April 12th, 2021

Stardust: Is a new film that refers to Ziggy Stardust and not to be confused with the fantasy Claire Danes and Robert De Niro project from a few years back, which was surprisingly good. Sadly, this movie isn’t nearly as enjoyable. I suppose that it was inevitable with the success at the box office for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that more similar stories would come out. You can hear the other bands thinking this is another way to cash in on their fame. First there was Elton John’s Rocketman, which was “M’eh” for me, and now this. Add in the odd Moley Crue film The Dirt on Netflix which was more sorbid and comedic. Of course there are others like Johnny Cash (Walk the Line) and Ray Charles’ Ray and many others. But anyway, I had thought when I heard that a David Bowie film was being considered that it should show Bowie in his full out glory, and strangeness. For me, Bohemian Rhapsody was a PG version of the Freddie Mercury story; the band’s take on cleaning up a sex and drugs and rock n roll image. This genre of film engages me when I see the creative process at work, and the inspiration for the songs. It’s a fascinating process of creating something so memorable and iconic with these songs. The setting for Stardust is the early 1970s and David Bowie has just had his first smash hit with Space Oddity in 1969. Two years later he is looking to conquer America. Unfortunately he has an unreliable manager and not much support from his label. He embarks upon the journey with little planning in a disorganized fashion. He arrives at the airport with a case of strange outfits and his guitar and no immigration working Visa. The reserved and quiet Bowie from what we see, played with uncertainty by Johnny Flynn shows him to have lackluster enthusiasm as it unfolds and a great deal of uncertainty about himself. He is picked up at the airport by a guy in a woodie station wagon as they search for things that he can do. There is no hints about the creative process. There are no suggestions of what the genesis for hits of Changes or Oh You Pretty Things are from the next album Hunky Dory after The Man Who Sold The World. Jena Malone plays an angry Angie who is looking to push David into the spotlight. To her credit, she sees his genius and pushes him with the glam rock look that shapes him going forward. There is a theme throughout with Bowie’s half brother which didn’t hit the mark for me. For a man who personified a number of his characters in his songs, like Ziggy Stardust or The Thin White Duke, in mind this was him entertaining audiences visually while singing to them. His was a performance not just of music with a man with a band on a stage. The movie suggests otherwise. I saw Bowie in the 80s in the Serious Moonlight tour in his bright yellow hair and suit.

David Bowie during the Serious Moonlight tour, July 27 1983 © Michael Brito  | David bowie fashion, David bowie, Bowie

The movie and the acting portraying him just don’t provide enough respect for the man and who he would become. His antics away from the stage are only hinted at briefly. I recognize that in 1971 he isn’t yet the icon that he became, but I guess the journey seems a little disjointed. In the end I cannot recommend this because it was slow and boring. For a life of a man who really did live the sex and drugs and rock n roll lifestyle, he isn’t shown for his musical talent nor his outrageousness. He deserves a much better film about his life. Adding in a picture from Miami of this incredible talent.

Tina: From one iconic musical giant to the next we move to the HBO Documentary on Tina Turner. Turner who is now in her early 80s is shown from the early days of boundless energy with the Ike & Tina show to her blossoming out on her own, finding her own unique style. The impact of a musical documentary may be summed up in whether as a viewer the film encourages you to download songs that you had forgotten about, or were re-introduced to from watching. I can admit to downloading a couple of early Tina Turner songs from this viewing (River Deep, Mountain High, The Best and Proud Mary). The film addresses Tina, warts and all in her mind, where she still feels a great deal of shame about her staying in the abusive relationship with Ike. Angela Bassett is shown because she portrayed Tina in the 1993 movie What’s Love Got to Do With It. Tina wanted to put that all behind her as past and stop being asked about it. It was a wound that could never heal. Incidentally I liked the insight that she didn’t even like that song at first, because she felt it was “too poppy”. She viewed herself as a rock n roll star. One of the first women of rock. She was from a poor family and met Ike Turner attending a concert, and she pursued him to show that she could sing. She was right and he saw it. The path that she took has been well documented, also within her own successful book I, Tina which addressed it. I enjoyed this, and it was good to see this woman who could dance in high heels as well as anyone. She shaped many lives. She is resilient. She is a true performer, meant to be on stage. In the end you can see why she has done what she did. You can see her motivation for going through this one more time, reliving her past. Thanks Tina for sharing your passions and talents with us.

News of the World: Slow, plodding western story of a man (Tom Hanks) who goes from town to town and reads news clippings and tells stories to the locals. Along the way he comes across a young girl in need of some assistance, which isn’t forthcoming from anyone. She is a bit of a wild child. This movie reminds me of many other Clint Eastwood films where the lone rider with no name enters a town and then has to deal with problems that weren’t initially his own. In this case, the problems aren’t nearly as engaging nor exciting. There were some pretty outdoor scenes. I gather that Tom Hanks felt the need to do a western, smell like horses and have some time outdoors. He has the power and clout to do so. This was one of the earlier films to be impacted by Covid and the theatre shut downs. I can’t say I feel as though much was lost in the translation. A slow moving film on the big screen is just as slow moving on the little. Maybe moreso, since you can’t really get up ans walk around, and grab some snacks to occupy your mind in the theatre as much (well without disturbing others anyway). Although there would unlikely be many to disturb in the theatre for this one anyway. Pass.

