January 18, 2021

Ammonite: Set in the early 1800s, this period piece stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. For that reason abut forgotten lone I wanted to check out this TIFF film from September. This movie follows a now more familiar pattern; it is a repressed time for women who are told that they must live their life in the service of a husband and for his benefit. She is meant to have children and be valued less. She has no ability to be herself and follow her own dreams, even in the eyes of her own father and family. I am reminded how even 140 years later, Queen Elizabeth isn’t given a proper education by her parents because she just doesn’t need one. She disagrees. Winslet here plays Mary, an accomplished but forgotten (mostly) archaeologist who studies fossils found along the shores of her English home. Single, aging, and living only with her elderly mother. She early on in her life found a fossil that is in the British Museum and which paid for life for her sizeable family. Ronan plays a deeply depressed married woman who has recently lost a child. Her husband has an avid interest in fossils, but also yearns for his wife of earlier days. He leaves for a lengthy business trip but pays Winslet to look in on his wife. Winslet gets more than bargained for as she begrudgingly accepts the task, but Ronan falls ill. Much goes unsaid. Much is assumed. Wrongly or rightly. The viewer tries to piece together what has happened to both of these women. How have they been wronged? What has lead to the rather lonely existence of Winslet and her hardness? Ronan appears to be more of an “indoor girl” to borrow the words of Jack Dawson when speaking of Rose in Titanic. Mary alternatively is more sturdy and rugged. She is more outdoorsy, with dirty nails and no appetite for traditional women’s interests. She takes good care of her Mom and the sick Ronan. Mary is though rather awkward and uncomfortable around people. Things happen. Some more surprising than others. Portrait of A Lady On Fire was a very similar story. I think that it was told better. The difference being the star power of the main characters. This film has two top A-list stars who are showing more in many ways than expected. In the end I think we can better appreciate how difficult that these times could have been. Many would have lived, loved and fit directly into society. But quite a few would have had a great deal of difficulty and feeling as though they were likely living in the wrong time. I expect in a lean year that Oscar nominations will likely be forthcoming for one or both.

Downhill: A few years back at TIFF the Swedish foreign film Force Majeure was released and it was a dark film showing the tensions in a marriage when a husband and father at a ski resort betrayed his wife and family in an unexpected way and suffers the consequences. In truth I don’t remember the comedy elements. I just remember that there were uncomfortable situations and tension. Then, presumably Wil Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfus saw this as a movie to remake as more of a comedy. It doesn’t work. It’s not funny, but more contrived. I didn’t laugh. I marvelled at the mountain ski resort in Austria. The views and skiing makes me wish for a year ago at Whistler. But otherwise, this dysfunctional family is not where I would want to spend time. Like many Hollywood remakes of European films, this was not a good idea.

Wanda Vision: This new series on Disney + has been advertised hard in the past few weeks. It stars Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen (the best actress in the Olsen clan). Both accomplished actors. After seeing the first episode and 10 mins in the second episode, I have to ask myself “what the hell were they thinking?!” This is bad in a way that I haven’t seen in quite some time. Episode one is a black and white Bewitched remake feel, with the robot “Vision” as Darren and Olsen playing Wanda (a woman with magical powers). I don’t know the point. I don’t the background. I don’t know the Marvel “superheroes”. Frankly, I don’t give damn.

Bridgerton: Saw the end of this. Enjoyed Season 1. I think that the ultimate resolution was satisfying if not altogether predictable. It was a good story. The characters were engaging. It was well written and well acted. Check it out.

