November 28th, 2022

The Wonder: Florence Pugh has been busy. Already this year she was in the Olivia Wilde release with Harry Styles entitled Don’t Worry Darling. The 26 yo English actress was brought initially to my attention in her role in the bizarre psycho-drama Midsommar back in 2019. This Netflix release is a period piece set in 19th Century Ireland, with Pugh playing an English nurse being asked to observe a young girl who is said to have not eaten anything for three months. The scene is set for these two strangers.

As a nurse, when first told the tale of this young girl, she doesn’t believe it. Arriving in the town, there is a religious leader as well as a local doctor who direct her only to observe for a fortnight. The locals are looking for independent verification of what is happening in the town. The local people have already started to visit the young girl at her remote farmhouse thinking that something very spiritial is happening. We learn over time that there is a desire for this to be true. The family of the young girl had a boy who died earlier at a young age. The Mom is very determined that her children will go to heaven. Our nurse prefers to deal with science rather than religion.

Our nurse meets up with a reporter played by Tom Burke who is looking to write a story debunking the whole situation. To him, the girl is lying and the family is somehow finding a way to get nourishment into the girl. He wants the nurse to assist him. Things happen slowly. Predictably with the nurse watching the girl’s health deteriorates. Our nurse has her own reasons to ensure that her life isn’t for nothing. The solution to the problem is an interesting one.

I like Pugh. I think that she plays authentic and genuine characters. She seems to get put into situations in her films to date that have her character observe strange occurences and she needs to put them together. This is the most realistic situation and the most sad with a very young girl who has been led to put her own life on the line for those around her with obvious competing interests that have their own motivations. The Academy may like this movie more than the movie-going public. For me as someone who isn’t religious at all, I don’t see why anyone would be looking to sacrifice themselves for the sake of an unknown after-life. I certainly have no idea why a parent would be looking to carry on these attitudes at all.

The Time Traveller’s Wife: Back in 2009, Rachel McAdams starred with Eric Bana in an adaption of the Audrey Niffenegger book. It was okay. The story is a curious one with a man who is a time traveller, which means that suddenly and without warning he can disappear to another time. HBO decided to make this a new series starring Rose Leslie (from Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey – also Kit Harrington’s wife) and Divergent’s Theo James.

Female viewers will enjoy the fact that time travel doesn’t allow clothing to go through, and so the frequent time traveller Theo is buck naked time and again. He has no issue showing off his backside time and again in each episode. So why did this series have to be made? This is six episodes, and so much longer than the 1:48 running time of the original. They seem to be exploring more deeply into the trauma in the life of the young Henry. An event that at whatever age he is, he goes back to time and time again. In this version there are mutliple Henrys that can appear at the same place and the same time. Which would seem to be odd, and certainly flies in the face of what Doc stated in Back to the Future. Time travel provides all sorts of challenges, one of which is that Clare at a very young age learns that Henry has a wife named Clare. She is then fixated on him. You add time by adding the complexity for Henry having a girlfriend when Clare comes onto the scene and announces that she will be his future wife. Odd, really, that he wouldn’t already know this. Clare as a teenager then has an uncomfortable experience in a middle episode where she seeks assistance from an older Henry to avenge her honour.

Do Leslie and James have chemistry? This is crucial of course in a story that wants you to feel that this is a couple that is destined to be together. Maybe moreso than McAdams and Bana. But that isn’t all that difficult. Bana was and is a little too straight laced, showing less emotion than is likely needed for that outward romantic connection. In this instance there are various versions of Henry who can be identified by their haircuts mostly. They are quite poor haircuts which don’t reflect the times in the least. Leslie brings her fiestiest game to the relationship, in her best “you know nothing Jon Snow” way. Maybe that was the point. Clare needs to show more that she is aware of her situation, embraces it, and helps to shape Henry popping in and out of her life. Henry is an angry young man wondering why his defining moment as a young boy is something that he cannot seem to impact. I will continue to watch and see where they take this series. Hard to imagine that there is enough material to deal with a Season 2. But stranger things have happened.

November 21st, 2022

A Christmas Story Christmas: Back in 1983, the original A Christmas Story was released to modest fanfare. But over time, it has gained a cult following including me that regards this as of of my favourite Christmas movies and I watch it each holiday season. Starring Darren McGavin as the Father, Melinda Dillon as the Mom and Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker in his quest to get the Red Rider BB Gun.

Ralphie is foiled at every turn by his Mom is his quest for the precious gun, while ultimately seeking out Santa Claus above to by-pass Mom’s blocks. The story is fun, and cute involving Ralphie, his picky-eating little brother Randy, and his two closest friends Flick and Schwartz. Darren McGavin as Dad is priceless with his battle with the furnace, to his Prize, negotiating with the Tree Salesman, and changing tires like he is at the Indy 500!

Flash forward to 2022, and we have a sequel with Peter Billingsley come back as Ralphie as an adult. Despite the good will built up over many years in the original, this can’t do anything but suck really, right? There is a fine line between paying homage to the original and pandering to it, trying to milk every nostalgic moment out of it, until all those fond memories are tossed aside. Darren McGavin passed away in 2006. Melinda Dillon sadly is replaced with Airplane’s Julie Haggerty.

