April 18th, 2022

Return to Space: So while recovering from Covid, I was flipping through some online news items last week and hadn’t remembered seeing anything about this at all:

April 8th, the Axiom crew of four launched and meets up with ISS

I had watched closely the launch a year ago with Bob and Doug the astronauts on the Falcon rocket meeting up with the ISS for their 60+ day mission. It was exciting to see a US launched space craft with human passengers off into the heavens to re-start American efforts in space. The Netflix documentary covers Elon Musk and his desire through the privately owned Spacex to have humans be interplanetary. Such a bold vision for a guy who had begun as a Dot Com billionaire with the sale of Pay Pal. From there he begins this thought, along with a little start up company called Tesla! If you think that you have a busy life, imagine what Elon’s life is like everyday! This enterprise, well detailed in the documentary shows that not everyone was on board with the Obama Administration plan to have a public-private partnership in sharing the expense of space travel. At congressional hearings, there was Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan stating that this program was doomed to fail. Hurtful comments to the young Musk who idolized these men as a young man, as they were the inspiration to return to space from their voyages to the moon in the late 60s and early 70s. Sadly after the space shuttle, the US efforts stalled and there wasn’t much done towards the moon or mars. Musk wanted to change that. I admire Musk and him utilizing his brains, business acumen and vast wealth to seek goals that aren’t about him, but rather moving human kind forward. Unlike say a Bill Gates, who spends money on parks which is valuable but a less lofty goal, Musk sees this enterprise as vital to advancing the species. He states that technology isn’t a given and we cannot expect the window of opportunity to head to other worlds to last forever. The Egyptians made the pyramids and then stopped, and lost the ability. The Romans built aquaducts and lost the ability to do so. The US was on the moon and 50 years later hadn’t been back. This is exciting, like the technology used to recover the first stage booster rockets and re-use them. It is heart warming as a Musk is seen to truly care about the responsibility to returning to astronauts who are also Dads safely back to earth. It shows vision and determination, and an international cooperation (like working side by side with Russians) to achieve something memorable. I hope that we are not becoming so casual about these achievements that a launch ten days ago does not become common place and taken for granted. Great things are happening at SpaceX. Let’s hope the moon base and then Mars come next.

Gaming Wall Street: This is a two episode documentary that shows what mankind can do, especially financially driven people, when money is at the top of what motivates them. In the wake of The Big Short, where the bankers and investors packaged up useless high risk mortgages and passed them off as safe investments, there is this tale of the “meme stocks” which have been made popular by a group or ordinary discount investors who band together to drive up the prices. All this to combat against the short sellers. The main stock in question is GameStop, the retailer of video game systems and games at local malls everywhere. Sadly their business model has fallen on bad times (like Blockbuster with renting DVDs) because of online downloading of games from manufacturers. The stock was failing. But these investors decide not to see and drive up the price. This goes against what Wall Street pundits were betting on, as they had bet on the stock to fail and go down, otherwise known as shorting the stock. But by driving up the price, these average investors were forcing those Shorts to cover their bet and lose millions of dollars. The tale unfolds. What you discover is that nothing was learned from 2008 and the approached collapse of the financial system. No one was arrested from that situation, despite the obvious illegal activity. The same players find another game to play, in this instance called Naked Shorts, where if they cannot secure the actual stocks that they are betting against, they create them out of thin air. These people create nothing, make nothing and profit from pure gambling. The simple solution may be to just outlaw short selling of stocks, but where is the fun in that? The ultimate message that as an ordinary investor that the big players really manage the game and make the rules. One can only hope to ride a wave and not get crushed. Watch with some knowledge that you may not always like what you hear. I wouldn’t be looking to have most of my retirement money, like one of the ordinary investors, in GameStop stock long term.

Julia: I have finished the first four episodes of this series, with four more to come. I continue to enjoy the series and think that the lead actress has done an admirable job channeling Julia. In many ways this is a woman power story, with the men dithering around and not seeing the vision of TV nor of viewers being interessted in watching a woman demonstrate French cooking. The women around Julia are the ones who see her excellence, her presence and passion. She is ideally suited to the task and they are commited to making her a success. There are glimmers of hope as the station manager supports her from early days. His wife likes the program, and he likes what she is serving for dinner as a result. There is a real buzz around the show, and the other enterprising female producer has taken it upon herself to syndicate the show and sell it to other local public broadcasting stations. A first. For those of us used to The Food Network, the early days of public television are fun to see. I remember Graham Kerr, the Gallopping Gourmet and his endless cups of wine and cooking in clarified butter. He wouldn’t have been on TV without Julia and her program’s success.

After Life: I have completed two short seasons of this three season series starring Ricky Gervais, both writing and directing. It centres around his character Tony, who has had his 20+ year marriage end with the death of his wife to cancer. They were connected. They were happy. He works at a small local free newspaper, with a cast of characters, not unlike The Office. Tony is struggling, and has suicidal thoughts. He sees his lack of caring about those around him as allowing his grumpy old man to come out. He has an adorable dog. If it all sounds depressing, it isn’t. Rather it can be very funny while also having moments of warmth. He has a very cutting sense of humour, and can be very brutal. He is vulger. I laugh. Not everybody may. His interactions with others in the town, like the postman, a lady who lost her husband and sit by his graveside each day or the nurse who helps with his Dad who is a bit scattered in a home are good. Two of the characters from Seasons 1 and 2 don’t show up for the final Season 3. It was a bit of a surprise. But I still enjoy and wonder where they will take this series for the conclusion.

