November 15th, 2021

There wasn’t an edition published last week since I was away and had little access to the computer (on purpose).

Scenes From A Marriage (1973): Jessica Chastain had worked previously with Liv Ullman, the Norwegian actress and director on films like Miss Julie. Ullman is widely regarded as one of the best European actresses, although I have to admit that I am not all that familiar with her work. She frequently worked with Ingmar Bergman. This movie, which was originally a TV series as well, was the original inspiration for the recently released series starring Chastain and the everywhere-man Oscar Isaac. It follows the same chapter pattern with moments in time with the primary couple, Marianne and Johan. In the first chapter, Marianne and Johan have their friends over for a dinner and drinks and it eventually becomes a more tense scene with the friends shouting their gripes about their relationship and a desire to end it. Marianne is a family law lawyer and Johan is an assistant professor. Marianne is able to be a source of legal counsel eventually through the end of the conversation. Chastain was an IT manager in the more recent storyline. In that first chapter Marianne and Johan have been together for ten years. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the latest version nor this one. There are many similarities between the two series but there are also some material differences. I don’t spoil that much to reveal that in this version, Johan comes early to their cottage property and announces that he has fallen in love with someone else. He will be setting off to Paris with this new person the next day for a number of months. I think audiences from the seventies where divorce was not so prevalent than it is today would be more accepting of the reaction of Marianne upon hearing this news. I am not sure that today’s viewers would be as accepting. Then again, this is true of much of the relationship between these two people. The underlying theme is that some people, whether together or not, seem to gravitate to one another. Maybe they are more mature in accepting the wishes of a spouse who questions the relationship they have? Perhaps they are less spiteful and looking for revenge, all very human emotions that don’t seem to show themselves. I am not sure. As things progress the sides have flipped from the latest version where it was Chastain who looked for more, and requested the divorce. Johan seems a little less manipulative in this series. The children are not seen and rarely spoken about except for Marianne to request that Johan try and make an effort to remember their birthdays. Rather matter-of-factly it is mentioned that the children don’t really want to see their father. The other theme that extends into both is this idea that there is no clean break. When children are involved that is absolutely the case. However when some of the scenes are played out, one wonders whether that ability to see it as just a momentary lapse can override a real betrayal. There are certain things that I feel are non-negotiable in a relationship, and in one of the later episodes it can be seen to occur. It was surprising and unexpected that it went there, but even more surprising that later there is a further meeting up. It was interesting to review, to compare and contrast the two versions. I can see where Chastain felt that there was updating necessary, and for her the stronger more independent woman of a household. Isaac in the later version is more sympathetic. Johan far less so, even while mumbling about how sorry he is in his life, at virtually every stage. There is no doubt that even with this 70s version that I still see Little Children comparisons. Still Marianne is more a victim in this circumstance throughout. After all is said and done, it doesn’t really speak too highly of the institution of marriage.

Webb-TV - Se Scener ur ett äktenskap i SVT Play - Gratis streaming

Johan and Marianne discuss their relationship.

Silk Road: I have to admit that I haven’t heard much about Silk Road as a website until recently, and most of it is through books about the principal true character named Ross Ulbricht. Ross is a brilliant young man born in 1984, who struggled like many young people to find his niche. He had broad visions for himself as someone who could “change the world”. He was also very much a libertarian in the truest sense of the word. He believed generally that people, and notably Americans, have the right to do whatever they want with no government interference. He was attending University of Texas, and was about to finish as an engineer. His father notably looked upon him as a person who couldn’t apply himself and never seemed to finish what he started. In 2010, he came up with the idea that he could set up an anonymous marketplace where people could buy and sell anything, including drugs, which he regarded as a personal choice. He would not allow firearms or child pornography or the like. He had a view that using TOR, which encrypted the users identity and making payments in untraceable Bitcoin that there would be no taxes and no government interference. The postal service and couriers would be used to cut out to criminal undercurrent of the current on-the-street and illegal business. He set up his site. It became a news story through the website Gawker, and then took off.