It is now the 1970s, and Ralphie is married with two kids of his own. He is an aspiring writer and has taken a year off to write a novel. He isn’t meeting with much success for his 2000+ science fiction opus. He gets news from his Mom and and returns home. Interestingly this is filmed in Bulgaria of all places. Not Cleveland where I have seen the actual original house. Ralphie’s friends Flick, Schwartz who were cute kids back in the early 80s, are back in more minor roles. Even Scott Farkus, the town bully for Ralphie makes an appearance. But it all seems so forced, in doing what it can to replay memories from the original. From the daydream sequences, to the school teacher’s filled desk drawer, to car adventures. I have to admit that I have absolutely never heard about dealing with a radiator with a raw egg. Not ever. Ralphie is struggling to make this celebration perfect just his Dad did when he was a child. One of the things I loved about the original is how to Dad ended up being the hero! He seems so preoccupied with his work, the neighbour’s dogs and everything else that he didn’t seem to have much time for his kids. It all ends so predictably, and but for seeing the aged Ralphie, no one else really is a welcome face to see once again. I will venture to say that this HBO Max effort won’t become a holiday classic like the original. I won’t see the need to watch this again myself to be sure.

Tar: There has been a lot of buzz about Cate Blanchett’s turn as a well known modern day conductor as well as a composer, Lydia Tar. At the beginning of the film during an interview with a real life interviewer. The listing is impressive with various awards and her being the current conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic. In a male dominated profession, she is at the top of her game. She also happens to be a lesbian, which not material in itself, likely would make that achievement even more impressive.

Blanchett plays her as very opinionated, with someone very attuned to the music. She sees her role in conducting as playing with time. She starts the whole process of playing the tune and beginning the journey for the audience. She also decides where to lengthen notes, add pauses while interpreting the music of the composer. Add to this her teaching at Julliard, where she has young students where she can shape them and their own attitudes.

Control is a big theme for Lydia, and while is a source of success as the conductor, it is a bit more troubling with her personal life and in dealing with artists and contemporaries away from the spotlight on stage. She has a partner who also happens to be in the Berlin Orchestra, who we learn assisted in bringing Lydia in coming to her position. Like many in these lofty positions, life becomes all about her and her needs and moves into a more predictable arc as her life progresses. We learn that Lydia can be nasty, even when dealing with children. She can be petty and vindictive. She can get defensive and double-down on positions which she would be better showing a little compromise. The Blanchett performance is admirable. She makes this film and it is better for it than it really deserves. From a predictable arc, she is able to elevate it somewhat before it settles down. Mark Strong plays a small supporting role. Noemie Merlant from Portrait of a Woman on Fire, is also an understudy looking to establish herself in this challenging musical world. Their talents are not fully explored, leaving the stage for Blanchett. She may get a nomination out of this role. As a movie it was more M’eh for me.

The question remains, and I googled it after viewing, “is Lydia Tar real?” The answer is No. She is completely fictional. Blanchett put flesh and bone onto this character, but part of it seems almost too contrived. One wonders just how far a real person could fall from grace. There are many instances of it. Is this showing realistic? Unknown.

FIFA Uncovered: This four part Netflix documentary explores how a world class event, the World Cup of Football/Soccer, can be awarded to a country that has a population of 2.9M people and a land mass that can fit into the boot of Italy. The event started yesterday. Oh, and the hosts lost 2-0 to Ecuador to become the first ever host to lose the opening game 16-0-6 in the history of the World Cup and the first ever host not to score! But this isn’t a story about football/soccer at all. It is a story about money, power and how absolute power can corrupt absolutely. The leaders of FIFA have shown themselves to be extremely imaginative in how they wield their power and allow their precious votes for hosting the tournament that happens every four years to be purchased. And make no mistake, they are purchased. How else does one explain how small Arab country Qatar hosts and beats out a country like the US? One way is to have each country, no matter how the size to have an equal vote in the decision. All 203 members. So football superpowers like Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Italy would have the same voting power as Iceland, Aruba, Belize and Montenegro. Go figure. Of course they aren’t offering their OWN money, but rather this “non-profit” organization with billions of dollars in reserves spends the money of the sponsors. What I hadn’t realized is that the real business of the World Cup has taken place in my lifetime. With broadcasting rights, sponsorship, advertising, all these marketing rights were initially managed by a new company set up by the head of Adidas. He had the vision to see where this sport was going. Then men like Sepp Blatter took over.

Last Week Tonight dealt with FIFA brilliantly back eight years ago. This was brilliant in their review of Brazil hosting back in 2014. The people of Brazil were protesting, violently upset about how money was being spent to host these games.

Needless to say, much of what was highlighted by Oliver then, is recapped now. The follow on was that the US Authorities, having been bypassed for Qatar back 12 years ago, fought back and made arrests for many of the FIFA executives, except notably Blatter. Sadly for football fans, this award for these games takes away from some of the enjoyment. Just the idea of watching football in November, because in the summer in Europe it is 45C in Qatar and unplayable, is foreign. But they have issues with the workers rights, women’s rights and dealing with a small country that no one would say is a football mecca. But with this award, like awarding the Olympics in 1936 to Hitler and Berlin looked to legitimize their method of government and FIFA also awarding to Argentina for 1978, and Russia just 4 years ago with dictators in charge that FIFA becomes very political. Most shrug their shoulders when they see this. True fans care about the sport and the competition, rather than those in behind the scenes but maybe that is part of the problem. Sponsors who see that people don’t care, will keep paying the organizers. Obviously even without Blatter (suspended until 2028), there still needs to be a re-evaluation of the leaders of the sport and who hosts the coming World Cups.

