September 19th, 2022

My Octopus Teacher: The documentary from 2020 in many ways is very much like the TIFF movie Patrick and the Whale, just reviewed last week. This won the Best Documentary Oscar back in 2021. Craig Foster grew up in South Africa by the Cape of Storms but as an adult starting doing other things in film making.

Struggling in life with a wife and son, he decided to get back to basics and started free diving around his old haunts. The water gets down to 8C at his home, and he dives with no wet suit. That is REALLY cold water, and he talks about getting his body used to it. As to the lack of wet suit, he wants to touch, feel and be immersed in the water. He comes upon a female octopus and decides to visit her each day, every day for the year. The common octopus only lives a year, and so he decides to document his interactions with her. The rest of the film undercovers what he finds with the octopus, documenting her life and how they have a connection. There are unexpected turns as the undersea world shows itself to be a hunt or be hunted environment. She is skilled at both. There are life lessons to be learned for him as well. The filming when you realize that much of it is done by Foster himself free diving is quite something. Like Patrick and the Whale you see things underwater that are amazing. Images, scenes, unexpected drama are all created and followed. Well worth viewing. It can be found on Netflix.

You Don’t Know Jack: Crave is showing a 2010 movie based on the life of Dr Jack Kevorkian, also known as Doctor Death. He was a Michigan based doctor, who became known for assisted suicide for his terminally ill patients. This defied the law, somewhat raising perplexing ethical and legal issues. Movies have dealt with this subject matter before like in 1981 with Richard Dreyfuss in Whose Life Is It Anyway, and then the TIFF film for me in 2017 Euphoria starring Eva Green and Alicia Vikander as sisters. A quality cast lead by Al Pacino as the Doctor also has Susan Sarandon and John Goodman.

The movie is well done, and shows the legal trials, determination and arguments of both sides. The doctor was very intelligent, legally astute and clear on his goals in what he was doing. He recognized the oddity of a patient who was unconscious can have their life ended, however if the patient was conscious that the person assisting could be charged with murder, or injecting a lethal substance. Michigan legislatively decided to ban the practice of assisted suicide and the doctor chose to defy the law on the TV news show 60 Minutes. Millions of people saw him provide assistance to someone who has decided to end their life. The issue gets distorted when the general public are made aware of it. The religious people see the Doctor as playing God. They protest him, with banners and signs disrupting his practice. The State is involved in following him, seizing his files without a warrant or justification. All these things against his individual rights. When does the State have the ability to take away the individual’s right to choose their own destiny, or the way by which they wish to leave this Earth? There are very nasty diseases and physical ailments, but what about mental health? Where does one draw the line? Should we be drawing a line at all? All of it raises the issues that are thought-provoking and should be discussed. A movie worth watching if you can find it. Not light entertainment by any means, but movies can also be educational.

The Last Tourist: This 2021 documentary explores trends is tourism, with more people taking cheaper flights to get to more of the same destinations. There are more of us on this planet than ever before, with many travelling to places near and far. But the same places. Machu Pichu, Paris, Italy, South Africa, the Taj Mahal etc. As one of the people who identifies himself as an avid traveller who wants to see the world, I was intrigued to see the perspective of this film. I was aware about how animals in certain cultures are captured and used for tourism, like dolphins harvested in The Cove and used in Caribbean resorts, or the elephants who are in shows and ridden in India, tiger cubs etc. I make a point of not partaking, because the lives of these animals is filled with abuse, starvation, and in effect breaking them to perform. But I had not thought about the area of North American youths volunteering in a foreign country, like at an orphange as being a source of increased child abandonment. People in the country are making money from the volunteers, but pay other natives to give up their children. The number of orphanages has skyrocketed, and many of the children have at least one parent who is still living. Then with sheer numbers places are being overwhelmed with the tourist location needing to limit the number of tourists allowed. But there are also challenges with locals in that area, especially with cruise ships who don’t benefit at all from the tourists. Cruise participants are encouraged only to shop with identified stores, who provide kick backs to the cruise line, rather than individual local vendors. So the money stays withinn limited hands not helping the locals and the local economy. The film speaks to this as modern day colonialism. It also is thought provoking, making one re-think the next trip and how to spend your tourist dollars.

September 12th, 2022

Where The Crawdads Sing: Talk about disappointment! I had seen a trailer for this by chance and it looked intriguing, so I was hopeful when I saw that it was out and available. Where to start? Set in the 1950s in small town North Carolina, a young man is found dead in the swamp. The place of death is below a steel park tower overlooking the swamp, and close to the home of a local young woman who has raised herself. She is played by Daisy Edgar-Jones. We learn this background after she is arrested on suspicion of murder and jailed. A local retired lawyer decides to help her out with her defence. The young Marsh Girl, as the town calls Kya, had an abusive father who drove away her Mom, and then all brother’s and sisters. She ends up at a young age taking care of herself. Inexplicably she has perfect teeth, cleaned clothes and looks no worse for wear. She is able to harvest mussels and sell them to the local general store/marina who take pity on her and wish to help her all that they can. She doesn’t go to school, but teaches herself. Later a young man , Tate Walker, teaches her how to read and write. Then after a romance heads off to school. Things happen.

