El Camino is a newly released story on Netflix that is continuing on (and a re-telling) of the Jesse Pinkman story with Breaking Bad. Aaron Paul returns to play Jesse, along with a cast of many other familiar characters from the original series. Mike, Skinny Pete, Badger and others are all part of this. Some cameos from well known other characters are used in flashback. I guess it was inevitable with the success of Breaking Bad that something would be created. It was good to see some familiar characters. Vince Gilligan, the original creator, writer and director creates this new story. It jumps around a fair bit, and you see Jesse in various times, and you mostly tell which time he is in by his haircut and clothes. In short Jesse was kept in a cage for cooking purposes and managed to get free. He is trying to find another path for his life to go. In some ways his former life keeps creeping back in and he needs to use the skills he has acquired since meeting Walter White. While I don’t find this on the same level as Breaking Bad, I did enjoy it. The original series had many cliffhanging moments, and this movie manages to create a few tense moments. If you liked the original series, then this is a decent place to spend some time.
We Stand Alone Together: Earlier in the week, I watched a 2001 documentary which tells (once again) the story of the 101st Airborne, Easy Company from WWII. The story is the same as in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Actually the real veterans, as portrayed by various actors in the series, are the storytellers in this documentary and their aren’t any actors. Easy Company was a well known and respected company who has earned their stripes in every battle where they have been involved. D-Day at Normandy, to Battle of the Bulge, and onto taking The Eagle’s Nest and uncovering Holocaust atrocities. The stories that these men recount are incredible. They, to a man, do not regard themselves as “heroes”. To them, those who died in the battles are the heroes. Major Winters would say, “…I wasn’t a hero in the war, but I fought in a Company of them.” Very true, this coming from a real hero from the war who saved countless lives, and was an excellent leader to his men. For me, the stories need to be remembered and recounted. It is always more impactful to me when I see grown men cry talking about their buddies, and how they through sheer luck in many cases survived all the battles that they were in. Likely that is a source of endless nightmares and questioning for them. Real stories of course are better than well-told stories from Hollywood. I will also note that the American participation in the war was late in arriving on the European front. Britain, and her allies kept the possibility open for an Allied victory.
A related story that is on Crave these days is called Pearl Harbor: The Accused. This movie that uses actors and some archival footage, is making the case that in the aftermath of Pear Harbor that Four-Star Admiral Kimmel was railroaded and made a scapegoat. The case is made that pertinent intelligence and other valuable information was kept out of the hands of the Admiral in charge of the safety and security for the ships and the men. As a result of the attack, expected inquiries were made (a Supreme Court Justice led the investigation and issued the 20 page report to the President) where they found dereliction of duty. He had two stars removed and his Command was handed over to Admiral Nimitz. His honour was tarnished and people attached him mercilessly. There is part of me that thinks with a hesitant American pubic to be fully engaged in a War in Europe that an act against them directly was inevitable and expected to finally bring them into the War fully. And with the intelligence of the day, I would expect someone knew about the Japanese navy leaving port on November 25th 1941. US intelligence would have spies in the same way that the Japanese did in Hawaii. But it is unlikely that we will uncover this. Presidents from first George Bush to Clinton, Bush and Obama have all been asked to reinstate the stars to disgraced Admiral Kimmel. So far they haven’t. Politics suggests that they won’t given the positive outcome of these decisions and a desire not to dredge up old wounds, whether true or not.
M. Night Shyamalan has had a spotty career with the films he has been involved with over the years. The Indian director made a big splash and had the town buzzing with Sixth Sense (“I see dead people”) in 1999 and followed up a year later with Unbreakable. Then a string of other films came which were ranging from modestly successful (like Signs with Mel Gibson) to outright horrible with The Village or Lady in the Lake or The Visit. He also likes to insert himself into these films as an actor but it doesn’t work as well like it did for Alfred Hitchcock, where it was more a Finding Waldo like joke to Woody Allen, who was an actor in his own right. Honestly he has to do something with that 80s haircut, which I suspect covers ears that resemble Dumbo, but it’s just a guess. Last year, M Night came out with Split which stars James McAvoy as a young man who has multiple personality disorder. McAvoy was brilliant in the role, and he continues with that extraordinary performance in the new film Glass. Glass is on Crave and is more compelling and watchable than I thought it was going to be. The story involves the coming together of three separate films, with Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Split. The stars for each carry on previous roles with Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson and James McAvoy. They are all different in their own way, and brought together by a doctor looking to “cure” them. The doctor works with people who have a superhero complex and she is looking to bring them all back to reality. Jackson is mostly silent throughout the film and Willis is looking to use his perceived powers for good as a vigilante. Willis wants to help find some teenage cheerleaders who were kidnapped by McAvoy’s character. Then other things happen which I won’t go into here. Related characters to the main ones are introduced, and they are looking to help their troubled friends and loved ones. In the end, I liked this and it was worth my time seeing.