January 11th, 2021

Bridgerton: As period pieces go, this series is a good dramatic undertaking with a very good cast, quality writing and plenty of intrigue and scandal to keep everyone wondering what will happen next. At the very least, they might wonder when the next time they will see the lead black actor (Rege-Jean Page) baring his bottom in another episode. Note, as an aside, the charismatic Page is apparently being considered as a new James Bond candidate. This Netflix series is new and part of the latest releases from Shonda Rhimes, the TV wunder-executive, who seems everything she touches turns to gold. This series set in early 1800s England, begins like Hamilton, with people of many races represented, most notably at first a black Queen. Later in the series it is explained that the current King fell in love with his Queen and that this elevated everyone around her. There are multiple houses at play, in addition to the Bridgerton household, along with the Royal House, and those of other surrounding houses. Think Downton Abbey, along with a healthy dose of Upstairs, Downstairs. Pregnancies, marriages, vying for a Prince or a Duke’s affections are all part of the series. The voiceover done by Julie Andrews, is from a local Social Society newspaper that adds to the intrigue because no one seems to know who the well informed writer seems to be. It keeps one’s attention, and I have quite enjoyed it. More than I expected to be honest. But it has been a fun ride as Season 1 closes out and more seasons are to come it seems. Worth your time to see it.

The History of Swear Words. Nicolas Cage, of all people, is hosting this series of short 6-part comedy vignettes about various swear words and their use, origin and trending status. An initial thought was “how the mighty have fallen” from A-list star to Netflix documentarian. But I digress. From innocuous words like “Damn” and “Dick”, we get to more and more intense words, although starting at the top of the food chain in the series with the F%#& word. This is a comedy with supporting cast like Jim Jeffries (who’s own claim to fame C-word is NOT discussed) Sarah Silverman, Nick Offerman and other various comedians. I think that the commentary from Nikki Glaser, or Zainab Johnson are as funny as any of them. It’s fun. I laughed out loud in a couple of the episodes, mostly because I think I was caught off guard (like the “Dick” episode). The viewer may learn a thing or two, but generally it is meant to be like toilet humour for men (you laugh just because people are using words that not-too-long-ago were considered off limits: see George Carlin and The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television). For the record, of George’s seven words, only two were discussed in the 6 episodes. I think that they missed out on a couple more colouful than Damn. Just sayin’. But it is also fun escapist time away from the news and Covid. If we needed a good laugh, today is the best time I can think of. This one is also worth your time.

Finally I am reminded back to the review of Queen’s Gambit and today in the local paper, there was an article about my step-father, the Chess Master and former champion in his youth. Chess has once again become more main stream, and this shows him during the same time when the Queen’s Gambit was taking place. For the record, he felt that the series did a very good job of showing chess, with real moves and the feeling of playing competitive chess.

https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/canadian-chess-master-ross-siemms-pleased-with-new-interest-in-the-game

January 4th, 2021

The Midnight Sky: George Clooney has taken on this project recently released by Netflix. He stars in, directs and produces it. He has put together a very good cast with David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones, and others. Sadly the story isn’t that compelling for me. It is a mash up of the Gravity story, adding in a few bits from Interstellar and then an apocalyptic event with some human drama. A younger Clooney character believes that there is a liveable planet out there, in a Carl Sagan way, but proposes it is on a newly found moon near Jupiter. Fast forward a few years (2049) and there has been an Event. George is up near the Arctic Circle. Alone seemingly. Then add in a exploratory spacecraft coming back from Jupiter with a crew reminiscent of The Martian. Things happen in space with the craft much like as in Gravity, and it has much the same look and feel for it. I have to admit that I don’t fully understand what the Earth “event” was, but there is obviously a political undertone to the whole thing. In the end it didn’t really add up to much, and added very little to the movies that have already addressed the theme. I can’t recommend it. It may have given George the excuse and opportunity to grow a Duck Dynasty beard for his home life.

I have watched and re-watched a number of things over the Christmas holidays. I was unable to watch Kate Winslet Ammonite through the TIFF platform since they have security issues with every browser that isn’t Edge. It is frustrating, and rather than refunding me, they just talked to me slower in the hopes that I was the problem. I am not. It remains on the list of films to be seen.