Kya is approached by another local boy, Chase Andrews. He is the young man who ended up dead. The plot continues in a rather formulaic way, with few surprises. Chase is a bit of a cad, and makes Kya’s life very difficult. Kya also has a talent for nature and drawing it. She was encouraged by Tate to find a publisher for her nature drawings but she doesn’t think on it much until much later. The courtroom drama ensues. Lawyers go back and forth and the case is made for the jury to decide. This was disappointing because I expected more. A couple of observations: the young men are caracatures instead of fully written characters; it seems all women need to do is makes themselves reclusive and men will just fall from the sky into their laps; cooking, cleaning and hygene skills must be easy to address given how nicely Kya cleans up; I want to purchase an outboard motor like she has because it’s very good on gas, and never needs any repair of any kind! I cannot recommend this.

The End of Sex: This is a Canadian comedy filmed in Hamilton back in January. It has Canadian stars, unseen by me before, and was my Saturday night TIFF film to begin my festival. This was better than expected. Set in Montreal, there is a couple married ten years who have two daughters who are heading off for a week at Winter Camp. For a Torontonian, I have never heard of Winter Camp but according to the Director and cast after the viewing, it is a thing in Alberta, Quebec and other parts of the country. The kids head away and the parents look at one another wondering what they can possibly do. After an unsuccessful meet in the bedroom, they openly wonder what they can do to spice things up for their sex life.

TIFF 2022
Cast and Director of The End of Sex
Our couple looks to spice up their sex life

A number of scenes follow which shows over their kid-free work what they are looking to do to add some spice. None of the thoughts help. I laughed a few times. There was some clever writing (Jonas Chernick the male star) with a good supporting cast. The movie outlines issues that aren’t usually spoken about in modern marriages, when being married with children. It also reflects that relationships change from early dating and marriage to when children do arrive and you grow and mature. You aren’t the same people you were when you started the journey together.

One of the greatest aspects of TIFF is that you have the cast and some crew (like director and producer) there to talk about the movie and the process of making it. The director, Sean Garrity, spoke about how this movie was originally called Menage A Trois, but then was shelved for other projects. Then it was ressurected with the cast coming on board. The two lead actors had worked together ten years earlier. So there is a full movie theatre, and the insight into the film, all of which adds to the movie experience. TIFF can be hit and miss at times, but this was a hit for me. I didn’t expect a lot from a Canadian production. Funny we have excellent actors who are Hollywood superstars, like Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling or Rachel MacAdams, but it seems that there is a aura at times of CBC all over these productions. I didn’t feel that. I am so happy to be back to crowds, line ups, chats in the lines about movies, full theatres and conversations with star. TIFF has such a buzz in the city with an energy downtown that is palpable. Just walking around King Street and Roy Thompson Hall area is terrific! More movies to come.

Untold: Flagrant Foul: Similar to the Bad Sport series, Netflix has this series addressing other sports-related issues. Flagrant Foul involves an NBA referee who was providing his insight into the winners of upcoming NBA games to his betting friends. He had insider information about who the referees were and how they interacted with the two teams, and he was pretty good in his picks. He even worked some of the games in which he was providing his suggestions. He claims he never directly bet himself. He was paid a sum of money for each correct pick. The bettors have different than the referee himself in recollecting events. No surprise. The real question is whether he was an isolated rogue element, or whether the NBA itself had any input into the results of the matches, especially when dealing with the playoffs. The league would provide areas to focus on for the referees and this referee claims he just “did what he was told”. He maintains the NBA was interested in these results too – more games in playoffs mean more TV and gate revenue. All this to say, those fans at home who think on occasion that the refs have it in for them, well sometimes in the past, they certainly did!!!

Patrick and the Whale: Patrick Dykstra is a corporate lawyer, who manages to travel the world looking for whales about 300 days a year. A childhood fascination for the blue whale lead him on his initial searches as an adult, but he has become far more interested in sperm whales. For Patrick, they are more social, as well as being far more vocal. This remarkable documentary brings his story of connection to the big screen in ways that are just astounding.

A short clip

For most of us, I think our experience with a sperm whale is limited to the 1851 novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The white whale is a fierce and dangerous animal that Ahab wishes to kill. The thought of someone free diving amongst a pod of such whales would be completely foreign. Patrick manages to swim amongst many of these massive mammals, who have the largest brain in the world, with ease and with little fear but a healthy respect for their size and strength. We see that there is an intelligence at work, and the two species are able to communicate with one another through actions. Patrick feels the emotion and building relationship with a couple of different whales over his years working with them. He is mindful of the individual whale, trying not to view her (in both cases) as the subject of a science experiment. She manages to communicate back in no uncertain terms.

The movie has no CGI. It is filmed mostly with Patrick’s hand held camera and that of the other diver taking his shots. The film generated over 100 hours of footage (around 138 terrabytes of data) which the directed had to review and edit into the 72 minutes of the film. There are drone shots, underwater shots, in studio shots with Patrick voicing what his experiences were. This is deeply personal for Patrick, and he sees a basic lack of understanding of the sperm whale world as an impediment to moving forward with protecting them and their environments. The whales spend two-thirds of their lives at ocean depths that we humans just can’t view them to understand their behaviour. The sperm whale population is shrinking, mostly due to human interference. While not being preachy about it, Patrick and the filmmakers have delivered their message to the audience about preservation. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and saw things that were just amazing. Seeing so many whales coming together, and acting in ways so expressive and connected was unexpected and enlightening at the same time. I hope that this can find distribution or streaming beyond TIFF and other film festivals so more people can view it. If you can find it, catch it!! This shows at TIFF once again on Friday September 16th at 12:05PM.

