May 17th, 2021

First of all, I need to have a shout out to my Mom who celebrated her 80th birthday on the weekend. I owe so very much to her, over and above the obvious. She has been providing support, encouragement and love through all of my choices in life, both good and questionable. Happy Birthday, Mom! Many more to come! I look forward to more get-togethers and good times ahead as we hopefully can put this pandemic and Stay At Home Orders behind us.

A Private War: Some people it seems are just meant to do the job that they have chosen. Even when you chose a vocation that is extremely dangerous personally. In this case, being a war correspondent is the only thing that Marie Colvin an American and writer for the UK’s The Sunday Times seemed to be born to do. Even after losing her eye in a close explosion in a war zone, she continues on. She just has to “see it for herself”. She lives life hard, and is challenged with her personal life as well as with drinking and smoking. She was awarded numerous awards including the 2012 Foreign Reporter of the Year. In the movie she is played with an edge by Rosamund PIke. Jamie Dornan plays her photographer sidekick, and Tom Hollander her boss. She suffers from the things that she sees. The truth of war, with unpredictable actions and results fills each of her days abroad. But she can make a difference like when she is specifically selected to speak with Libyan Leader, Muammar Gaddafi. She doesn’t punch a clock. She doesn’t sit behind a desk. She is bringing perspective to people comfortable in their homes and proving the lies of leaders. Pike doesn’t sugar coat her subject, and shows her with flaws and all. We as the audience understand her, even though we can’t fully comprehend what drives her. It really is an addiction for her; to be involved, to put herself in obvious danger, to provide a human story to something that seems so foreign and abstract. When this was released in 2018, Pike got some Award consideration (including a Golden Globe nomination and American Film Award for Best Actress). It was justified. This isn’t easy to watch, especially some of the things that she uncovered. But it was informative and interesting. Well worth the view if you can find it.

Dark Skies: This is a 2013 horror, thriller, sci fi thriller which deals with a young family (husband, wife and two young boys) living in the suburbs. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play the couple. JK Simmons is the notable actor involved in the project. The story is well-trodden horror ground, where a young couple in a house begins to encounter strange occurrences, which start out innocently enough and then escalate. Off the top of my head, films like The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, The Entity and countless others have aspects in this. The couple has some money issues with Dad out of work. There are little hints dropped through out which points to some of their past. They eventually run into Simmons who explains what he believes that these disturbances are. I won’t divulge the details, but I don’t think that it’s really surprising to anyone. The last quarter of the movie focuses on the family’s approach to do what they can to protect themselves. There are better movies in this genre. This doesn’t really add anything to me. This can be found on Netflix.

Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet stars in this series which is on Crave HBO. It started off slowly but has progressed well and has captured my attention. So far anyway. So I will continue to watch.

May 10th, 2021

One of the more interesting aspects of having started this blog, and earlier the email exchanges with Alison, is that although it has been done for quite some time, it still doesn’t reflect all the movie viewing that has been done. I review things that I have watched that week, but there are older movies that I enjoyed when I was younger that I haven’t reviewed because they were seen many years ago. Movies from the 70s and certainly the 80s fall into this category. I re-watched one of these movies from many years ago this weekend. I liked it then, and I still like it now. It holds up well.

The World According to Garp: Back in 1982, Robin Williams had just completed Mork & Mindy. Before that the absolutely awful Popeye. John Irving wrote the book, unread by me, and this movie had an impressive cast with Williams, plus Glenn Close portraying his nurse Mom, Jenny Fields, Mary Beth Hurt and John Lithgow. The story details the life of young T.S Garp and his Mom, where in the early 1940s she is a feminist before her time. Early on she believes that lust drives men, and she doesn’t view it positively. As a young nurse she wanted a child, but didn’t want the trappings at that time of other “womanly” duties and expectations. Garp was born, and his father had passed away. Jenny was raising Garp in a prep school in New England. Garp grows and mainly through lust for a young woman (Hurt) who sees herself as a reader and future professor. Garp writes short stories and is quite good, novels come later. Garp and Mom decide to move to New York to experience life and become real writers. Mom decides that her life story is something that she should write about and it becomes a political manifesto for women’s rights and the women’s movement for equality. The movie is a delicate balance of humour and seriousness. There are some genuinely funny moments, and Williams is allowed some leeway it seems to improvise and show his early comic genius. But it has also some touching moments and sadness. Garp gets married, has children, and interacts with people who have flocked to Jenny for support. Things happen, and like life not all of them are expected. Even 40 years later the issues addressed in this movie still linger. Equality, women’s rights, violence, political activism, political correctness all come together in a cohesive story. It isn’t single minded nor is it exactly what you might have expected. Still it remains effective. Williams shows early signs of dramatic abilities as well as comic. Both Close and Lithgow were nominated for Best Supporting Actor Awards for these roles. Well deserved, as I think Close is simply excellent. Worth checking out if and when you can find it.

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing: This 2016 documentary follows the actions of the Boston Marathon bombing back in 2013, and the aftermath for those who were most directly impacted. Those who lost loved ones (4 were killed, including an 8yo boy) but many others who had amputations (mostly legs) as a result. One of the more touching stories explored was a young couple, Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, both runners who were spectators who lost their left legs in the bombing. Having done some running and attending these races, the Boston Marathon being the pinnacle of the sport, I can attest to the training, hard work, agonizing times to reach that race and then only to have your body destroyed so close to the finish line would be agonizing. It breaks my heart to think about it. You have entered a bucket list race, almost finished and then this senseless act happens. Lives are lost, the manhunt for the brothers ensues, but your life is changed forever. What cannot be anticipated is that your own body is rejecting amputation and preventing you from effectively wearing a prosthetic leg without excruciating pain. There is a scene with Jessica waking up and the bottles of drugs beside her bedside are astonishing. A senseless and barbaric act, which was protesting US violence against Muslims, rips apart lives. It is really very sad, but shows a level of resilience that is equally remarkable.

