May 20th, 2019 (Victoria Day)

This past long weekend I didn’t really watch anything too interesting but for re-watching Dan Brown’s Inferno.   I have already talked about it before as another installment of the Robert Langdon series.   It’s okay.

I also watched before the weekend the Julia Roberts’ film Ben is Back.  It also star the young and up and coming male star Lucas Hedges.   He has done some memorable roles already including Boy Erased with Russell Crowe and the family trying to use conversion therapy on their son to remove his inclination towards other boys (see Nov 26 2018 review).   This film is a lot closer to the other TIFF released from last year Beautiful Boy with Timothee Chalamet (also a very popular and in demand young actor) where Steve Carrell as father tries to understand and help his addicted son.   This was reviewed by me on October 29th in the Halloween edition.    There is a similar arc to both stories with Roberts and Carrell playing the loving (maybe too enabling parent) who wants to help a son who has lost his way.   Or at least he has found a path that the parents disagree with and they view it as self-destructive.   As addicts the boys are both convincing.   They have done terrible things and disappear for stretches of time.   Hedges’ character Ben is coming back early from a stint in Rehab it seems.   Only he seems to think that his returning to his home (with Mom, Step-Dad, younger sister and step-siblings) is a good idea.    He sponsor does not.    The plot is simple with his surprise visit and then as he wanders this small town which may be Vermont (but the mall seems a great deal like Woodbine Centre in Toronto) he gets noticed and recognized by others in the town.   There are some interesting moments, like Mom Julia in the mall which is unexpected.   There are others where Ben seems to have a dark cloud around him and bad things just seem to happen.   His step-father is not impressed.   His Mom tries to smooth things over and make them right.   I thought I knew where this was going and then it changed direction, mildly anyway.   Is it more satisfying than Beautiful Boy?   Not sure.   It’s different but keeps a theme going.   Is the Hedges performance better than Chalamet?   I can’t say that.   He has a couple moments where he needs to show some depth and he addresses them admirably.    What I can say about seeing both of these is that I am glad, so far, that my children haven’t been caught up in this world.   It’s a scary prospect that one who you have cared so closely for takes a U-turn and heads in a direction you can’t understand or relate to in any way.   I guess life is a lottery in many ways and children have to make their own choices.    Julia Roberts has some palpable moments of frustration and I think she attacks the problem for her directly with a moving seen with her son, just the two of them.  You’ll know it when you see it, and it was a moment where I sat and watched and just said “wow”.


May 13th, 2019

Sally Hawkins for me was really kind of introduced for me with her performance in Blue Jasmine, where Cate Blanchett walked away with the Oscar.  She was nominated in a Supporting Role and did not win.   I had not remembered until doing some research that she won the 2009 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Happy Go Lucky (a film I have never seen).   She even defeated Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia.    For me, she reminds me more of Amanda Plummer who was a more quirky actress and known portraying slightly odd and unique characters.    Sally then shot to prominence for her role in 2017 Best Picture Winner Shape of Water, where she was a deaf woman who happens upon a sea creature that was being tortured by his captures for his abilities.  All this to say that until Shape of Water, I didn’t think that she was ready to carry a film, and even then there were strong performances around here.   But I was introduced to the 2016 film called Maudie that she did (and is available on Crave).   This is a film about Canadian artist and native Nova Scotian Maud Lewis.   It also stars Ethan Hawke, who is very strong in his own right in this role.   Maud is an eccentric and person who at first appears not always present and paying attention.  Her brother early on is pawning her off on an Aunt, as the parents have passed and he was not prepared to look after her.   The Aunt isn’t pleased, despite being paid.  She is hurtful and nasty to Maud.   Maud’s life takes a turn that is unexpected as she shows independence and assertiveness that was not revealed before then.    The rest unfolds and I won’t spoil it.    She lives in a small shack, with very modest means near Digby.   She has everyday chores that she attends to, but also she expresses herself through the paints that she finds in the house.   She paints.    Flowers, seaside pictures and things around her.   What at first seems rudimentary is filled with vibrant colours and has a style.   At first she paints mostly small pictures, postcard size or smaller.    A local visitor from New York admires and appreciates her work (and pays her 5 cents).   Hawkins plays Maud incredibly well, from her quiet and jumbled dialog to the physical transformation of her body.   Maud was challenged with arthritis later on in life, but even in early days she had a foot that lagged.    All this is displayed by Hawkins and you get a real sense of the woman and what was driving her.    Hawke too shows evolution in his character and his relationship with this woman.  You can see how one life impacts another.    As little as I knew of Sally Hawkins, I knew even less about Maud Lewis.   The CBC has done interviews with her as she got more notoriety, including then Vice President Nixon wanting a picture from her.   If you wonder, as I did, what are her paintings worth now, well the highest I saw was $22,000.   I liked this film better than I thought I would.  If film can peer into the life of another person, who you wouldn’t have ever met (or maybe you passed by on the road way driving in the country with a Paintings for Sale homemade sign) then this can give some greater insight.   This movie shows that Shape of Water was no mistake, nor Happy Go Lucky.