November 14, 2022

The Crown: Season 5 was just released on Netflix with an all new older cast as Queen Elizabeth ages. Now we have Imelda Stauton as the Queen. I have to admit that Clare Foy, seen in the first seen of episode 1 when she attends the ceremonial launch and naming of the Brittania, her official ship for touring, is my Queen Elizabeth. I think that she did such a masterful portrayal, and I can’t seem to get Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix out of my head when I see Stauton now. Dolores was such a nasty character and you wished for bad things to happen to her.

I feel much the same about the casting of Jonathan Pryce as Phillip, and for the new Charles played by Dominic West, known by me as the guy in The Affair. How appropriate! I do think that in bringing in Elizabeth Debicki as Diana was brilliant casting. She towers over West, and in truth is a woman at 6 feet 3 inches tall, but she has nailed the mannerisms and speech of the former Princess. She was excellent in Widows and Tenet. Having only watched the first episode, I can say that she is portraying the ill fated Princess admirably. I can see why King Charles, now that the Queen in real life has passed away, would not be anxious to have this released so near his coronation. Episode 1 is entitled Queen Victoria Syndrome, shows Charles to just be a dick. From engaging with Prime Minister John Major separately to discuss having the Queen give up her crown early to allow the next generation to take power, to his treatment of Diana as he dismisses his bride who only seems to want his attention and love. He is incapable of doing so. The reference to Queen Victoria Syndrome is with any longstanding monarch that the people grow to feel has become out of touch with her people.

Apparently the meeting with Major never took place, according to Major himself, and others have weighed in to speak about the inaccuracies to reality. Netflix is quick to point out that this is “entertainment” and they don’t profess this to be historically accurate. Still. Charles comes off again as being less sympathetic and whining that he is so progressive and deserves his chance to show what he can do. Given the love for the Queen, and despite the polls back in the 90s that felt she was “out of touch”, certainly when it came to Diana, there is little doubt that no one would support Charles on the throne sooner than he got it this year. Helen Mirren in The Queen, showed this magnificently and the struggles that the Queen had in dealing with the death of someone who was no longer part of the Royal family. In this episode, the not-so-subtle suggestion that the Brittania and the Queen herself were in need of a modernization/refurbishment is played out. Diana is the loving Mom to the two boys, and they adore her. As Major points out to his wife on a visit to the Royals, he seems them as not an example for the people to admire and emulate but as the entitled, isolated, whiny, dysfunctional group that they have become.

I look forward to more in this excellent series.

Love Is Blind: Season 3 came to a close and it had its fair share of surprises, and also predictable banter. From a surprise factor, those couple that decided to actually get married in the final two episodes were surprising to be sure. I had pegged a couple of those differently. Can I understand why they made their own very personal choices? Absolutely. Who ever wants to get married in a matter of weeks to someone who was a complete stranger?

It seems silly to expect that the little experiment would ever work, with so many challenges facing a young couple. The initial connection is within pods where they cannot see one another; one is expected to fall in love with the person and connect without added complexities of looks. Then they meet once they have proposed. Of course those who are motivated to be on TV and get their 15 minutes of fame are tempted to get hitched. Then the real world somewhat sets in as they meet other people from the pods and other couples. In this season, a couple of the young men show their immaturity and voice their thoughts about some of the other candidates of the opposite sex to their betrothed! What a mistake! For me this is mind candy, seeing how relationships unfold and either connect or fall apart. In some ways it is almost miraculous that couple decide to go through with it. The producers do find a way to keep picking at scabs for the couples as they revisit awkwards moments and places where people were not acting on their best behaviour. Of course, we as an audience only see what they show us, and all those many hours outside this show that were never ever brought forward. Families play a big part, and some decide that they will not support their own child in this endeavor. This is quite a surprise to me, as any family who would boycott a wedding for their child just surprises me. At the same time, there is evidence as to why they exactly that as part of the show. If you like this sort of thing, this delivers as expected. You will enjoy. If you don’t, then you’ll want to stay away.

November 7, 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin: This movie had quite a bit of buzz surrounding at TIFF in September, and I tried unsuccessully to get tickets for it. I liked the idea of a travel log for Ireland, since I was there pre-pandemic in May 2019 and I always like seeing the coast. So I was looking forward to seeing this, even though I knew very little of the details of the plot. I knew I liked both Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell when they starred together in In Bruges back in 2008 (another travel log for me since I have been to Bruges twice). They were re-united with the director as well. So let the movie roll.

Set in 1923, which you don’t see for quite some time, this is a story with a simple premise of a small community on this remote Irish island. Colin Farrell plays Padraic, who lives with his sister on a small farm with a variety of farm animals. Padraic goes to his friend’s house, Colm, played by Gleeson looking to gather him up to head to the pub. This is their routine. Colm doesn’t acknowledge Padraic’s presence, and ignores his question to head towards the pub. In short order, Colm announces that he doesn’t want to be friends with Padraic anymore. He finds him dim and dull, as he grows older he wants more out of his life than inane conversation about nothing. Colm wants to leave something behind, like Mozart or Monet with music or art. Padraic is puzzled and this change in his mundane routine preoccupies his every waking thought. Things escalate from there and build into moments of dark comedy coupled with drama.