Image without a caption
Downes and Kensky when they were engaged.

Their stories are all heart wrenching. As you see those not injured in that bombing but those military personnel who have returned from places like Iraq and Afghanistan, you see wasted youth as they try to reassemble their lives for conflicts which resolve nothing. A moment in time for these people becomes a defining moment where their lives changed, and a unique unanticipated struggle for some normalcy begins. Incidentally since the documentary aired, she has written a children’s book about her and her support dog, Rescue. They campaigned for Elizabeth Warren, who assisted in getting them into Walter Reed Hospital for Military personnel. I cannot imagine the dark days that this couple will have endured. But I am thankful for healthy legs, and kids and family that in comparison makes me rich beyond anything imaginable. Stay well and stay safe.

May 3, 2021

Oscars 2021: I will admit that I get excited around Oscar time, which for me usually starts around the time that TIFF gets going in September. Seems the Oscar-worthy films come out for TIFF. I run an Oscar pool over the past few years for fun, and will acknowledge that my brother won last year breaking a string of victories by Alison in the process. I make a point of seeing all the nominated Best Picture nominees and many of the Best Actor and Actresses Award nominees as well. I want to be able to form my own opinion about the Films and choose my own preferred winner. This year, while I did see all nominated films, I didn’t have the energy (or enthusiasm) for the Awards. All along it felt that the best films to be released were being pushed back. No studios wanted to lose on the in-theatre revenue for these expensive films, and that is completely understandable. Money talks in this business, and after all that is why they are produced. This year’s nominees struck me, as I mentioned a few weeks back as the Plan B movies, that in most other years wouldn’t be nominated. Like a sports league, we had the minors on display, with the best players on the sidelines. Having watched most of the Best Picture nominees I was agreeing with the sentiment that overall they were down in tone. While 2020 sucked in the outside world with the pandemic, death, masks, lock downs, a bizarre election season, a riot, a police killing of a black man etc all the news was dark, dreary and depressing. In a time when we could all use a little entertainment, some fun, we didn’t get it. Where was La La Land this year? Where was Singin In The Rain, A Star is Born, Wizard of Oz or the like? There wasn’t any buzz or excitement. Sure there were some quality performances, like Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Father, for which I was thrilled that he took home the prize. But even then, it is a depressing story of an older man losing his marbles. I didn’t come away from it energized, more like thinking “this is what I potentially have to look forward to”…! I watched briefly and saw the Best Director award being given, early in the evening, a surprise in the placement since Best Director is usually one of the latest awards given out. I didn’t watch any more. I was able to watch a quick highlight reel, where I learned that as much as I like Frances McDormand and her performances, much like Jacquin Phoenix, I don’t ever want her over for dinner and a chat. (Incidentally I re-watched Fargo the other night and she is brilliant. So much fun capturing the essence of the people of Minnesota, and her own particular situation as a pregnant woman dealing with a bizarre set of circumstances. But I digress. I read about who won. I was pleased about Soul, and Hopkins as well as Daniel Kaluuya as Best Supporting Actor. Was Nomadland the Best Picture of the year? Nope. Not for me anyway. But I will turn the page and hope that at some point I can get to a theatre. I went once last year and saw Tenet in the small window we had to see films there. As we sit in the first week of May, with more Covid-19 cases than a year ago, I am not overly optimistic that we will get to a theatre this year. But I remain positive. The US is opening up, and doing a much better job with vaccines than the rest of the world. Still with over half a million dead, this makes sense. I hope we can all catch up and get back to the theatres to see the real A-list movies once again!

Justice League: Full disclosure, and those who know me know that I am generally NOT a superhero movie guy. The high water mark was the Nolan Batman trilogy for me, where Christian Bale is my Batman. No other. Not even close. I hadn’t watched Batman vs Superman which in some ways is unfortunate, since this movie follows along from that one. But you see, Ben Affleck isn’t my Batman. And the concept of a human (Batman) taking on supernatural, untouchable alien (Superman) was just ludicrous, and don’t get me started about Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (or anything else for that matter – dude really needs to be punched in the face, and wipe off the smirk). It is a pretty short fight, all things considered. Being rich isn’t a superpower. Anyway, the rest of these movies like Ant Man, Aquaman, Doctor Strange, Iron Man et el just don’t do it for me. Cities get leveled, with goodness knows how many innocents getting crushed with no thought. The CGI computers work overtime to create the images, which in many cases don’t have the weight behind them, meaning that it doesn’t seem real. So with this background, I sat down to watch Justice League. Zach Snyder has put together a story of the formation of this “league” which brings me memories of 1970s cartoon Superfriends, and was just missing the Wonder Twins (and Robin of course)!

Super Friends - Wikipedia

This movie has Batman looking to gather forces for an epic battle to come, as a cosmic bad guy and his henchman are looking to bring together three thinking rubix cubes and terrorize the world with it. You need all three in order to have the full impact. It’s about at this point as I try to distill the major plot points that one realizes just how silly it all is. Is it sillier than The Matrix, a movie and series that I genuinely like and seek out if it is on? No. That franchise has just as much or more CGI associated with it too. But it was fun and compelling and the heroes wore cooler outfits. Anyway, I managed to get through this, and still don’t see the value in Amy Adams as Lois Lane on any level. Then again, the Flash as comic relief didn’t really work much either, and I don’t need to see him again (the actor was in Trainwreck with Amy Schumer and I couldn’t help think about the bedroom scene with him and Schumer as he wants to be hit by her). I didn’t need to see this. It is 3+ hours of my life that I won’t get back. It filled a space of time. It brings more laughs honestly than anything else as my Level of Disbelief Meter goes off the charts! All this to say, if you like this genre, and need to see every superhero movie, you can likely do worse. For those with only a passing interest, then take it or leave it. As for me, there is the Robert Pattinson Batman that was delayed from the pandemic, and should hit theatres at some point when things open up. He likely will be better than Affleck (can’t really be much worse) and maybe will bring his own spin to it. Apparently, Christian Bale is perhaps going to make a guest appearance as Batman. We will see….