Finally, Bill Maher had this to say about the Oscars last night and I couldn’t agree more. He wants to rename them “The Debbies” as in Debbie Downer. All the Best Picture films, are rightfully pointed out to be slow and down. No feel good stories there. I still have one to go, but this was what made me laugh more than ANY of these nominated films.

April 5th, 2021

It was time to get caught up on the latest Oscar nominated films. This activity can be beset with many pitfalls from way too high expectations, as has been discussed in the blog many a time. It seems that it is always better to be seeing a film without the filters of others and their opinions, or having watched way too many trailers. This is a most interesting year for Oscar, because he is still having the same party but all the best guests have decided to stay away. So instead, there is a B Team of films that in other years likely wouldn’t be given the time of day at the Oscars. For me, I am actually thinking that a quality Best Picture from the past that DIDN’T win, say for example The Imitation Game, should be given the award for this year. None of the three films that I am reviewing today can really hold a candle to the previously snubbed film, in this guy’s opinion. But you will see that as I explain further:

Promising Young Woman: Of the three films this week, this was the best of them. I enjoyed it more because it surprised me more than a little. I knew some rough background with a revenge aspect, but that was it. It stars Carey Mulligan again, who I had just reviewed last week from The Dig. There she was playing a fifty-something woman in England during the early years of the War, and here she plays a woman presumably in her late twenties – but the age is hard to pin point. In both I think she is miscast from an age perspective. This film a little too old, and the other a little too young. But never mind. We find it as we see it. The premise is one of a woman working in a local coffee shop, who seems to have very little direction. Mulligan is a hard edged, sarcastic server who dances to the beat of her own drum. At night, she dresses up, heads out alone to bars and gets drunk it seems. While there, various men approach her and she engages with them. What we learn is that she is making up for a difficult time in her past. She is compensating for this difficult time by seeking revenge in very personal forms against those who were in some way a part of this difficult time. She keeps score. She has apparently been doing this for a while, although it doesn’t seem to be helping her cope with her feelings. The surprises for me came when I saw just how far this was willing to go. It was surprising and satisfying in a strange way. What did I learn about the human condition? Well, that men can be assholes. This isn’t a new lesson. I also learned that despite the #MeToo movement and others, that coming forward with accusations of sexual assault brings about a legal defense strategy that can be downright ugly. There is a lawyer, played by Al Molina, who details the ease upon which the job of defense work is made by the proliferation of social media sites. Everything it seems, if in any way compromising, can be used against a female accuser. In the end, despite my surprise and the enjoyment of being entertained I am not so sure that this is Best Picture worthy in another year. Likely not, and to that end it became my starting point for thinking maybe a past runner up deserves another shot.

Minari: Another nominated film for Best Picture. Would this film have been nominated if not for a film like Parasite last year? I doubt it. From the poster, and the supposed reviews on the poster, this seems to be a “feel-good” movie of a Korean family making their way in Arkansas farm country. From that set up alone, one’s imagination can conjure up plenty of scenes for the young family. Like challenges with narrow minded locals, and difficulty getting started etc. But this isn’t that movie. It is painfully slow. In parts I wished that I had watched the minari grow by the river bank for two hours rather than seeing what happens. Minari in case you wanted to know is a parsley-like plant. Certainly by the time it abruptly finished, I most certainly felt that way. This is a movie that the Academy seems to like, but those who want to be entertained in a theatre do not. I am glad I didn’t spend money on it. In short the young family is stressed from the beginning. They have moved from California to Arkansas, because the husband likes the idea of owning land, and feels the soil is the “best in America”. The wife, feels betrayed and hates it. Hates all of it. They both have menial jobs checking the sex of baby chicks (this is a real thing apparently) where one learns that male chicks are discarded. Weird. Anyway, they have limited funds. Mother-in-law shows up and lives with the family. Things happen, although that likely overstates it. After some challenges that take place, it ends. It ends in disappointing fashion because the audience is invested (somewhat) in the story (if they have stayed awake) and it’s hard to tell if there has been progress. I don’t care enough, in truth, to find out. So despite the nomination, this can’t be the Best Picture. It may look pretty at times, and have a cute youngster, but that just isn’t enough.

Sound of Metal: This movie again entices you in with the idea of a premise and where the story might take you. In some ways it does, but it also misses the mark. The premise for this Best Picture nominee is that a drummer from a metal band, notices that he is losing his hearing. He and his girlfriend, who is the lead singer, have been touring in their Winnebago and looking for a record deal. The new development with his hearing derails this plan of next steps. He is angry to begin with, so is the girlfriend, but this sets him off on tilt for a while. He is taken to a camp for the deaf where they are a group looking to encourage those who have lost their hearing. I do think that losing one’s hearing would be much more difficult than never having it. One would be distinctly aware of just what has been lost. Being a stranger in a strange land, he doesn’t sign, he must learn a new language and try to fit in. All the while he was encouraged by a doctor who told him about an expensive procedure that could potentially give him his hearing back. The story moves along. What transpires is in some ways predictable, and we are to appreciate the journey. After Minari almost anything makes you appreciate the journey more and this fills that gap a bit. There is a decision made and consequences to that decision. We as the audience are set to fill in the blanks of our own as the credits roll. I can do that, although my interpretation may vary from yours. It really doesn’t matter. This is a slow journey. Again.