In looking back upon my reviews, I don’t see a review for the classic space horror film Alien, which has spawned numerous sequences, and prequels.   The original by Ridley Scott is a masterpiece of suspense and horror.   It is filled with jumps, starts and surprises.   It was released in 1979, just a couple short years after Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977.    But it takes a different tack, but using the by-line “In space no one can hear you scream”.   And there is remarkable costume work in the creation of the creature; both in its earliest form and the larger adult version.   It won the Oscar for Best Effects-Visual Effects, with H.R. Giger there who created the creature.   In short, it changed the game and challenged all others to follow to try and match it, in creativity and fierceness.   This was a horrifying vision.  The plot is simple enough, a mining ship is heading home with a load of minerals, and the crew is awoken early by the master computer (“Mother”) to check out a signal “of unknown origin”.   For those fans of Prometheus and Alien Covenant you see the genesis of the ideas surrounding the creature (or those who came before) having seemingly crash landed on a desolate planet in a massive ship.   There are hints of the Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey in ways that become apparent when the plot turns that way.   A very young and strong willed Sigourney Weaver is introduced and she is the focus of the film eventually, and certainly in those sequels that came after.    Ridley Scott would disclaim any responsibility for these but he eagerly took on the prequels back in 2012 (man 7 years ago already!).   Suffice it to say that if you like suspense, and you like seeing the origins of science fiction thrillers then this is a good place to start.   If you like Ridley Scott’s work, then this a film to see, especially if you liked the more recent prequels in this series.

May 6th, 2019 (Classics – Top 3)

This past week I have been away and lamenting the fact there aren’t any movies that I care to see or spend money on at the theatre.  I am also recognizing that many of my favourite films are ones I have seen long ago and haven’t been reviewed here.  I was asked just a couple days ago what memorable movies have I watched lately and I was hard pressed to think of many.  It is easier to back into my own personal archives in my head to come up with favourite movies. So as a result I will take some time to talk about films that are on the top of my list.  Typically when I am asked about my favourite film I will say that I have three.  There are lists that were noted earlier in my writing.  The top ones haven’t changed. But let me expand upon the selections and why.
Shawshank Redemption is a choice that I have discussed before usually referring to other films or lists.  To me, this is really a film about friendship and hope. Having just spent a few days with a really good friend, I value this tremendously. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is a young banker and accused of murdering his wife, who had announced she was divorcing him. He is found guilty and sent to a Maine prison in the 40s. He meets up with “Red”, played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman. Most, if not all readers, will know the plot from here as Andy goes through his time at Shawshank. These two men and others around them find the value of hope, and friendship as well as being “institutionalized”. There is drama and suspense and an unexpected resolution. I think I am most moved by one the closing scenes with Red. Andy has made a request of him and he looks to fulfill it. In that moment when an uncertain leap of faith has materialized a lifeline is given.  Hope.  This is an old reliable film that I can watch time and again.  Each time it moves me even though I know where the story is going.  The performances are universally solid. The warden, the chief of the guards (Mr Hadley) and the librarian are all very good.  This is a film on the top of many people’s lists that I know, both men and women. It surprises me a little about women since they are not represented here for the story.  But I think a good story is still a good story. See it if you haven’t. See it again if you haven’t in a while.

Jaws I re-saw just at the end of December on the big screen at TIFF Lightbox as part of a special presentation. I brought my youngest son.  We had Jaws t-shirts on and watched in a crowded theatre.  This for me is two stories.  There is the small town drama in the beginning for the town council to make a tough decision about beaches being closed during the beginning of peak summer holiday season.  But once made, it turns into an adventure on the sea with nature playing chess with man.  It is a master directorial effort by Steven Spielberg in the film that made his career. With a wonky and temperamental mechanical shark in real life, he found ways for the viewer to believe the shark was there.  Barrels and music were key contributors. Colourful Quint (Robert Shaw) and his story of the USS Indianapolis adds to the seriousness but there are a few laughs along the way.  I saw this film multiple times in the theatre when it first came out as a kid.  I had a memorable plastic shark given as a stocking stuffer that year for Christmas.  I can watch this film time and again. I still have a bucket list item to try and see a great white (or other big shark) up close in their territory.  Quite simply the beginning of summer blockbusters and the remarkable film career for Steven Spielberg.