In 2014, there was a documentary about the Pamela Smart murder trial. Entitled Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, it talks to the main issue on whether Smart was able to actually get a fair trial in this first-of-its-kind media circus. In summary, Smart was a young, pretty school teacher who manipulated three students to corner and kill her new husband. The boys were 16 and 17, and she had a sexual relationship with the one. The trial was broadcast and had detailed coverage from 1990 standards with not only mainstream news but Donaghue, Geraldo, Hard Copy etc. There have been two movies about it; a made-for-TV movie starring Helen Hunt and then the film with Nicole Kidman and Jacquin Phoenix (To Die For from 1995). When this was released, the puller of the trigger (husband was shot rather than knifed as allegedly Smart instructed to save her carpet) was not eligible for parole until 2015. Smart herself was convicted of First Degree murder and a sentence of life imprisonment with no eligibility of parole. Ironically, the boys who had copped a plea for a lesser charge of second degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder are able to get parole but she is not, as she became the target for the prosecution. She maintains her innocence, and some of the evidence provided supports part of her contention. An example would include that jurors were not sequestered, each night they went home with their families. They also should watch the news and the media coverage. To think that this wouldn’t impact their view is unrealistic I would contend. Others included the transcript of a garbled hidden microphone of a conversation with Smart and another woman. It was very damning, but it became a creative writing/listening exercise. In the end, it was interesting and made me want to better understand what has happened since 2014. She still remains behind bars. She has exhausted all forms of appeal. Now she appeals to the same media attention that helped convict her in the first place.

Note, Billy Flynn was granted parole after 25 years in prison.

https://www.wmur.com/article/billy-flynn-granted-parole-25-years-after-killing-gregg-smart/5198419#

April 26th, 2021

The Nest: Jude Law has been playing a variety of interesting roles in the past while. From Third Day and The Young Pope he seems to take on complex characters where he shows his maturity as an actor and likely as a person. In this story, Rory (Law) and Alison O’Hara (played well by Carrie Coon who I don’t remember seeing her before – although she was in both Widows and The Post) are a couple with two kids. They live in the US, where it seems she is earning the family funds through her horse riding training and managing a stable. Rory early on announces that he would like to explore a new opportunity going back to his home in London. Alison is skeptical, as she has heard this before about “starting fresh”, but ultimately decides that she belongs with her husband and he being happier in his work. From the moves early days, there is an extravagance in all that these people do. Rory works hard, looking to be a rainmaker in his firm, while Alison works on establishing a new, being constructed stable. The kids look to head to new schools. It all seems to work on the surface, but below there are disturbing cracks. More cracks appear as the family begins to unravel slowly, on all fronts. The kids get into challenges, while Alison’s horse also struggles. Business isn’t exactly working out quite as Rory expected. Things happen. There are many parallels as symbolism in the story (from the horse, to the house that they live in, to situation at school for the kids). When it finished, rather abruptly I have to add, I was surprised. Surprised in a negative way. Scratching my head, I wasn’t really sure what the future held for these four people. I cannot recommend, and I am thankful that I saved the money from the theatre. When the trailer had first appeared and I saw Law with the cast it seemed intriguing. Trailers can be deceiving.

Big Fish: In 2003, director Tim Burton put together this excellent cast for modern day fable. Part of this cast included Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Ewan McGregor, Marion Cotillard, and Billy Crudup. The story surrounds a man (Finney) who tells tall tales all of his life, fantastical tales with giants and circuses and amazing people from all walks of life. Ewan McGregor plays the younger version of Finney. Finney is aging and his son (Crudup) has grown up feeling as though he doesn’t have any idea about his father. He thinks that his father’s stories are all made up. He feels as though he has been lied to, and just wants some straight answers. Crudup is married and his wife is expecting their first child. He is preparing for being a new Dad, all the while his own Dad is in ill health. He wants to understand. Although the stories that the father tells are disjointed and remarkable, and seem completely unrelated, except for him, they all do come together well as the story continues. I find this movie warm hearted and touching. Although I am not a huge Tim Burton fan, this story strikes the right chord with me as the young man begins to realize that his father is a good man. That he care for others and help them. That he loves his mother, and only his mother always. It seems the life lesson is that many people realize only too late that their parents are people and they have had unique experiences and lived a life that involved their children but weren’t all about their children. Sometimes telling fantastic tales can make them more memorable. Well worth a view.