April 11 2022

First of all, a shout out to my brother who won the Oscars Pool that I created. I am thinking that he should be betting with his record. To put it into perspective, he was able to get 38 points, 4 more than my eldest son. He only missed ONE question for Best Cinematography out of 23 categories. Damn impressive. Alison was third with 27 points. I sadly in a tie for fourth with 16 points.

Death On The Nile: Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and she was a prolofic mystery, who-dun-it mystery writer. She wrote Murder on the Orient Express, among many others. Her writings have been put into TV series, like Agatha Christie Mysteries and others in BBC and elsewhere. Kenneth Branagh has brought Orient Express to the big screen back in 2017. I have not see it. Given this result, I likely won’t seek it out. This story is brought with another star studded cast. Among the stars include Wonder Woman Gal Gadot. Ridley Scott is involved for executive producing, while Branagh directs. The focal point is the French detective Hercule Poirot. Gal Gadot is the main star with a supporting cast that includes Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, and Tom Bateman. In this story Poirot is shown early as a young soldier at the front in 1918. He makes an observation which is game changing for his platoon during an offensive push. It basically gives the message that he is a smart and observant guy. Time moves forward and he observes a couple on the dancefloor being very connected (Hammer and Emma McKay) and she is a friend of Gadot who arrives with much fanfare and paparazzi at this club. Jazz music is playing as the couple danced provacatively. As an aside, the band was playing electric guitars in a time noted as 1937. I do believe that this is early for the use of the electric guitar and I would have expected to hear more big band music. Incidentally, it was in 1936 when was first used by jazz musician Charlie Christian. Anyway, the story went forward as the young Emma McKay encourages her fiance to dance with the dazzling Gadot character. It ends up resulting in the fiance dumping his paramour and opted instead to marry the Gadot character. They decide to have a honeymoon on the Nile in a grandiose side-wheel boat. All of this, of course, in CGI that makes this look more like a TV movie than ready for the big screen. The underlying theme in this episode is people will do a lot for love. People start to get knocked off in mysterious circumstances. Now the survivors turn to Poirot to provide some insight into the murders. Was I entertained? Somewhat. It wasn’t overly convincing. I will confess to having some ideas on the true murderer. The end wasn’t a surprise. Can I recommend this? Not really.

Spiderman: No Way Home: I will confess that I am not a superhero guy, which is no surprise to those who know me and read these blog entries. Further, I am not a spiderman guy at all. I feel as though it has been overdone. Before we allow one set of movies to sink in, then another reboot occured. From Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst, to the Andrew Garfield iteration and now Tom Holland. Tom Holland brought Spiderman into the Iron Man, and the Avengers universe. Adding in a character like Doctor Strange, adds in another dimension, with multiple timelines. And by timelines we have the villians from previous Spiderman films who don’t recognize the Tom Holland character who need to be put back into their own times. Doc Oct is there, along with Wilem Dafoe as The Green Goblin, and Sand Man etc. It was confusing. Returning a villain to his version of the Spiderman world is just odd. I won’t delve into more of the plot, but this was THE movie in the theatres last year. It grossed insane amounts of money and that confuses me. Not every movie needs to be an Oscar contender. Hell movies like the recently reviewed Fast & Furious are prime examples of movies that are just meant to entertain. This isn’t for me. Sure Tom Holland has personality, and he is engaging as a Spiderman. There are new gadgets that Spiderman can be equipped with, which was entirely new. I don’t know the comics. I don’t know the backstory and therefore I feel that it is difficult to comment further. Will there be more of these? Let’s not kid ourslves, there will be plenty of these movies to come. I know that I don’t need to pay to see these in the theatre, but if they are on a free streaming service then I can check them out.

Julia: This is a new series from HBO Max. For me, my limited knowledge of Julia Child was Meryl Streep as Julia in Julie & Julia with Amy Adams. I own the book Mastering The Art of French Cooking. After watching that movie I was moved to make Boeuf Bourginon.

Sarah Lancashire embodies Julia Child. I have watched the first two episodes and I think that she is excellent. Julia Child was passionate about her husband, France, and her food. These shows are all about the food really. This show focuses on the time after the cook book was released, her husband Paul has retired from the diplomatic service and she is looking to establish herself as a TV personality. In episode one, we see David Hyde Pierce playing Paul not really being overly supportive of Julia’s idea of starting a new career into TV. We take TV for granted. Back in her day, however, she didn’t own a TV, and there was skepticism over whether TV would last. This is shocking to my generation and later. But also this was the early days of “Public Television”. Those who grovel for money shamelessly in the Membership drives. Julia had the ambition to think that she could diversify the way that Amercian housewives are going to cook in the household. Back in the day of Swanson frozen dinners, this was revolutionary, along with the thoughts of using real herbs. Julia was passionate about having recipes that had everyday ingredients in the average grocery store. To say that she was a main contributor in the way that we eat today wouldn’t be overstating it. I have finished two episodes and look forward to more. David Hype Pierce isn’t as supportive to Julia as the Stanley Tucci version of Paul in Julie & Julia. I like the idea of understanding in putting together a 30 minute show on making a lengthy dish like Coq au Vin. It looks delicious. Julia Child was a visionary, and a trail blazer in which today’s networks like Food Network and all its stars all can thank her. Remember that her times were more all about the men, and the women were supporting cast members only. Well worth the view.

