November 30th, 2020

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

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

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

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

November 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 16th, 2020

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

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

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

November 9th, 2020

Five Feet Apart:  if you liked the teenage angst movie The Fault in Our Stars, then perhaps this movie will warm your heart and bring a tear to your eye.   A female teen has been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis which is a disease of the lungs.   She is played admirably by the spunky Hayley Lu Richardson who I admit has many mannerisms and looks of my daughter.   She has just returned to hospital after a spiked fever.   There she meets the moody Will who is not so accepting of his more recent diagnosis.   What seems most eerie in these days of Covid-19 are the masks, the isolation (using FaceTime meetings) and keeping six feet apart.   You see, for two people with CF if they get any bacteria from another CF patient, then it can be potentially fatal.   So much of what is now everyday for us in 2020 would when it was filmed have been unusual.   I wonder aloud about how CF patients with such a compromised lung system fare with Covid-19.  I suspect it isn’t very good since essentially they run at limited lung capacity to begin with and ultimately this is what takes their life; dying from lack of oxygen. This movie tries hard to illicit tears, and can be successful on a couple of occasions.   It boils down to whether you care about the characters and whether they have been convincing in their disease.   I won’t get into the details as they really aren’t necessary to a viewer’s enjoyment.   If this is your kind of story, and you feel like a cry then you can spend some time here.  Incidentally the five feet apart is our heroine taking back a foot from the disease that has taken so much from her.  

The Queen’s Gambit:  a new series on Netflix.  Anya Taylor-Joy who was more well known for scary teen movies stars in this fictional account of a young chess prodigy.  She is orphaned at the age of 9 and placed in an orphanage where she is provided with drugs and generally mistreated.   She makes some friends, including a custodian who plays chess in the basement office.   He teaches her and she is a very quick study.   In time she reads more about chess and strategy and improves to be invited to play against the local high school chess team.   Despite being much younger she defeats them all.  About the same time she is taken in by a husband and wife looking to adopt.  Well, the wife is looking to adopt, the husband doesn’t seem too interested in anything.   The wife takes a passing interest in the chess between drinks.   The story progresses as we see her move from the local stage (Kentucky State Finals) to national and then internationally.   I am no chess expert but I know someone who is and they state the chess is very realistic.   Filmed well and gives a sense of what it was like during the late 1950s and playing chess.   The Russians are formidable and rule that world.   Things happen.  The prodigy grows up and learns to deal with adult challenges.   This was despite claiming to be Kentucky was filmed in Cambridge Ontario.   So there is a Canadian aspect to this.   I thoroughly enjoyed this despite a bit of a predictable ending.   All through it I was thinking about different (and darker) possibilities, thinking my about another prodigy like Bobby Fischer and his story (which despite other prominent players of the time being mentioned was not in this film).  Well worth a viewing

November 2, 2020

So it snowed last night here in Toronto. Can’t say that I am anxious to see the Winter coming back this way. Add to the cold and the darkness, since we also fell back Saturday night for Daylight Savings Time, plus a new surge in Covid-19 cases, and it means that we here are more isolated once again and holed up inside our own places for the time being. It means no theatres (closed down once again) and watching some of the seemingly infinite content on the streaming services. So here goes:

Just Mercy: from the book by Bryan Stevenson, unread by me so far, about a young black Harvard schooled lawyer from Delaware, who decides after an internship in the criminal justice system in Alabama to head there and defend those on death row. Michael B Jordan (of Black Panther fame) plays the young Stevenson. He has managed to secure a grant from the Federal Government, and proceeds down to Alabama to meet clients. One in particular, played by Jamie Foxx is a young black man who was convicted of killing an 18-yo white teenager in a store in a small town where To Kill A Mockingbird was set. The irony is not lost on the viewer. This movie is timely in that it shows, once again, how in 1989 (not ancient history) that discrimination and unequal treatment (and defending) under the law is very prevalent. As this week there is a Presidential election, don’t forget too that in the US, District Attorneys, Sheriffs and Judges are all voted on as well. This is NOT the case in Canada, where these positions are appointed. Nevertheless, what the viewer sees is a system where the Sheriff and D.A. have on one man’s testimony, which was coerced out of him, had a man (Johnny D) convicted for first degree murder with the death penalty. This was a high profile case, where they relied on the shaky testimony of that previously convicted witness over 20 plus people in Johnny D’s community who swear under oath that he was not even in the town the day of the murder. The viewer will be amazed at the results. There are good performances all around, and I can easily recommend this movie.