September 5th, 2022 (Labour Day)

Stranger Things 4: Stranger Things is one of the most popular series that Netflix has every produced. When first introduced it was a nostaligic, retro roll back to the 80s (with 80s stars like Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine) along with a scary tale filled with sci fi elements and decent effects. Set in a small town, there is a local high school who’s students are the stars of the show who have grown before our eyes. In a Stand By Me kind of way, these close friends, who are also not the popular kids, more leaning towards the geeky and nerdy deal with unusual situations in their town. Adding to the intrigue, are experiments being undertaken with young children by a doctor and his team to explore their telepathic powers. In some ways this is reminiscent of the treatment of pre-cogs in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report. Add in a police force that deals on the facts, and some 80s era Russian paranoia and there is the makings of the series.

One of the things that this series seems to do well, written by the Duffer Brothers (great name!), is that they are building on the seasons, even though I am sure that they didin’t initially think that it would go further than season 1. This season four splits up the cast into groups: the police and Winona are dealing with the Russian angle and saving the police officer, Eleven is looking to regain her powers and delve more deeply into her earlier days with other younger children with the gift and then the group of high school friends is looking to investigate some horrific murders and dealing with popular kids. I found that the Russian aspect of this equation was the weakest. I wasn’t fully engaged, while struggling with how Winona and team would be able to assist the kids back in the town to any extent. Meanwhile, the kids were interacting with their own relationships all the while looking to find out the source of these murders. It seems to be someone very powerful who is terrorizing the town once again. The town can’t seem to get a break. Eleven decides that the best way for her to help is to get back her abilities and obtaining them through the doctor who hasn’t always had her best interests at heart. The story continues. This isn’t as good as Season 1 where everything was fresh and new. We learned about the upside down, and parallel plain of existence. It was through one of the boys initially, Winona’s youngest son that this was examined. As these younger kids grow, the complexity of the relationships between them is inevitably. They are young adults. So there is a romantic element explored more fully. We also have early days of being gay for a time when this was not out in the open. All in all, I enjoyed this, it is a substantial commitment in time, with the last episode itself over 2 hours. Much of it could be skipped, since it takes longer than it needs to for us to be ready for the conclusion. If you are a fan, it’s okay. If not, I would suggest at least seeing the first season to better understand the cast and the situation. Jumping in at this point could be confusing. I do really enjoy the fact that a result of this show has been a resurgence in the music of Kate Bush. Her Running Up That Hill/Deal With God plays an important role and young people are making it a chart topping hit again. Good for her. Introducing this generation to good music can only help us all and what we hear on the radio!

LA Confidential: This 1997 film, scarily 25 years ago, has an impressive cast and is a quality crime police caper. Set in the 1950s in LA, the focus is on the police department of the burgeoning city. The police include Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell and the introduction of Russell Crowe. Add in Danny DeVito as a reporter, David Strathairn, and the Academy Award performance of Kim Basinger and this story has a cast worthy of the story. Crowe’s partner has been disgraced and then ends up dead in what appears to be a robbery gone bad at a diner. The alleged black perpetrators are tracked down and interrogated. The police meanwhile have their own issues with Pearce playing the son of a well known detective who is looking to be clean in a sea of dirty. He is making some career headway, but is discouraged by Cromwell his boss to being a detective. Seems Cromwell believes that his detectives should be able to manipulate evidence, set scenes and ensure what they believe are the “bad people” can be put away. That is justice to him. Pearce wants the truth to be seen through the facts. This dichotomy of philosophies is most directly seen with Crowe’s officer who has no difficulty with extracting confessions or evidence within a situation. He has a certain affinity for protecting battered women. Things happen. Suscpicions are raised. Deeper investigations take place which makes the black and white diner robbery appear to be something else entirely. The writing is excellent, the story flows well and makes sense. All the while adding intrigue, making those in power uncomfortable.

I honestly don’t see the award for Basinger, but perhaps it was a body of work nomination. She plays a high priced call girl who is put into a very difficult situation that only grows worse for her. But it fits. It adds to the story and she plays it well. I finished this and truly enjoyed revisiting it. I had seen back in the day, but the details were fuzzy. Twenty five years later Spacey is personna non grata in Hollywood, Pearce has had some quality roles, and Crowe being a superstar has ballooned into a mammoth guy who shouldn’t ever sing again like in Les Miserable. This is on Netflix.

TIFF 2022: TIFF starts this week, back to in person viewing after a couple of years of hiatus from COVID. I presently have two movies I will be seeing. The comedy The End of Sex, and then Patrick and the Whale, which is a documentary. I am looking forward to experiencing the energy and the buzz of having stars back in the city with the streets downtown along King Street filled with moviegoers. The experience of lining up and chatting about movies before a screening has been missed. The chance to see a star before their film debuts is fun. I amy try for more tickets but for now that is where I will be. The fun begins on Thursday until the following Sunday September 18th! For those who attend, enjoy the movie going experience in some of Toronto’s best places to see films.