Robin’s Wish: This is a 2020 documentary about the follow up on the life of Robin Williams. For many of us, we had heard about his untimely death (apparently by suicide) back in August 2014 at the age of 63. How sad for a man who had made so many people laugh. In a way, I think, we all kind of felt that he was a friend. He played many memorable roles, too many to list here. Notable in this film is the lack of participation from his three children and his first wife. There is a lot of talk from his last and third wife, Susan Schneider. We learn that Robin suffered from Lewy body dementia. Basically a form of dementia that is hard to diagnose, and makes that person lose their abilities and mental capacities. Slowly. Imperceptibly to themselves and those around them. It is a sympathetic story and shows that Williams in all likelihood wasn’t taking his life selfishly. It didn’t really show much extra coverage of Williams himself. There are plenty of friends who appear, but not those like Billy Crystal, Pam Dawber or others who you might expect, and were a part of the other Robin Williams documentary from 2018 Come Inside My Mind. Post viewing this, I saw the Schneider who Williams had met in a rehab centre, had been in prolonged litigation with his children, but that it had settled.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/10/robin-williams-widow-children-settlement

In the end, this was not as compelling. I am not surprised that there was something more going on in Williams’ head. Much like great athletes with concussion symptoms, this great actor and comic genius seemed to work on a different plain than the rest of us. In the end, the best way to remember him is through his work in my opinion. He has left a great legacy, and he left us (like many a great artist) all too soon. So on this Oscar night, I will recall this Oscar winner for his body of work, and the laughs that he left behind.

April 19th, 2021

US vs John Lennon:   It seems that lately I have been watching films surrounding the same period of time in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  From Trial of the Chicago 7, around the Democratic National Convention to this movie and then later Judas and the Black Messiah.  All focus on a government with Richard Nixon and J Edgar Hoover in the FBI who believe that those who hold contrary opinions to them are the “enemy”.  Their view was skewed towards a law and order stance with an underlying view that the war in Viet Nam was needed and just to protect American interests from the Soviets. 
With that backdrop, there is the famous peace-loving Beatle John Lennon who is seeking an end to violence.   He and his wife Yoko Ono are doing protests in the form of “sleep ins” in hotels.   The powers in the government are watching him closely and his associations.   For those who have seen Imagine: John Lennon and other Beatle documentaries, not many of the clips will be new to you.   I learned about the US Immigration sending letters to Lennon that he would need to leave NYC because he visa was not renewed.   This went on time and again.  Further I learned of his court case against the government.   I also did not know about his associations with prominent peace lovers like Abbie Hoffman and the leader of the Black Panthers.   In the end Mark David Chapman did was the US government couldn’t do to silence this most public figure.   I learned a couple of things, like G Gordon Liddy will always blindly lead whoever pays him and believe in their rhetoric.   This was an interesting watch but not deeply memorable.   I think history has shown 50 years later who the heroes and the villains were in these circumstances. In the end, a government with an immoral leader, or at least with a misinterpretation of his role and why they are in their position, can infringe upon the rights of the public at large to a disturbing degree.

Judas and the Black Messiah: This was the final Best Picture nominee film that I needed to see for the upcoming Oscars. The setting is late 1960s with the leader of the Black Panthers in Chicago as mentioned. Fred Hampton, played remarkably by Daniel Kaluuya (from Get Out in 2017 and Black Panther in 2018) is the new leader of the Black Panthers and he is looking to unit the gangs and leaders in Chicago. He is well-spoken, educated and passionate. He influences and convinces those around him. He makes speeches and engages with the people. With that backdrop, there is a young man, Bill O’Neal, who is caught doing a very stupid crime, in which he becomes a pawn for an overly zealous police officer. The police want an informant inside the Black Panther organization, including the top brass of the FBI, and they continue to twist harder against this young man. The story details all of these interactions and once again emphasizing a strange time in the US. A time of a great divide. War vs Peace. Black vs White. Republican vs Democrat. Law and Order vs Civil Rights. This was a very compelling story. It has nothing directly to do with religion despite the title. Good performances all around. A well deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In the end, I am not sure who in a less than stellar year will be the Best Picture. These are not, as Bill Mahar pointed out, uplifting films. A movie like Mank is a Hollywood and Academy pick for those who make movies, but it isn’t enjoyable. None of them are really enjoyable. There are good performances. They aren’t movies you hit down with a bag of popcorn and feel entertained. You appreciate talent and good acting. But you don’t smile when you are done. In the end I don’t think the ratings for this year’s awards can be very good.

Godzilla vs Kong: As a kid I used to watch Creature Feature week on Buffalo Channel 29. In this week you saw each weekday after school fighting creatures like Mothra, Godzilla, etc. At the end of the week, Kong fought Godzilla in the campiest of films which looked mostly like two guys in suits fighting on a train set. After Kong: Skull Island this remake was inevitable. Is it ridiculous? Of course it is! Is there impressive CGI in it? Yes, of course. There are some good fights. Do I believe that Kong would fight with a weapon, or even understand how to use it? No. And what about the ability in this film for a form of communication with Kong? It is actually quite laughable as much as it is ridiculous. But never mind all of that. Was it fun? Sure. It brought some escapism in a troubling time with rising Covid-19 cases and more lockdown measures. I laughed probably more than anything. But that is something. Do you need to have watched the earlier Godzilla films to watch this? No. Not at all. Millie Bobby Brown returns from the Godzilla movie as does Kyle Chandler. Neither does a great deal. Is the resolution predictable? For those who understand that this is not the end of the series, and money keeps stories to remain alive, then you can figure out what will occur here. How they get there isn’t nearly as predictable but it doesn’t really matter. This is mind candy. Enjoy it for what it is, if this is a genre that you enjoy.