So what is the underlying message in all of this? In a small community where everybody knows everybody’s business and there are limited opportunities to expand one’s horizons how can someone change the direction of their life? Some would argue watching this movie that education is the ticket for change. Others may say that there is a pre-destined fate that awaits us, and it’s hard to change that. Other themes can include one’s ability to tolerate those among us who are less mentally capable can impact our own health. Not just mentally. If I am making this sound like a very deep movie, I am likely giving it more credit than is due. Overall, I don’t think I can recommend in good conscience. I did not expect what I saw, and it was overall quite slow. That seems to be an going complaint for me these days. Alison was lamenting the really good movies and her thirst for quality content. Sadly this initial promising offering doesn’t assist her for that quality movie going experience. I did like the scenes of the Irish coast and farms. I recognized the similar small minds of locals more intent on other’s people’s business like what happened to Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, and ultimately drove her away from her small Irish town herself. In the end I was glad that I hadn’t pay TIFF prices for a movie that I see a few weeks later and it disappoints. I did laugh out loud on a number of occasions, but the uneven tone made some of those laughs a little hollow. Maybe exaggerating to make a point makes sense in the movie, but to follow through with it is a little disconcerting.

October 31st Halloween 2022

The Good Nurse: This movie was recently released at TIFF. Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain were in town for the premiere. This was released on Netflix just Wednesday. It is based on a true story from a few years ago. Chastain plays a single Mom of two, who is a temporary nurse at a New Jersey hospital with some heart troubles. She needs an operation, but ironically, doesn’t have health coverage. As a Canadian I note that these stories, and others like Breaking Bad, wouldn’t happen in Canada because people have socialized health coverage. The same is true in other Westernized countries. In short, Chastain’s character Anna would have health coverage and would be able to get the operation that she needs. The early part of this story establishes this sad fact. She has a new co-worker, Redmayne, join her and he offers to help her out for the four months before she can become full time and have the covered and necessary insurance.

Chastain works her shifts and there are a number of deaths on her ward which are quite unusual. Unusual in that the patient seemed to be doing relatively well, and then they take a sudden turn. It surprises the families involved and in one instance the police are asked to investigate. The detectives ask some questions and get nowhere with the hospital’s administration.

One thing that I can say is annoying, is how Chastain is grabbing at her chest and looking distressed. But is that really how a heart issue shows itself? I doubt it. I also suspect that going into a dark room near work would be the solution. You ARE in a hospital. I would think that there would be a doctor who may be able to provide some insight, without it costing the nurse her job.

The hospital administrators in this whole thing are shown to be a real part of the problem. Avoiding liability and obviously putting their collective heads in the sand as things unfold. They don’t want to know. They drag their feet, they don’t share basic file information with the police. It borders on obstruction of justice.

Meanwhile I have to admit that I was pleased that as things unfolded, that they didn’t succumb to the temptatation to add some chase scene, with a looming bad guy with the person looking to put then pieces together; think Pelican Brief or something like that. Real life just doesn’t work that way. The ultimate resolution still leaves the audience with pressing questions.

I think that Redmayne was able to create tension in just being subtle. No grand exhibitions of emotion. There is one moment that was unexpected but that made it more impactful when it actually happened. I think that the ultimate message is that this is a system that causes, and perpetuates in some cases these types of extreme cases. The producers and writers did an admirable job at introducing a topic that I was unfamiliar. I commend the nurse who Chastain plays for doing all of the things that she did. I question whether it would have fully resulted in what occurred. Well worth catching. It is odd to hear Redmayne without an English accent!! I am so used to his other roles, and note that he just turned 40, and yet he still has such a baby face.

October 24th, 2022

Blonde: This Netflix movie with Ana De Armas as the iconic Marilyn Monroe. It is 2:45 long! This was released at TIFF, and there was a buzz in it that it was rated NC-17. The idea was that it was revealing the hidden life of Marilyn and her relationships along the way. Initially I thought to myself that De Armas doesn’t have the classic Marilyn physique, as she is more slight. She also being Cuban facially would be different. I will say that in mannerisms and facially that she had expert make up and hair. At times, like the performing “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend” that she was a remarkable resemblance.

Ana De Armas remarkably looking like the classic Marilyn

Starting with the childhood with a young Norma Jean and her troubled Mom, the fatherless girl struggles with a family life that is challenging at the best of times. You can see her being forced to grow up sooner than most her age. The relationship with Mom remained strained throughout her life.

Part of controversy in this latest film on Marilyn has been her earlier relationships. Like the suggested threesome that she had with the sons of Edward G Robinson and Charlie Chaplin. The suggestion is that not only was she having this threesome, but she ended up pregnant and decided to end the pregnancy. This factually is up for debate, and it isn’t confirmed. Both of the young men died very young.

Norma Jean with her two BFs (sons of famous Hollywood actors)

Later we see her married to Joe DiMaggio and he is shown as an abusive husband, looking to curtail her career and avoid this sexpot image that had made her famous (and would have been a major attraction no doubt for him to her). But once he has her, he wants to keep the focus on him. Later she marries playwright Arthur Miller, played by Adrian Brody. That was short lived and then near the end of her life is a short snippet with her interacting with JFK, the President as he is on the phone he forces her to do something that she is uncomfortable.

All in all, we have a lengthy film reaffirming the known story of Marilyn as a tragic figure. She was a woman who was a product of her time, but also was a trail blazer. I think that she was shown as being more emotional, crying often and struggling mentally despite her work and career. I watched feeling that the Elton John song “Candle in the Wind” was a really good representation of her life. I think that De Armas did an admirable job. Without her performance the story and film simple fall. She is good enough to watch, but it is too long. I think she is much better than Michelle Williams who played Marilyn with My Week With Marilyn from 2011 with Eddie Redmayne. What we don’t see is the smarter Marilyn who was busy saavy and was active in producing. She was much more than the ditzy, buxom blonde. It was interesting that she referred to a couple of her husbands as “Daddy” which for me is a little troubling. It just seems odd. Perhaps on top of wanting to know who her Dad was, she maybe have looked for a father-figure, but sadly in the end she chose poorly with the men in her life. on top of that I found that the film tried really hard in showing De Armas on film in one of the many well known poses of Marilyn from posters and magazines. The clothing matches, with the black sweater and black and white checkered pants. The bathing suit and the pose with Arthur Miller in the rural setting. All match these pictures in trying to bring them to life.