The Ultimatum: this new Netflix series comes from the same team, Nick Lachey and his wife, who brought forth Love is Blind. Love is Blind was the where singles never laid eyes on the other person, and had to propose to them before laying eyes on them. They spoke to each other in dates through an opaque glass. It was preposterous and mind candy really. In this series there are six Austin Texas based couples where one of the parties wants to force the other party to marry them. They have come to this show to have a marry up or walk away discussion. The kicker in this is that you do this in front of the other person that you want to marry. In this show, they then choose another of those people in the couples to live with for three weeks! Oh and they all live in the same building and then have conversations with the other members of their sex on (Girls Night Out and Boys Night). It is remarkable and scary at the same time. These 20s age people are dealing with their own relationships and thinking that they to get married straight away and have kids. It is a train wreck. But it is crazy fun to watch. After three weeks with the “New Accelerated Marriage” then they are to return to their original partner. Oh what fun! If these shows aren’t your thing, stay away. If you want tears and drama, this is for you.

April 4th, 2022

Wishful Drinking: Carrie Fisher has done a number of one person shows. In 2010, at 54yo, and 6 years before her untimely death, she wrote and starred in this play/documentary. It was more of a documentary and she walked through her life history and that of her parents. Being born to famous people, and for her this was the pinnacle of fame with Debbie Reynolds, one of the biggest Hollywood stars and Eddie Fisher, a smooth singer and actor in his own right, the spotlight was firmly on them. Especially shortly after Debbie gave birth to their son, that Eddie became closer and closer to good friend, Elizabeth Taylor. After her husband’s, Mike Todd’s early death at the age of 50 in a plane crash. Taylor married eight times, later dumps Eddie for the charismatic Richard Burton, who she later divorced and re-married (and then divorced)! It is complicated chart or relationships that Carrie tries to explain with some humour. Carrie Fisher owns her faults, and readily admits to the drug and alcohol abuse. She knows everyone it seems in Hollywood, and in the New York scene. Not only from her parents but also her own career with Star Wars and all those people (George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill etc). Heck, Meryl Streep played her in Postcards From The Edge, her story. This is entertaining and sheds some light, although filtered, into the life of a young person thrown so early into the spotlight. Mom, Debbie Reynolds, had Carrie on stage and performing with her when she was very young. It shows in a way that isn’t surprising to anyone, that money and fame don’t buy happiness. Carrie had her demons and they took over her life a number of times. She was a good writer, and had a sarcastic wit. This is presently on Crave, and it is surprising to realize that she has already been gone for 5 years. Time when Covid has been around has simply stood still. When one thinks back, you almost have to add two years to any estimation when something happened.

The Martian: I re-watched this Ridley Scott film starring Matt Damon this past week, and once enjoyed thoroughly enjoyed it. This was released in 2015, but as noted above it doesn’t feel that long ago. I remember I liked the movie so much that I went out and bought and read the book. It also has the same humour in it as the films, and goes into more detail into a few other things for the character left on Mars by mistake. It is a worthwhile read. This is a very good cast, in an interesting story, with plenty of space and science for those not looking for Star Wars or Aliens. Rather it explores a scenario which could occur one day as humans explore other worlds and moons more regularly. There is a message of global cooperation which is sorely needed in times of war and conflict/sanctions. I really like the humour and how it is not all seriousness and problem solving. I think it also ingenious to show the thought process of how one works the problem to then move on to the next rather than being overcome with the gravity of a situation in its entirety (being on a planet with no communications, limited food and equipment). It would be easy to give up. Character and the human condition shows how we don’t go down without a fight.

CODA: I also re-watched the 2022 Best Picture CODA, and the Best Supporting Actor winner. I had texted Alison about doing so and she reflected that she thinks that this movie can be one like The Green Mile, Or Shawshank or Ferris Bueller that no matter how many times you have seen it, you will pause when you see it on a channel listing. I would agree with that. I liked this again on second viewing. I liked better seeing the subtitles from the beginning, as I hadn’t had them on my first viewing until some minutes into it. I like the growth of the family as a unit and individually. Each of them has to stretch and address their place in the family and how they can interact with each other and the community. Parents learn that children are not clones of themselves, and have their own wishes and aspirations and dreams. These dreams don’t always coincide with the parents had thought. We learn that a young woman, finishing up high school who thought she was destined on the career of fisherman on her Dad’s boat, had a new world opened to her because she had a skill than no one else in her family had. This skill was encouraged by the memorable teacher Berrrrrr-nardo but also because of her interest in a young man in her class, who joined the Choir.

Dad is a hard man, who has isolated himself and doesn’t like people generally. Not his fellow fisherman, and not the town. He loves his wife and his family deeply. The emotional hook for the film for me can be seen with his relationship with his daughter. I also liked how the tie in between the early question from the music teacher of “how does singing make you feel?” is answered then and later not through words, but sign.

If you haven’t seen this yet, seek it out. Maybe bring a tissue along too. Also as the Grammy’s last night celebrated Canadian singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell, you can feel the emotion of her song “Both Sides Now”. Our young actress has an excellent voice, and she is very good in this role. You care about her, and her family.

March 28 2022

Oscars 2022: So the Oscars were last night and no one who watched from the beginning can complain that it was a boring affair. For those of you who didn’t watch, there was an altercation between Best Actor Will Smith and comedien Chris Rock on stage during the performance. Chris Rock was making a joke about GI Jane and Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith about her shaved head, and Will Smith laughed at first and then reversed and took exception going onstage, slapping with an open hand Rock and then telling Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his act.