There is a part of me that is thankful that small independent films made with tight budgets are getting some Oscar love. I fully expect that apart from Film Festivals they wouldn’t normally be seen by a larger audience. There is good reason for that at times. There are people like me that try to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Awards are given. I am being punished a bit because of Covid-19 as a result. It’s a small punishment I admit, but still. Sitting through two+ hours of Minari was draining and frustrating at the end. I do watch movies to be entertained and see new stories. Show me different parts of the world and give me a glimpse of others. Yes these movies do that, in their own way, just some are more effective than others. I only have one more nominee to see Judas and the Black Messiah, in order to have watched all the Best Picture nominees. In a very slow year, with little released, this has been more of a chore than in the past. I note that Godzilla Vs Kong has been released, and I won’t watch The Justice League in its four hours and two minutes. Between the two I have to chose the guys dressed in an ape suit and dino suit wrestling on a train set rather than the super heroes. Spring has sprung, although a new lockdown shrouds Ontario for the next 28 days. So more movies to come.

March 29, 2021

The Dig: Back in 1939, in Suffolk Britain, northeast of London, the country was preparing for war. A well to do woman (played by Carey Mulligan) and her young son have an estate where they would like to do some excavating to explore mounds on their property. Mom decides to enlist the services of an accomplished digger to do the job. In this true story, what they find changes the perception of Anglo-Saxons forever. It was called one of the most important archeological finds in the UK. There is a boat uncovered and also a burial find. It is a simple story, with the elder digger dealing with the elements, limited resources and pressure to engage in a more well known site. The digger is played by Ralph Fiennes and he is very effective. It was interesting to note that the British Museum tries to take over the project and some legal decisions are undertaken (as to who owns the find) and who is in charge of the dig itself. There is some drama amongst workers which isn’t entirely surprising. In the end, I was glad to have watched and learned about this patch of history. I generally am not a big Carey Mulligan fan, and I am not entirely sure why (maybe it was The Great Gatsby) but she wasn’t overly distracting. She is in Promising Young Woman that is on my list of films to check out.

In a year when it has been pretty lean, with very few memorable films and performances I can say that The Father, was a memorable one. Based on a play, it stars Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. Both Oscar winners. Both making this memorable. Beyond A Beautiful Mind, I am hard pressed to think of another movie that gives you insight into the mind of the principal character. In this case, Hopkins plays an aging engineer in London, who is struggling. His daughter, Colman, is struggling with him and doing her best to try and care for him as he becomes more challenging. He of course thinks that he is capable of taking care of himself. Meanwhile there are different moments in time that jump around, swirling in his mind and before him. This isn’t easy to watch. But then again, aging and getting older isn’t for the feint of heart. Rather it is grueling and painful. Frustrating and maddening. Where once you are independent with full faculties, to slowly becoming dependent and forgetting as much as you remember. Hopkins should win the Oscar for this performance. He manages to personify all of the emotions. You sympathize for him, and share in his pain. You better understand his anger and cringe at some of the things that he says. Worth watching. One of the better films of the year. Anyone who is aging, like me, and has older parents can relate to the struggles. Even simple stories of the everyday carry emotional impacts. Needless to say, this movie was before Covid-19, but the same story could be told now with the lens of having to deal with isolation, fear of death from exposure to others etc.

Dead Poets Society: I spoke about Ethan Hawke last week in his film Stockholm, and how he has taken on all these varied roles in the more recent past. In 1989, this was one of his first roles. The now 50 yo actor then was only 19, but he looked younger. This is a really good movie, directed by Peter Weir. Weir has also done Witness, Master and Commander, The Truman Show and Green Card. I have seen them all. It was really good to see Robin Williams again. He plays a young English teacher at an American boys prep school, and he is looking to expand his students’ minds and have them think more critically. He also wants them to recognize that English (stories and plays) are about feelings and emotions; the things that make life worth living. Accounting and engineering are good for professions, but these stories are about human interaction. He wants them to “seize the day”. The boys have varying ambitions and take to the lessons in different ways. Each of these are interesting to see as they play out. Williams’ teaching style is very different than those of the more established colleagues. Stories play themselves out, and you can see the boys spreading their wings. For Hawke, he had to overcome being painfully shy and speaking publicly. This is a movie that can show the value of a good teacher and how the lives of young people can be shaped. These days students would long for the classroom as shown in the movie, and teaching has become more of an online activity. It doesn’t take away from the importance of what is being done, and how new views can shape actions for the next generation.

March 22, 2021

Unhinged: A very overweight Russell Crowe is angry and doesn’t really care who knows it. This story somewhat mirrors the 1971 mainstream film from Steven Speilberg called “Duel”. There it was a faceless driver of an 18-wheeler. Here it is a redneck driver of a large pick up truck. This is a silly movie. I cannot recommend it. However, one can still have some fun!! So I am doing something a little different.