Soul of America is a very interesting documentary which speaks to this particular time in American history. Seen through the eyes of Vanderbilt professor and former editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham, this is the story from his best selling 2018 book of the same name. In it, he explains how despite to hyperbole and protestations of news groups these days, he sees this time as a logical extension to what has transpired over in the US to date. In his mind, progress seems to made on issues like rascism, equality, women’s rights etc but then the tide will ebb back. He sees various Presidents, a couple notables like Woodrow Wilson and FDR are mentioned, but they still have their moments of questionable behaviour like the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. In his argument, there are Angels and Darkness, and for the time being we are in a time of darkness. This is no small part to a population who reads less, listens less (to radio for example) and gets their information from online sources. My more recent reviews will show how each person is targeted in that “newsfeed” and there isn’t a sense of collective understanding. So these factors have conspired to bring about this schism in American society. So rather than being surprised by what he sees, he thinks that we can learn from history (like the 1930s with the Depression, or the 1960s with the civil rights movement) and hope to find a leader who wishes to lead. This was instructive and informative and shed light on a checkered past which can hopefully guide the future that should be given direction sometime this month after tomorrow’s election.

Fahrenheit 451: Michael Shannon and Michael B Jordan star in this story from Ray Bradbury. From a Canadian perspective, it was filmed in and around Toronto and Hamilton. The story itself is another dystopian future society where a centralized government is burning all the books so that the collective society can be told what to think. It’s not a compelling story to me as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, which now is a new series out on Showcase. Overall it was okay. I can’t recommend it, even though I always enjoy the intense Michael Shannon in his roles.

You Are Here: Come From Away Story: If you haven’t seen the musical Come From Away, then this documentary will not only address the background source story, but also the reaction and follow up from its release and success. I have to say that this moving story makes me a very proud Canadian. Sure we Canadians are viewed globally as being “nice” and “polite” but this further shows small town Canada, Maritime Canada and all of its special gifts which we get as a country but can often forget. The story begins with the terrible events of September 11, 2001, where on a bright and sunny morning two commercial aircraft are hijacked and slammed into the World Trade Center in New York, as well as taken from midair over Pennsylvania. Once the threat is identified, all aircraft worldwide heading towards the US are grounded. For many that means being forced to land in Gander Newfoundland, the furthermost east airport in North America. Gander is a very small town, with a population of roughly 7000. Thirty eight (38) widebody jets landed at Gander that day, with total passengers of 6600. The passengers came from throughout the globe and were initially kept on board and told nothing about world events for the first 24 hours. The people of Gander didn’t know what to expect, but had to act quickly to find food and shelter for their new shocked guests. Boy did they respond! They housed, fed, clothed all of these guests and treated them as their own. They showed Eastern hospitality as only they can do so. When those planes left up to five days later, they left as new friends and family. A couple from the Sheridan College Theatre program decided to interview the people involved and created a musical called Come From Away. It has been a smash hit, and nominated for 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and won for Best Direction. The rest of the story is just heart warming, as you see the people who out of the kindness in their hearts did what they felt was the right thing, and get to see the results of these actions. This story does show that love can triumph over hatred; that kindness can overcome uncertain times. People can rise up collectively and be counted and view others as fellow human beings, worthy of assistance and a hug. If you haven’t seen Come From Away the Musical, check it out. If you don’t know this story, check out this documentary for a short time of warmth in cold and dark days that we have presently.

The Mandalorian Season 2: Disney has only released the first episode of season 2, to much fan fare. You see the practical part of me thinks on this story, that the Mandalorian really shouldn’t risk his neck or that of the child for the sake of this Marshall. Overpower him, kill him and get back what you want. Roll credits. But it’s not really an episode. Then again, this particular story doesn’t move the tale of returning the Child to his kind either.

