November 23, 2020

Snow falls on Toronto for really the first time this Winter. Covid cases are rising as the snow is falling. It means for this city that as of this day at midnight, we are under further restrictions (no barbers, restaurants closing, gatherings limited to immediate family etc. It is disappointing to be back here but this virus seems to be very aggressive and resilient. What it means from this blog point of view, is that I have more time to watch and report on what I am seeing. So let’s start with the lows and work towards the highs.

Home Sweet Hell: A long time ago in the heydays of Grey’s Anatomy on TV, and later films like Knocked Up, Katharine Heigl was an up and coming actress, who was given the opportunity to become an A-lister. Then she got derailed. She complained publicly about her role in Knocked Up and pissed off the Director and Writer. She then butted horns with the writer from Grey’s Anatomy. Further she demanded more and more money, and basically was looked upon as “difficult”. I have to admit that I am not a fan, but I did enjoyed Knocked Up. My favourite scene was when she meets with the Seth Rogan character to tell him that she was unexpectedly expecting. Too funny. All that background to show how the mighty have fallen. Home Sweet Hell is a 2015 film where she plays a cold, calculating housewife with money, who is married to a man who has a job selling furniture store owned by her father. Then the darkness descends as the husband has an affair to which she needs to react. It goes in a direction that you don’t really expect, but then again you don’t really care. Heigl plays a woman who is just nasty. Maybe she is leveraging her already toxic reputation and embracing it, but it doesn’t really work. In the end I cannot recommend but in truth it’s not really readily available (I saw on Amazon Prime and there is plenty more there to watch instead). So pass.

Miss Baja: On Crave, this is a story of a latina make up artist. She lives in LA, and decides to go to Tijuana to attend a beauty pageant with her best friend. This 2019 film stars Gina Rodriguez, who looks a lot like Eva Mendes, and also Michelle Rodriguez who is no relation to her. In short, she attends a pre-pageant party where a group of local thugs tries to take out the Police Sheriff where she ultimately gets taken hostage by the thug leader, and he wants her to do some things to advance his cause. You see, he is in a battle with the corrupt Policy Sherriff and looks for an opportunity to take him out. It is a convoluted story where ultimately they look to make a young woman dressed in heels and tight dresses do things that we guys can be only amazed. Apparently this is a remake of a 2011 film. I have to admit that I don’t see any need to do this once again. There are moments you are uncertain about how the heroine will react about her predicament, and the US DEA don’t help her in her cause. So pass once again.

Emma: Another remake that didn’t need to be made. The most interesting aspect for me is how the star in this version Anya-Taylor Joy is talked about everywhere for her work in Queen’s Gambit, and justifiably so. Emma is the Jane Austen story, the late 18th Century British writer, who also wrote Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. It’s a period piece, and generally I can enjoy period pieces (Downton Abbey comes to mind, or Elizabeth and many many others). In it, there is the privileged, “handsome, almost 21yo” from her community who befriends the young Harriet. Emma is a match maker of some repute and decides to step away from matchmaking for a time. This is a slow story of romantic intrigue. There are young men, encircling various women of various stations. Class plays an all important role where one is expected to stay in their class or look to move up. Bill Nighy plays the eccentric father to Emma, and provides some welcome comic relief. In the end I kept thinking to myself that this movie would have been intolerable to watch with Gwyneth Paltrow starring from back in 1996. Joy plays spoiled well enough but you don’t necessarily feel the need to physically put her in her place, unlike Paltrow who is that way 24/7. So I would take the suggestion that Alison gave me to give this one a pass. It is beautifully shot, with excellent colours, chateaus, horses and costumes. But pretty pictures don’t necessarily sustain the interest.

Papillon: When I was a teen, I read the Henri Charriere arguable autobiographical book Papillon about his days as a prisoner at various prisons in French Guyana. It was a compelling page turner and I would recommend that book to anyone. It provides a detailed history of the places and people that he encountered. At that time who knew how much one could place in a small receptical and put up your rear end. The 1973 movie starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman was a decent telling of the story. Generally movies are challenged to put on screen the full story told in a book. This is such a story, with such scope and breadth. I had thought that the McQueen version was not really in need of a refresh. Then in 2017 they did exactly that with Rami Malek playing the Hoffman Degas character and Charlie Hunnam playing McQueen. There is more time spent in Paris and the charge made against Papillon, so named for the butterfly tattoo on his chest. He is wrongfully convicted of murder and sent into exile like 80,000+ of his countrymen to prison colonies. The conditions in these camps were horrendous. There was hard labour, poor food and fellow inmates who were out to kill one another for their stash. Ultimately it is a story of escape, and solitary confinement – where one man can spend years by himself and remarkably survive. This was a descent rendering of the story, but I still prefer the book.

Secretariat: this 2010 film, available on Disney+ is about the famed Triple Crown winning horse from the early 1970s. It stars Diane Lane and John Malkovich. It is reminiscent of Seabiscuit which was a 2003 Oscar nominee. Seabiscuit is a better film. But that doesn’t take away from this one. The challenges for the Lane character were very real, and by chance coin flip she ended up with the famed horse (she lost the toss). Despite family pressures, a father who was ailing, and an industry which is largely male dominated, she manages to the find the people necessary to cultivate a unique talent. Breeding of course is paramount in the horse world, but at the same time there is heart, desire, competitiveness which is seemingly individual. Secretariat’s father was Bold Ruler, who sired many horses, but this one is widely regarded as the greatest horse of all time. I enjoyed this movie, and it has a good emotional hitch. Diane Lane is very good and Malkovich although not French Canadian plays Secretariat’s trainer as quite eccentric. There is Canadian element too with both the trainer and the rider being Canadian. These two played important roles in the development of this remarkable horse. Certainly this is worthy of a watch if you have any interest in sport or horses.

Dark Waters: This 2019 film starring Mark Ruffalo was a surprise find for me, as I had thought it by name was another Sci-Fi thriller type film. Also starring Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins it is rather the story of one lawyer’s struggle to battle against chemical monolith Dupont and their product Teflon. Everyone knows teflon. Developed in the Second World War to protect tanks, it was further developed to be used on kitchenware. The trouble was it is also a carcinogen. The chemical industry was self-regulated and decided that the billions in sales were more important than the health of their own workers, or in communities in West Virginia where the sludge was dumped. The story is really a re-telling of the Erin Brockovich story in California. The main difference is that this product is everywhere! The chemical is likely in all of us already. The lawyer Robert Bilott had been a corporate defense attorney (defnding many chemical companies already as an environmental lawyer) but not Dupont. He then switched sides and took them on for over 20+ years. This was eye-opening and scary at the same time. Self-regulation in such a powerful industry where they financially support candidates and are the life blood to various communities is a difficult way to expect those companies to do the right thing. It is yet another story of large corporations acting in their self-interest and ignoring the greater community good, but at the cost of many lives. Well worth watching if you want to rethink what you eat and drink and how you prepare your food.

Latest episodes on Disney + of Right Stuff and Mandalorian were both “Meh”. They were neither compelling nor moving the overall story along far. I would like to see both make positive strides. I am not convinced yet that The Right Stuff series is an improvement on the previous movie. The verdict is still out on that one.

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