According to Unhinged, here are twenty two dos and don’ts to avoid a “really bad day”.  These are Rachel teaching points.  Here is a list of what not to do when being chased by an angry pick up driving fat man:

  • Don’t sleep in.  Set an alarm.  Be on time 
  • Maintain your car.  No red warning lights on dash
  • Have a full tank of gas. 
  • Don’t leave your iPhone in your car unattended with doors unlocked 
  • Don’t put your purse on the roof of your car when filling up.  Especially with a handbag. 
  • Do drive a Volvo.  They are tanks.   They take a lickin and keep on ticking. 
  • Don’t leave the house without a phone/device charger 
  • Don’t honk at dumb asses who fail to move at a green light, just drive around. 
  • Don’t remove the passcode from your iphone. 
  • Don’t stand in front of a running psychopath’s pick up truck while it is parked at a gas station.  Being a Good Samaritan doesn’t always work out well 
  • When at a restaurant and someone is being facially assaulted with malice in a nearby booth, pick up your shit and exit the premises.   Tipping is optional.  
  • Don’t avoid the police station 
  • Do call 9-11 and hope for better police service than anywhere in the greater NYC area.  They are awful
  • Don’t have your child hide in an attic without an escape route.  
  • Don’t park your car in plain sight when trying to avoid chasing psychopaths.  
  • Teach your children not to be dumb asses. The child should know better than to move when being hailed by a relatively familiar and ominous male voice telling him that “everything is okay” 
  • Never ever reveal your child’s super secret attic hiding spot while being chased by a psychopath. 
  • Don’t expect a nine iron to be an effective weapon of choice against a 350lb psychopath. 
  • Don’t think that running down a minivan with a handicap Ford Focus will in any way slow down the psychopath. 
  • Never leave your car to attack the psychopath with your weapon of choice after running him down.   Rather drive away.  
  • Never purchase the home security plan from the company at whatever house you entered because the police will not arrive in time to be of any help 
  • Never hold a very sharp knife at your stomach level pointing towards a psychopath.  Raising it above your head in a threatening and ominous pose is a safer bet for everyone involved.

Happy motoring.

Stockholm: This 2018 movie about a 1973 bank heist gone wrong in the title’s namesake. I have more recently really enjoyed the work of Ethan Hawke. He chooses interesting projects that push his skills in new ways like the outrageous The Good Lord Bird. First Reformed was another. This movie also stars Mark Strong who I also enjoy and Noomi Rapace. In short, Hawke’s character starts a bank robbery dressed as an obnoxious American, channeling Easy Rider. Noomi Rapace plays a bank worker who is terrified at first of her captor, and then more intrigued. The story progresses and the situation changes from one way and then back. I do like where it goes and the interplay with the head police officer. The performances speak for themselves, and I was entertained.

March 15th, 2021

We are now into a year with Covid-19 and the shut down measures. Funny how time flies. A year ago I was on a beach in Florida on the Gulf Coast. In this time I have been physically at my day job office less than five times. It is a work-from-home environment, where the endless cycle is work, eat and sleep repeat. If I can work out and get outside then I do so. It’s movie-wise like Groundhog Day. We just flip the calendar pages every once and a while. This time has meant no visits to movie theatres save one for me to see Tenet. Otherwise they are are all online, streamed or Crave. I have multiple streaming services, but not all (no Amazon, no Zulu etc.)

This week, I caught Richard Jewell on Crave. This was a Clint Eastwood film about the events surrounding the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics back in 1996. Jewell was a simple-minded security guard (putting it generously) who was first on the scene to spot a suspicious backpack at a local park where a concert was being played. His response to alert police and other security was a reason why spectators were removed from the immediate area. The bomb went off, but not before it was kicked over and the brunt of the blast went skyward. Much like Scully (also an Eastwood film), surprisingly and inexplicably the government authorities chose to make a suspect of the hero in the situation. An FBI leak put the press, media and papparazzi into full gear, and the initial hero (Jewell) was turned into a suspect. His life is changed forever. This movie has a good cast with Jon Hamm, Sam Rockwell (always reliable), Kathy Bates and Olivia Wilde. Wilde plays a reporter who has no scruples whatsoever and will do whatever is necessary to “get a story”. One of the letdowns for me was the resolution to her story as it continued. It simply wasn’t believable. Add to this the lead character himself, who I had little doubt was much like he really was, and you could see the challenges for Rockwell who is trying to represent him and defend him. In the end it isn’t compelling. It is sad. It isn’t as interesting as the Sully story, but the style is the same. Clint seems to be retelling his stories and there is little new in this effort. You may recognize the lead as one of the hit-men in the movie I, Tonya. So this a pass. On the follow up side, Jewell in real life died at the age of 44. Watching what he ate, and how he looked you can see how that can be the case.

