leader, and who had a long, at times politically fraught friendship with Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa …”

In his review of “The Irishman,” Joe Morgenstern, film critic (and a tough critic at that) for The Wall Street Journal, wrote, “After scores of celebrated films and almost half a century of richly deserved fame, Martin Scorsese did not seem poised for a breakthrough. That’s what he’s accomplished in “The Irishman,” though, and on familiar—indeed overfamiliar—terrain.”

In theatres from November 1, but now available on Netflix. Scorcese uses all the tricks of his trade, including “de-aging” some of the actors (DeNiro goes from 76 to mid-50s, for example).

Mr. DeNiro and Mr. Pacino is the following, and prior to “de-aging.” Apparently Mr. Pacino has something in common with Boris Johnson and Donald Trump – the same hair stylist. Nice. Well worth seeing the movie, regardless. I did it in 45 minute bites.

Midway

“To say that “Midway,” a new cinematic re-creation of the decisive 1942 air and sea battle from Roland Emmerich, the director of “Independence Day,” soars to the heights of his best work is to say it sputters along at sea level. It is rousing and respectful in its best moments and faintly ridiculous in others.” This from the NY Times reviewer.

Considering that this and other reviews of the movie have been tepid, I hesitated seeing “Midway;” also recalling the infinitely more tepid 1976 version that starred Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and other Hollywood heavyweights. I was never a fan of Heston, who was able to put my father to sleep during his reading of “The Five Books of Moses” on the Ed Sullivan show in the 60s. Not exactly riveting.

But that aside, I was talked into seeing “Midway,” the 2019 version, and glad I did. Off I went, with four gentlemen from the neighbourhood (something we do every so often, when a “guy” movie is playing). “Midway” is well done, with a feel of a documentary rather than a theatrical release. Ignore the dialogue, and enjoy the retelling of history, and the impressive special effects.

Knives Out

The reviewer on the Roger Ebert website called “Knives Out,” “one of the most purely entertaining films in years. It is the work of a cinematic magician, one who keeps you so focused on what the left hand is doing that you miss the right. And, in this case, it’s not just a wildly fun mystery to unravel but a scathing bit of social commentary about where America is in 2019.”

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal described ‘Knives Out” as “a modern whodunit in the hallowed tradition of Agatha Christie. The filmmaker who did it is Rian Johnson — his previous film was “Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi” — and what he has done is create an entertainment that’s as smart, witty, stylish and exhilarating as any movie lover could wish for.”

Above: Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson and Michael Shannon in “Knives Out.” The movie also stars Chris Evans, Toni Colette, Ana de Armas (very good), and in the lead, Daniel Craig, as Benoit Blanc, a private detective called in to investigate the death of the family patriarch (Christopher Plummer). Daniel Craig is much more than a memorable James Bond. He was terrific as a gangster in “Road to Perdition,” and again in “Layer Cake,” and hilariously comedic in “Logan Lucky.” Daniel below as Joe Bang in “Logan Lucky” and in the foreground as 007. To say he is fun to watch in “Knives Out” is understatement.

“Knives Out” reminds me of “Murder By Death,” a farcical murder mystery from 1976 starring Peter Sellers, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, David Niven, Maggie Smith, and Truman Capote. A movie I need to see every few years. “Knives Out” is that kind of must see.

Pickleball Redux

I wrote about pickleball here back in August. The sport is booming. The photo following was taken from the USA Pickleball Association website, and it depicts play in the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships that were held in Indian Wells, CA from November 2-10. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which hosts the BNP Paribas tennis tournament each March, had 49 tennis courts converted into pickleball courts (no small feat) to accommodate the more than 2500 participants. One wag said of the pickleball championship; “This is the big dill!” I get it.

For a parking fee of 10 bucks and an all-day admission pass of 5 bucks you could view as much pickleball as long as you were able to withstand the 90 degree F temperatures. We lasted two hours watching mixed doubles, and I had some observations: Many of the men hogged the court (not this gentleman however); and many of the men appeared to have played in what they slept in the night before (although their partners looked just lovely); and while most contestants were gracious, there were some very dubious line calls (as players are required to self-police). All-in-all though, it’s a great spectator experience and one that causes me to think that I should dust off my racquet and revisit the game.

Apart from some very spirited play, the most impressive feature of this championship is the venue. The Tennis Garden is spectacular.

My only disappointment? No sign of Margaritaville’s Jimmy Buffett.