Will Smith initially laughs and then slaps Chris Rock

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether this was put on or whether it was real. And for those who stayed to watch the rambling tearful acceptance speech from Smith himself when he won for Best Actor, you can decide. For an Award show that has lost viewership in droves, and has been called irrelevant, this type of stunt would not be beyond Hollywood! A couple of questions though: would Smith have done the same thing if one of the MCs like Amy Schumer or Wanda Sykes had done the same thing? What message about violence in our society are we giving when two men have to resort to physical violence to look to resolve their differences. For a comedian himself, Smith doesn’t have much of a sense of humour. It has been well publicized his marital issues at home. This seems to be much ado about nothing. From the still shot above, it would appear that Rock still had a smile on his face after it was slapped.

As for the rest of the night it had a few surprises in the selections. Do I think that CODA was the best film of the year? In a weak year when not much of substance was released, this was a feel-good story well told, but no I don’t. I think the movie that will be remembered from this year will be Dune. Still, perhaps the voters feel that we need more movies like CODA which is fair. Will Smith wins for Best Actor, and from the fireworks earlier in the night perhaps some voters might have wanted to change their votes. For me, I think that Andrew Garfield was robbed in his triple threat role in Tick, Tick, BOOM! Talk about taking a role outside your comfort zone, Garfield claimed to never be a singer. He was amazing. Jessica Chastain wins for portraying Tammy Faye Bakker in an award that for me was for her body of work rather than this particular role. Chastain has been doing quality work on many projects for years. She is one of the actors that I will seek out in projects. The Oscar for her work and efforts, especially in obtaining gender pay equality and having more positive roles for females in films is commendable. She worked on getting Tammy Faye made for over a decade. She made it happen, and it won two Oscars (for her and makeup). Well done Jess! Dune won many of the technical awards, and it shows that the time spent by Denis Villeneuve on making his epic look amazing was well spent. I cannot agree with Best Director in Jane Campion, but then again I didn’t like her movie, even a little bit. So I think that Kenneth Branuagh deserved this award for Belfast, and it was also my selection for Best Picture. It was good to see a much thinner Francis Ford Coppola on stage with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro to celebrate 50 years since The Godfather was released. It is a masterpiece and was followed up with a sequel that rivals any sequel as the best of its kind. Also on stage we had John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Samuel L Jackson who allowed Will Smith to use up all the profanity allowed on the forecast, but came together 28 years since Pulp Fiction was released. The effort looked forced I have to admit with the dancing, and the opening of the suitcase. Here’s hoping that the coming year has more theatre-worthy films that have more quality performances and memorable stories.

Oscar Short Films: Alison was kind enough to send along this link for me to find the Oscar short films. I did see a few of them including Robin, Robin which was cute, The Queen of Basketball, which was eye opening, and sadly reaffirmed what Cheryl Miller showed us all in the lack of pro basketball options for women in Women of Troy and the USC team there. A fine documentary.

https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a39124052/how-to-watch-oscar-nominated-short-films-animation-2022/

I will say I also watched Audible, which was interesting as a young deaf football player deals with the death of a close friend and closing out his high school playing days. He is from a hearing family. So he understands the isolation and loneliness that CODA speaks about. Affairs of the Art was simply weird. There are some good drawings, but the content was strikingly different. Three Songs for Benazir was only 20 mins with dubbed in English, set in Afghanistan. It shows me just how little I know about this country and that part of the world. We are so fortunate that we have a safe, stable and secure country in which to grow and have life choices. For this young man, married and with a pregnant wife with a grade 3 education, he has the choice of joining the army or working the opium fields. Nasty. Short films generally can be hit and miss, and I would like to think that the Oscars find more hits than misses. It seems the only time of the year I will find such films is for the Oscars or in September at TIFF.

Fast and the Furious 9: Amazingly and remarkably there have been nine of these movies made in this franchise. From humble beginnings on the streets of LA where Paul Walker was asked to infiltrate a group of teens street racing, this has grown into a worldwide undertaking. It seems that the stunts and stories have become almost comical, to the point that the actors themselves call it out in the movie. “We have gone on all these crazy missions, and we don’t have a scratch on us. What does it say about us?” No kidding! There are stunts with cars in this movie that are just simply too ridiculous to believe. One involves using a bridge rope to pendulum a car from one side of a cliff to another. The other involves a Fiero going someplace that a car would not and should not ever go, or try to go. But this is really the point in many ways. They have jumped, drifted, raced, crashed a car in every way possible in this series and so what can possibly be next? I cannot recommend this. It is too Ludicrous (pun intended) to be entertaining. Thank goodness that I didn’t need to pay for it.

Not a scratch!!

Oscars Pool Link 2022

As I have done in the past, I am running an Oscar pick pool. Best Picture nominees include: “Belfast”; “CODA”; “Don’t Look Up”; “Drive My Car”; “Dune”; “King Richard”; “Licorice Pizza”; “Nightmare Alley”; “The Power of the Dog”; “West Side Story.”

I have not seen only Drive My Car, which will be remedied this week.

http://www.officepools.com/invite/pickem/m/FJ83H7Q

Oscars are on Sunday

Please feel free to participate and share! Best of luck to those involved. Alison and my brother have done very well in past years.

March 21, 2022

Spring has sprung and thank goodness we can put Winter in the rear view mirror. I was away from this Toronto weather last week and didn’t watch any movies so nothing to post. This week I did manage to see a movie.