Circuit Affirms Life Sentence for 'Silk Road' Creator | New York Law Journal

At the same time, there is a disgraced police officer who was an effective street cop, but had also become an addict. He had a well publicized incident that had him at an Addiction Centre and later psychiatric help for his demons. He is played by Jason Clarke in this movie. He isn’t fired, but placed with the cyber-security unit at the DEA with all the other computer geeks (no disrespect intended). He hears through a street source that drugs can be purchased through the web and he wants to track it down. His path crosses with Ulbrecht as he tries to gain his confidence. For me, the more intriguing aspect of this story is the Bitcoin. It was the currency of choice for the underworld. At the time, people were transacting in Bitcoin when its value was around $121. Ulbricht took a 10% commission fee for every transaction that took place. When he was arrested in 2013, the federal government seized 144,000 bitcoin. It is believed that the Silk Road commissions from 2011 to 2013 were closer to 600,000 Bitcoin. In mid 2014, the Government auctioned off 30,000 of his coins. All nine auctions went to a venture capitalist for $19M. Bitcoin today is trading at $64,307 USD and those 30,000 Bitcoin are worth $1.9B. And Ulbrecht’s fortune for the 144,000 Bitcoin would be $9.26B!!! Quite remarkable. He was convicted on only a few charges and when you see what happens, if you don’t know the story, I think that you will be shocked. This is a guy who believed in the free economy, not in any way impacted by the Government, yet he lived in modest means, and for all his talk of freedom he moved from place to place and couldn’t enjoy the fruits of his labours. He was always in fear of being arrested. He was a workaholic and that work consumed him. Yes he impacted the world, but at what price? Time and again stories show the drive for brilliance and impact is lost because of other flaws and insecurities. He is serving life sentences. His Mom actively propositioned Donald Trump as President to pardon him. He didn’t. So he remains there. This is an intriguing story moreso than the movie was. The movie was okay, but the subject matter is worthwhile checking into. Bitcoin has become mainstream, with Elon Musk being a major player, but it still smacks of a currency for the underground to me. I had a hockey buddy talk about what he thought the value of a Bitcoin and he was right. He was mining Bitcoin at the time. These people who have made all these riches from Bitcoin might want to investigate how the electrical grid can be boosted to allow all these transactions, and electric cars to take over. For further insight into that, see John Oliver’s piece from Last Week Tonight from last week.

November 1st, 2021

Succession, Season 3: I have begun watching the latest installment of this dysfunctional family series. Dad is a media tycoon, and his children swirl around him like bees on a hive. He in Season1 had a health issue, that sent the kids scrambling. Then Season 2 had the one son end with a press conference that sent shock waves through the company. This season continues on with that story. I think that the writing here is brilliant, with the banter among the characters as first rate. Kieran Culkin (yes MacCauley’s brother) has some of the best lines as the wise cracking, do very little middle sibling. It’s fun. There is plenty of profanity, and it seems that they know very few words that aren’t profane at times. But there are some zingers. Each character is very different and not one of them is honest or willing to deal from the top of the deck with their Dad or each other. I will continue to watch.

Body Heat: When there are more obscure lists that are created about movies, Body Heat from 1981 with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner comes near the top in the category of “sweatiest movies”. Set in small town Florida, in the middle of a heat wave, the look and feel is one of steam rising from the buildings and streets. Characters cool themselves by standing in front of the refrigerator. The plot involves a sole practicing lawyer, who is not remarkable in any way professionally and is known by his friends as a guy who gets around. He sees the Kathleen Turner character at a local event, and chats her up. She quickly notes to him that she is married. But later in the same conversation is not so subtle in her interest in him. Played by Kathleen Turner, she dresses like she has seen Faye Dunaway in Network often.

Kathleen Turner felt 'objectified' by men after first big film role in Body  Heat - The Irish News
Kathleen Turner meets and speaks to lawyer William Hurt

As he learns more, she is married, but he husband is away a lot. She lives in a massive place nearby. She begins to drop hints about how lonely she is. Hurt is happy to step right in. The two then plot to have the husband killed and solicit the assistance of a known arsonist, played by a young Mickey Rourke. Things happen and Hurt soon suspects that he is being manipulated, with indications for the slain husband’s murder that some fingers start pointing to him. His buddies, the local District Attorney (played by Ted Danson) and police detective are worried about him. Things progress and unravel for Hurt’s character, and we see just how deep it had become. This is a well acted adult story, with the intrigue in the plot of just how the end result could be reached. There are good supporting cast members and the chemistry between Turner and Hurt, crucial for a film like this, is there. This is on Crave but can likely be found in other streaming services. Well worth checking out.

Wendy: This is a 2020 film take on the classic Peter Pan story. In truth, I am not much of a follower of the Peter Pan story, and yet I can think of a bunch of movies that revolve around it that I have seen. Movies such as Pan, Hook with Robin Williams and Julia Roberts, Neverland with Johnny Depp, the Disney animated version and others. Of that listing I like Neverland the best. This one seems more fantasy based, with a intriguing use of a train that transports the children to another land.