So is this worth watching? For De Armas, yes. If you set aside that not everything is necessarily factual, then it becomes whether it is entertaining. It was a bit slow for me. It is long and you feel the time. The end showing the end of her life certainly makes some claims that are thought-provoking. Her relationship with Bobby Kennedy was ignored. Having watched Blonde shortly after seeing Respect, two iconic women are shown as figures with troubled childhoods that were quite extreme.

House of the Dragon: Season 1 completed with episode 10 entitled The Black Queen on Sunday. Ten episodes to basically establish that Rhaenyra Targaryen is pissed. She wasn’t REALLY pissed before, but now she is. She was showing signs of maintaining the peace in the way her weak father did, but she has been turning. Sadly this season is muddled and not that compelling. Crave re-showed tthe first episode of Season 1 of Game of Thrones right after this conclusion. The difference is that introduction and this season is dramatic. Morew houses are introduced, competiting interests with Starks, Lannister, White Walkers, Danny etc all in the first episode. This spin off spent ten episodes showing why there was going to be trouble. But it could have been condensed without losing the substance, unlike Season 7 and 8 of Game of Thrones that condensed so quickly that the transformation of Danny from benevolent Queen who was fair but firm to the Mad Queen intent on revenge and destruction was striking and shocking sending fans everywhere to lament the u-turn!

Rhaenyra is pissed

So here we are with a war to get started with various houses, finally addressed by their name, seeking support in a battle to come for the crowd. I don’t feel like cheering for any side really. Rhaenyra’s Uncle played by Matt Smith is a hothead, intent on destruction himself and doesn’t bring about sympathetic feelings. We are missing the Jon, Breanne or Sam or Arya who were more of less likeable characters that one could cheer. Of course it has some of the most unlikeable characters ever, like Joffrey or Ramsey Bolton but they were so nasty that they fun to watch. In the end this was not a great first series nor opening to a new story to tell within Westeros. The bar was raised to probably and admittedly to a standard that no series could ever match (much like Better Call Saul after Breaking Bad). This will have an audience and maintain but for me it will have to show that it is worth the time as they enter into the wartime phase of this Targaryen story. If there are viewers who ask whether they need to have watched all of Game of Thrones in other to watch this, the answer is no. In fact they may benefit to not have all these points of comparison. I guess I can remain hopeful that this can be better.

Love is Blind 3: As a guilty pleasure, one that I take no pride in watching, this season performs as you would expect. People in their 20s and early 30s who want a kick start on love (and exposure to the world on a grand scale) put themself in a show where they meet people but from behind a screen. They learn about the person/personality and not relying on looks so much. Traits like honesty, being well spoken, funny, intelligent and well rounded shine on through. But like the similar show Married at First Sight, then the business of being together and a couple takes over. Of course it is a train wreck, and of course there is a history of failure in these shows. Still people sign up for it.

While having her male suitor pour his heart out to her, Raven decides to work out

I found this season with Raven and her actions particularly troubling. Being behind a blind means that the person on the other side doesn’t see you. Of course they later WILL see you when the series is played. Raven the pilates instructor, decides during the latter stages of really hearing about someone’s character to work out while half-listening to the guy ramble on. How rude! This is your potentail mate, and fiance, and you decide that hearing about him isn’t as important as doing some crunches or stretches? But the show gets all types. Sadly they focus in pretty quickly on those that will be moving to the next stages and you don’t really see the other potential companions and what they talked about. Raven decides to participate further despite her lack of focus. Others include people who propose in what seems way too soon! They are professing love with someone that they barely know, and without seeing them. Quite a leap to take, as the cameras roll. But they get to hang out in California in a nice mansion. I will continue watching to see what transpires and then await the after-show where we find that none of them have stuck together. Sometimes you just have to check out and entertain with mind candy. Hallowe’en is coming after all!

October 17, 2022

House of the Dragon: Episode 9 of this 10 episode first season was released last night for this series. I am struggling with the pace of it, and how dark it has all been. If I had wanted to watch a retelling of the Henry VIII story with Elizabeth and all those characters and scheming then I could watch that series. In fact I have watched that series, Becoming Elizabeth, not that long ago. Or one can watch Elizabeth and its sequels, with marvelous Cate Blanchett. Instead, we have many years, and a surprising number of actor replacements in this first season. It trudges along slowly as the dithering King ambles through life while trying to “just get along” with everyone. Meanwhile he fires and rehires inexplicably a Hand who has obvious ideas on how to manipulate him. Why there isn’t someone, anyone, better and more loyal to the King leaves one scratching their hand. Mercifully, and not to spoil it too badly, the King who looks more and more like a White Walker with each episode passes away. But before he does so, he does something with his dying breath with leaves his wife, the Queen with thoughts about succession. Let the scheming begin.