April 12th, 2021

Stardust: Is a new film that refers to Ziggy Stardust and not to be confused with the fantasy Claire Danes and Robert De Niro project from a few years back, which was surprisingly good. Sadly, this movie isn’t nearly as enjoyable. I suppose that it was inevitable with the success at the box office for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that more similar stories would come out. You can hear the other bands thinking this is another way to cash in on their fame. First there was Elton John’s Rocketman, which was “M’eh” for me, and now this. Add in the odd Moley Crue film The Dirt on Netflix which was more sorbid and comedic. Of course there are others like Johnny Cash (Walk the Line) and Ray Charles’ Ray and many others. But anyway, I had thought when I heard that a David Bowie film was being considered that it should show Bowie in his full out glory, and strangeness. For me, Bohemian Rhapsody was a PG version of the Freddie Mercury story; the band’s take on cleaning up a sex and drugs and rock n roll image. This genre of film engages me when I see the creative process at work, and the inspiration for the songs. It’s a fascinating process of creating something so memorable and iconic with these songs. The setting for Stardust is the early 1970s and David Bowie has just had his first smash hit with Space Oddity in 1969. Two years later he is looking to conquer America. Unfortunately he has an unreliable manager and not much support from his label. He embarks upon the journey with little planning in a disorganized fashion. He arrives at the airport with a case of strange outfits and his guitar and no immigration working Visa. The reserved and quiet Bowie from what we see, played with uncertainty by Johnny Flynn shows him to have lackluster enthusiasm as it unfolds and a great deal of uncertainty about himself. He is picked up at the airport by a guy in a woodie station wagon as they search for things that he can do. There is no hints about the creative process. There are no suggestions of what the genesis for hits of Changes or Oh You Pretty Things are from the next album Hunky Dory after The Man Who Sold The World. Jena Malone plays an angry Angie who is looking to push David into the spotlight. To her credit, she sees his genius and pushes him with the glam rock look that shapes him going forward. There is a theme throughout with Bowie’s half brother which didn’t hit the mark for me. For a man who personified a number of his characters in his songs, like Ziggy Stardust or The Thin White Duke, in mind this was him entertaining audiences visually while singing to them. His was a performance not just of music with a man with a band on a stage. The movie suggests otherwise. I saw Bowie in the 80s in the Serious Moonlight tour in his bright yellow hair and suit.

David Bowie during the Serious Moonlight tour, July 27 1983 © Michael Brito  | David bowie fashion, David bowie, Bowie

The movie and the acting portraying him just don’t provide enough respect for the man and who he would become. His antics away from the stage are only hinted at briefly. I recognize that in 1971 he isn’t yet the icon that he became, but I guess the journey seems a little disjointed. In the end I cannot recommend this because it was slow and boring. For a life of a man who really did live the sex and drugs and rock n roll lifestyle, he isn’t shown for his musical talent nor his outrageousness. He deserves a much better film about his life. Adding in a picture from Miami of this incredible talent.

Tina: From one iconic musical giant to the next we move to the HBO Documentary on Tina Turner. Turner who is now in her early 80s is shown from the early days of boundless energy with the Ike & Tina show to her blossoming out on her own, finding her own unique style. The impact of a musical documentary may be summed up in whether as a viewer the film encourages you to download songs that you had forgotten about, or were re-introduced to from watching. I can admit to downloading a couple of early Tina Turner songs from this viewing (River Deep, Mountain High, The Best and Proud Mary). The film addresses Tina, warts and all in her mind, where she still feels a great deal of shame about her staying in the abusive relationship with Ike. Angela Bassett is shown because she portrayed Tina in the 1993 movie What’s Love Got to Do With It. Tina wanted to put that all behind her as past and stop being asked about it. It was a wound that could never heal. Incidentally I liked the insight that she didn’t even like that song at first, because she felt it was “too poppy”. She viewed herself as a rock n roll star. One of the first women of rock. She was from a poor family and met Ike Turner attending a concert, and she pursued him to show that she could sing. She was right and he saw it. The path that she took has been well documented, also within her own successful book I, Tina which addressed it. I enjoyed this, and it was good to see this woman who could dance in high heels as well as anyone. She shaped many lives. She is resilient. She is a true performer, meant to be on stage. In the end you can see why she has done what she did. You can see her motivation for going through this one more time, reliving her past. Thanks Tina for sharing your passions and talents with us.

News of the World: Slow, plodding western story of a man (Tom Hanks) who goes from town to town and reads news clippings and tells stories to the locals. Along the way he comes across a young girl in need of some assistance, which isn’t forthcoming from anyone. She is a bit of a wild child. This movie reminds me of many other Clint Eastwood films where the lone rider with no name enters a town and then has to deal with problems that weren’t initially his own. In this case, the problems aren’t nearly as engaging nor exciting. There were some pretty outdoor scenes. I gather that Tom Hanks felt the need to do a western, smell like horses and have some time outdoors. He has the power and clout to do so. This was one of the earlier films to be impacted by Covid and the theatre shut downs. I can’t say I feel as though much was lost in the translation. A slow moving film on the big screen is just as slow moving on the little. Maybe moreso, since you can’t really get up ans walk around, and grab some snacks to occupy your mind in the theatre as much (well without disturbing others anyway). Although there would unlikely be many to disturb in the theatre for this one anyway. Pass.

Finally, Bill Maher had this to say about the Oscars last night and I couldn’t agree more. He wants to rename them “The Debbies” as in Debbie Downer. All the Best Picture films, are rightfully pointed out to be slow and down. No feel good stories there. I still have one to go, but this was what made me laugh more than ANY of these nominated films.