Montserrat's St Patrick's Festival rolls out the Red Carpet for 'Wendy |  Loop Cayman Islands
Peter Pan staying young forever

This interpretation wasn’t awful. The young actors playing the roles were very good throughout. Wendy herself played by Devin France is notably good. Beginning in a small diner, Wendy and her siblings are introduced. She has a Mom working hard to keep her customers satisfied, and she speaks about the children taking on this little business in time. The one boy has no interest in it and wants to be a pirate. One day after a quarrel with the adults, he strips off his pants and jumps on a passing train and disappears. After a time, Wendy and her twin brothers decide to take such a train themselves and meet up with a young black boy in a red jacket. Peter. Their adventure begins. There is backstory to explain Hook. There is further backstory to explain the lost boys. The young Wendy keeps your attention, and she is compelling. Still, I cannot recommend for those who aren’t avid Pan fans, if such a thing exists. Given the number of Pan related films there must be, and given the quality of the actors engaged in such projects. The underlying themes of staying young at heart, keeping active and avoiding the ruts of adulthood are well explored. Is it better to stay young forever while others around you are aging? Does aging necessarily mean that there is no more fun or adventure? Do the adults have to let their children go and lead their own lives, seek out their own dreams and place in the world? Time and again we have seen answers to these questions. Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to be a little kid all my life, but maybe it’s because it has those strings of being told what to do, and not independent and able to stand on your own. Even still. I may want the ability to fly, and more than just to believe that I can do it.

October 25th, 2021

Dune Part One: There will be inevitable comparisons between this latest version of the Frank Herbert classic sci-fi novel published in 1965 to the David Lynch film from 1984. From this reviewer’s perspective, this Denis Villeneuve version is far superior, although that really isn’t saying much nor is it a high bar to hurdle. I read the book many years ago, but I have to admit that it isn’t all that fresh with me. For the uninitiated and unfamiliar with the story, I think that Villeneuve has taken his time to explain the plot well. Note that in the opening credits it is noted that this is Part One. At 2:35 running time, this movie takes it time and keeps the audience aware of what is happening. It is a complex story about a planet in the universe that is the only source for “spice”. Spice is mined and important since it is crucial for interstellar travel, so it is very valuable. There are native people, the Fremin on the planet, but the Emperor has chosen to ignore them and placed families in charge of the spice production. The Emperor has replaced the incumbent family of Harkonnen’s with the Atreides family. There is much political jousting taking place with intrigue and suspicion among the players. The Fremen are unknown in numbers and fight against the occupying force, whatever that may be. In many ways there are themes from movies like Avatar. Within the Atreides family, there is father, played by Oscar Isaac who we discussed is everywhere these days, along with his son Paul, played by Timothee Chalamet. Paul’s mother Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson, isn’t married to the Duke and she was part of a female order, the Bene Gesserit, but she decided to have a child with him and left to be on his planet. The head of the Order shows up for a meeting with Jessica and her teenage son. We learn that the Bene Gesserit have been looking to genetically create a Matrix-like One, who can become a galactic leader. Paul is put to a test, as he has learned through his Mother some unique talents like speaking in a Voice, or communicating through alternate means (like sign language).

I won’t delve further into the plot because it is complex and not really necessary for a discussion. Many of Denis Villeneuve’s films are about the visual experience than the plot anyway. Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 show him to be the next Ridley Scott when it comes to ships, and visualizing new unseen worlds. The costume design is first rate and he has well selected actors who are able to show much while saying very little. He borrows images from other directors too, like Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now when we are seeing the overweight Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz. There are other camera angles and images that are borrowed too. I think these are an homage to the other great films, and they do not distract from the story. The time passes by quickly and despite having a bladder that was ready to explode, I wasn’t shifting in my seat. He had my full attention.