I also re-watched The Big Short which remains interesting on the perils of Wall Street, self-regulation and those in power making money with complete disregard to the general public. Scarily there was never anyone sent to jail of note for the fraud and corruption perpetrated on the public. Because of this, there is every likelihood that it could be repeated. One doesn’t need to look much further than the current stock market (DOW over 30,000) to wonder how those lofty heights are supported during a pandemic. Other interesting documentaries include The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma which focus on the fact that if you aren’t paying for a product or service, that you ARE the product or service as with Facebook and other social media platforms. The point in both is how AI and tracking of your every movement in your online existence means that you are sent targeted ads to keep you engaged. These targeted ads, as well as news, shapes your thinking and attitudes, which led to results in elections around the globe, including the US 2016 Presidential election and Brexit. More to the point, it suggests that it isn’t even all people on the web, but rather those who are viewed as changeable. They are called Persuadable. I did review it on October 26, 2020, but it was a good thing to refresh. I also re-watched Coco from Pixar the other night and it was a story very well done. Good music, a well told story and a really good story with family and meeting idols.

December 28th, 2020

This week is a tale of two reviews for the same topic; Mulan.  I had never seen the Disney animated original back in 1998.   Knowing that I was going to view the updated real life version I decided to check out the original.   Mulan (1998): The animated version is a musical and tells the story from the 15th Century with the Chinese emperor engaging a conscripted army (one male person from each household) to engage with the horrible Huns who have invaded the northern territory.   Mulan’s elderly father has two daughters and a wife.  Eldest daughter Mulan is a tomboy who isn’t interested in being “matched” by the local matchmaker.   Dad volunteers to be conscripted and fight despite a wonky leg.   Mulan decides (against the family wishes) to take his armour, sword and horse to fight in his place.   She is part of a group of new recruits.    Before she arrives, she meets up with a small dragon, voiced by Eddie Murphy who is the comic relief.    His role is very much the same as Donkey in <strong>Shrek</strong>.   Shrek was from 2001, but it also seems to channel 1992 Aladdin (which was also recently remade in real life).   In short Mulan acts as a young man, and then saves the platoon from the Hun hoard and ultimately the Emperor.   I doubt that I am giving anything away by stating this.   The songs are okay.   Eddie Murphy has a couple funny lines.   The ultimate battle sequence Mulan does something that in hindsight isn’t all that remarkable, but it took some outside of the box thinking.   The Forbidden City entanglement was more than a little unbelievable.   This is a story of a strong woman in times of great repression.   She overcomes cultural challenges and proves her worth to her father, her family and her Emperor.    I know more than a few women who look upon this in a favourable light.   For me, it was okay.

The latest Mulan released on Disney+ was from 2020 and unlike more recent re-makes from Disney is not a true translation.   In most instances the musical aspects are supplemented so that the now live version is longer than the 90 minute animated feature.    Many Disney remakes have done this like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.    In this instance the music is eliminated entirely, and I think to the peril of the overall look and feel.   There is a more serious tone as the young Mulan attends training and eventually encounters a new character, a female witch, who is assisting the Huns.   Mulan’s family speaks of women being labelled as witches and this is obviously not a good situation.   Ultimately the witch and Mulan have more encounters.   This is a significant difference to the original.   There are other scenes as well including the romantic interest who are also very different.  Adding the witch along with other changes didn’t make the story better. In fact I found it a distraction. I wasn’t expecting to do a full scale comparison between the two, but I kept being reminded how different the live version was to the original. Disney+ wanted a significant contribution to watch this when it was first released. I am glad that I didn’t spend the money for it. This is beloved story for many. Having seen it twice in the last week, I don’t feel as though it is something that has added to my Disney catalogue of movies worth watching. So I would avoid this one.

Finally, the Mandalorian Season 2 was completed with the conclusion which I have to admit was a little bit of a surprise. We had learned earlier that the Baby Yoda could potentially engage with some Jedi, although there weren’t many left by sitting atop that one mountain where he was snatched by the bad guys. I won’t reveal more than that. I will say that the technology for making actors younger isn’t really as good one would be hoping. Enough said on the subject. I did enjoy the season, however I would say that for two seasons there were more than a few episodes that felt like filler. By the last couple of episodes it was better and moved along. Was this a satisfactory ending to it? Meh, I don’t know. Was it worth watching, sure. I am more impressed frankly with the ability to have the episodes LOOK like they are filmed in Tunisia and other places in the Star Wars universe. They weren’t. They are projected screens on sound stages. You never would know it in looking at it. There is a documentary about the technology in bringing this series forward, and it was good to see. The ongoing technology is evolving so very quickly. Still. Real actors are a benefit and add to the viewer caring and being engaged.