Alan Parker is a Director that passed away without a lot of fanfare in my knowledge back in 2020. I am realizing that he had a very good career, directing and writing some very good movies along the way. He died aged 76. Far too young. I have reviewed other films of his like Mississippi Burning on here recently. He had also done Midnight Express before that, as well as Pink Floyd The Wall, Fame, The Commitments and Madonna’s Evita. In 1987, just before Mississippi Burning, he had Robert DeNiro and the very hot actor Mickey Rourke to do Angel Heart. Also part of the cast was a very young Lisa Bonet, who had some scenes which she was more revealing than some were comfortable. She was 20yo but looked a lot younger. Charlotte Rampling was also part of this cast. The plot is set in the early 1950s. Rourke plays a private detective named Harry Angel, who is engaged by a man, played by DeNiro, who was looking for someone. His name is Johnny Favourite. A singing act who has a debt that needs to be repaid to DeNiro, but Favourite is suffering from amnesia and may in fact already be dead. Rourke is engaged to find out. He is engaged to track down Favourite and report back to DeNiro. Rourke begins his search and finds out information in and around NY, and then heads to New Orleans to follow up on leads. As Angel is investigating and using some aggressive questioning techniques, those involved seem to have issues which I won’t delve into further. Things continue to pile up, and DeNiro makes appearances along the way. The plot thickens for Harry Angel. This isn’t the strongest or best movie of Parker’s career. His movies have won an Oscar for Cinematography. He has a good eye and frames the action well. The memorable part for this movie would be the Bonet situation and her scene with Rourke and also the ending which will leave many scratching their heads. I had liked Rourke earlier in his career before he messed with his face and the ridiculous boxing choices outside of movies. I also have liked Robert DeNiro. Seems he kept his hair from The Mission with this movie. In the end, I look to write on movies that I have seen before Alison and I began talking about movies in the 90s.

Cyrano (2021): Those who know me are aware that I thoroughly enjoyed Game of Thrones. I liked the series (up until the last two seasons anyway) enough to read the books and fill in the holes not covered. I think that Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister was one of the best things about GOT. Peter previously for me had done Elf, as the famous children’s book writer Miles Finch, where he famously runs across a board room table to attack Buddy (Will Ferrell) who calls him an elf. Funny.

Dinklage signed up to do the classic tale of Cyrano, that Steve Martin did earlier with his version Roxanne, with Daryl Hannah. He plays the title character, no longer with a ridiculously long nose, but short of stature. This time the story is a musical. Haley Bennett plays Roxanne well. Cyrano is in love from afar with the woman Roxanne, who seeks “true love” rather than an arranged marriage that helps her station in life. She spies a young man in the audience at a performance where Cyrano shows his intelligence and wit, but she is attracted to his looks. She asks her friend Cyrano to help with an introduction. He does. The story continues in a predictable manner. For me, Dinklage like Russell Crowe in Les Mis or even more so Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia, should stick to acting and not singing. It can be painful. Dinklage is actually an improvement over the previous notables, but like Ringo Starr in the Beatles was given limited range to hit. The rest of the cast was all good. I think the story also benefitted from the recent success of the series Bridgerton where we have multiple ethnicities playing traditionally white roles. It makes sense. It reflects today’s society a lot more than in 1897 when Edmond Rostand penned the play. This was fun and satisfying despite the singing. Others sang well. There was real emotion with the final scenes with Roxanne. It is worth checking out, and seeing a different interpretation on a classic tale.

New York Times – Twitter Hack: On Crave they are showing investigative documentaries about current events. The one from yesterday investigated the story of the 17yo from Tampa who was at the heart of a hack on Twitter back in 2020. Celebrity users like Barrack Obama, Elon Musk, Joe Biden, and Bill Gates were offering money for Bitcoin transfers. It of course was a scam, and the investigation showed this young man was scamming people on Minecraft before he got into bigger issues. It was amazing to see how his phishing skills were used to gain entry into the Twitter servers and behind the firewall. It is a lesson in cybersecurity. As for this young man, he is in custody awaiting trial in Florida and they are looking for him to be tried as an adult. One man in Washington state is shown to have lost over $1M in Bitcoin to this guy and his accomplices. The young man then renegs on paying the illgotten booty to those accomplices and they then turn on him. Thieves are still thieves it seems. Character is something that you gain over time, and your reputation precedes you. It is odd seeing these hackers gathering in a bar and pouring champagne over their Rolex watches to show just how much money that they have. The good news for everyone is that this Twitter hacker only chose to run a modest scam for Bitcoin rather than take down the news feed and impact the fabric of the global economy for stocks like Apple, Amazon, Microsft and others. Worth checking out if you can find it.

March 7th, 2022

The Batman: This was a long awaited film, in the can much earlier in a pandemic that was delayed to get more of an audience. It was just released in Canada this past weekend. I went to see it in IMAX on Saturday night. It stars Robert Pattinson, from Twilight and Harry Potter fame from many years ago. This is a stand alone version of the Batman tale with no association to either Tim Burton’s from the 80s nor Christopher Nolan’s later on. For context, I didn’t like the Burton version of Batman with Michael Keaton, but I really enjoyed the Nolan trilogy with Christian Bale.