August 29th, 2022

House of the Dragon: I managed to watch the first episode of this highly anticipated prequel to Game of Thrones. I had made a point of not watching the trailers, and ignoring the reviews because I wanted to see this with fresh eyes, not tainted or with impressions. Let this prequel stand on its own, especially given that I had just recently finished reading Book 5 of Game of Thrones Dances with Dragons. This is set 172 years before the time of Danearys Targaryen and Jon Snow. The focus is the Targaryen family and the succession from one King to another, and then later. This is a time when the Targaryen’s have up to 11 dragons, and rule with an iron fist. The aging and ailing King doesn’t have a male heir, and there is a Council meeting to bring people together and select the successor. Rather than the eldest daughter, he chooses a brother Vicerys I, and the aim is to avoid internal family conflict for the throne. Vicerys I, nine years later, also wants to ensure his line and name by having a male heir. He has a daughter, Raneyra and a wife who is pregnant once again. The new King believes with all his being that this pregnancy is a male child. All of this speaks to English history with real rulers like Henry VIII and others. The quest for power and formalize succession are important. The new King also has a brother, Daemon played ruthlessly by Matt Smith, who you will remember from playing younger Prince Phillip in The Crown and a well-known Doctor Who. He is presently heir to the current throne with no male child occuring to date. The Queen has had very difficult pregnancies. Meanwhile, much like Elizabeth, the new King’s Raneyra is feeling a little bit left out and unloved. The King has appointed his brother Daemon to various posts and is having difficulty keeping control over the actions of him. For his part, Daemon feels that his brother is weak, and not ruling adequately the kingdom, allowing far too much lawlessness in times in which war hasn’t been an issue, but it seems that the people have become more aggressive towards each other. Daemon sees his role as fixing that. The brother’s butt heads and the King’s advisors wish to make sure that he is aware of what Daemon is doing. Things happen. Some of it is gruesome in a Game of Thrones way.

Vicerys I seated left and brother Daemon on right clash

My first impression is how much there is borrowed from the real life tales of the British Monarchy. Good material to be sure. Plenty of intrigue, lots of drama, positioning for the crown. Game of Thrones had an energy. Much of it early on came from the various houses with families and people with their own motives and perspectives. It was less a good versus evil, although the impression left was that the audience should be cheering on Family Stark, the Wards of the North. Having just finished Becoming Elizabeth, this feels in some ways like that. There can be a little bit of Succession in here too, with the squabbling siblings. Much has been spent on the production design, the sets, costumes all of it. HBO is not being cheap with a flagship series. It shows. I did watch recently too a show about the making of Game of Thrones, and the ending season and the same care is going into it. Am I fully engaged yet? Not sure. Like many things it will take time to connect with the characters. It is obvious that Daemon is set up as an ambitious trouble-maker, taking sides against his own brother, who has many issues in which to deal. The issues grow. I also don’t have a feeling for Raneyra who’s dramatic entrance of riding a dragon was exciting. The dragons are always cool. There has to be a foundation laid, and this is a start. I of course will see more, and look forward to catching upon Episode 2 in short order. It is fair at this point, but not outstanding. I am going to remain hopeful for more. Stay tuned.

August 22, 2022

Thirteen Lives: This Ron Howard movie was released on Amazon Prime recently and it details the 2018 true life story of 12 young soccer players and their coach in Thailand who went into a cave that was flooded by early monsoon rains one fateful night. It stars Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton. This story was all over the newspapers, and was something I can’t honestly recall, so I went into it not knowing the outcome. This is a good thing. Disney + apparently has a documentary on this same incident which I have not watched. I think that this is a story that is best seen without any knowledge of it as the suspense of what is happening onscreen keeps building and building.

The boys are missing from a birthday party and the families hear that they went into this cave. They can’t find them so the local police and later military divers get involved. Politics ensues to complicate and already tense situation. Things unfold.

Imagine the limited visibility for the long dive in this cave
Filming this would have been challenging

What I can say is that I have limited scuba diving experience, but with that I do know that I would not want to be in a cave for 6 hours even once. They were navigating trecherous tight tunnels with wicked currents from water pouring in from outside. They also have air tanks to take with them. Farrell and Mortensen are two British divers regarded as some of the best in the world for this work. They arrive to assist. Note that they are not “professional divers” so to speak. They had other jobs and did this diving as a sidelight. Mortensen’s character was a fireman. So there is an inherent need for these two to help others. What I can say is that here are two men who should be knighted in their country. Not celebrities. They act without thinking about the harm that they put themselves into, and yet still do it time and again. It is remarkable. A tension-filled of a situation that was more complicated than one would initially think. Under the direction of Howard he brings the audience right into the caves with the divers. This doesn’t even mention the task of getting these shots on film. They are believable and would have had the actors in the water for long periods of time. Not an easy task. But it comes together which is compelling and shows, yet again, an example of what people can together, when they are motivated with a single goal. Things happened here that have never been done before. Definitely worth seeing.