December 21, 2020

Aladdin: Disney has taken upon itself to remake virtually anything in their animation library.   More recent efforts have included those included in my review of Black Beauty, also a remake from December 7th.  Now Disney has taken on the remake of the Robin Williams vehicle Aladdin.    Will Smith takes on the leading role of the genie.    To his credit, he and the buff CGI body that he exhibits doesn’t try to emulate in any way the comic genius of Robin Williams.    No one could and it would be folly to try.    Instead he does a lot more singing, and throws in a few extra jokes.   The rest of the cast isn’t really remarkable or known to me in any way.    The story has remained the same with the “diamond in the rough” street rat who needs to be found in order to obtain treasure from a perilous cavern.   He meets by accident the local princess from the Sultan’s palace and impresses her.   She is forced by culture to be married as she cannot be a ruler.   Her father, the Sultan is a bit nerdy and has been influenced by the sinister Jaffar with plans of his own.    The songs remain the same, and they have added a couple.    Notably they have tried to make the Princess more independent and strong-willed to show her breaking free of the societal norms placed upon her.   In the end it is all too familiar, and by the end you wonder why this had to be made in the first place.   Yes I have a Disney + membership, but that has been for The Mandalorian and some other classics more so than these remakes.  I am already paying for them, and will watch Mulan for example, but I didn’t and wouldn’t have paid for them in the theatre.   There are better places to put my more expensive movie dollars.    Anyway, if you love all things Disney, and many people do, this may work for you.    For me, I value the Robin Williams performance enough that I respect it remaining on its own.   I didn’t need to see this.   I cannot recommend it, and it seems like a lot of effort for no real pay off.   You want your kids to experience Aladdin and some laughs, watch Robin.  

Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart:    This new documentary has a more recent interview with the eldest Bee Gee, Barry Gibb, and survivor of the Gibb troupe.   I enjoy seeing documentaries about musicians when they get into the creative process.   How does a person get inspired to create something totally new?    Those who can do so, are remarkable in my mind with a special gift.   Those who are able to exploit that gift fully are entitled, in my mind, to everything that they get.   The world is a better place for the efforts that they came.   I am reminded at this point about the recent review I did about Dolly Parton.   Like the Bee Gees, I wouldn’t seek out a live concert with Dolly Parton, but she has written hundreds of songs, and she is able at times to create a new song in minutes.    Here, the Bee Gees for example where a young act in Australia and decided to move to Britain after the Beatles were massive in the 60s.    They were successful song writers early on, despite their sound feeling like copycat Beatles.   A song like “To Love Somebody” and “I Started a Joke” are those that I knew upon hearing but didn’t know that they were from the Bee Gees.  They are quintessentially sixties.   But then you are told about the rights to a New Yorker article about Dancing in Manhattan in the 70s, you have the purchaser reach out to the Bee Gees to write some appropriate music.   It includes Maurice being told to write the greatest love song of his life, and coming up with “How Deep is your Love?”   The other songs for Saturday Night Fever create the greatest selling soundtrack to date, and a colossal movie hit.   One thing I did not know what that Robin and Maurice were twins.   With old brother Barry they were the group.  Later little Andy joins in, although he later succumbs to drug addiction at the age of 30yo.   Drugs beyond this aren’t really mentioned, but you have to expect that the partying and scene for disco in that time with the Kings of it, with money and power would have been tremendous.    I found this interesting and worth my time.   The Bee Gees, well Barry, would like to be remembered as song writers, rather than creators of disco.    They wrote songs for people like Barbra Streisand, the aforementioned Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross etc.    Even with “Disco Sucks” and the backlash for being associated with it, they remain formidable songwriters of their era.  