On the Record: This documentary is about the hip hop musical icon Russell Simmons. He is the mogul who has been involved with Phat Farm, Def Jam, record producing working with artists such as Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Eddie Murphy. He was married from 1998-2009. This story is about some women around him, both aspiring artists as well as female executives who were coming forward to accuse him of sexual assault. There are similar stories from these women, and it speaks to their struggle to come forward, realizing what that will mean as a woman who must repeat a lurid story, but also for the black community who wants to celebrate their successes. By all measures, Simmons was, and remains, a success. As an aside it isn’t a surprise to me that in the music business where women can be objectified and window dressing that behind the scenes there is a current of the same attitude. Simmons lured these women often into his NYC flat with a promise of a CD in the music player that the woman would want to hear. Before they know it, they are overpowered by this man. Do I believe them? Does it matter? Do they appear genuine? Ask yourself this: why would anyone want to sign up for this type of scrutiny? The one executive goes from the frying pan and into the fire. Sad. Because as they point out, what music wasn’t created because she was silenced? That is the real loss. I, for one, believe the stories, since there is a pattern. Definitely worth a viewing.

Last Chance U: Basketball: This documentary follows from the earlier documentary about Football. It is completely engaging as you are immersed into the California Junior College league team from East LA. They have players who have come down from Div I schools, or also those who were not academically eligible for Div I and others who want a scholarship. There is also the coach and his assitants. Everyone will profit with winning and success. You need to remember that these young men all have their stories, like Deshaun the point guard who lost his Dad at an early age and later as a young man his Mom from cancer. Others like Joe is a very skilled man-child who has incredible raw talent but an attitude that can turn on a dime. His game can turn from outstanding dominant star to a pouting, angry, entitled, swearing cancer on a team that is striving for greatness. A team truly needs them all. I am one episode from completing this 8 episode series and cannot wait to find out how it all turns out. I care for these young men, and cheer for them, and their coaches. Do they win the State Championship? We will soon find out. Will the players get the scholarships? We will see. At the same time, I think that there are too many yelling scenes in the gym practicing. Those could have been cut down. It is the games and the backgrounds of these players that matter, to me anyway. This was very good and I have no hesitation in saying that I would recommend it.

On we go through 2021, and dealing with vaccines and Covid-19. I am hopeful that we are turning the corner. Globally. It is hard to imagine that pockets of the US like Texas are now fully open without masks. Business is business, and they are open for business. Florida too has many spectators watching the TPC golf championship. Maybe Canada and other countries are taking this all too seriously, and over-clubbing with the lockdown. But the light at the end of the tunnel is vaccines that we all hope are making a difference. It is a delicate balance, and we all hope for the days to be behind us, and hopefully aren’t talking about Covid-19 in March 2022. Stay Safe. Stay well. The 2021 Oscar Nominations have been released this morning and in a thin year it makes for interesting and diverse choices. I will review more after I go through in more detail.

March 8th, 2021

The Last Full Measure: The title name for this movie is from a speech from Abraham Lincoln back in the Civil War. The movie takes place at the end of 1999, near the end of the Clinton Administration. A young up and comer in the Pentagon is asked to meet with an older man about a request that has languished for many years. William Hurt plays the veteran, who is looking for a posthumous upgrade to an Air Force paramedic, Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, Jr. (“Pits”) to a Medal of Honor. Seems the young Pits was aboard a helicopter seeing an Army unit (The Big Red One) being ambushed by a Viet Nam, when the Army medic was brought aboard the helicopter and he decided to replace him, heading down to the fire fight. He saved many men before meeting his demise. Hurt was one of the many soldiers that he saved and impacted. Others included Samuel L Jackson, Peter Fonda, Ed Harris and others. These are present day versions of these veterans as well as a re-telling of the horrific events of that day. The story goes from the past to the present. It tries hard to pull on the viewer’s heart strings. The events of course are tragic. As they unfold, you realize that there were other forces at work politically, both then and now, which prevented the award. The veterans want closure, and for someone to acknowledge the incredible selfless act of this Airmen, who helped out Army soldiers when he didn’t have to. He also has his aging parents, with his father who has cancer. The other parties in one way or another seek redemption as well. Things happened and you realize that it went down thirty two years ago not as expected. One of the messages is that of the many Medals of Honor, only three had been given to Air Force enlisted men. Most have gone to officers. That seems a little out of sorts. In looking into the movie a little further, I found out that lead character Huffman never existed. Some of the other characters didn’t either. The father did in fact have cancer (played by Christopher Plummer). In the end, I would have liked a better story for these actors. I cannot recommend it, as for me it was a little too manipulative.