Nikki Glaser: Good Clean Filth: I do like stand up comedy. Some better than others. Recently I have been watching comedians like Tom Segura, Jim Jeffries, Amy Schumer and Jimmy Carr. I have laughed out loud more to Carr, Segura and Jeffries than to Glaser. She is an attractive woman, despite her apparent issues both in her youth and her present. She spends significant time talking about her own womanly body parts and also performing various sex acts. This is definitely not a comedian for the kids to be watching, unless you want them to learn as much or more than they would hear on the playground. Glaser has been on F-Boy Island where her talents are wasted. She did an interesting bit talking about how male comedians can seemingly punch well about their weight in looks certainly, while female comics not so much. I do like that Netflix is investing in stand up. I enjoy a good laugh and especially during COVID we all could use a little levity! But if you haven’t seen any of Tom Segura or Jimmy Carr I would steer you there first. Amy Schumer’s latest special for me fell flat.

August 15th, 2022

Raiders of the Lost Ark: What is a summer movie season without talking about a summer blockbuster? Top Gun Maverick is clearly the blockbuster for this year. Back in 1981, crazily 41 years ago, there was Steven Spielberg doing his almost annual blockbuster. The director who started blockbusters with Jaws back in 1975. He teams up with his good buddy George Lucas to recreate the look and feel of the movie serials that he grew up with as a kid. Each episode would end with a cliff hanger, leaving the audience wondering what would happen next week. Raiders is a masterpiece from the opening sequence which immediately captures the audience’s attention in the jungles in South America. Indiana Jones, not known to us yet, is a figure in shadows working his way through the jungle clearly seeking something. Within a nearby cave, we see Indiana and his cohort tiptoe their way through a maze of traps and creepy crawly creatures. The prize is a gold artifact. Indiana returns to his university, where he is a professor, and is told about Hitler’s new obsession with the occult and digging up antiquities. Specifically he has a massive dig near Cairo looking for the Arc of the Covenant. The Arc, from folklore, is where the Hebrews took the broken pieces of the tablets inscribed by God himself and carried them in their travels. The adventure continues. From the streets of Cairo, to the sea and then to a remote Greek island.

Of course there are bad guys, and Nazis for Spielberg is a favourite target. His one of many master stroke in casting was Ronald Lacey as the Nazi SS interogator. Brilliant. The movie holds your attention, doesn’t let go until the final credits. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and embodies the role. So much so, that even now in his 80s, he is reprising this role for the fifth installment which is due in 2023. Remarkable.

This movie holds up remarkably well, even with the special effects for which itn won Oscars. There is humour, snappy one liners, more killing than I had remembered, but it is after all around the war time. People die. Of course you temporarily have to suspend disbelief like when Indy manages to ride a U-boat submarine far longer than you would have expected. But it doesn’t matter. This is a popcorn movie at its finest with a director hitting on cylinders. If your kids haven’t seen this, then they should.

Indian Matchmaker: This is season 2 of this Netflix series as a Mumbai based matchmaker is asked by young people and their families to find a match for them. The matches are mostly in the US but not all. This is a guilty pleasure, because it is interesting to see all people struggle with modern dating. In an age of apps and swipes, profiles, they are dealing with real people attached to profiles and their families. Typically the first meeting is the family and the suitor. Then the couple can go and have their meeting. Dating is not for the feint of heart.

We also find as the audience that there is more spirituality in this process for the matchmaker. She takes the pictures of her clients to a face reader. She also uses the stars and does charting for the clients. All this along with advice on what they seek, versus what she thinks that she can deliver. For those with a laundry list of needs, she typically says “you may get 60% of that list”. This shocks her clients. But she will say, find a person with a kind heart, who is a good person and things will grow. Sprinkled in the beginning of the episodes are stories of long term marriages who only knew each other for minutes in some cases. She doesn’t provide too many choices, she feels that it takes away from the focus. Analysis paralysis in other words, the paradox of choice. Her younger clients do though look for the ever elusive chemistry, and sometimes when they think that they have it, they don’t. Oh the joys of navigating uncertain waters. Some individuals and couples from Season 1 appear and we are introduced to others. I will continue to watch.

The Ghost Writer: The cast for this 2010 spy thriller (of some sort) is impressive with Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrell. The basic storyline is that the former UK Prime Minister is looking for someone to finish writing his memoirs. The previous writer, and speech writer for him ended up washed up on the shores in Cape Cod having fallen off a ferry. McGregor has his agent convince him to finish the work for a sizeable sum. He reluctantly agrees. As he reads to catch up on the story he formulates some of his own questions to ask Brosnan who seems to keep himself very busy and away from his brooding wife. Ewan finds new items about the former PM and the web gets more and more complex. In the end, the story falls flat for me and the performances are more or less mailed in. So I cannot recommend and actually would say that you actively avoid it. I watched this so you wouldn’t have to.

You’re welcome.

August 8th, 2022

Becoming Elizabeth: STARZ has released this new series about the young UK monarch Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII as a young girl. It is an 8-part series, and has no known stars to me. Alicia Von Rittburg has the starring role. Set in the mid-1500s, the story deals with the time post King Henry’s death and the succession of the throne to his 9 1/2 year old son Edward. To me, it is funny that in North America, that in that time we didn’t even exist as a country. We were filled with nature and indigenous peoples. While in Europe, there are castles and battles and intrigue playing their real life version of the Game of Thrones. Make no mistake that this was a complicated time, with a dead King who has heirs from many women, he proclaims himself the head of a new church, the Church of England, and dismisses the Catholic faith. For young Elizabeth at 13yo, her Dad has passed away, her 9 1/2 yo brother takes the throne with adults, his Uncle, to guide him, an older sister Mary and plenty of those around them all seeking favour.