1991: This a Canadian/Quebec film currently on Netflix. It is a university relationship movie with a young man who thinks he has found his partner, although he hasn’t really told her as such. She decides to take a semester in Italy over a summer and invites him to go along. His parents seeing a lack of funds and no real motive for him to go push back in colourful and funny Quebec style (certainly the Mom does). There are a couple of smiles as I watch this and you try to anticipate what happens to this young man on his travels. It was okay. I can’t recommend it beyond being an escape from watching reality TV.

October 26th, 2020

One of the things about growing numbers in COVID-19 cases, there is more time to be watching new things.

David Byrne: American Utopia: This was a film that was at TIFF, and was well received. David Byrne, for those who don’t know, was the lead singer of the Talking Heads and had a well received concert movie, Stop Making Sense, back in 1984 which I remember seeing at the theatre at Bloor and Avenue road. But I digress. Byrne has been busy with putting together a new band and performing on Broadway. Spike Lee saw the show and decided that it might be a good idea to put it on film. This was the result. It is more concert than Broadway production. The band is collectively outstanding, and they bring forth sounds like carried instruments that are quite remarkable. There are known songs to me, like Burning Down the House and This Must Be The Place, but many more that I didn’t know. Still it was enjoyable for me. If you like Byrne and his music, you will likely enjoy this. If you don’t, well then you’re best to stay away. I was glad I saw it, but I also was left thinking “is this it?” It was. Upon finishing, I was pleased I didn’t spend $25 on a TIFF ticket to watch it.

Corner Gas: The Movie: I did see this. It was mind candy, and Canadian mind candy at that. By this I mean as I spoke about when I talked about James vs His Future Self, that Canadian productions can often just look not as authentic. They are cheaper productions. The series, not previously watched by me, is about a small town in Saskatchewan and its inhabitants revolving around a corner gas station. The story goes on too long and quite honestly I cannot recommend it, unless you are a die-hard fan of the series.

The Great Hack: I was recommended to watch this by my eldest son. If you weren’t aware of the UK company Cambridge Analytica, then you will be well aware of it after you see this. If you weren’t aware of your own data, and personal information about yourself, that you may choose to post on social media platforms (predominantly Facebook in this story, but equally important are Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Instagram etc) then be prepared to have your eyes opened. The Social Dilemma touched on these issues, this is another tangent for them and explores the implications to democracy and the voting in elections. Primarily there is talk about the Trump Presidential election in 2016 and the Brexit vote also in 2016. What these two have in common in the analytics company who complied data from Facebook and would scrape it to find what they called “Persuadables”; those who are on the fence in how they are going to vote. The other key aspect is the State in which they live, whether it was a pivotal State like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. By obtaining 500+ data points on EACH VOTER, then they were able to target specific ads to the people that they wanted. The Trump campaign claimed to have run 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s 66,000. The real revelation for me was that each individual had a targeted news or ad feed. So I don’t see the same ads or news as someone from another area of the country. By having personalized, targeted news there isn’t any longer a collective understanding. This explains a lot. From a legal perspective, the idea that an UK based company, subject to stronger EU Privacy laws would refuse to disclose to an individual the data that they have about them was shocking. If you think that the data you share about yourself is yours, and you control it. You don’t. Another scary revelation was that within Facebook, if one of your friends decided to fill out some personality survey, then your information may also be used, just because they are your friend. You never consented to anything, or the sharing of your data, but it was sent. It is troubling to see just how far this goes. I have often said that I believe that the opening up US news stations to opinion and 24 hour news, was the turning point in the divisiveness that plagues the country. Turns out, the social media explosion also further widens the divide among the people. Long gone are the days of collectively people watched the 6PM News with Walter Cronkite (or Tom Brokaw or whomever). In thirty minutes everyone saw the news of the day. Now people aren’t reading newspapers. They watch news, but their own view on “news”. What they see are less facts and more opinion. A debate can be watched, but then switch to your favourite channel and the talking heads will spin their own opinion as to who won and why. If you have any interest in technology, or your rights to your data, or how your data has been used without your knowledge or consent, this is a program that is worth your time. The law always trails in discussions like this, but expect new legal battlegrounds as people decide just how much these powerful platforms that hold much of who you are decide what can be done with your information. Our democracy is at stake for voting and the ability to recognize hate mongers, demagogues and dictators. A week tomorrow is the Presidential election. We will see the ripple effects of another divisive election in the US. The world is watching.