Robert Pattinson plays The Batman

As advertised this is a very long movie, at almost 3 hours. It can feel that way in a number of places. Without any fanfare or back story to Bruce Wayne this story dives right into the crux of the tale; corruption in Gotham City at its highest levels. Batman is already out in the streets and we are introduced to some familiar names, like Jim Gordon and Alfred (Andy Serkis). That’s one of the challenges and benefits to the material in my mind. A challenge because although the audience is familiar with many of the names and places that are re-introduced, they arrive with pre-conceived ideas on who they are, what role that they play and the basis structure. In many ways the roboot is resetting the chessboard with known pieces and movement, but with a new set of players directing the pieces. The pieces can move in all sorts of different ways. The director and script writer tells a darker tale, with darker scenes and a lot of rain. It feels like you are back in LA for the first Blade Runner with bustling streets and almost constant rain and darkness. On the streets of Gotham, there is guy who is killing high ranking officials and also leaving a greeting card addressed to The Batman. We learn that this is The Riddler and he is looking to uncover the ugly underbelly within Gotham. This has some ties into Bruce Wayne and the Wayne family. We learn this over time as the evidence is undercovered and The Batman is assisting the police along the way. The unravels slowly. Too slowly for my liking.

There are things that happen, like in many superhero movies, that are incredulous. Riduculous. But one goes with it. There are some cool toys, like a Bond movie, with the Bat mobile and the motorcycles etc. These are cool. There are some good stunts, production design, make up and costumes. Time and care was taken. Pattinson was committed and convincing. For Batman fans, they of course will see it. For non-Batman fans, is this a movie they need to see, in the same way that The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger as the Joker is a movie that everyone should see? I don’t think so. There likely will be more, as there is money to be made. Batman as we have seen is a big money franchise, the biggest in the DC comic world. More to come.

The new Bat Mobile

Movie Etiquette: Attending the movies at the theatre with an almost full theatre is a new experience for most in two years. The pandemic has made most of us turn inwards and watch from the comfort of our living rooms. We can talk, pause, eat loudly, head to the bathroom and move around freely while at home. We can watch On Demand, when and how we want. In the theatre, the movie has a start time. We thankfully have an assigned seat. This is a blessing in that we KNOW that we have a seat and we don’t have to be in line for hours ahead of time with a new release and popular movie. The downside is that with this assigned seat, you treat that ability cavalierly; you show up late, you make sure that even while being late you insist on getting your snacks. You decide to congregate in the entrance way and then light up your phone to try and see where your seat is, and then disturb other viewers. Those who were on time, and in their seats are compromised. They might miss something early in the film because you have to move into your seat. It’s annoying. Some of the blame should be on the theatres. There is something to be said for the owner closing the doors after the trailers are done. They know how much time that is to the minute. Respect your on time patrons by turning away those who are really late until the next show. My showtime was 6:45PM. There were people arriving at past 7:00PM. Not acceptable on any front. Being late is just as annoying as being Tommy Texter or talking or eating loudly. When you are part of a movie watching community, then respect those community members and recognize that others are just as importsnt as you are.

West Side Story: Steven Spielberg has taken on directing the iconic 1961 musical. Rita Moreno is an Executive Producer. Moreno won the Oscar for Supporting Actress from her role as the brother’s girlfriend. In truth I have not seen the original, remarkably really when I think about it. I know a number of the songs like “America”, “I Feel Pretty” and “Tonight”. This is the first time in a very long time with Speilberg hasn’t worked with John WIlliams. The songs, the dancing, choreoegraphy for him would have been something new. Spielberg dedicated this movie to his Dad. In short, this story is a modern day telling of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, as someone who knows the Shakespeare play pretty well, I noted that there are scenes that mirror the original very closely. Ansel Elgort places Tony, and he is best known for Baby Driver and The Fault in Our Stars. Rachel Zegler, unknown to me, plays Maria as his Puerto Rican love interest. She was one of over 30,000 women to audition. She has a great voice, and is of Colombian, Polish, Italian & German descent. She is a foot shorter than Elgort. Moreno plays an older woman who owns a local drug store and she has taken Tony in to help him after a stint in prison. The basic premise is that two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, are fighting over territory that is being torn down by the City in NY. Lincoln Center will replace it, and displace a lot of Puerto Rican residents and local whites. They don’t get along. There is a rumble developing to end all hostilities. The story continues. Tony meets Maria unexpectedly at a party and they have instant chemistry. There are underlying themes about violence and vengeance. The sad realities which mean that property and people are divided along racial lines, and people are viewed and judged by the colour of their skin and their country of origin. Hatred runs deep. The relevant question is whether this version of the story is watchable and entertaining? It is. This makes me want to see the original and compare. I have heard without confirmation that there are differences. For me, I think that the ending was abrupt. Different than the original material in a way that I can’t entirely agree with. More to the point, I don’t think that it goes far enough in looking to show a different attitude of all those involved. Elgort sings himself, and owns the role. Many of the supporting performances are strong, including the brother’s girlfriend Ariana DeBose nominated in the Moreno role again. It is nominated for Best Picture and I don’t see it as a remake. Still, it is a good story, well told. I am glad that I watched it and can recommend.

Tony and Maria in a new retelling of West Side Story

February 28th, 2022

First of all, I would like to congratulate Jessica Chastain for winning the SAG Award last night for Best Actress, for her role of Tammy Faye Bakker. I have been a long time fan, and although I don’t think of this as the strongest year for nominees (far from it), it is still recognition and acknowledgement. The Eyes of Tammy Faye, that I reviewed and didn’t love, was a project that she had worked on for 10 years. Getting that together, assembling the cast and getting the financing cannot be easy. Sadly the pandemic is hitting all the revenues from the film industry. So kudos to her in bringing it home. I will suggest that Andrew Garfield was robbed in the Best Actor category. For a guy who professed that he couldn’t sing, he was amazing in his role in Tick Tick Boom. I was very pleased to see that Jean Smart for Hacks won which was a great performance! If you haven’t seen it, check out that series.