The battle for the Crown begins

For me, the principal difference in this series versus Game of Thrones continues to be that we are focusing on one family really, as opposed to a number of powerful families with competing interests, along with The Wall (manned by The Black), the White Walkers and the dragons. In this instance, of course we have dragons, but none of the others. The happenings over these last eight episodes could have been covered in half an hour, rather than over eight! I was also thinking last night that it is likely coincidence that the troublesome family in Harry Potter, the Malfoys, and the Targaryens both have long flowing white hair and pale skin. It difficult to cheer for any of them, as opposed to GOT where there were clear lines of those to cheer for like the Starks, Jon Snow, and Danny. Each of them had obstacles to overcome, and there were supporting secondary characters who each had their place with compelling stories like Brianne of Tarth or Jaqen H’ghar of the Faceless Men of Braavos or even The Hound. None of that is happening here in this series. Instead there is the well known story of succession and plotting to take the crown, with a plot device which seems forced at best. With all the hype, anticipation and money spent on this venture, I think that HBO must feel a little cheated with the promises of continued glory in Westeros. Sure there are more dragons, although we aren’t really seeing them, but story isn’t as vibrant, with nowhere near the same turnover in characters that the audience begins to like before they are eliminated with prejudice! There is one more episode to go, and Season 2 has already been green lit, but one hopes that this setting the table for more compelling TV to come can occur. So far, it all has been very much of a letdown.

Speed: One the interesting aspects of posting weekly is the need to actually watch more content each and every week. I need to remind myself at times when Alison and I started working together and writing the reviews down. Because before that time, there won’t have been such a review. I saw on Crave this past weekend that Speed from 1994 (!!) was on with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It quite simply is a lot of fun! This is what movies can be, with a heart pumping exhilaration ride through the streets of LA. Written by Canadian Graham Yost, whose father was Elwy Yost who was the host of public TV’s Saturday Night at the Movies, this movie grabs one by the lapels from the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the very end. Much like Indiana Jones, one goes from one tense scene to another, with very little space in between to take a breather. The story is about a bomber seeking money as his due for his years of public service through ransom demands in scenarios. Played brilliantly by Dennis Hopper, he begins in an elevator in a high rise building threatening passengers in an elevator unless they give him $3M. Enter LAPD officer Jack Traven, played by Reeves who’s replaying Johnny Utah basically from Point Break and his partner Harry, played by Jeff Daniels. They have other ideas on how to foil the plans of the Mad Man. Without spoiling too much, the crux of the story has Jack dealing with a crosstown City Bus that has a bomb which gets armed when the bus hits 50 mph, and it will explode if thereafter the bus goes below that 50mph threshold. In LA traffic, how does one actually do that?

Jack and Annie driving through LA traffic

The plot continues with various attempts to deal creatively with the issue. On the bus, there is Annie, played by Sandra Bullock in her breakout role, as a passenger who had too many speeding tickets and caught this daily commute bus for her at the last second. Of course there are sensational things that happen where one has to suspend disbelief, but it is fun to just go with it. You care about the characters. You are intrigued to see how they possibly can extricate themselves from the predicament. The Bomber is “crazy, not stupid” and seems to always be one step ahead of the police. This movie was made for $30M at the time and made over $350M. It is still compelling today. There isn’t a lot of CGI, if any, and one is engaged from beginning to end. Reeves at this, or any for that matter, isn’t all that versatile as an actor however he is very good at playing this action role. As the young, cocky, ambitious police officer who is just doing his duty to stop the bad guys, and “not get dead” he has plenty of ideas on how to address a problem, often thinking outside the box. Daniels’ Harry is a good partner for him, as he can be more of the brains while Jack acts out the stunts. This is definitely worth your time if you can find it somewhere. If it was in a theatre it would be even better!

October 10th, 2022 (Canadian Thanksgiving)

Aftershock: Everest and Nepal Earthquake: In 2015 a 7.8 earthquake rocked Kathmandu and surrounding area including Everest surprising all both tourists and locals alike. As you can imagine, there are increasing numbers of people around the world who have Everest as a bucket list destination for them. These days they talk about the unceasing tourism as unsustainable with crowds and crowds of people seeking the ultimate high.

the crowded summit

But in 2015, toursists and locals alike were subject to an event that put millions homeless and cost 9000 people their lives. Strangely, like the story in 13 Lives with the young soccer team trapped under a mountain, I did not remember this event and all the devastation. This documentary addresses those on Everest, others in Kathmandu and the small local town within Langtang Valley. None of these places had construction standards that would be able to withstand any earthquake like this. Imagine being the young woman who had started up Everest from the base camp (a town of tents with various guides, tourists and sherpas) to the first stop in the journey skyward. They left around 3AM. The earthquake hit just before noon.

Typical base camp

What transpires in the aftermath are tales of courage, cowardice, conflict and resilience. It is quite remarkable to see how the people come together, or in some cases fight one another as the locals and tourists clash. Remarkably there is a tale of one tourist who professes to have spent $40,000 who was still looking to climb higher after the earthquake. People can be quite amazing. At a time when money means nothing, they still value this more than their safety or the lives of those around them. In the end, one better understands the power of nature. Scientists predict that more earthquakes are inevitable. For me, I cannot imagine risking my life on a metal step ladder to cross a crevase that is waiting to swallow me whole. No thanks. Adventure is one thing. Life is too valuable to me for such risks, for a reward that seemingly is pride (or a selfie on a mountaintop).