North Country: my youngest in his Law class in high school was watching the 2005 movie with an excellent cast including Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek, Jeremy Renner, Woody Harrelson and others. It focuses on the story in 1989 in a small northern Minnesota mining town where a young single Mom of two wants to work at the local mine. Women were granted the right to work at the mine in 1975, but by 1989 women were still outnumbered thirty to one at the site. The culture at the mine was one of overt hostility to the women, as it was felt that it was “man’s work” and that these women were taking a higher paying job from a man. The male employees were verbally, physically and indirectly harassing of these women. It is painful to watch. Ultimately the story deals with the class action lawsuit against the mine company for collective sexual harassment, actions and misconduct. In the movie Theron takes action but was alone, which put strains on her relationships with co-workers but also townspeople, her children and her parents. Dad is also a worker in the mine and has his own issues to grapple with. Useful aspects address how winning a lawsuit doesn’t necessarily win the day for you all around. You can see why women who had plenty to lose had often decided to just stay quiet. This is an interesting story from a legal and personal perspective. One can see how opposing counsel on such complaints of sexual harassment attack the female complainant, and how the rights to cross examine the accusers are not reciprocal. The #Metoo movement has assisted somewhat but it is still a daunting task to undertake. Check it out.

October 19th, 2020

Trial of the Chicago 7: This movie was just released on Netflix this past weekend. It has an impressive cast including Oscar winners Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance, with Sasha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, J Gordon-Levitt and others. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin you know that it will have really good dialog, from his previous efforts like Molly’s Game, Steve Jobs, The Social Network, Moneyball etc. From TV he wrote series like The West Wing and The Newsroom. The story focuses on the story of a trial for eight organizers of protests outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968. One of the eight was the leader of the Black Panthers. Others included Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and Jerry Rubin. Most only know Hoffman as the flamboyant and outrageous hippie from Woodstock and other memorable gatherings. J Gordon-Levitt is the young prosecutor on the case sent by John Mitchell (the new Attorney General under the Nixon White House). This is a quality political and court room drama. One can see the effect of a judge in a proceeding. Further one can make parallels with the uncertain times with much unrest in the population. There is a Republican President (Nixon) with his own agenda, his own views of Presidential power and how the country should be run. A change in the Oval Office leads to a change in the treatment of those who attended the rally, where there was some police instigated violence, and also addressed those who were still protesting the Viet Nam war effort. Discussion is made about a “political trial” where Abbie Hoffman first brings up the concept. The events of the actual arrests unfold over time and we can see the actions of the police and those of the City of Chicago. In short, I think Sorkin has out together an excellent cast who dramatize the events of this group in uncertain political times. Lessons to the present day are everywhere. Rylance as one of the lawyers does an excellent job continuing the educate the presiding Judge over the lack of legal representation of the Black Panther leader. This is definitely worth your time to view.

James Vs His Future Self: I have to admit that my limited experience with Canadian film generally leaves me with an idea at first that the Canadian subject may feel like “second class”. It’s kind of like watching a made-for-TV movie rather than Hollywood production. With Canadian content rules you see many of the same Canadian actors. But more recently I watched and enjoyed Away From Her, and now I have seen this with Daniel Stern (from Home Alone, Wonder Years and Diner fame). He plays the elder version of himself in a time travel movie that principally deals with issues like love, marriage, work, quality of life etc. Younger James, played by Jonas Chernick is a scientist in a large company who is looking to advance the technology in time travel. He is one of the principal researchers and looking to obtain a promotion from the principal researcher. Along comes his future self, proving that it works, but discouraging him from doing so, because of what he personally has given up for the sake of the project. There is a push and pull of his present self justifying his own ambitions and looking to convince the older self that he can make it turn out differently. All of this is filmed in Sudbury, of all places, but the lake and the environment are inviting. Much to my surprise I did enjoy this. The high tech and CGI was downplayed and the story with the characters emphasized.

The story with James builds on a theme for a book I was reading entitled Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, the Detroit sports writer and author. It is a quick read and discusses Albom’s meeting up with his old college professor as he is fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). It is not a disease for the squeamish. But Morrie has a different perspective, feeling as though he wants to live by helping others, not fading away into obscurity, quietly passing away. He reaches out. He does TV interviews with Ted Koppel of Nightline (three times) and expresses his views on the important things in life. Love, Marriage, Family, Relationships, Friends – not Money, Power, Prestige, Work and Objects. He is a rich man for the things that matter to him, intent on teaching until the end, and showing others how life corrections can happen at any time. I am thankful to have read this and it was impactful for me.