Recently with all the 50 years acknowledgements of the moon landings, there have been more and more showings of space and space race related movies. Yet again a little while ago The Right Stuff was played. I own this film on DVD. I re-watch it periodically. When Apollo 13 (also re-shown last week) and then last year First Man came out, I watch them all. I noted in Apollo 13 when the spacecraft was in trouble and Jim Lovell’s Mom was watching the TV, they have Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins sitting with her from Apollo 11. She asks “are you two in the space program?” But anyway, The Right Stuff focuses on the Gemini program and getting Americans into space as the Russians were seemingly ahead and the US Administration didn’t want to “sleep under a red sky”. So they rushed to create a spacecraft, and find people to man them. Test pilots were the ultimate choice, and those who were well known, like Chuck Yeager and others were skeptical of being “spam in a can” and doing the job that a chimpanzee could do. Yeager was the fastest man alive for a time with planes he was flying. The astronauts selected came from all branches of the military and had good acting with Scott Glenn, Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid in the roles. Wives are not excluded from the drama either as we see how their lives are impacted by the chosen profession of their husbands. Barbara Hershey, Pamela Reed are memorable as well as Veronica Cartwright who after her husband Gus Grissom has a mishap with a hatch, doesn’t get to meet Jackie Kennedy and she is crushed by that defeat of no visit to the White House. There are tremendous technical scenes and visuals with the rockets, the planes and re-living these times. I enjoy the humour and good fun that the guys can try to have some laughs even while being put through testing that no human had ever endured before. It is a job where from one day to the next you don’t know whether you are going to come home or not. Scary. Brave. If you have interest in history and space history, this is well worth your time to understand the times. I would like to think that we all worked better together, even though the Vietnam war and the race riots were all part of a very tumultuous time in the world. Maybe it was just one thing that we could seem to agree on when all others failed. And even then getting funding for Apollo was not an easy thing to get, nor keep.
Coming soon – a new Trailer for me that was shared by a friend (who also happened to find They Shall Never Grow Old). Here is a WWI film that I will seek out. I have to admit that I am not generally a Sam Mendes fan, but this looks good. I also think that the “one shot” concept is a bit of a gimmick – and truly it is a series of one shots clearly – otherwise there is no need to wait for clouds. But still ….
No theatre visits this week, but instead some catch up on Crave and Netflix. It started with Untouchable, which is the disturbing documentary about the rise and fall of Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein. What more can be said about the Weinstein story. He has gone from a mogul to pariah, where everyone would take his call, to no one wanting to be associated with him. It’s interesting to note just how early his transgressions began. There was an internal memo at Miramax early on by a female employee that later became a smoking gun. His own brother certainly knew about what was happening and this team of people became enablers for him. He had to privy to writing the cheques to silence the accusers. And there were many accusers over the years, they just became more and more well-known. Also well known too is the lack of whistleblowers. No one wanted speak up for fear of the wrath of Harvey, his litigation team and losing out on plum job opportunities. Powerful people have the ability to abuse power. It becomes a question of character. Not everyone who make it to high positions of power have that character, and certainly don’t always possess the human niceties (see Steve Jobs example). You thought I was going to mention the current President. In the end, the good news is that this awakened a movement (#MeToo) which impacts the industry and life in general.
Welcome to Marwen, is a film that from the trailers didn’t show very well. It was an odd concept, with GI Joe like characters in a make believe world that was the imagination of a talented photographer. It stars Steve Carrell, and directed by Robert Zemekis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Contact and Cast Away). A loner gets beaten up in a bar by some thugs, and then has to deal with the aftermath. He has some friends, but he for most of the time lives in his own world. This world is shown with Barbie like characters and fuzzy storytelling. His biggest feat is whether he can attend the trial and sentencing for the thugs who beat him up. In the end, this isn’t a very strong effort and it fared poorly in the box office.
Finally the documentary Clive Davis: Soundtrack of Our Lives speaks to the life a music executive icon, who didn’t seem to have a problem with keeping aspiring artists from massaging him in his hotel room. His parents died early in his young life, and he ended up putting himself through university and then Harvard Law School. He was never musically inclined, but was offered the position of Legal Counsel at Columbia Records. His role changed after a time there and he became the person to identify and sign new talent. One of many genius moves was to focus on rock n roll rather than the more traditional easy listening music. One of his first signings was Janis Joplin. Others followed like Aretha Franklin, Carlos Santana, Patti Smith, and then Bruce Springsteen and Simon & Garfunkel. Later he managed Whitney Houston. Yes, he also managed Barry Manilow and Kenny G, but these were multi-million dollar acts. He was removed from the record company that he started (Arista) but then was later re-instated as his acts supported him. He continues to this day to listen to top hit music and keep abreast of trends in music. At 87 years old, he is expected to keep doing his job for the foreseeable future. It’s worth a watch.