In comparing with the 1984 version, the Harkonnen’s are still a very unsightly bunch, but they aren’t over the top covered with boils and disgustingness. They find other ways to make you feel uneasy about them. Stellen Skarsgard looks almost unrecognizable in his role as their leader, flying around after eating and being intimidating. There is still a test for Paul which is similar with both films, and a similar introduction to the native planet’s worm population that can make mining the spice a very challenging job. They can get to be over 450 metres long and they move like whales through the sand. There are plenty of dream sequences, and I feel like there are more in this newer version. Because this is part one, there isn’t as much ground covered. This is a good thing, as we are allowed to keep up. Science fiction and fantasy films often like using similar and complicated names for the participants. Tolkien was infamous for them, and I welcome having a Paul and Jessica as primary protagonist names in this story. I have seen this once, and I fully expect to see it again. I feel as though that there is more to capture in a second viewing, much like Arrival for me, and Blade Runner 2049. That is a skill, and I greatly appreciate it. Villeneuve has said that he hasn’t committed to a Part Two until he sees that this version is a success. Releasing it during Covid-19 makes that measurement a more difficult task. I know that there has been no principal photography scheduled, and given the stars involved, it could be a challenge finding time for them. But I am hopeful that they carry on with this version to show more from the spice planet.

Foundation: Apple has released a mini series for the Isaac Asimov story from the early 1940s. This is more classic science fiction being put on display. I have watched 6 episodes. I will provide a more fullsome discussion about the series when I have completed it, but I have enjoyed it so far. It deals yet again with another Empire, and it’s royal three kings who are clones of one another at three different ages. They rule the galaxy for centuries, but their confidence has been shaken by a mathematician, played well by Jared Harris as Hari Seldon. Seldon is not a prophet, yet gets treated as one as he proves that the existing Empire has a finite lifecycle. He predicts the downfall. Then the intrigues continues. In many ways it is battling to keep knowledge, a library of sorts, alive to allow a species to grow and evolve. We as humans are around for a short while, but knowledge can carry on. I am hopeful that this doesn’t turn into Star Wars, because it isn’t. For those who pay attention, George Lucas borrowed many themes from both Dune and Foundation. I will continue to watch and see where this all leads.

October 18, 2021

Just in case you aren’t seeing enough Oscar Isaac these days, here are a couple more times to view him and his considerable talents before you see him playing Duke Leto Atreides in Dune next week. I have already mentioned in previous reviews the ongoing series Scenes From A Marriage where he is paired with Jessica Chastain. Last Sunday night the final installment of this series took place on Crave/HBO. As mentioned earlier this is a series, with episodes released in consecutive weeks and this was the last one. Episode five of five. Time has passed and our couple, with a young daughter between them, have been living apart. As we begin, Jonathan is getting ready to meet up with Mira. The structure of this series ensures that we don’t really know how much time has passed between the episodes. For the most part we have seen Mira acting in the most manipulative way, with Jonathan reacting to her. He has been hurt. He was surprised earlier in the series and has still be trying to put the pieces back together for himself. In some ways, this series reminds me of the movie Little Children with Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. There the adults were running around with no consideration for anything but their own needs. They left behind a trail of shattered lives. In some ways watching someone on screen do things that you are not emotionally engaged with can allow for better clarity. Jonathan’s actions often I felt were not seeing the bigger picture. His love for his wife, even when she was acting solely in her best interest, blinds him. I think that he comes off as an innocent party who has things happen to him, and he is left to try and put together the pieces for himself afterwards. This final episode turns this around somewhat. Jonathan as things unfold is doing things that I can’t imagine him ever doing before the previous episodes take place. He seems to be moving on, and then he does things that run contrary to that thinking. We can see where this journey has taken him. It’s not a positive place, and he will explain at length his justification. Mira meanwhile has been moving forward with her career, and has slowed down her relationships. Ultimately these scenes from a marriage don’t paint a very positive story. That likely is the point, and stories of good communication with people working together towards common goals wouldn’t give us much to talk about. Still. It can be a tough watch, where an actress that I like takes on a persona that is frustratingly annoying. Isaac plays and acts his part well, and they interact well together. This is believable, but not necessarily enjoyable. I wouldn’t want to spend a evening with drinks and conversation with Jonathan and Mira, although I suspect that, like in the first episode, that they can put together a good show, and say much by what they don’t say to one another.