Framing Britney: This documentary just came on Crave on Friday. It was previously on Hulu in the US. It outlines the meteoric rise from rural Mississippi at the age of 8, to worldwide singing sensation. It also shows how one who becomes so popular has the paparazzi follow them, in the days before stalking laws and the death of Princess Diana. In many ways, Britney Spears could have had an in depth conversation with the late Princess and talk about how to deal with people who can make a million dollars for one picture of you. At a very early age she was on top of the world, and then her world begin coming apart at the seams. Some poor choices with people she hung out with, then married became turning points in her life. Some erratic behaviour followed by any measure, and ultimately she ended up in a precarious legal position of being in a conservatorship. A conservatorship basically is like a Power of Attorney where you can have your financial situation and/or your person. The interesting and scary aspect of it becomes that it the event the Conservatee wants to take care of their own business, they must make an application to the Court. But the burden of proof is on them to prove that it should be removed. In this case, because of her behaviour, likely showing aspects of mental illness (with a 2020 lens on it), she had a court impose this on her. Strangely, unlike most situations like this with elderly or incapacitated individuals, Britney is still expected to perform, earn money, be the superstar. Even post-conservatorship she had a successful residency at Las Vegas. So she can make money, earn money for “the Brand”, but her father, who has never shown any ability to handle money is the Conservator. Odd. When she was growing up, it was her Mom who was closest to her. A movement has arisen called Free Britney, and they are wanting this Conservatorship to end. A woman in her 40s, who can make money, and have children, should have the ability to make financial and personal choices. She has been under this order since 2009; 12 years!! I agree that initially this made a lot of sense, but time has passed. She won’t perform again without her Dad being removed. In the end, I do think that she should find a way to spend some time before a judge and show them that she is lucid and capable. Not through lawyers. Not in the social media. This is an ongoing movement, and the story unfolds. I would like to think that it will get sorted out, and that a more critical eye can be put towards real situations where such legal arrangements are necessary. This was worthwhile to watch and I enjoyed it. The lawyer in me is shocked by the lack of rights for someone who needs assistance. It is scary that someone with obvious conflicts of interest (her father) has the ability to make decisions about her. Stay tuned.

Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy: In short this is a really great series showing a visual smorgasbord of cities around Italy and the foods that are known in the region. I have seen three episodes. It started with Roma, then Firenza and Amalfi and then Bologna. The dishes included Spaghetti Carbonara (which I had to make shortly after viewing the episode). Other dishes include a zucchini dish in Amalfi that he raved about and then other episodes showing the making of mozzarella cheese, proscuitto and others. It has some history, some sites, and dish after dish of delectable pasta and other delicacies. Naples showed pizza. Not just any pizza, the marguerita with simple ingredients. Having travelled the regions, except Bologna so far, I can attest that the lemons, the tomatoes, the bread, the pecorino cheese (oh! that cheese!) are all phenomenal. I would return again in a heartbeat. I look forward to the other episodes and being able to do what I can do make other dishes! Worth viewing for anyone who has been to Italy, or who has ever dreamt of going. If you believe the San Marzano tomatoes that you buy at the local Longo’s come from Italy, and this small area near Naples, they just aren’t. It is a small area. Sorry to let you know.

March 1, 2021

Norma Rae: Back in late 1970s, Sally Field had been the Flying Nun (1967-1970) and then in the popular Smokey & the Bandit but nothing really of substance. Then the 32yo actress played Norma Rae in which a small town single Mom, from North Carolina, deals with her life and those of her community in a textile town. The textile mill is about the only industry, and the company has good control over the citizens. Norma’s Mom and Dad both work at the mill. Into this town arrives Reuben (played by Ron Leibman) who is a union organizer who has been tasked with recruiting new businesses in the southern US. It seems that the industry isn’t very well organized, under labour laws, and the northern union bosses would like to expand representation. Reuben a Jewish man from NYC, is entirely unfamiliar with the Southern way of life. He sticks out like a sore thumb. He manages to have casual conversations with Norma and he piques her interest. The union activities begin. For me, it is the union organizer and his performance that were crucial to allow Field to shine. She won her first Best Actress Oscar as a result. But he enables her, and without getting into romantic territory, these two build a bond over time. The territory of a cut throat company, exploiting their workers has been covered before, but this one is memorable in the people. You care about them. Norma gets married quickly to Beau Bridges character and has an instantly larger family. She puts in long days trying to not only work and be a Mom, but also organize her friends and neighbours. Together these two work towards a common goal, and despite the significant challenges are able to make a difference. In a time with limited new releases, for me it is good to re-visit these movies that show really good performances.

Phil Spector: Al Pacino and Helen Mirren play the principal roles in this 2013 TV based drama which addresses a fictionalized version of events leading up to the Phil Spector’s trial for murder. Mirren plays a high priced attorney asked to defend Spector on the murder charges. Seems at his house late one night a 40yo aspiring B-actress was playing with one of many handguns has it go off and she is killed. He leaves his house mumbling something like “…I think I just killed someone…” which his Mexican driver overhears. He is charged with murder. Phil Spector is a musician and producer who was involved with some of the biggest acts in music. His “wall of sound” was used by John Lennon, The Beatles, George Harrison, The Rondettes, The Righteous Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner. The case of murder largely hinges on the testimony of the driver. The rest of the evidence doesn’t really support the accusation; like the proximity of Spector to the victim, and the condition of his shirt. There were plenty of other aspects which are suspicious. Spector was an eccentric, no question about it. He was awkward and weird and if Pacino’s portrayal is even anywhere close then he would have been someone to see. I wouldn’t want to have shared dinner with him, but maybe really creative people are just outside societal norms. In the end it doesn’t give much away to say that he was convicted. But the journey to get him there was an interesting one where sometimes pre-conceived ideas of who somebody is colours the facts as they are presented. What Spector actually said with his defense counsel is known by these people and maybe just a couple others. This movie tries to fill in some of the blanks. Ironically Phil Spector died in prison in January 2021 from Covid. He becomes one of the few celebrity faces of this terrible pandemic.