Respect: Apparently Aretha Franklin herself had selected Jennifer Hudson to play her in a movie about her life. This movie from 2021, based on the book of the same name was released on Crave recently. Hudson along with a quality cast including Forrest Whitaker playing her father the preacher, and Mary J Blige shows the early days of the young singer. Even at the age of ten she was being woken up at family parties to sing before the guests. Her father was a well known preacher in Detroit and travelled in circles that included celebrities and political figures like Martin Luther King. King knew the Franklin’s well. This seems to be a glossed over PG version of the life of Aretha. This is a young girl who was pregnant at the age of 12. She had another child soon after. Her parents divorced due to her father’s infidelity (along other challenges).

Aretha is heard by a number of record executives, through the assistance of her father. Her father has specific music that he wishes for her to sing and she is signed up. Everyone can recognize the talent. She has a relationship with a man who her father detests, and they split from her Dad. He has his own musical aspirations and wants his own music sung. After releasing a few records, none of which had any hits, there were conflicts as to what she should be singing. Aretha wanted hits. But she wanted to sing her own brand of music. She was spreading her wings, using her own knowledge of her talents to find the content of her songs.

Naturally her most well known song, is a song that was written by Sam Cooke. Respect was his song, and he had already released it in 1967. It was written for a male singer, and Aretha spent her time making it her own using her own backup singers. Her husband/producer didn’t think that she should work on it. But she was determined and she released it. It became her signature song but an anthem for all women. She followed up with (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Then Think and Chain of Fools. This was a smash year for her. Just a year later, Martin Luther King is assassinated and this shakes Aretha and her family. Her relationship fell apart. There was abuse. She found alcohol to address her issues. Her performances suffered. Then she looked to release a gospel album, for which the studio was not impressed. They felt that the public wasn’t ready to listen to, and pay for, gospel music.

Say what we will about Jennifer Hudson and her talent, she is no Aretha Franklin. In truth no one can come close to her voice. The Queen of Soul was incomparable. This movie was okay, but not compelling. I learned a few things about her and her life, even in this glossed over version. The music will last forever. I remember her playing the in The Blues Brothers movie, where she sang Think.

The end of this movie shows her singing A Natural Woman, and you realize just how talented she was. Check out if you want to listen to her songs, but as a movie and biopic it is not as strong.

October 3, 2022

The Woman King: Viola Davis is a tour de force. She is always playing strong, fiercely independent women who can also show tremendous empathy for those around her. Through it all she has this skill through the simple looks on her face to reveal much about her character and what they are feeling in that moment.

Viola Davis being a bad ass

This story is based upon a true story of a tribe in the early 1800s. John Boyega plays the King of Dahomey who is forward-thinking in his views about women, as he has decided to have troop of women warriors, who are led by the formidable Nanisca (Davis). It is a time of slavery where African states are selling their people, and those that they capture in battle to the foreign white people. The Dahomey city is threatened by a larger African tribe who look to defeat them and show their (male) superiority.

As this goes on, enter a young woman, Nawi, who has refused her father’s offering for a husband, as she has wanted to become one of these female warriors. She is dropped at the door of the female warriors and taken in. Her journey of training shows her individuality, with her desire to live her life on her terms. It can put her in direct conflict with Nanisca the general looking to build a larger military force, mostly for defensive purposes.

This film has an excellent cast of surrounding characters among the female warriors. Notably there is Izogie, who brings the young Nawi under wing as well as Nanica’s most trusted friend Amenza. Together this band finds out new things about their circumstances and themselves. Some of these are predictable, with a generally predictable arch. But this doesn’t take away from the quality of product in getting there. The production value is high. The fight scenes are very well done, as well as anything we have seen in Braveheart (the higher water mark for these scenes in my mind) and then following with Gladiator, among others. It is violent. There are scenes that are uncomfortable to watch, but necessary. Interestingly there is not nudity, at least with the female warrrior cast who can seemingly jump, lung, fight and turn in a tube top without ever having a wardrobe malfunction. I will also say that the hair department would have been very busy, even from scene to scene with Viola’s charatcer. The use of shells in an African city that doesn’t seem to be beachfront is a bit surprising. There are moments when one’s logic has to stand aside but they are so aggregious in the name of entertainment. I found that Boyega’s King was the least compelling aspect within the production. His character wasn’t explored all that deeply, and he seemed to go from one ceremony and speech with his people and entourage to another. But this Viola’s movie and she makes the most of it by delivering fully. I would expect that there will be nomination or two in this movie come Oscar time.

Last Night in Soho: This 2021 psychological thriller is presently available on Crave. Set in London, it tells the story of a young woman Ellie , played by Thomasin McKenzie, who lives with her Granny in Cornwall but she has dreams of being a fashion designer. Her Mom had passed away years before. She is accepted to the London School of Design and heads off into the big city. There she is teased by her classmates for her eccentricity (like making her own clothes with a 60s flare to them). She moves out from the dorm to a nearby apartment, whose landlord is a elderly woman with plenty of rules for renting there. Ellie begins to have dreams while she sleeps taking her back in time, back to the sixties with a young woman close to her age named Sandie, who is an aspiring singer. She is played by Anya Taylor-Joy with the very widely set eyes and seemingly working everywhere these days. Sandie is introduced to Jack played by Matt Smith who seems to manage many of the local girls in a similar position. The intrigue begins with the seemingly playback on history impacting young Ellie and playing with her mind. She is fiercely protective of Sandie, while admiring her style, talent and drive. It helps too with her designs at school, because Sandie becomes her model for new designs in class which are positively accepted by the professors there. Things begin to unravel for both Ellie and Sandie, with the dreams that Sandie initially had not exactly turning out as planned. Add in Terence Stamp playing an older gentleman who is a barfly at the pub where Ellie is working, and the audience wonders who is involved. Things happen and Ellie is wondering what she can do with her updated visions. The rest I will leave for the reader to find out.