The Card Counter: Oscar Isaac returns in this latest release where he plays a guy with a checkered past, and a rather uneventful present. As we meet him, he is making a living by moving from place to place and playing cards. We learn that he has taught himself to play cards and work the Blackjack tables. He explains how card counting works early on but he is also plays a mean game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, where “you play the person and not the house”. He is successful but not to the point of drawing attention to himself. He meets a young man who has a chip on his shoulder and wants to avenge some prior wrong. He knows our card player previously. How he knows him unfolds slowly in pieces and flashbacks. The young man has a beef with a man giving a presentation played by Willem Dafoe. Isaac’s character takes the young man under his wing. He sees a young man with passion but not a lot of sense about planning and executing on a complex plan. I had expected to see this plot travel the path of The Colour of Money, with the veteran showing the ropes to a young man as they work together to make scores. Not the case here. Yes, there is a “money person” who finds promising card talent and bankrolls their efforts (think Molly’s Game) and the veteran (Isaac) only looking to play for a very short period of time. But it takes a left turn. Rather than working together, Isaac wants something different. He reveals more about himself and we see more of his past, and his interest in the Dafoe character. It builds and then changes. I was surprised. It was a human story, and reflected a life that many people cannot relate to. In the end, seeing Isaac plays these very different roles in both look and experience is fun to watch. He is one of the most versatile actors out there today and he is getting plenty of quality roles. I look forward to seeing him next weekend in Dune. This is not action packed. It has its own pace and takes it time to develop the story of the protagonist. If you like Isaac, and want to see more of him. This is worth watching. If you want a greater pace with car chases and action scenes then it isn’t for you.

October 11, 2021 Canadian Thanksgiving. Bond

No Time to Die:  Daniel Craig puts on the tuxedo as James Bond for one final turn.  Finally released after many Covid-19 delays, it has arrived in North American theatres a week after Europe.   I saw this in IMAX in a mostly full theatre, as in Ontario they just as of midnight Saturday allowed full capacity.   It was invigorating to be back in a full theatre.  At the same time it seems many people have lost all their sense of etiquette for attending with others.   I like assigned seats generally but it means people arrived 15 mins late in the dark disturbing others.  Others can’t seem to hold their bladders and were up and down multiple times.  Also disturbing.   

Now to the movie.  It was first and foremost long at almost three hours.  I had not anticipated that length.   It felt it too.  I found myself wondering the end scenes were actually the end.   

Craig of course is an excellent Bond and he delivers.  He finished Spectre with his foster brother nemesis lying lame on Westminster Bridge in London as he throws his handgun into the Thames and leaves with Lea Seydoux character (Mr White’s daughter).   I have to admit that I don’t see any chemistry with those characters at all.  In Spectre she goes from loathing him and the life he leads.  Minutes later she is professing his love for him.   You can’t unring that bell, and it means she her character’s emotions likely more than they should go at that time.   It doesn’t really work.  

The Spectre storyline is explored further and resolved in a way that is quite surprising.  It is disappointing at the same time.  With Blofeld behind maximum security bars the audience is left to wonder how such a man can have influence in the criminal underworld.  What kind of criminal organization is it that would allow him to even try?  Presumably there is a Number 2, to borrow from Austin Powers?   

We are introduced to a new character played by Remi Malik.  He can be difficult to understand.  He mumbles in crucial parts.  I am fuzzy with his role and how it interacts with Spectre.  Yes he had a family loss as result of Spectre but the details of it were not clear.  Add to that how this man gets the money and power to formidable person that he is, raises a few eyebrows.   But asking too many questions doesn’t help reconcile the story.   So I will wrap up plot discussion at that point and just go with it.  

This isn’t the best Craig Bond film.  I think that Casino Royale is.   A close second is Skyfall.  Quantum of Solace the worst.   A documentary on Crave on Being Bond explains that filming for Quantum started at the beginning of a writers strike in Hollywood.  They had no finalized script.  It deeply impacted that film.  

I like Bond.   I was unimpressed by the “new” 007.  She seemed to just have a chip on her shoulder and that is not a personality.   Rather this tension with Bond feels forced as he is not really bothered by being retired and her presence.   The more interesting person was the American agent that Bond meets in Cuba.  Played by Ana de Armas named Paloma.  She was interesting, showed tremendous skills (especially wearing high heels and a skimpy dress) and arrived and disappeared far too quickly.   

In the end, things that haven’t been done before with a Bond character were done here.  They are appropriate.  This series of Bond movies were not just stand alone movies against bad guys.   They were driven by more back story and character development with Bond himself.  We have learned a lot more about him as a man.   He was more an action hero than at any time.   Sean Connery would not being jumping off cranes or riding a motorcycle like he does.   Pierce Brosnan didn’t have the hand on hand combat that Craig has.  Craig has left his mark and in a very good way.   Where the franchise decides to go after this will be interesting.