I am no English historian, what I know of this time, I know from the numerous depictions that have come from film and TV. The stories have everything that can intrigue with love, duty, drama, sex, scandal, betrayal, villians and heroes. From Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett, to Lady Jane with Helena Bonham Carter, to The Other Boleyn Girl with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansen they each have this time period in mind. The Tutors TV series also addressed more of the intrigue surrounding Henry as opposed to the daughters. Mary is treated very differently in this series than for example in Elizabeth, where she was a sickly, unattractive and half-mad woman on the throne in a loveless marriage with no children. This is a very different portrayal of a woman who has to deal with the men around her making decisions, as well as the decisions on whether to marry and how to remain safe. All the while her younger sister, Elizabeth seems to be acting inappropriately.

The production value for this series is high with the settings and the costuming. I find that the series starts off slowly but gains momentum as the stakes get higher. The early scenes deal with young Elizabeth who is brought into the home of her Uncle Thomas Seymour, who is character portrayed as charming, ambitious, seeking favour to gain in his station by any means possible. His brother Edward is position himself as the young King’s Lord Protector, effectively running the country and the Council. He was older brother to Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. The brother’s have their own battles between themselves while trying to deal with a battle in Scotland and other international issues like Spain. The acting is good. The story progresses in dealings with Thomas and also between the siblings when Edward Seymour falls out of favour. There is of course the appropriate cliff hanger in the end as they are expecting this series to continue on. It couldnt have been easy to be a woman in this time, and add to that the drama of the Crown and who is next in line with the throne. Like Succession, the TV series, the siblings have to deal with one another while being impacted by those advising them. Elizabeth being third in line, with a younger brother on the throne, would have expected to live a life outside the royal limelight, in the same way that Prince Edward or other QE II offspring must have felt. I imagine that she never expected that she would ever be the Queen of England. But the 1500s were not easy times, certainly from a medical perspective or technology or dietary or hygiene. Things happen, and they shaped history after that. Worth a viewing if this type of thing is to your tastes.

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan: With the passing this week of Lt Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, at the age of 89, I decided that I should write about this storied franchise. In 1982, this sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out. The first Star Trek was for me an exercise in boredom. It took forever to finally reach the Enterprise, and they were so enamoured with the ability to show the size of the ship that they focused on doing mostly that. The onboard interaction with the well known crew from TV series was fine. This was greatly improved in this installment as they brought back a villain, Khan, from the TV series to actually have something for the Enterprise to do! The emotional stakes are much higher as well with the crew on the Enterprise having casualties from attacks on it. All the familiar faces are here with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan as Scotty. Young Kirstie Alley plays a young Vulcan trainee. Ricardo Montalban returns as an older buff Khan.

Kirk and his crew

Kirk is getting older and was promoted to Admiral, which is more of a desk job. He wants to be in the field, exploring space, instead of watching over new recruits. A ship, with Chechov on board, has mistakenly stumbled upon Khan and the remainder of his people on a desert planet. He tortures them and captures their ship. They head towards a space station where they are working on a new technology, called Genesis, which is meant to be a molecule accelerator which in effect can create life for nothing. It would be sent to a desolate planet through a rocket and then transform that planet into something akin to earth with life. Khan wants that technology and views it as a weapon, in the same way as Bones does on the Enterprise. It seems Kirk’s ex-flame works on the project, and she seeks him out when the manipulated Chechov requests all the details about Genesis. There are some good battles with older CGI, but they are effective. The two captains manoever around trying to defeat their enemy. This is satisfying and one of the better Star Trek movies. This movie plants the seeds for the next movie in the series, which I won’t divulge for those who may not have watched. Worth checking out, wherever it may be.

Khan takes his revenge

August 1st, 2022

Severance: This 9-episode Apple TV series that Alison accurately described to me as “brilliant – a slow churn but worth it” asks some intriguing questions. Things like, if you could live two separate lives (your personal life and your business life) would you? Why would you? What would possess someone to want to do this? You would have no memory at all of your life outside the office, and it would seem as though time away from office flies by and your existence (for that part of you anyway) would be constantly in that office environment. The series opens with a women laying on the top of an office meeting conference table. She is groggy and a voice asks her “who are you?” repeatedly. Failing to engage her, the voice asks a questionnaire. “Five questions”. Turns out she is one of a small team in a department of this company in what appears to be a dystopian society, or at least corporate environment (Lumon Industries).

The series stars Adam Scott, with Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Christopher Walken and the memorable Britt Lower. Lower was the character who just arrived. As she get acclimated to her new limited environment she rebels, not fully understanding what she is doing, and what exactly this company does. In her world, she gathers numbers on a computer screen and virtually puts them in a virtual box. This seemingly meaningless task occupies each of the four people on that team. There are aspects of The Office in their inactions, with an undercurrent of foreboding. One of the former members of this team, just up and disappeared one day. No explanation, just gone. The slow churn is that this series takes its time to get you familiar with what you are shown. But then reveals a little at a time. You get to know more about each of these characters and the tensions between them. You learn about how severance takes place, and that outside of Lumon there is a political debate on whether this technology should be more widely adopted. I won’t get any further into the plot except to say that it is satisfying. It is isn’t all rainbows and light for each of these characters, and with those that they interact. Arquette is The Boss, or at least the manager of this group, who periodically reports to The Board. There are good jabs at the corporate world with targets, and attempts to reward and ackowledge the workers with small tokens like a lunch, fruit platter or a limited time of frivolity. But then it is “get back to work” and occupy yourself in a Big Brother type of world, without the oversight that you expect.