Ellie seeing Sandie in the mirror as she views the past

I thought that this was well done. They manage to keep you guessing as to what is real, what is not, what was really happening and how can someone like Ellie impact the visions she has had from the past. Questions like “why is she even having these visions?” are answered in time. The acting is good, and the production design also good. I have spent time in London but not in Soho that I recall, but I imagine that the look and feel of Soho in the sixties would be well represented. There are some graphic scenes that can make viewers squeamish. Fair warning. All in all, a good effort and I was glad to watch this.

September 26, 2022

Don’t Worry Darling: on Monday I went to see a pre-screening of the new Olivia Wilde film starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles and Chris Pine. I had been sent an invitation to this IMAX event a few weeks back not fully realizing what it was. I expected a showing. What I got was more like a TIFF-like opening with a live simulcast from NYC with Olivia Wilde and much of the cast giving interviews.

Then the screening took place in each of these IMAX theatres across North America. I won’t be providing any spoilers which means that I can only provide a high level overview of the plot. We are set into what seems to be a period piece in and around the 40s or 50s. By the cars, it is likely the 50s with the men heading off to work each morning, and the wives in their perfect cul-de-sac houses doing laundry, scrugging tubs and going to ballet lessons. The men are working on a secret project, run by the leader played by Pine. Florence Pugh as the dutiful wife is approached by another wife and told that everything isn’t what it seems. She has suspicions, and then things move along from there.

I like where this movie goes and how thought-provoking that it was. We are in different times. This movie is mostly, I think, a woman based story, told through the eyes of Pugh. The audience needs to pay attention. Things happen which can change one’s perspective fairly quickly, and you need to stay with it. It is rewarding, as we head into the final act. For me, as much as 2022 seems to be modern, certainly in the US there is this idea that we are regressing with the treatment and rights of women, minorities and others. The music plays a very important role, first in looking to provide some sense of time, but also at other times as things unravel a little. In many ways it is surprising to see the same writer and director who brought the funny, teenage angst movie Booksmart to the screen, and bring in this piece which is so very different from it. Consider the respective roles of the characters involved. Ask yourself later why they make the choices that they have, and see if it mirrors what you yourself might do. There have been mixed reviews of this, and I can see that the audience has to be a little older. Seventeen year old boys aren’t going to want to see this. A younger audience generally won’t understand the references to the older times. I appreciated the pre-screening and the format usilizing the IMAX format fully. In my mind, money well spent doing this instead of the TIFF opening.

3000 Years of Longing: This movie stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Alba in a modern telling of the genie-in-a-bottle tale. Swinton through happenstance comes upon a glass container, and manages through a mistake to allow the genie to escape. The traditional genie story ensues where the holder of the lamp has three wishes. Usually as Swinton astutely points out, there is an unanticipated lesson to be learned for the person receiving the wishes. She starts probing the genie to tell his story as to how he got into this present position. He begins to tell the tale of his relationship with the actual Queen of Sheeba. For various reasons and circumstance, he ends up having three substantial relationships with people choosing various wishes. None of the prior relationships managed to grant him his freedom. So the story continues to a final story which I have to admit surprised me. I hadn’t expected the result, which was likely the aim. There is a message, and a conclusion that is fine. I had texted Alison and she said that she was done by the third story. There is some repetition. But overall I didn’t hate it, and liked it more than expected.

Moonage Daydream: David Bowie died back in January 2016, a really surprising six years ago! Since that time, there was a forgettable movie about Bowie called Stardust. This documentary was released at TIFF, but showed up in the theatres just a week later. So on a rainy Sunday, this was a perfect was to spend the afternoon.

This movie has no real structure. There are various images that are used, both still photographs and moving. It somewhat follows chronologically the events of Bowie’s life starting around the Ziggy Stardust days around the early 70s. Bowie narrates most of the film, and there are some interviews used from the past, with Dick Cavett and others. It is a slow burn in revealing a little at a time what made Bowie tick. He was a man of the world, living a nomad lifestyle in place to place. He talked about early days in England, but then onto LA and then Berlin, in West Germany. He uses these places and interactions with people to inspire him for songs, paintings and sculptures. He does it all. I had no idea about the painting. He was offered various showings but he later declined. But in seeing his art, he showed a remarkable ability to move from genre to genre. He speaks about using his various personnas from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke to others as his body as a canvas. This way he doesn’t need to reveal anything about himself. One wonders and he is asked about whether the Bowie being interviewed is just another persona. Another painting of himself. A good question. He observes that he isn’t overly religious, and is a believer in life. I like that answer. He lived that life fully. From actor, singer, songwriter, artist he covered the spectrum of artistic endeavours. I thoroughly enjoyed spending a couple of hours with David Bowie today. He is missed. He was a one of a kind person, who left this world a whole lot better because of his unique abilities and eccentricities. We are all better for having been able to share in his art. I wonder whether anyone like him will come around again. This was something that I heard some positive reviews, which makes me think that these reviewers are very open minded. It is different. But I think that Bowie would like this movie a great deal better than the earlier effort. One certainly gets a much better idea into the life of Bowie after watching this. If you are a fan, definitely try to catch this. If not, maybe you can learn about what a legendary artist can do with their time on this Earth.