December 14th, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy: Newly released on Netflix, this is a new Ron Howard film with a very good cast, principally starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams. In a recent listing of Best Performances, both of these two actors were mentioned for this story. This is a movie based upon a best selling book. The casting and make up teams have done an excellent job to find talent and then make them look like their real life counterparts. In a rural farm area of Kentucky this family has its origins and we learn that it goes all the way back to the Hatfields and McCoy feud. They are poor, with few prospects. The family moves to small town Ohio early in the lives of the children. The story has three generations with Close playing the Grandma, Amy Adams playing the Mom and then two siblings. The young man was bullied and a bit awkward, but smart enough and finds himself on the verge of breaking free of this rural life. The challenge is that his Mom especially, finds ways to bring him back. Not generally being an Amy Adams fan, I can say that here she plays a character that is very difficult to like. She is what one thinks when you hear the term “hillbilly” or “redneck”. She isn’t a Mother of the Year candidate nor is her Mom. It is not a family really that you would wish to share a holiday meal. If August: Osage County has a dysfunctional aspect, these people have them beat. In the end, I was scratching my head about some of the decisions of the young man. I can understand family and being there for them, but I can also make a compelling case that he helps his family more if he can find a way to break free from the life. I cannot recommend this, but the performances were decent, however unlikeable that they were. Close who is one of the most nominated people without an Oscar will likely garner another nomination here. I won’t predict if she can break her streak.

Safe (series): Safe is a 2018 series starring Dexter star Michael C. Hall. That is a series that I did not watch, but is held in high regard. It is from the author Harlon Cobin, who writes popular crime/drama books. It is an 8 part series, with the typical who-dunnit style. A young person is dead, and the daughter of a prominent doctor (Hall) is missing. Hall, like most fathers would do, is scrambling to find his daughter, and doing some detective work of his own. The police are involved, and they too are following up on leads. The characters in this small gated community are all pretty tightly linked. They are friends, or neighbours and are bound by some collective history. The good doctor’s wife has passed away from cancer, and we see her being buried in the opening sequence. Her death has created tension in his household with his two daughters. The elder one goes missing. The story unfolds rather slowly as various people and their agendas are revealed. The viewer is left thinking about who the ultimate culprit is as the series comes to its close in the final episode. I will reveal nothing further than those higher details. I often wonder about the motivations and actions of various characters, in this instance the teenage mind at times needs to be forgiven. The adults and their situations are a little more perplexing. Was this worthwhile, or at least on par with a Broadchurch (season 1), The Bodyguard (UK series with Rob Stark)or The Fall? No. I can’t say that. It tries hard and means well, but I can’t put it up to those levels of quality. But if you have seen all of those, you can give it a go.

The Mandalorian (Episode 14: The Tragedy) again kept the momentum moving forward after the quality Episode 13, although not the same extent. Baby Yoda is taken to the planet that was discussed and manages to do the expected. Meanwhile, the new Empire leader is busy with trying to re-acquire the Asset. The two parties converge at this site.

SPOILER ALERT. The Mandalorian runs into Boba Fett (hard to not name the character without having a more fullsome discussion about him). Maybe I have the timelines wrong with respect to the Mandalorian but I don’t think so. Boba Fett found and captured frozen Han Solo and brought him to Jabba the Hutt in Empire Strikes Back. In Return of the Jedi, he was seen in Jabba’s chambers and nodded to the bounty hunter (Leia) who brought forth Chewie to Jabba. Boba Fett rather unceremoniously and lamely was felled by a half-blind Han Solo who turned around with a weapon and inadvertently launched Boba Fett’s jet pack to plunge him hard into the wall of Jabba’s sail barge and have him fall into the pit of the Sarlacc (ending with a belch). So seeing him here (with the same actor from Episode II: Attack of the Clones) was odd. It’s the thing about Star Wars people, we remember these not so insignificant plot points and then question how it all ties together. And maybe I am totally off but I am reading The Mandalorian is set 5 years AFTER the Luke timeline but before Rey and the latest episodes. So that doesn’t really work for me. Is Boba Fett resurrected somehow? Did he survive being “slowly digested over a thousand years” as C-3P0 exclaimed in the Sarlacc? Unknown but it makes little sense to bring him back here where there is a universe of characters that could be used that aren’t dead.