October 12th – Canadian Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all for the Canadian Thanksgiving. It has been a surreal time and with Toronto’s COVID-19 cases rising to levels unseen since March the city has been starting to shut down again, like gyms and indoor seating in restaurants. For me, ice hockey has been suspended for the next few weeks, which really sucks. For me, I am most thankful that those I care about are COVID-19 free. Everyone in my immediate circle remains healthy, thank goodness. Kids, parents, friends are all lucky enough not to be touched by this virus. Schools are back in session but many are taking classes remotely. These are strange days indeed, and the possibility is that there won’t be exams for high school students.

On the TV, I have started watching Ridley Scott’s Raised By Wolves. It is a futuristic story with human beings born and raised by humanoid androids who have some seemingly special powers. I am only a couple of episodes in.

I am also watching The Third Day with Jude Law. More and more it feels like the Midsommar story which I didn’t really like. It was previously reviewed, but it was ultimately just weird with people who don’t act like they should. In The Third Day, which was at TIFF, Law is a guy who from England who has a financial transaction heading south. He is driving near the western shores of England and comes upon a strange happening with a young girl. He ends up taking her to this island only reachable by a road that disappears with the tides, and so is only traversable twice a day. On the island, he runs into odd characters who have their own religion. Emily Watson assists him with a hotel room. Things happen that are simply strange. In Episode 2, after what can only be considered an ordeal, Law has the ability to leave the island. He doesn’t go. Then more bad things happen predictably. I lose sympathy for those people who act outside what the average person would do, and for little reason. On Crave there are only four episodes and I was thinking/hoping that this would be the end. It isn’t. Episode 4 makes even less sense, but tries hard to justify itself at the end. There, like most horrors these days, have uncomfortable pictures of weird things. It can be a gross out – although it is by means a slasher series. Anyway I am growing less enamored by it each episode.

Finally I completed watching McMillions, which was a docuseries which addresses the (unknown to me) scam in the early 2000s with the Monopoly game at McDonalds. There was a rumour flying around the Jacksonville FL FBI office that there was something amiss with the popular game where Monopoly pieces are collected off drink, fries and burger purchases. There was even a possibility that one could instantly win a million dollars ($50,000 a year paid over 20 years). It generated significant extra sales for McDonalds when the game was on. McDonalds had outsourced the game to a Marketing company who had the pieces made at a secure facility in a rural town in the South US. What caught the attention of the FBI agents was the number of people from in and around Jacksonville who were winners in a national contest. The odds were astronomical. The scam unfolds in layers with tracking the winners, to monitoring their phone records to find connections with the same number. The scam grows more involved reaching higher levels of the mob. The kingpin seems to be a middle man who gets more and more involved financially. The basics were that the pieces were taken from the secure facility and then given to known third parties (with an upfront payment required by that recipient). Then they head to a McDonalds and claim their prize. After receipt of the prize, then a portion of it would go to the Recruiter (the person looking to profit from the stolen winners). The FBI follows the money, and comes upon some interesting characters. For me, much like Filthy Rich about Jeffrey Epstein, the (mostly) white, white collar crime perpetrators are treated judicially with kit gloves. Makes me wonder looking back on it, it after all was 18 years ago, a different time by another example of a system that is unbalanced. Ultimately McDonalds was defrauded of about $25M. The one Recruiter says after his short stint in prison that he would do nothing different, and would repeat it. He pocketed about $600,000 for his efforts. The system is broken, with even the FBI agents who shake their heads at the end result. The time, effort and money put into investigating this comes to a resolution that it disappointing. The scam itself was overshadowed by the news of 9-11 in September just as the case was ramping up in the Courts. The FBI were reassigned to terrorism, and this fell to the back pages. The ultimate aftermath was, as often happens, the marketing company getting terminated for one man’s greed along with the small company in rural South that is shut down. This isn’t a victimless crime. Worth checking out.