Nightmare Alley: Another movie where the impressive cast is simply let down by a story that was boring. I was not engaged in this long winded story in the least. Set in the 1940s, in a carnival setting that roams from town to town there is the talents of people like Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, and director/writer Guillermo Del Toro. This is a remake of a movie from 1947. It falls flat. Cooper is the focus as a guy who does something nasty in the first few frames and then “runs away to the circus”. He meets up with a cast of characters who perform shows and fool the public for money. He learns some tricks of the trade and is introduced to the skill of clairvoyance. Generally it is the ability to be extra perceptive, and make choices about people generally, like young men will have issues with their father and women their mothers. People care about health, wealth and love. He meets Rooney Mara. Things happen. Later we see Cooper flying higher in society and looking to impress and be paid by a wealthy man. He is believing in his own “abilities” and selling others on it. The ultimate conclusion comes full circle, but it isn’t really satisfying. I note that even with this star studded cast, that no Oscar nominations came from it. None were justified. It seemed forced, with no real ability to draw the audience into the suspense. I had not realized until after watching that this was a remake. It makes sense, because the look and feel is very much what one might expect from the 40s. Updating the cast is window dressing for a story that is well entrenched in its time. The running time was 2:20 which is too long. I think the opening scenes with the carnival could be shorter. The point could have been made there sooner. In the end, this isn’t Best Picture nor is it worth spending this amount of time on. Sadly. I had such high hopes going into it with this cast.

Love is Blind: I watched Season 2 on Netflix. This is a guilty pleasure really. Such cheese in the evening to watch so many people enter into this “experiment” for which they are all so quick to refer. The premise is simple. Put 15 young men and women in a place for 10 days where they cannot see one another, but can only talk. Only upon being engaged can you actually meet this person, and try to cement the relationship. After a trip to Cancun and some time together back in the home city, in this case Chicago, do you have to ultimately decide whether to actually get married. That decision is left to the bitter end with friends and family in attendance at a full on ceremony. Every one who enters this show knows what they are getting into at this point. There are no surprises there. The editting of course makes a huge difference and I wouldn’t ever place a bet on who would remain together because much isn’t shown to us. If off-camera the couple had a blazing, three alarm argument about something that we didn’t see, we have no context in which to know where the participants head is at. They ALL want to be married. They ALL are in love with the concept of love. But are they finding the right person for them using this format. Of course the show wants to create drama to keep viewers engaged. This was a good season, I felt, because there were couples at different stages. Some more connected than others. Some where one party was more connected. Others still had issues with family and loved ones. The ultimate reveal was a good culmination of events. Obviously I won’t reveal who stayed with whom. But if you like this sort of thing, this is mind candy that although a little longer than it needs to be, can still be fun on a winter day.

February 21, 2022

Licorice Pizza: Sometimes you see a new movie with young stars and they are immediately engaging. In the case of this movie, both leads played by Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in this new release from the summer are so engaging. I had not realized the young Cooper Hoffman until after seeing his name is the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman was an extremely engaging actor. The movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson has two notable Oscar winner Sean Penn and six time nominee in the last nine years Bradley Cooper. Neither are particularly memorable in truth. The setting in the early 70s and a young confident high school student (Hoffman) meets an assistant for the photographer doing annual portraits in the gym. She is a little older and they have a clever banter. Much like Almost Famous where two young people meet and connect, you wait and see what awaits these two. It seems that are supportive of one another in whatever ventures come forward. From a roadtrip to NYC, where he is making an acting appearance but needs a chaparone, to her working for various ventures from the 70s like waterbeds and pinball machines. Isn’t love really about being there for the other person, when they are up but more importantly when they are down or in trouble (or perceived trouble). The story is a little disjointed, and situations aren’t always realistic. I am not always sure that the dynamic mid-teen would be setting up a storefont and making sales for various products. I wouldn’t be buying from such an enterprising youngster. There are good set designs with plenty of 70s era cars, clothing, hairstyles etc. Our heroine is put into some challenging situations, and one gets a sense of how it may be to be a young woman in those days (and any day for that matter) when especially she is around creepy men, and creepy older men. It just makes the hair on my arms stand on end, especially with a young woman as a daughter. Alana’s real life sisters play her sisters in this movie. Another thing I noted during the credits. Anderson is married to Maya Rudolph, I didn’t know that either. He has directed films like Phantom Thread and There Will Be Blood. Also Magnolia and The Master, with Cooper Hoffman’s Dad. I expected this to be better from a plot perspective, and I can’t pinpoint how and why. At the same time, I feel like I was introduced to a couple new people that we all likely will see again.

The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman: Netflix is showing these documentaries about various conman. First earlier in the month was Tinder Swindler. Here is another instance of a guy who has been able to avoid the law while swindling young women and their inheritances, credit or fortunes. He started in university where his con was to convince the woman that he was an MI-6 British intelligence officer. He was being stalked by the IRA, and his life was in danger. He stayed mobile. He convinced a woman’s family to part with her inheritance early. The authorities get involved. The story early on focuses on young adult children who are searching for their Mom. She has been under this man’s spell and hasn’t been in touch with them at all. So the story continues and it is another cautionary tale for which daters should be mindful. There are some telltale signs, so take notes. This case is a little more extreme, by that I mean one wonders how people can be in this situation, but still it remains remarkable what people can do to one another. Not everyone has the best of intentions. Far from it.