December 7th, 2020

So this week on Disney+ I was able to view the following:

Black Beauty: This is a remake (of a remake of a remake) – no less than 8 movies on the subject – from Disney starring Mackenzie Foy (from Interstellar fame as younger Jessica Chastain) and Iain Glenn (Jorah Mormont of GOT) and finally and surprisingly the voice of Kate Winslet. The previous versions in both TV and screen I have not watched, so I am seeing for the first time. With Disney these days it seems if you can’t come out with original content, recycle or sequel what you already have. Recent examples would include Lion King, Jungle Book, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, and of course Star Wars. The former movies are all computer graphics re-doing of the original cartoon. Scary enough when you list them all – curse you Jon Favreau!! Anyway, a girl loses her parents in a tragic car accident (what is a Disney story without parental death after all?) and she is sent to live with her horse trainer uncle. He works on a ranch where part of what they do is purchase wild mustangs and look to “break them” and resell them. Black Beauty is one such spirited mustang that he is charged with training. The horse is stubborn, and we know this because the horse is voiced by Kate Winslet. It’s a distraction really to have an outwardly thinking horse, I won’t say talking because the lips at least aren’t moving like Mr Ed. How do we really know what the horse is thinking? How does the writer? Unknown to me, but then again it’s a movie so I will ignore the disbelief to see where it all leads. The young girl connects with the horse, and that allows her to respect her Uncle a little bit more. The horse matures but ultimately needs to be sold off, and separated from the young girl – who continues to grow herself. She at some point has a summer away with a very wealthy family with a very large ranch and they jump horses. I hadn’t seen the actress in a while and it was good to see Mormont, but in the end this story didn’t really impact me. I suppose that I am not really the target market for this; young girls and women would be. I think in part I was expecting this to be a remake of National Velvet that starred Elizabeth Taylor in 1944. It is decidedly not that. The movie ends with a cheesey whimper and isn’t really very uplifting. But there are pretty horses. There are young girls showing their independence. This will have a market, but for me I can’t really recommend it.

The Mandalorian, Season 2, Episode 5, story chapter 13 called The Jedi, was I think the best and most interesting episode of this season series, and perhaps through the entire show. It seems that much of Season 2 has been filler stories where the Mandalorian has been taking on sideline stories, helping those who he doesn’t really need to do anything for, but does so to allow there to be something to do. Why he would put his own life at risk for a person he could overcome much more easily isn’t explained. Finally, mercifully, we have him meet up with a character of some skill and ability. Rosario Dawson (yea!!) plays Ahsoka Tanu who is a Jedi. As an aside I really like Dawson and I would like to see her work more. She brings an edge, she has intelligence and character. I liked seeing her here. Her character is from The Clone Wars, the cartoon series that I have not completed, where she is an apprentice and working alongside other Jedi like Annakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi. Now a full fledged Jedi, she is making an attack on a walled town where a new leader has been oppressing the locals. She is here to help. The Mandalorian impresses the local bad ass, who engages him to try and kill the Jedi for a reward. The story continues. Not only was there Rosario Dawson here, but Michael Biehn from Terminator movie, Kyle Reese. It was good to see him, even more aged than expected. Overall, some quality action. Things happened and the story of the Baby Yoda, now named, gets to inch forward. This wasn’t just action for the sake of action, but it had purpose. I hope that there is more to be seen from Dawson going forward.