October 5th, 2020

A Hidden Life: Terrence Malick, for me, is a painter of pictures. His art is moving pictures along with music and soft voiceovers. In his last few films efforts, he has been following (more or less) a similar structure of storytelling which for many viewers can be seen as slow and boring. The previous three features, Knight of Cups, To the Wonder and The Tree of Life have all followed this telling style. I like it. As a teenager I would have been bored, but now I am taken in by the images and the surrounding storyline. It was most successful in The Tree of Life. Less so in Knight of Cups. This one is somewhere in the middle. There is more structure with this story as it shows the times of a husband and wife, with children in rural Austria during WWII. The husband is effectively played by August Diehl, previously unknown to me. He plays a conscientious objector to Hitler and the Third Reich. He refuses to swear his allegiance to Hitler and feels as though humans are losing their way. He puts not only himself but his wife, children and extended family at risk by taking the position he has. For Malick films the actors have to have expressive faces, since there isn’t always a lot of dialog. He and his wife are both very effective with this. The surrounding cast too. I think it could be a difficult task to act in these movies because there is so much that is just free flowing. Light is always a crucial factor. You can wait a log time for a cloud to move or the sun to sit higher in the sky. Much would not be scripted, and Malick would likely talk in broad strokes about how he would want to actors to interact. They would have a camera in tight shots to their faces often. The surroundings here in a farm in the mountains of Austria are breathtakingly beautiful. In truth, the mountains were in Italy and it was made to feel like Austria. But the scenes with mountains, streams, fields, grass, fences, barns and all of it are vibrant. They bring the viewer in. Malick could be flipping pages in a large coffee table book when scenes move from one to another. I won’t delve deeper into the storyline because it in some ways for me was a little incongruous to what I had known about the Nazi regime. I will take them as reflective of a process since there are specific dates which are noted when things have occurred. Movies like this for me can be measured on whether they successfully make you feel something. In this instance, can you empathize with not only the main character but also the wife, the sister-in-law, the surrounding townsfolk. A small rural farming community in a time of war isn’t the easiest place to make a political statement and blend in. Quite the contrary. The story has of course subtle implications for the present day, and looking through the lens of the future with acts of those who were at the time condemned but in hindsight appear to be of someone who saw through the noise, propaganda and rhetoric. I enjoyed this film. Austria/Italy hasn’t looked so pretty since The Sound of Music! Part of me hopes that the Malick style can evolve, since I do believe that Tree of Life was the pinnacle of his art. Still, seeing more pretty pictures married with words, music and story is not an unwelcome prospect.

I re-watched Manhunt: Unabomber with Sam Worthington and Paul Bettany over the past few days and once again I am struck by the course of action taken by Kaczensky’s legal representative. In the US where there is a constitutional doctrine of “fruit of the poison tree” which dictates any evidence found from an illegal search must be thrown out, means that a valid challenge by Kaczensky on the Search Warrant issue runs the risk that all that damning evidence could be inadmissible. In Canada we have a further test which allows that if the legal justice system would be put into disrepute by such a finding, that the evidence could still be admitted. We have an extra layer of societal consideration which can overcome an individual’s challenge in such a case as this. In this case, Kaczenky’s lawyer found a legal loophole to run counter to his interests. He was railroaded. It is an interesting example of how the system can find ways to address stickly situations when lawyers act not only as staunch defenders of their clients but also as officers of the Court. The experiments undertaken at Harvard as well are surprising to view. That professor should be ashamed of his methods with the ongoing negative impacts to the participants of the study.

September 28th, 2020

Capone: Crave is showing the Tom Hardy movie Capone. The story chronicles the final year in the life of the notorious Chicago gangster from the 1930s. He, as we know, was imprisoned for tax evasion which Hollywood showed in the film The Untouchables. Robert De Niro played Capone there. Capone was imprisoned at age 33. Now in this film he has been released to a mansion down in Florida. For someone who was hit with tax evasion charges, he still lives in a palace. This is changing because with no income, he is struggling and looking to auction off some of his various statues and assets on this property to keep it. I say “he” but that really is a stretch since he, at the age of 48 is suffering from dementia and the effects of syphilis, and not really very coherent. He smokes a cigar incessantly while shuffling around in pajamas and rambling a combination of English and Italian profanities. He is suspicious of those around him, even those closest to him. Tom Hardy playing him LOOKS with all the makeup to be in his late 60s or 70s, and learning that he was late forties makes me pause. He looked terrible and sounded even more so. The story is slow, and there were two paths that it took; one story about a potential $10M hidden away somewhere, for which he can’t remember and the communication with an estranged adult son. And though there are some (unintended I think) comic relief moments, like moving Capone away from cigars, in the end it seemed odd to show this very normal aspect of this well-known person’s unusual life. Capone lived more interesting days, these weren’t any of them. So it became almost as entertaining as the vault of his that Geraldo spent hours trying to find and open on live TV. With the cast involved with this project, it was a shame that there wasn’t better material to focus on.