April 5th, 2021

It was time to get caught up on the latest Oscar nominated films. This activity can be beset with many pitfalls from way too high expectations, as has been discussed in the blog many a time. It seems that it is always better to be seeing a film without the filters of others and their opinions, or having watched way too many trailers. This is a most interesting year for Oscar, because he is still having the same party but all the best guests have decided to stay away. So instead, there is a B Team of films that in other years likely wouldn’t be given the time of day at the Oscars. For me, I am actually thinking that a quality Best Picture from the past that DIDN’T win, say for example The Imitation Game, should be given the award for this year. None of the three films that I am reviewing today can really hold a candle to the previously snubbed film, in this guy’s opinion. But you will see that as I explain further:

Promising Young Woman: Of the three films this week, this was the best of them. I enjoyed it more because it surprised me more than a little. I knew some rough background with a revenge aspect, but that was it. It stars Carey Mulligan again, who I had just reviewed last week from The Dig. There she was playing a fifty-something woman in England during the early years of the War, and here she plays a woman presumably in her late twenties – but the age is hard to pin point. In both I think she is miscast from an age perspective. This film a little too old, and the other a little too young. But never mind. We find it as we see it. The premise is one of a woman working in a local coffee shop, who seems to have very little direction. Mulligan is a hard edged, sarcastic server who dances to the beat of her own drum. At night, she dresses up, heads out alone to bars and gets drunk it seems. While there, various men approach her and she engages with them. What we learn is that she is making up for a difficult time in her past. She is compensating for this difficult time by seeking revenge in very personal forms against those who were in some way a part of this difficult time. She keeps score. She has apparently been doing this for a while, although it doesn’t seem to be helping her cope with her feelings. The surprises for me came when I saw just how far this was willing to go. It was surprising and satisfying in a strange way. What did I learn about the human condition? Well, that men can be assholes. This isn’t a new lesson. I also learned that despite the #MeToo movement and others, that coming forward with accusations of sexual assault brings about a legal defense strategy that can be downright ugly. There is a lawyer, played by Al Molina, who details the ease upon which the job of defense work is made by the proliferation of social media sites. Everything it seems, if in any way compromising, can be used against a female accuser. In the end, despite my surprise and the enjoyment of being entertained I am not so sure that this is Best Picture worthy in another year. Likely not, and to that end it became my starting point for thinking maybe a past runner up deserves another shot.

Minari: Another nominated film for Best Picture. Would this film have been nominated if not for a film like Parasite last year? I doubt it. From the poster, and the supposed reviews on the poster, this seems to be a “feel-good” movie of a Korean family making their way in Arkansas farm country. From that set up alone, one’s imagination can conjure up plenty of scenes for the young family. Like challenges with narrow minded locals, and difficulty getting started etc. But this isn’t that movie. It is painfully slow. In parts I wished that I had watched the minari grow by the river bank for two hours rather than seeing what happens. Minari in case you wanted to know is a parsley-like plant. Certainly by the time it abruptly finished, I most certainly felt that way. This is a movie that the Academy seems to like, but those who want to be entertained in a theatre do not. I am glad I didn’t spend money on it. In short the young family is stressed from the beginning. They have moved from California to Arkansas, because the husband likes the idea of owning land, and feels the soil is the “best in America”. The wife, feels betrayed and hates it. Hates all of it. They both have menial jobs checking the sex of baby chicks (this is a real thing apparently) where one learns that male chicks are discarded. Weird. Anyway, they have limited funds. Mother-in-law shows up and lives with the family. Things happen, although that likely overstates it. After some challenges that take place, it ends. It ends in disappointing fashion because the audience is invested (somewhat) in the story (if they have stayed awake) and it’s hard to tell if there has been progress. I don’t care enough, in truth, to find out. So despite the nomination, this can’t be the Best Picture. It may look pretty at times, and have a cute youngster, but that just isn’t enough.

Sound of Metal: This movie again entices you in with the idea of a premise and where the story might take you. In some ways it does, but it also misses the mark. The premise for this Best Picture nominee is that a drummer from a metal band, notices that he is losing his hearing. He and his girlfriend, who is the lead singer, have been touring in their Winnebago and looking for a record deal. The new development with his hearing derails this plan of next steps. He is angry to begin with, so is the girlfriend, but this sets him off on tilt for a while. He is taken to a camp for the deaf where they are a group looking to encourage those who have lost their hearing. I do think that losing one’s hearing would be much more difficult than never having it. One would be distinctly aware of just what has been lost. Being a stranger in a strange land, he doesn’t sign, he must learn a new language and try to fit in. All the while he was encouraged by a doctor who told him about an expensive procedure that could potentially give him his hearing back. The story moves along. What transpires is in some ways predictable, and we are to appreciate the journey. After Minari almost anything makes you appreciate the journey more and this fills that gap a bit. There is a decision made and consequences to that decision. We as the audience are set to fill in the blanks of our own as the credits roll. I can do that, although my interpretation may vary from yours. It really doesn’t matter. This is a slow journey. Again.

There is a part of me that is thankful that small independent films made with tight budgets are getting some Oscar love. I fully expect that apart from Film Festivals they wouldn’t normally be seen by a larger audience. There is good reason for that at times. There are people like me that try to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Awards are given. I am being punished a bit because of Covid-19 as a result. It’s a small punishment I admit, but still. Sitting through two+ hours of Minari was draining and frustrating at the end. I do watch movies to be entertained and see new stories. Show me different parts of the world and give me a glimpse of others. Yes these movies do that, in their own way, just some are more effective than others. I only have one more nominee to see Judas and the Black Messiah, in order to have watched all the Best Picture nominees. In a very slow year, with little released, this has been more of a chore than in the past. I note that Godzilla Vs Kong has been released, and I won’t watch The Justice League in its four hours and two minutes. Between the two I have to chose the guys dressed in an ape suit and dino suit wrestling on a train set rather than the super heroes. Spring has sprung, although a new lockdown shrouds Ontario for the next 28 days. So more movies to come.