My So Called Life: Claire Danes, Jared Leto star in this ABC series from 1994. Danes plays a 15yo high school girl who is in love with the Leto character. She has a Mom and Dad and younger sister. She is trying to fit in and be cool. High school is filled with people for whom she feels differently. I have always heard good things about this series, and I do think that Danes is very good (generally and in other roles that she has played like in Homeland, or Starlight or Temple Grandin). Leto almost looks unrecognizable from his long straight haired persona now. This is available through Disney + and their new Star streaming system. They are now charging $11.99 a month now with more programming.

On question answered this week which was why would any A-list actor get involved in a project like Wanda Vision. I watched two episodes and couldn’t finish the second. Not one but two A-actors (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) were roped in. But seeing this article below where the Olsen character will be in a sequel to Doctor Strange.


February 22, 2021

30 Coins: I finished watching the series on Crave through HBO Europe. It is in Spanish with subtitles. It has 8 episodes. It is a psychological thriller, with a religious base. In short, when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, these are the coins that were his payment from the Romans. Later, of course, Judas kills himself and these coins scatter to the winds. As you start the series a number of very strange and inexplicable incidents happen in this very small Spanish town. The local Mayor is a handsome married man, who co-owns a local hotel as well as slaughterhouse business with his wife. There is a new priest in town, for whom we learn some history and then a pretty Vet. I won’t detail the strangeness of the first couple episodes, but it is a precursor to more strange things. The focus later becomes what is happening in Vatican City, and those who are close to the Pope. The local priest gets more engaged as he has some history with some of these characters. Darkness abounds with powerful forces at work. You learn that these coins are in many ways like the Ark of the Covenant – where any army with them, is regarded as invincible. Apparently both Napoleon and Hitler had interest in these coins. I have to admit that I was hoping for more in the finale. That last episode was a bit disappointing in what was expected to be a bog blow out in this small town. A strange fog has enveloped the town and the bad guys are gathering. I won’t share further except to say that the episode was a little more bloody and gory than I felt was necessary. The townspeople generally are simplistic and caricatures, with the gossipy women and injured young cripple. This had its moments. Those who are queasy in any way won’t enjoy. Those who like to have a religiously based thriller can do worse than checking this out.

Network: This mid-70s film, was nominated for a Best Picture, but Oscars for Best Actor (Peter Finch) and Best Actress (Faye Dunaway). Others include Best Supporting Actress and Writing. It is surprisingly very relevant for today’s audiences, holding up very well as a tale about the perils of TV, with turning news into entertainment. Funnily enough, much of what was spoken about firmly tongue-in-cheek in this movie has actually taken place and speaks to current issues of the day. It has a great cast also adding Robert Duvall in the over-the-top, cut throat TV bean counter wanting to generate money rather than worry about the quality of the broadcasting. Also included is older William Holden as the veteran News executive, and good friend to the lead anchor (played by Finch). Each is very good with a drama which moves along well. Most movie fans would know the scene of Finch as the trenchcoated newsman yelling for people to go to their windows and shout “I’m MAD as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!!!” Truer words haven’t been spoken for a people collectively, then and especially now. That anchor after being told his ratings are slipping and he is being replaced before this goes on air and announces rather matter-of-factly that he will commit suicide on air in a week’s time. A network with falling ratings decides to keep him on the air as his numbers jump markedly upon making the announcement. The philosophical argument is that a new generation who doesn’t read books nor read newspapers gets all their information from the TV. The TV lies to them (sound familiar??!). The Finch character as the anchor who has become unhinged shows the danger of giving such a person an airwave with an audience. He becomes popular. His news show has become entertainment with a soothsayer and him leading the way. I had only previously seen snippets from this movie, without seeing it from beginning to end. I am glad that I watched it, and think that anyone involved in TV or interested in the dynamic of news as a business should see how this was viewed back almost 50 years ago. Much of what they discuss has become reality in a world of CNN and Fox News with opinion rather than news. Facebook and other social media have taken it to the next level where people don’t even get the same streams within their newsfeed. But those are other movies for other times, and previously reviewed. If you don’t know Network, then I would recommend it. As an aside, the wardrobe worn by Dunaway in a work environment was a bit surprisingly with plunging necklines and no bra. I would expect that in today’s work environment this would be frowned upon, at a minimum and HR worthy with a corrective plan at its height. Suffice it to say that times have changed from that perspective.

February 15th, 2021(Family Day)

The Big Sick: This romantic comedy starring Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani (you will recognize him if you watch any stand up specials). It tells the story of his romantic life and how he met his wife. He was doing a stand up routine in Chicago and there was a young pretty blond woman cheering him on rather loudly. She caught his eye, and after the set they struck up a conversation. His traditional Pakistani family, especially his Mom, wanted him to marry another Pakistani girl. They believe in arranged marriages and Mom was intent on introducing him to various potential suitors while at the same time trying to get him to go to law school (rather than be a comedian). His challenge is in balancing this life with a girl he seems to get along with really well, and being the dutiful son to his parents, who have no trouble reminding him that he owes them everything. It can’t be easy being a young person trying to get through life and overlaying cultural pressures that place boundaries on just where one’s life can go. Isn’t the point in moving to North America allowing your children to have freedoms that you didn’t have growing up? The story is more emotionally impactful than I thought that it would be. Without giving too much away, Emily (the young lady) ends up in hospital and Kumail meets her parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, with a story that has them being more than just one dimensional. It is refreshing and adds to the story. Life is full of choices and he learns to make some on his own, despite outside pressures. I can recommend this and encourage the reader to seek it out on Crave or wherever such movies are streaming. In Alison’s words “it didn’t suck” and I would echo that sentiment and be a little more positive about it.