Robert The Bruce: This new release is starring Angus Macfadyen, the same person who portrayed the role in the Mel Gibson’s 1995 Best Picture winning story about William Wallace. Macfadyen also produced this new film and helped write the screenplay. Clearly he was looking to relive the glory days of his past. It’s sad though on the choice of years that he has chosen for his famous Scottish King. At the end of Braveheart, it was a footnote that Robert the Bruce united the clans and won Scotland her freedom. This isn’t that story. Instead, we have an Unforgiven-like story of an older soldier/warrior who is uncertain about his place and looks to find a way to quietly disappear. It is explained that after Wallace’s death, Robert took arms against England initially and failed at turn after turn. It was at this moment, Robert has his moment of doubt, disbands his small group of followers and heads out alone. He ends up injured and found by a woman and three young people. They take in the King and nurse him back to health in an isolated farm house. The woman’s husband died fighting with Wallace. Two of the young people had their father die too. This describes the first 90 minutes of this slow-moving story. In the end, like Capone, Robert the Bruce lived a storied life for which movies are produced. This particular set of years for him, even if true, are not the most interesting part of his life. In fact it is a footnote, and I would have rather seen the time AFTER this movie takes place, with him uniting the clans and defeating the English to gain Scottish independence. That would be a much better movie.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (2018): I was encouraged to watch the sequel to the original Mamma Mia from 2008. Firstly, it has been 12 years since Mamma Mia – wow! The original was based on the Abba songs, of course, but also the stage play which I have seen on both NYC and Toronto. It was a fun musical, and the signature moment in it, for me, is the song “The Winner Takes It All”. In the movie, Meryl Streep stars as Donna, who has a daughter, with potentially three fathers. Donna has a place in Greece that she is fixing up. Her two friends assist. The three men are played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard. All three accomplished actors in their own right, including an Oscar for Firth (The King’s Speech). The cast has reunited to address the continuing story of the hotel in Greece. Daughter Sophie is looking to renovate and re-open the hotel after the passing of her Mom. Yes, the Meryl Streep character has passed away. Much of this movie goes back into the past with young Donna (played by Lily James) after her graduation from university and finding this place, along with introducing these three young men. The Abba songs are mixed throughout with mixed success. For me, not knowing the Abba catalog intimately, I felt as though the well known “hits” were in the first movie. So this was the “B-sides” as it were. In truth, as I noted during my viewing of the movie, that there were quite a few well known songs like “Waterloo” or “Knowing Me, Knowing You” or “SOS”. Some were repeats like “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia”. Still there were others which were unknown to me, and for a reason. For whatever reason, they decided to let Brosnan sing again! Ugh! He was terrible in the original, and follows up with an equally dull rendition here. They also had notoriously hardened character Skarsgard crying/weeping. It was unusual and not typical, nor overly believable. This should be taken as intended I suppose; mind candy or some time away from everyday life. The scenes of Greece are amazing, those filmed there anyway. It can be a good travel log. Some of the songs are known and familiar. My main challenge revolves around the storyline with all the stories seemingly coming to their happy conclusion. The Andy Garcia story just seems a little too convenient. I find Lily James not really a good younger version of Meryl, and I find her a little over-the-top with her mannerisms and lip synching. It’s all just a little too “up”. Anyway, in the end, if you are an Abba fan and want to see more of their music set in Greece then this could be a sequel for you. If you want to know more about Donna and her hotel, and the parallels between her life and Sophie’s it is also something to view. For the actors, I see why these Oscar winning talents want to take part – because they get paid to spend time in Greece! Not a bad gig!! I won’t spoil the ending of this film, and leave it to those that are curious.