February 14th, 2022 (Valentine’s Day)

Happy Valentine’s Day. One would think that I would be doing a themed review for this pandemic Valentine’s Day. Nope. Sorry to disappoint. Now, I do have the somewhat romantic The House of Gucci to review, but that is as close as it comes. Another review is more a cautionary tale about love and relationships from Netflix with Tinder Swindler. It starts will romance and then ends up in tears and deceit. Finally I can review Shang-Chi (“Sean”) and the Legend of the Ten Rings. So let’s get started.

The House of Gucci: This star-studded cast includes Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto and Jeremy Irons. Such an impressive pedigree of talent with the direction of Ridley Scott. So what goes wrong? This is a mess. The story is based upon the real life tale of what occurred in the Gucci family in the early 70s and into the mid 1990s, which was unknown to me. The Gucci family of course has been known for years of selling the high end, au couture hand bags and clothing. Two brothers, played by Irons (Rodolfo) and Pacino (Aldo) each have ownership and each has a son. Pacino’s son Paulo, played by Leto is eccentric and not very business savvy, to put it mildly. Irons’ son is a budding lawyer Maurizio, played by Adam Driver, who is awkward socially but smart. Early on he meets at a party the young, pretty, outgoing and socially upwardly mobile Patrizia played by Lady Gaga. They have a whirlwind romance, and he announces that he will marry her. Irons hates the idea and disowns his only son. Pacino steps in to assist with the only remaining Gucci family member with any business sense at all. He is brought back into the family business, much to Patrizia’s delight. For me, this movie is too long. It takes too long to get going and buckles under its own weight. Patrizia has some elements of Lady Macbeth as she urges on her husband to be more tactical with the fellow members of the family. It is coordinated, calculating and ruthless. She inexplicably gets involved with a phone fortune teller/soothsayer, played by Salma Hayak. Jared Leto, who was unrecognizable to me in the role until more than halfway through it, with his over-the-top performance almost single handedly ruins the movie. I don’t believe him. I don’t believe that anyone could be so unaware of how he acts and is perceived. Leto seems to play a recurring role of an eccentric or a crackpot. Despite the Dallas Buyer’s Club Oscar, he needs to get fewer roles. Across the board the Italian accents are cringe-worthy. I cannot recommend this. It seems a shame with the cast that they put together to get this odd result. It can be a case study into family businesses, like Succession for example, a transitioning the controlling interest in a company from one generation to the next. As the saying goes about wealth in business: “The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it, and the third generation blows it.”

Tinder Swindler: This is a Netflix documentary that puts on film a story that began in Norway with a young woman in her mid 20s that had been on the social dating site Tinder for over nine years. Like many, she is looking for her match, although her match, and what catches her attention seems to be at a level most don’t see online. She meets a guy named Simon who has an impressive profile, including pics of him with fancy cars, him piloting a plane and exotic places that he has visited. He includes his Instagram profile in Tinder which shows him to be the son of a famous billionaire diamond magnate. She is immediately intrigued and falls early and hard as he whisks her away on private jet to another city on their first date. He is a “busy guy” jetsetting around the world on business, leaving her behind but being sure to WhatsApp her his love messages each day. He talks about the dangers in this business and his need for a body guard/entourage. Then late one night he sends her a set of pics showing his body guard bloodied from an apparent attack. His funds have been frozen and he needs her to get some credit cards in her name for him to use. She does. He asks for cash money from her as well which she delivers dutifully, thinking that she is protecting her boyfriend from harm. It goes downhill from there, as they unravel the deception. More women are uncovered. Ultimately there is a resolution but the viewer is left unsatisfied. Truly for me that was the case, as my legal sensibilities are engaged. This is well done and worth watching especially for any people who are dating or know people who are, including kids. One can look as close as CBC.CA to see that there are many similar stories happening in Ontario. Stories about people in Waterloo losing $250,000-$1M, to others losing life savings. It can be a dangerous world out there, and there are plenty of people looking to take advantage of those lonely hearts looking just to be loved in these strange times. Police will say that these are classic scams that have been used for years. Online dating just allows it to be more prevalent, with people from various countries.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: I have said it before, but it is worth repeating that movies can be about expectations. Even this week, I had higher expectations when about to view The House of Gucci. It disappointed. Two things worked against this movie to start; the first was the fact that it appeared to be another in Marvel’s superhero quiver of films. Ugh. I am generally NOT a superhero guy. Then of course was the title, which was reminiscent of duds like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Instead what I saw was refreshingly watchable. To set the stage I was on an airplane and watching on the small screen of my IPhone. So it was not surrounding me. But the story was intriguing as the young “Sean” who is parking cars Awkwafina at a hotel, hears about some trouble with his family. His mother had long ago passed away, and he is in hiding from his Dad. Dad is in possession of the Ten Rings, which in no way reflect the powers of the one ring from Lord of the Rings. They are worn around the wrists and grant the holder many varied abilities which include making weapons, jumping and basically being indestructible. Sean is played well by Canadian Simu Lin. He has a lot on his plate and we learn about the details over time. It’s complex. Mystical forces are at play, and we learn that a secondary world, not unlike Black Panther or Wonder Woman is in danger from his Dad. His Mom came from there. I won’t try and explain the story further since it likely will muddy the viewer’s mind. Instead, see it, and watch many of the impressive visuals. This was better than expected, and I enjoyed seeing. This movie also reinforces for me that there are many stories from around the world that are worthy to see on screen. Not all the best stories come from Hollywood. So if this is around, check it out.