I connected with my eldest son this past weekend and I talked with him about whether he had any interest in seeing Ad Astra, the new space Brad Pitt vehicle. He responded that he was tired of these space movies and it seemed that there was a new one each year and they were all basically the same. In many ways I agree with him. Some space movies are more realistic Others more fantastical. In this case the story and the scenes increase the level of disbelief to levels that for me just make me laugh. It is Princess Leia flying dead in space level of laughter for me. There are practicalities that even in a futuristic world (extensive underground bases in places like the moon and Mars) leave me scratching my head. If you choose to watch this, then you will know what I mean. The story structure has aspects of Apocalypse Now, with a person who was in a position of power who has seemingly gone off the grid. There is also a father and son dynamic which plays out. There are bits of Gravity, and Interstellar and others In the end, there is an “ending impossible”. To sum up, I hope I have saved you each a couple hours of your life. And you can feel free to ignore the positive review from Roger Ebert.com. You can thank me later.
Also at the theatre this week, just a couple of days after it showed at TIFF, I went and saw Hustlers with Jennifer Lopez. It tells the true story of a group of strippers at Scores Club in NYC. They had a decent lifestyle and business with the Wall Street types until the financial meltdown in 2009. As a result the club suffered and they were collateral damage. Lopez was a well known and popular dancer who took a new young dancer under her wing (played by Crazy Rich Asians Christine Wu). When the crisis hits they reconnect and decide to alter their business model somewhat along with a few new friends and recruits. I have to admit that the story surprised me a little. I went in expecting another telling of a Widows like story (which I quite enjoyed) and it turned out to be very different. Lopez in particular is very good and she shows an edge and street smarts that she hasn’t shown in some time. She is a clever business person and ruthless. She is able to justify in her own mind (and those around her) the actions that she is taking. It was entertaining. I cared about the characters. Sure there is an aspect with strippers parading around but you don’t see any nudity on Lopez or Wu. Lopez has worn less in Awards dresses than what she wears here. Still as a 50yo she holds up very well in the physical aspects of this role. Do you need to see this on a big screen? Not really. Still worth checking out as it was for me on a Cheap Tuesday.
I didn’t get to TIFF. Sad to say, and I tried but I just didn’t get there. In the end there were a couple of days that worked, but the expense just couldn’t be justified. Seeing a Gala at Roy Thompson or others were going to run $45-85 a ticket. I couldn’t justify for films that would be in wide release within weeks. So I was on the sidelines, and not willing at this age to take my time and chances on a Rush ticket (going to the window and hoping that there would be a seat for $25 cash).
Not sure if I have said it before, but it is worth repeating that I don’t like Jesse Eisenberg. I didn’t like him in The Social Network, nor Now You See Me and others. He seems to play himself, or he has been very well typecasted as the small-statured, smarmy, arrogant, know-it-all who after a while you just feel like punching in the face. He plays the same character in The Hummingbird Effect. Conversely the typical casting of Alexander Skarsgard has been one of the hunk, good-looking, menacing hero type (see The Legend of Tarzan or True Blood). In this film, he is a balding, geeky, introverted brother to the marketing guy Eisenberg. Salma Hayek rounds out the stars in this film, which on first take you might believe is based on a true story. It is not. The story focuses around a pipeline to be tunnelled from Kansas City through to NYC. It looks like a fibre optic line from what I can tell, and it requires extraordinary efforts to have 10ths of nanoseconds in order for traders to gain an edge and make money. Jesse is getting funding to pay for this tunnel. All the while his boss, and company owner, Hayek, does her best to thwart the efforts of her now former employees. It seems as it is much ado about nothing. Only in America are these efforts made in order to temporarily save fractions of secs before the next technology makes it extinct. Then there exists the hard line under the Appalachian mountains. Who cares? I am not in any way engaged with this film, and do not care about the characters. Skarsgard towers over Eisenberg and it is funny to see them together. They don’t look like brothers and don’t act like it either. In the end, I shrug my shoulders and don’t really care about it.
I re-watched Sophia Coppala’s Marie Antoinette, and my initial assessment from when I first saw this back in 2006 was re-affirmed. I cannot say that I like the retro soundtrack that was put into this film. Bow Wow Wow “I Want Candy” and other songs have been added which try to make this seem more contemporary, but just don’t seem right. The music of the day would seem to be more fitting. Where has Kirsten Dunst gone, now 13 year ago? She was Mary Jane in Spiderman. She landed this role and many others. You will spot others too like Jamie Dornan, and Tom Hardy in this cast. Jason Schwartzman gives a memorable Louis XVI performance but not one in which the doomed King would have liked. He is quiet, not interested in relations nor a relationship with his young wife, and has trouble (most of the film) in consummating the marriage. The scenes of Versailles itself are amazing and a great reminder of all this place is, both then and now. What a symbol of French opulence!! But you can see how the royalty was completely removed from every day life, a theme that I heard matter-of-factly in The King’s Speech where Colin Firth speaks of not having friends and not knowing how the common man (his subjects) actually live. I would like to think that the trial and beheading of Marie Antoinette would get more attention, as it got none here. She started out as an entitled young Austrian girl, who grew up in the Austrian palace of Schonbrunn in Vienna (also a worthy pace to visit) and married at age 14. But she became a symbol of a monarchy who had lost touch and didn’t care for her people. The consequences of that were fatal, but were more implied than shown here.