Finally I have Amadeus as a third favourite.  I also saw this not too long ago when it played with a live orchestra at the Toronto Hummingbird Centre. What a performance! For me I am in awe of the creative process and Mozart remains one of the world’s foremost composers ever.  He was a rock star of his age, but most think of those composers as stuffy and serious performing “boring” music.  It is far from it. Mozart was creating new and remarkable works that stand the test of time.  When Sir Neville Marriner the music director for Academy of St Martins in the Fields was asked about being part of this film (it was a play first) he said he was interested but only if “not one note of the music was changed”.  It wasn’t.  And the music is another character in the movie.  Listen how Antonio Salieri speaks about the Mozart music he hears and sees on the page.  He is a rival, he wants to be famous himself, but he is angry at God for not giving him the talent. He can only recognize the incarnation.  He represents the “Everyman” who puts in his time and then fades away.  I think the by-play between the two men is remarkable.  F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for this performance defeating Tom Hulce.  He is amazing.  It is a performance of a lifetime and one he landed right after finishing with Scarface.  There are some funny stories about filming in Prague in the early 80s.  Milos Forman the director was a native Czech who was just returning to his homeland having fled the Communists. Not many films show the creative process.  Fewer still can reflect it as well on such a timeless subject as this one.  Is this story true?  No. There are plenty of accounts that suggest that Salieiri was not in any involved in the death of Mozart.  Still the story is is relatable and compelling.  It is truly heartbreaking to see the great musical genius taken away at such an early age. One wonders what further masterpieces he would have made.  This film showcasing his talent is just another one.

April 29th, 2019

This past week I caught the release of Sharkwater: Extinction on Crave.  It was being released there as part of Earth Day.  This is the sequel to the much praised first film entitled Sharkwater, where the filmmaker was the young, Canadian Rob Stewart.  In 2006, he had pointed out the remarkable shark fin industry to address the primarily Asian wish for shark fin soup.   Certain countries, like Costa Rica, were allowing or turning a blind eye to these activities taking place in their waters.   The resulting outcry of support galvanized a public that didn’t really know what was happening around them.    Stewart began in 2016 filming the sequel, and then giving nothing away perished in a freak diving accident while using a rebreather.   These inventions do help divers by taking up less oxygen and don’t have bubbles so they can get closer to fish and they can dive deeper and longer.   Like many machines, if they fail they have serious consequences.   Rob Stewart’s failed.   He died.   The half finished film was stuck in limbo but those involved chose to finish it.   The result is a weak follow up to the original.    The original premise of shark fin soup being the reason for all this destruction is supplemented with the idea that dog food, and other things that we eat contain shark.   There is a even a test on these products to show that there are traces of shark.   But it isn’t as compelling.   We have no idea of the scale.  Heaven knows what’s in a hot dog.   Yet tell people at a baseball game to refrain from eating and it will fall on deaf ears.   Still in the end the number of sharks killed are staggering.   Millions and millions, and then there are those who kill them for “sport”.  The bigger, the better of course.   I really feel as though to make it a fair fight, the shark should be in the water with the potential killer there armed with what he could carry.  Then bring it on.   Who is the apex predator now?  We’d find out.   Having opposing thumbs and being able to utilize tools shouldn’t give us the right to wipe out a creature who has lasted millions of years before we ever arrived.   And that really is the message, and it’s one the bears repeating.   So Rob Stewart, although you have move on too early, your message was delivered.   Maybe people can wake up again.

A GOT thought or two, for episode 3.

First and foremost I was really surprised by how darkly this was lit.   I get that it’s at night and there is no electric lighting (in castles or on the outside) but damn, this was hard to discern who was doing what to whom!  This was also probably one of the longer moving pictures with so little dialog in 80+ minutes.   So very little is said, that the pictures tell the whole story.   Some die, some are redeemed, some live to die another day presumably.   I won’t spoil too much because lots happens.   I will note that Dothraki were always major horse-riding bad asses, and in this battle (even with supplemented fire swords) they last painfully little time.  Also we have the Night King showing an ability that so far I have never seen from any character, by controlling the weather.   And if he didn’t in fact control a pending storm, then the timing would be uncanny!   Finally I note that this battle with the White Walkers was overwhelmingly one sided.  I likely will need to see again.   Still.  Much better episode than number 2, but that wasn’t that hard a bar to overstep.