Now, in the sucking department, on Netflix there is a documentary four part series on a young Canadian woman’s disappearance at a seedy hotel in Los Angeles. Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is four hours of your life that you won’t get back if you choose to watch it. When you see uber-producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer associated with it, you may think it will actually hold your attention. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a rather simple story of a mystery surrounding a 21yo woman disappearing in a very sketchy hotel in LA. She wanted to spread her wings from Vancouver after UBC grad and see some of the world. She disappears after a short stay in San Diego and then arriving in LA. A few learnings for me is that “web sleuths” are people with way too much time on their hands. The conspiracy theorists can virtually find anything that supports their interpretation of events, despite facts to the contrary. I also think that hotels that advertise themselves as “budget” aren’t always being truthful in their location, in this case right on the edge of LA’s Skidrow. That wasn’t advertised to young people from around the world, looking for a clean bed with running water. To say that these guests got more than what they bargained for is an understatement. There is also a clip from a security camera where the young woman is shown and you see it time and time again. In short, this series could have been a 20 minute segment on 60 Minutes or similar. So much time is wasted pursuing red herrings and listening to people’s opinion who just simply don’t matter. One also learns that those who sling their opinions around without much proof can harm those who are innocent. Sad really that defamation and libel laws which are just as valid in an online world, aren’t always a remedy that can help the targeted party. Cyber-bulling and shaming are serious business in this world. Avoid this if you can, much like the Cecil Hotel!!

February 8th, 2021

Mank:  The Golden Globe nominations came out last week for the Film and TV Dramas and Comedies.  On that listing came the Netflix film,Mank with an impressive cast including lead Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins (Phil’s daughter), and Tom Burke as Orson Welles.   Oldman plays Herman Mankiewicz, who was a writer in Old Hollywood.   For a lowly writer he seems to be very well connected with powerful friends, including Leo B Mayer and William Randolph Hearst among them.   He is a drunk but a well respected writer.    He is tasked with writing Welles’ Citizen Kane, which Welles at 24yo was brought in to resurrect RKO Pictures’ fortunes.   It is a black and white period piece set in the early 1940s with flashbacks.    Actually the flashbacks can be somewhat of a distraction, taking away from the direction that the story seems to be focused on.   It isn’t clear to me how the gubernatorial election in California from 1934 impacted the Kane storyline, despite having some nice tie-ins to more recent Presidential elections, and that is a criticism for me.   It’s all very fuzzy.   I would be much more interested in the making of the classic film.   The other major distraction for me is how a 62yo Gary Oldman, plays the 33yo Mank from 1940.   Why?   Add to this the backstory of his Oscar winning role of Winston Churchill and him claiming that he must have a fat suit, because he refused to add the weight that he said would be difficult to ever get back off after filming.   Well, he seems to have added the weight on himself, perhaps he swallowed the Best Actor Award?  One cannot say.    In the end, I cannot recommend this film.   It was long and slow.   It had brilliant production design for places like Hearst Castle, which in many ways one should know a little of that story (Hearst and Marion Davies) to put into context what transpires.   It looks beautiful.   The plot is a headscratcher from which Hollywood types will vote for it (like Birdman a couple years ago).  

The Flight Attendant: This Kaley Cuoco TV series is named as a Best Drama (Musical or Comedy)??, and her as a Best Actress.  Ummmm, no.   To me, the lines of Comedy get blurred when there is a murder to be investigated.   The series is all about that.   So it’s no Schitt’s Creek.   The eight episode storyline leans heavily on the pretty and drunkard young blond flight attendant and her life.    In many ways it channels the character of Amy Schumer in Trainwreck from 2016.   Schumer is funnier.  But here there are these surreal flashbacks when our constantly drinking protagonist messed up in a situation that clearly is way over her head that push this intoAmerican Werewolf in London territory.  Strange and yet an important plotline that they continue to perpetuate.    She is after all just someone who is a “party girl” and hooking up on a layover (literally and figuratively) with a handsome guy in first class.   Much of what happens is a drunken haze for her, but it comes back to her in snippets.    It all becomes a little too nice and tidy in the final episode.   You KNOW that they will be working on a sequel (season 2) so that many of the characters have to continue on.   I won’t be rushing out to see this character enter more shady situations.   I don’t think one wins awards for being pretty and acting drunk.    There is more than that. 

Tom Segura –(Netflix) I have seen now three separate comedy specials by this guy, and I like him.   I like his point of view and the stories that he tells.   It is light entertainment that is welcome in these times.   Much like Jim Jefferies he has a cutting humour, doesn’t really care about political correctness and makes interesting human observations.   Smile and enjoy!