March 29, 2021

The Dig: Back in 1939, in Suffolk Britain, northeast of London, the country was preparing for war. A well to do woman (played by Carey Mulligan) and her young son have an estate where they would like to do some excavating to explore mounds on their property. Mom decides to enlist the services of an accomplished digger to do the job. In this true story, what they find changes the perception of Anglo-Saxons forever. It was called one of the most important archeological finds in the UK. There is a boat uncovered and also a burial find. It is a simple story, with the elder digger dealing with the elements, limited resources and pressure to engage in a more well known site. The digger is played by Ralph Fiennes and he is very effective. It was interesting to note that the British Museum tries to take over the project and some legal decisions are undertaken (as to who owns the find) and who is in charge of the dig itself. There is some drama amongst workers which isn’t entirely surprising. In the end, I was glad to have watched and learned about this patch of history. I generally am not a big Carey Mulligan fan, and I am not entirely sure why (maybe it was The Great Gatsby) but she wasn’t overly distracting. She is in Promising Young Woman that is on my list of films to check out.

In a year when it has been pretty lean, with very few memorable films and performances I can say that The Father, was a memorable one. Based on a play, it stars Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. Both Oscar winners. Both making this memorable. Beyond A Beautiful Mind, I am hard pressed to think of another movie that gives you insight into the mind of the principal character. In this case, Hopkins plays an aging engineer in London, who is struggling. His daughter, Colman, is struggling with him and doing her best to try and care for him as he becomes more challenging. He of course thinks that he is capable of taking care of himself. Meanwhile there are different moments in time that jump around, swirling in his mind and before him. This isn’t easy to watch. But then again, aging and getting older isn’t for the feint of heart. Rather it is grueling and painful. Frustrating and maddening. Where once you are independent with full faculties, to slowly becoming dependent and forgetting as much as you remember. Hopkins should win the Oscar for this performance. He manages to personify all of the emotions. You sympathize for him, and share in his pain. You better understand his anger and cringe at some of the things that he says. Worth watching. One of the better films of the year. Anyone who is aging, like me, and has older parents can relate to the struggles. Even simple stories of the everyday carry emotional impacts. Needless to say, this movie was before Covid-19, but the same story could be told now with the lens of having to deal with isolation, fear of death from exposure to others etc.

Dead Poets Society: I spoke about Ethan Hawke last week in his film Stockholm, and how he has taken on all these varied roles in the more recent past. In 1989, this was one of his first roles. The now 50 yo actor then was only 19, but he looked younger. This is a really good movie, directed by Peter Weir. Weir has also done Witness, Master and Commander, The Truman Show and Green Card. I have seen them all. It was really good to see Robin Williams again. He plays a young English teacher at an American boys prep school, and he is looking to expand his students’ minds and have them think more critically. He also wants them to recognize that English (stories and plays) are about feelings and emotions; the things that make life worth living. Accounting and engineering are good for professions, but these stories are about human interaction. He wants them to “seize the day”. The boys have varying ambitions and take to the lessons in different ways. Each of these are interesting to see as they play out. Williams’ teaching style is very different than those of the more established colleagues. Stories play themselves out, and you can see the boys spreading their wings. For Hawke, he had to overcome being painfully shy and speaking publicly. This is a movie that can show the value of a good teacher and how the lives of young people can be shaped. These days students would long for the classroom as shown in the movie, and teaching has become more of an online activity. It doesn’t take away from the importance of what is being done, and how new views can shape actions for the next generation.

March 22, 2021

Unhinged: A very overweight Russell Crowe is angry and doesn’t really care who knows it. This story somewhat mirrors the 1971 mainstream film from Steven Speilberg called “Duel”. There it was a faceless driver of an 18-wheeler. Here it is a redneck driver of a large pick up truck. This is a silly movie. I cannot recommend it. However, one can still have some fun!! So I am doing something a little different.

According to Unhinged, here are twenty two dos and don’ts to avoid a “really bad day”.  These are Rachel teaching points.  Here is a list of what not to do when being chased by an angry pick up driving fat man:

  • Don’t sleep in.  Set an alarm.  Be on time 
  • Maintain your car.  No red warning lights on dash
  • Have a full tank of gas. 
  • Don’t leave your iPhone in your car unattended with doors unlocked 
  • Don’t put your purse on the roof of your car when filling up.  Especially with a handbag. 
  • Do drive a Volvo.  They are tanks.   They take a lickin and keep on ticking. 
  • Don’t leave the house without a phone/device charger 
  • Don’t honk at dumb asses who fail to move at a green light, just drive around. 
  • Don’t remove the passcode from your iphone. 
  • Don’t stand in front of a running psychopath’s pick up truck while it is parked at a gas station.  Being a Good Samaritan doesn’t always work out well 
  • When at a restaurant and someone is being facially assaulted with malice in a nearby booth, pick up your shit and exit the premises.   Tipping is optional.  
  • Don’t avoid the police station 
  • Do call 9-11 and hope for better police service than anywhere in the greater NYC area.  They are awful
  • Don’t have your child hide in an attic without an escape route.  
  • Don’t park your car in plain sight when trying to avoid chasing psychopaths.  
  • Teach your children not to be dumb asses. The child should know better than to move when being hailed by a relatively familiar and ominous male voice telling him that “everything is okay” 
  • Never ever reveal your child’s super secret attic hiding spot while being chased by a psychopath. 
  • Don’t expect a nine iron to be an effective weapon of choice against a 350lb psychopath. 
  • Don’t think that running down a minivan with a handicap Ford Focus will in any way slow down the psychopath. 
  • Never leave your car to attack the psychopath with your weapon of choice after running him down.   Rather drive away.  
  • Never purchase the home security plan from the company at whatever house you entered because the police will not arrive in time to be of any help 
  • Never hold a very sharp knife at your stomach level pointing towards a psychopath.  Raising it above your head in a threatening and ominous pose is a safer bet for everyone involved.