April 22nd, 2019

For this week, I was looking at what is currently in theatres and I am underwhelmed.  Nothing captures my interest, and certainly not my movie-going dollar.   So I go back to Netflix, and these days Crave.

This weekend I watched Tulip Fever, which has an impressive cast including Alicia Vikander, Christoph Walz, Dame Judy Dench and that guy from that sci-fi mistake Valerian and Thousand Planets or something or rather.   How can you spend so much money on quality talent and then hand then a rudimentary story.   All of this is framed around the famed Tulip exchange and marketplace from the 17th Century in Amsterdam.   We were all reminded of the Tulip curve as Bitcoin went on its maniacal stretch run late last year reached $22,000 a coin to back to earth nowadays.   Gordon Gecko also had a picture of the price on his office wall.   In short, a marketplace can sometimes turn inexplicable.   Anyway, that backdrop where certain characters get caught in the buying and selling frenzy of tulip bulbs is interlaced with a slow story about an older, established man (Walz) who has had a previous marriage where his children were taken and he “buys” the services of a new wife (Vikander).   All that he wants is another baby (I think there is a song kind of like that) and they are having a tough time conceiving.   He decides, out of the blue, to have a portrait painted of himself from a young local artist.  You see, nothing says virility amongst your friends and community like having a hot wife on your arm.   Seems not much changes over the ages.   So he wants a picture of him and her.    She then connects with the painter and then all stories head in various directions.   The absurdity of the Tom Hollander aspect of this mess comes to light quickly.   But maybe that is the point as the whole tulip market was an absurdity in itself.    But quality actors are wasted in this tale.   It spent very little time at the theatre, and I am pleased that I managed to see it at home.    Pass on it.

The second episode of Game of Thrones was last night, and I have to admit to being underwhelmed.   And without giving anything away, and truly there wasn’t much to actually give away in this episode, the turning point in my viewing was when a number of characters are sitting around a fire and one says “does anyone know a song?”   Really?!   I was half expecting them to look at one another and say “No” but then Ed Sheeran would peer out from a back curtain and belt out a tune!   And can I mention a word about episode one of this Season 8, where for the first time that I recall has anyone ever talked about the practicalities of feeding and providing for a sizeable army.   Sansa Stark has her Captain Obvious moment where she mentions “I have provisions for the people of Winterfell, but not all these additional people”.  Horses, people, tents, weapons, etc.   It’s a fair point, but could have been brought forward early in Season 1.   But never mind.    Episode 2 was and is the pre-cursor to next week where FINALLY we have an epic battle between the White Walkers and those in Winterfell.    It’s taken an eternity to come to this point.   But bring it!!   Instead we get this kumbaya moment of characters awaiting their fate and deciding what they wish to do with it.   It’s almost as though we have a listing of current characters for the Death Pools that have run rampant on the Net.   Who will live, and who will die in this battle?   Yawn.   This has been a series that from the beginning has just gotten on with it, and this felt like filler.    Next week should be a different story as we see dragons again, doing what dragons do!!

April 15th, 2019 (Notre Dame burns)

It is with a heavy heart that I write today.  Today was a shocking day, and I have been more deeply impacted by it than I would have expected.   I was sent a CBC news clip about the fire and burning at Notre Dame in Paris midday.   I watched in absolute horror as the spire that had been there for 150 years fell under the bright red and orange flames, smoke billowing up thick into the deep blue Paris late afternoon sky.   As I watched the news feeds flipping between CBC and CNN I was thinking back on my visits to Notre Dame.   Each time I visited Paris.  In 2016 I made a point of going up Notre Dame because I haven’t braved the line ups before.   I am so glad that I did.  I think about history, and what we have lost today.   It’s not just wood and roof and metal.   It’s living history, not just for Paris or France or the Catholic Church, but for the world.   We all lose when iconic places are taken from us.  Whether by accident or terrorist attack or on purpose.   My favourite city anywhere is Paris.   This latest loss for this City of Light hurts.   I feel for the people of Paris and for those who love her around the world.   Perhaps we can all come together and ensure that funding is raised to allow for a complete restoration of this marvel of architecture so my children can go climb up.    Here are some of my memories and pics from this place:

image2image1Notre Dame Rose Window SeineNotre Dame

On to the movies, for this week I am reviewing older films that I chose to re-visit.  I realize that films I truly enjoy from years ago I don’t review here generally as I am watching more recent releases.   But sometimes it’s good to see some older friends again.   This week I will first bring forth is the 2000 BBC film Billy Elliot, which is loosely based on a real story.   It’s been made into a musical but the original had some great music (like T Rex and The Jam) but was a story.   In it, during the mid 1980’s in Ireland with the coal miners’ strike, Maggie Thatcher was busy breaking the unions and it dragged on and on.   A family who had two boys, had the Father and older brother both miners fighting to keep solidarity, and daily throwing eggs and profanities at those who were “scabs” and choosing to work.   The Mom in the household died at 38yo, and Grandma has moved in with these guys.  Billy, the younger son at 11yo (played in a breakout performance by Jamie Bell) is taking boxing lessons but his heart just isn’t into it.   He is intrigued by the dance school run by Julie Walters as he feels the music.   His older brother and Father can’t know about his interest as they feel all men in ballet are poofs.   So sets the stage for things to unfold.   Along comes an opportunity to try out for a spot at the National Ballet School in London.   What moves me, is the transformation in Dad as he sees what his son can do and he recognizes for a little bit the talent is there.   He does something so against his character and beliefs, but he is struggling mightily to show support for his sons.   Both older and younger.   The family is real and doing their best in an awful time.   Performances all around are really good.   Julie Walters was nominated for an Oscar.    If you are looking for a feel-good film to pass away some rainy April evening, this is a good one to try.

I also watched Christian Bale in an earlier role for him in American Psycho.  Based on the book with the same name, this story from the 1980s where a young Patrick Bateman (Bale) could be a protege of Gordon Gecko from Wall Street.  He and his virtually identical friends care about their business cards and impossible restaurant reservations they obtain more so than people and those around them.   Bateman himself professes that he has no feelings behind his perfectly manicured and freshly masqued face.   He is more and more troubled by his tendency to want to injure and kill people.   He is disturbed but is a product of his time.   He can wax on endlessly about music (which is very strong throughout the film – and was the largest expense in its production to obtain the rights) all the while putting a raincoat to avoid getting blood splatters on his white shirt.

Bale plays the role so well while supporting cast members like Jared Leto and Josh Lucas and policeman Wilem Dafoe add to the drama and those around him.   It is disturbing.   It is funny to watch so into any one person so focused on their own looks (hair, body, face, smile, everything) that while having sex they can be looking not at the woman, but at themselves in the mirror flexing their bicep.   This isn’t Bale’s best work but he is building his body of work in this role.   Between the two year 2000 films, I would choose Billy Elliot first to watch.

Finally, Game of Thrones Season 8 began Sunday rather slowly I felt.   And I was a little disappointed in the direction of the Sam Tarley.  I won’t give away any spoilers.   But I will say that there is enough conflict and squabbling amongst leaders that more wasn’t necessary.   Oh, and I don’t and have never liked the Sansa Stark character.   ‘Nuf said.

April 8th, 2019

On Netflix, I watched the New Release Switch.  In 1999, M Night Shyamalan wrote and directed the memorable and well received Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis.   He was 29yo.   Since that time he has rolled out more clunkers than Chrysler rolled out K-cars.   Among those include The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Visit.  It is amazing given the track record that people fund these projects.   Michael Cimino does Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter and then Heavens Gate and can’t get another movie made  (save Year of the Dragon).   M Night also likes to put himself into his movies in roles.   He adds nothing to these roles.  Alfred Hitchcock and Stan Lee like cameos, but they aren’t really speaking parts.  But this is all beside the point.

The movie itself belongs to James McAvoy.   He gives a performance where he plays someone with multiple personality disorder.   The story begins with a kidnapping (a random spot where three young women are taken from a mall parking lot in their Dad’s car) and they wake up isolated in a random place.   Betty Buckley (yes of Eight is Enough fame and the musical Cats) is a researcher and psychologist who is trying to show multiple personality people as being evolved and better.   Things happen.  There is an ongoing question about who is in charge of the body of the McAvoy character.    And he can switch brilliantly from a young adolescent boy, to a proper older woman to various other male characters.   It’s worth a viewing for this performance.   Now this character is getting involved with other movies to come (notably Glass).  This combines a few M Night characters into a new film.   Funny, I don’t need to see it.

I also spent some time to watch Sicario: Day of the Soldado.   This is an ill-conceived sequel to the original Sicario.   The original was an interesting story about the feds and others working to take revenge on the drug cartels.   Emily Blunt was in it (and missing from this sequel) and also starring Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.  Brolin and Del Toro play the same characters who this time want to break up the human smuggling that was and is going on.  They live on the fringes and try to exact change in an imperfect world.    This sequel never captures the energy, nor the story of the first.   Not even the cinematography was as good.   I can’t recommend this film.

Finally I started watching Season 1 of True Detective on HBO.   This stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in a good, well written crime drama set in Louisiana.   The writing is crisp and raw and real.   It’s worth checking out.