Overall, well worth the time to watch it.

The Most Hated Man on the Internet: Netflix has been very successful with documentaries revolving current issues of the day like Tinder Dating (Tinder Swindler) and Infertility (Our Father). I started this series of the guy who, more or less, founded revenge porn with his website (isanyoneup.com). The basic idea, starting it anyway was to put up titilating content, mostly nude or topless women and drive users to talk about the pics. The added feature was a link to that person’s social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. The site grew. The source of pics is debatable. The man is named Hunter Moore. He makes money of course from the posts with advertisers and subscriptions. He gains a loyal following over time that looks upon him as some kind of leader, in the most generous of words. He is obnoxious, flaunting his money and power with no conscience, so long as he is generating money. In his world, all publicity, good or bad is good to drive people to his site. We have the story of a young woman who’s topless pics end up on the site. Kayla Laws, according to her, decided in the privacy of her own room to take pics of herself, and she decided because of limited storage space to send them to her cloud account (like gmail). She has “no idea” how they ended up on the site. Do I believe it? Not really. It isn’t important, although the fact the Mom and her lawyer husband did far more to salvage the reputation of this young aspiring actress is a bit surprising. Kayla is “devastated” but Mom takes action in a time when it was no illegal to faciliate the putting of images on a site. Strangely the law provided no recourse for those who requested the pics to be taken down, even when the website said that it would. Moore was also a master manipulator and encouraged people like Butthole Girl, aka Destiny Benedict to upload increasingly graphic videos of herself. She thought it would lead to fame and fortune, or at least have Moore take down Facebook pics of her daughter. She never received a penny from him. It seemed that there was nothing that could encourage Moore to do the right thing.

Do I need to watch an entire series of this? Nope. The underlying message about the dangers of taking and sending any naked pics rings true for one and all. The Internet can be forever, and being forgotten can be a real undertaking, even if you never consented to having your images put up. Since this case, there are Revenge Porn laws in place which address this in many US states, although not all. In short, be careful. Tell your kids to be careful. This is a good reminder of this undeniable fact.

July 25th, 2022

The Gray Man: Netflix has released the new Ryan Gosling film, with an impressive cast which apparently cost $200M to produce. The impressive cast includes Rege-Jean Page (Bridgerton Season 1), Billy Bob Thornton, Anna de Armas (who Gosling worked with in Blade Runner), Chris Evans, Alfre Woodard and others. The premise is a simple one; Billy Bob works for the CIA, and he approached people in prison (no idea if it was all men or not) and offered to get them out, so long as they become operatives for the CIA for an unknown length of time. Gosling, not surprisingly, takes the deal. Fast forward a few years and location to Bangkok, and there is a bad guy who needs to be taken out. Turns out, Gosling the operative is told very little about the marks that he is expected to take down. And so the story unfolds with De Armas seeing things happen and taking sides of her own. There is a great deal of Jason Bourne in this plot, with some additional James Bond aspects. There really isn’t anything new of substance. Gosling is pitted against the “private” agent (Evans, who chose this role over the Gosling role) as well as the new bosses for his unit. Billy Bob was replaced by a new regime. There is a subplot involving a niece for Billy Bob, which moves the story along. As far as the movie and production goes, there are some amazing locations, I was most impressed by Prague, but there were clearly CGI aspects of fights that took place. Some of that CGI isn’t as impressive as it should be for the budget. Like any other movie in this genre there are many moments where one must suspend their disbelief for the number of bullets that are fired, and punches taken (including head butts) that don’t leave the perpetrators concussions or bruised or dead. It is to be expected. This is a popcorn fluff movie that is watched for escapism; little more or less. Gosling is effective in the role, and certainly shows that his character can take some hits while unflinchingly carrying on. At some point, one thinks his previous injuries must open up. Why is it, though, that such agents always seem to break into veterinarian offices to deal with their injuries? There is a hint of looking to make this a series. Evans plays the over-confident guy who will do whatever it takes when legal means are not available to do what is necessary. His job is to obtain an asset, and he will do anything that he and that cheesey smile and mustache will conjure up in his twisted head. Both Gosling and Evans took in apparently $20M each for this production, and I am sure that they would like to carry on. But we will see. For a Netflix movie, that seemed to be almost simultaneously released in the theatres, this fulfills the Netflix payment for the month. It didn’t suck, but it also wasn’t amazingly entertaining or breaking new ground. Ana De Armas through this and the last Bond has shown herself capable of doing these roles as the principal actor rather than a supporting cast member. She is once again a scene stealer in the movie.