Happy motoring.

Stockholm: This 2018 movie about a 1973 bank heist gone wrong in the title’s namesake. I have more recently really enjoyed the work of Ethan Hawke. He chooses interesting projects that push his skills in new ways like the outrageous The Good Lord Bird. First Reformed was another. This movie also stars Mark Strong who I also enjoy and Noomi Rapace. In short, Hawke’s character starts a bank robbery dressed as an obnoxious American, channeling Easy Rider. Noomi Rapace plays a bank worker who is terrified at first of her captor, and then more intrigued. The story progresses and the situation changes from one way and then back. I do like where it goes and the interplay with the head police officer. The performances speak for themselves, and I was entertained.

March 15th, 2021

We are now into a year with Covid-19 and the shut down measures. Funny how time flies. A year ago I was on a beach in Florida on the Gulf Coast. In this time I have been physically at my day job office less than five times. It is a work-from-home environment, where the endless cycle is work, eat and sleep repeat. If I can work out and get outside then I do so. It’s movie-wise like Groundhog Day. We just flip the calendar pages every once and a while. This time has meant no visits to movie theatres save one for me to see Tenet. Otherwise they are are all online, streamed or Crave. I have multiple streaming services, but not all (no Amazon, no Zulu etc.)

This week, I caught Richard Jewell on Crave. This was a Clint Eastwood film about the events surrounding the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics back in 1996. Jewell was a simple-minded security guard (putting it generously) who was first on the scene to spot a suspicious backpack at a local park where a concert was being played. His response to alert police and other security was a reason why spectators were removed from the immediate area. The bomb went off, but not before it was kicked over and the brunt of the blast went skyward. Much like Scully (also an Eastwood film), surprisingly and inexplicably the government authorities chose to make a suspect of the hero in the situation. An FBI leak put the press, media and papparazzi into full gear, and the initial hero (Jewell) was turned into a suspect. His life is changed forever. This movie has a good cast with Jon Hamm, Sam Rockwell (always reliable), Kathy Bates and Olivia Wilde. Wilde plays a reporter who has no scruples whatsoever and will do whatever is necessary to “get a story”. One of the letdowns for me was the resolution to her story as it continued. It simply wasn’t believable. Add to this the lead character himself, who I had little doubt was much like he really was, and you could see the challenges for Rockwell who is trying to represent him and defend him. In the end it isn’t compelling. It is sad. It isn’t as interesting as the Sully story, but the style is the same. Clint seems to be retelling his stories and there is little new in this effort. You may recognize the lead as one of the hit-men in the movie I, Tonya. So this a pass. On the follow up side, Jewell in real life died at the age of 44. Watching what he ate, and how he looked you can see how that can be the case.

On the Record: This documentary is about the hip hop musical icon Russell Simmons. He is the mogul who has been involved with Phat Farm, Def Jam, record producing working with artists such as Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Eddie Murphy. He was married from 1998-2009. This story is about some women around him, both aspiring artists as well as female executives who were coming forward to accuse him of sexual assault. There are similar stories from these women, and it speaks to their struggle to come forward, realizing what that will mean as a woman who must repeat a lurid story, but also for the black community who wants to celebrate their successes. By all measures, Simmons was, and remains, a success. As an aside it isn’t a surprise to me that in the music business where women can be objectified and window dressing that behind the scenes there is a current of the same attitude. Simmons lured these women often into his NYC flat with a promise of a CD in the music player that the woman would want to hear. Before they know it, they are overpowered by this man. Do I believe them? Does it matter? Do they appear genuine? Ask yourself this: why would anyone want to sign up for this type of scrutiny? The one executive goes from the frying pan and into the fire. Sad. Because as they point out, what music wasn’t created because she was silenced? That is the real loss. I, for one, believe the stories, since there is a pattern. Definitely worth a viewing.

Last Chance U: Basketball: This documentary follows from the earlier documentary about Football. It is completely engaging as you are immersed into the California Junior College league team from East LA. They have players who have come down from Div I schools, or also those who were not academically eligible for Div I and others who want a scholarship. There is also the coach and his assitants. Everyone will profit with winning and success. You need to remember that these young men all have their stories, like Deshaun the point guard who lost his Dad at an early age and later as a young man his Mom from cancer. Others like Joe is a very skilled man-child who has incredible raw talent but an attitude that can turn on a dime. His game can turn from outstanding dominant star to a pouting, angry, entitled, swearing cancer on a team that is striving for greatness. A team truly needs them all. I am one episode from completing this 8 episode series and cannot wait to find out how it all turns out. I care for these young men, and cheer for them, and their coaches. Do they win the State Championship? We will soon find out. Will the players get the scholarships? We will see. At the same time, I think that there are too many yelling scenes in the gym practicing. Those could have been cut down. It is the games and the backgrounds of these players that matter, to me anyway. This was very good and I have no hesitation in saying that I would recommend it.

On we go through 2021, and dealing with vaccines and Covid-19. I am hopeful that we are turning the corner. Globally. It is hard to imagine that pockets of the US like Texas are now fully open without masks. Business is business, and they are open for business. Florida too has many spectators watching the TPC golf championship. Maybe Canada and other countries are taking this all too seriously, and over-clubbing with the lockdown. But the light at the end of the tunnel is vaccines that we all hope are making a difference. It is a delicate balance, and we all hope for the days to be behind us, and hopefully aren’t talking about Covid-19 in March 2022. Stay Safe. Stay well. The 2021 Oscar Nominations have been released this morning and in a thin year it makes for interesting and diverse choices. I will review more after I go through in more detail.