November 30th, 2020

Flight Attendant: Kaley Cuoco was a huge star with the TV show for 12 years for The Big Bang Theory, a show that I have to admit that I have not watched. My youngest son is a big fan. Cuoco is not long the star of this new series, she is also the Executive Producer. There have only been three episodes released. In the US, it is found at HBO Max (which John Oliver makes a big joke about it time and again) but in Canada it is found on Crave and HBO Canada. The premise, so far, is that a flight attendant who seems to enjoy her jetting lifestyle of partying and various relationships. She meets a guy in her first class flight, who she post-flight meets up with them and they have a fling. She wakes up groggy and hung over the next morning, with him bloody and dead beside her. I give nothing away by providing this information. The trailer all but discloses this. She then begins to do many questionable things. Some more questionable than others; for example deciding not to not pick up the phone and just say what you know and can remember. It then snowballs into more complex deceptions, with some “supernatural” aspects where similar to American Werewolf in London, where the Attendant interacts with the dead rendezvous. She does far more drinking and sleuthing than is healthy nor recommended. Stay tuned, but I losing patience with this, despite hearing about some positive reviews of it.

The Crown, Season 4. This could be an entire posting unto itself. There is much to unpack here, with the 1980s coming upon the Windsors, as Charles meets Diana and Britain elects The Iron Lady, Maggie Thatcher, with her version of Reagan-omics with tremendous slashing of public programs, all the while spending money on an expensive long distance war with Argentina in the Falklands. In short, I think the Gillian Anderson did a marvelous job with Thatcher. But I wanted to address my thoughts on Prince Charles in this season. First and foremost, one must realize that this is NOT a documentary. We are NOT watching scenes acted with the knowledge and blessing of the Royal family. Every conversation behind closed doors is created. The series is very well researched, without a doubt. Having said that I switch from having sympathy for Prince Charles to having rage for him as a spoiled, unfeeling, uncompromising twit. He can do things with his much younger and stunning wife Diana (married at the age of 20yo) with his 32 years that are quite simply head-shaking. He is jealous of her popularity rather than embracing it. Yet, when he is having his troubles with Diana, he is completely marginalized by his Mother and Father. He is ignored. They won’t listen and he lives in this island. As before the wedding, Princess Anne very poignantly asks her sister the Queen when the family will stop forcing marriages onto people who don’t want them. It’s quite remarkable as you are screaming internally for attention that no one seems to acknowledge you. So as I said, he is intriguing, frustrating and utterly complex. I don’t presume for a moment that these people are in any way simple. The series is simply must watch TV for those who have any interest in the Royals, or Britain, or good story, acting and drama. Season 5 incidentally will have new actors for The Queen herself, Diana, Charles and others. I look forward to it.

In 1992, Spike Lee released Malcolm X, about the 1960s Black Activist. Denzel Washington plays the lead role, which I regard as one of his best. This is a very good ensemble cast, including Angela Bassett, Spike Lee himself, and others. The opening sequence of this movie shows the incredibly brutal attack by white police officers in LA on Rodney King. Twenty eight years later we had a similar attack on various innocent black people by white police. This movie is as relevant today in these times, if not moreso, than in those days of rioting back in LA. Injustice in whatever the time always seems to get people emotionally engaged. Sadly there is an ebb and flow which doesn’t result in underlying and fundamental change that seems to be more and more apparent. In this movie Malcolm X speaks of ridding himself and the black people of the trappings of white America. He speaks about the “House Black Man” in the times of slavery who speaks of “We” and “Us”, referring to him and the house owner as opposed to the labour out in the fields who are being oppressed. Goos points are made all around. It is compelling, and then the Muslim leader who Malcolm is representing is undermined by his own careless actions. Malcolm X in a time of martyrs, and violent assassinations (JFK, Bobby Kennedy, MLK etc) adds his name to a distinguished list, and in a most violent and remarkable way. If you didn’t know this, then I apologize, but you may wish to pay a little more attention in History class. Many lessons to be heard, and yet another time of unrest to show that this is an ongoing challenge for the United States. Do I believe that much has changed since the 60s? Not really. White privilege very much still exists and we all have a role to play. Maybe it starts with police department, but it certainly doesn’t end there (like with the Justice system, the voting and registration system etc).