Solaris: This is a George Clooney movie from back in 2002 (twenty years ago already!!) with Viola Davis and Natascha McElhone which is a space psychedelic movie. I re-watched this in the past week. The movie still is meant to confuse, and is successful in that. A space craft is near a planet, Solaris, and then strange things happen aboard. The people on board are either extremely terrified, like Viola Davis, or they are just chill, like Jeremy Davies. McElhone was the wife of the Clooney character and she adds complexity to the story with him. In some ways I can see some elements of the later Inception where Leo’s character needed to address the past relationship with wife, played by Marion Cotillard. The ending will have you thinking that you likely should be watching it once again. Perhaps it is even better on second or third viewing because initially one watches with a plot focus just to pay attention. For me, it is still a head scratcher, which is okay. I am not sure that I can recommend it.

Better Call Saul: It was recommended to me that Better Call Saul, the spin off from Breaking Bad was worth my time. I had thought that the Saul character was excellent in Breaking Bad as a supporting character. Bob Odenkirk is brilliant as the lawyer on the edges with the really good one liners. I wasn’t sure that the character though could be a watchable principal. I have been assured that despite a fairly slow start, that it gets much better. Some notable characters from Breaking Bad make appearances as well like Mike, and some of the drug crowd. There is good writing throughout and once again it is set in New Mexico. I will continue to watch and see where it takes me. It does make me laugh with the things that he gets himself into.

July 18th, 2022

Old Henry: This is on Netflix, and stars Tim Blake Nelson as Henry. He plays a lone farmer who lives with his teenage son. His wife has passed away earlier. The story addresses this loner who is looking to have a very simple life with no complications. Into his life, he has a man who was hurt badly and a bagfull of money. Henry is very adept at dealing with injuries and nurses this injured stranger back to health. His son wants to explore and think about a life of adventure, far away from the quiet little farm. Dad’s past is a mystery for the audience. A local sherriff is intent on tracking this man, along with his group. He arrives at Henry’s door, and then things take place.

For me, this story reminds me a great deal of the Clint Eastwood mysterious stranger movies where he just arrives in town, with no backstory and no idea whether he is good or bad. The sherriff very early on is shown as a man not to be triffled with. He is determined and very much a guy focused on the end justifying the means. The first half is a bit slow but sets the scene. The second half is much more interesting and fun. Henry is being put into an untenable position where he needs to either roll over or reveal his skills to the audience and to his son. I found this more interesting than I expected. My thoughts were more that this would be like The Power of the Dog that put me to sleep from boredom. But it steadily built up to a point where you actively cheer for Henry and his son.

Good Luck to You Leo Grande: Emma Thompson stars in what could easily be just a two person play. Daryl McCormack plays Leo, the much younger Irish male character for this story. Emma is playing Nancy Stokes, who is a retired teacher. She married her high school boyfriend and has lived by all accounts a very straight laced life. Her husband has passed away. She has hired Leo as a male escort. Yes a gigilo. The movie then addresses their encounters. From the first meeting to the last, you can see the dynamics between them shift. She initially extremely shy, worried about the morality of her situation and Leo’s. What does his family think about what he does? Does he have ambitions for other careers etc? His answers surprise her a little bit. He on the other hand, tries to make her feel less self conscious, about her body, her attitude and allowing her the chance to feel that she should focus on her own happiness now. Emma Thompson is really good in these roles, because there no artificiality in her. What you see is what you get. She accepts herself as an actress it seems at the age in which she currently is. NO surgeries. No massive body transformations. But she is eloquent, showing her struggles at her current life. But both of these people have growing to do. The relationship that they undertake helps them both grow and improve going foward. They were lucky to meet one another. This was slow moving, and fairly predictable, but it becomes about the performances and how believeable that they are. Not every story needs guns and CGI, spaceships and good guys and bad guys. It can be about a human experience; the everyday.

Dirty Dancing: Yes, the 1987 film with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. I saw this back in the day in the theatre. I had also seen Grey and Swayze in Red Dawn. Grey after this movie was an It Girl, at the top of her game. From Ferris Bueller and this. She plays Baby Houseman, going to a family retreat for the summer, with both her parents and her older sister. Dad is a doctor. Mom seems to be stay-at-home. The time is the 1950s. Before the pill, and women’s liberation and all that entailed. Baby is a guest, and is told not to engage with the staff. The Staff however are told to do what is necessary to keep the guests happy. Dance with the girls, keep the lessons coming. Swayze is the local entertainment director, along with his good friend Penny Johnson who is also a dancer. Seems Penny has some trouble, and that Baby can assist, or takes it upon herself to assist. She likes Swayze’s character, and wants to impress him.

I was surprised on the re-watch how much this movie was about the relationship between Baby and her father. Baby was the apple of Dad’s eye, but then things happen where Baby has to rely on her Dad’s positive feelings about her, and she disappoints him. Dad makes some assumptions, and they both do some things that neither is proud of. There is a heartfelt discussion between father and daughter that, for me, shows a generational difference in parenting. I couldn’t imagine sitting as stoically as Dad does here while his daughter tells him her feelings. This is an iconic film for both. Jennifer Grey famously had plastic surgery, mostly on her nose and it changed her film career fortunes. Apparently there is a sequel that she is working on where she will act as a Mom figure. This still holds up well, with the good music, the dancing itself and the family relationships with dynamics that are ever-present. If your kids haven’t seen this, this may be something that they will enjoy.