Dolly: Here I Am: Late Friday night I ended up watching a documentary that I am certain my Mom would certainly enjoy. This is the story about Dolly Parton. For me I knew very little about her, except maybe her couple of signs, her bust, her tiny waist and wigs and a couple of movie roles. She was in 9 to 5, and also wrote the hit song about it, and also in Steel Magnolias with Julia Roberts and Sally Field. What I learned is that she has been around the Nashville, Grand Ole Opry scene for 50+ years. She has written 3000+ songs. She was challenged to write a song about love and she came out “I Will Always Love You”. The song Whitney Houston took to new levels in the movie The Bodyguard. Apparently it was a farewell song from Dolly to her TV boss Porter Wagoner. But it became an anthem selling millions of copies and making Dolly millions. She also wrote “Jolene” and “9 to 5”. She performed but didn’t write “Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers. What you don’t see in this is NOT a story of fame and wealth undermined by drugs and philandering. Dolly is a business woman, and a remarkable talent who knows her brand. You also don’t see very much, or hear much about her husband Carl Dean for whom she has been married for 55 years. Such longevity. Hers is a story of talent, determination and staying power. Well done Dolly.

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.

November 16th, 2020

Good Liar: Is a 2019 film with an impressive cast of Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan. They are two people meeting up on a website, with the McKellan character looking to be one of these deceptive rogue types who are looking to bilk lonely women out of the wealth (see others like this with Love Fraud). Set in London, Mirren plays a widow who is seeking companionship. She meets up with McKellan who quickly gets close to her and then starts chatting up investments for her. The story continues. For me I was not surprised with where this story went. Others may not agree. I won’t disclose to avoid spoiling it. Suffice it to say that there is a point where details that weren’t previously shared become a turning point in the story. It all seems so very elaborate, but in a way that is somewhat confusing. Can I recommend it? As something to see on an airplane, as I did, sure. But otherwise I don’t see much need in seeking out further.

Season 4 of The Crown has just been released on Netflix and we see the stories of Maggie Thatcher (played by Gillian Anderson) and also the introduction of Princess Diana (played by Elizabeth Debiki) and it looks once again very good. I will begin getting through this and report back.

November 17th update. I noted in here that in The Crown Season 4, that the role of Diana Spencer would be played by Elizabeth Debiki of Tenet fame and Widows. This was incorrect. Debiki will be playing the older Diana is subsequent seasons. For this season, it is Emma Corrin who plays the teenage Diana. Having watched the first three episodes last night I continue to be impressed by this show. The acting is superb, and those playing each of the known characters do it very effectively. I think the addition of Gillian Anderson as Maggie Thatcher was very good, and this young Corrin playing Diana. What we see with Diana is a very young (16yo) when she first meets Charles, who at the time is dating her older sister. Apparently the story with Diana is Midsummer Night’s dream costume isn’t true, the much of the rest is. I think that they have shown a good balance here, with Diana being shown as very willing to target the Prince and be part of this life. She was 20yo when she married the 32yo Prince. She was noted as being “just a child” and very immature. Still she got more than what she bargained for with the Prince. He was very much still in love with Camilla. Sadly even at 32yo, he was unable to prevent a 6 week separation from Diana upon their engagement, as well as ignoring her for all of those weeks, meanwhile suggesting before he leaves that Diana meet up with Camilla because she “is good company”. Add to that a “parting gift” to Camilla and as Diana had pointed out, there were three people in that marriage. The Queen’s sister Margaret appropriately and ironically questions when the family will stop preventing people from marrying who they love, as they insist on Charles marrying a woman he isn’t in love with. Meanwhile Diana shows signs of an eating disorder early on. The scenes in preparation for the wedding are very telling and apparently sadly very true. The story plays out as a tragedy for what it most undoubtedly is. Diana would likely be alive today if it wasn’t for her being involved with the Prince and the Royal family. Yet she targeted Charles and wanted to live a life that was more “important” as her own family called her “Duch”, short for Duchess. It is must see TV for those who have even a passing interest in the Royal Family, and also Princess Diana. My viewing continues.