October 4th, 2021

The Eyes of Tammy Fay: For the first time since late August 2020, I was able to see a movie in a regular theatre since I saw Tenet. I went on a “Cheap Tuesday” when the tickets are about half price. A deal! Usually a newly released, first run movie on a Cheap Tuesday would have packed theatre packing lot and theatre. My how things have changed. I arrived for a 6:55PM showing and there were parking spots available right near the entrance. I had pre-purchased my ticket and was able to show my vaccination status to head in. There ended up being four other people at showtime! Four! Now I wouldn’t say that this new Jessica Chastain movie would be for a mass audience, but it had just premiered at TIFF two weeks before. There was some decent press about the performances by Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain both as Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, the 80s tele-evangelists. Had Jessica Chastain not been starring I have to admit that I likely wouldn’t be attending. Quite frankly, the subject matter didn’t interest me. I had seen Jim and Tammy Fay live on TV with their PTL Club. I found that they are phony and plastic people who preyed on the weak and the desperate with a gospel in which paying them money led to the path of righteousness, and being granted your wishes. I am not overly religious at all, and so in concept I find the whole business model to be flawed. So I ventured forth to see the performances. Both Garfield and Chastain are very good actors with quality performances in their bodies of work. In this story we follow the life of Tammy Fay from a young impoverished girl in Minnesota with a family life which is challenged. Mom plays at the local church as the organist. Acting Dad stays pretty low key, while Tammy Fay is excluded. Excluded because she is a living example of a child out of wedlock. Mom is ashamed. She finds a clever way to get herself into the church from which Mom kept her away. She grows and heads off to school and early on meets a young Jim. He is ambitious in his bible readings. He looks to “teach” his instructors. Tammy Fay is entranced. They quickly marry and head out on the road, selling their brand of the church. They begin, quite accidentally, for Pat Robertson and his network show (the 700 Club) using puppets to entertain the children who, in turn, would bring their parents. This is a time of Robertson, with others too like Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell and others. They are popular, but in time are cut out by Robertson. So they set up their own show and network. The underlying theme is that Tammy Fay was not the business person, she was a performer and strong believer in people and belief. She wholeheartedly believed in Jim. His scruples were questionable and there are strange business dealings that took place. This later becomes his downfall for which he was jailed (not giving anything away). Tammy Fay was never jailed. I am not sure that I believe that she was willfully blind about the finances of this Ministry, as she saw her residences expand and grow becoming more and more opulent. She never wanted for anything and they lived the high powered life, using funds from their parishioners as their own personal funds. Yes, she cared about people and she was an early believer in treating all people the same, including those with AIDS. She supported the LGBTQ community without hesitation. Still, I get the sense that she was a performer. From first to last. Her trademark heavy mascara and endless tears were a source of humour at the time and for years to come. Incidentally Jim has done his time and is back on TV preaching, scarily enough. Tammy Fay passed away in 2007. I cannot recommend this film, but I am hard pressed at this point to think of a female performance that will garner the Oscar attention. I was distracted by the make up (enlarged cheeks) on both Garfield and Chastain. Chastain’s accent reminded me of Marge Gunderson, played by Frances McDormand, in Fargo. In the end it wasn’t overly compelling but that really shouldn’t surprise me.

I do look forward to more visits to the theatre in October, with at least James Bond’s No Time to Die and also Dune.

I managed to watch two very average movies this past weekend on Netflix, both recent releases.

The Guilty: This stars Jake Gyllenhaal, what could have been a Broadway play, since most of it happens in a single building. It feels similar in structure to the 2002 Phone Booth which starred Colin Farrell and the voice of Kiefer Sutherland. In this version, Jake plays a police officer who is attending a 9-11 call centre as a worker as part of a leave from his on-the-street job. He takes phone calls. He is stressed, angry, and dealing with the issue of trying to see his daughter, all the while trying to answer calls. Then he receives a phone call from a woman who is sounding very anxious. We find out that she is being abducted and she has two young children at home. Jake takes the call and on very limited information looks to piece together what is taking place. Things happen. More things happen and Jake’s character has to address not only this situation, but also a pending court appearance. The court appearance was a new development and I won’t get into those details. Its introduction was delayed as we got to learn more about this main character. There are many close ups of Jake and his emotional roller coaster. He does an admirable job, in revealing how his character is impacted by the things that are happening around him. It feels a little bit hollow as we better understand the title of the movie. But it’s not very satisfying. So I cannot recommend this.

The Starling: Stars Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Kline and her co-star from Bridesmaids Chris O’Dowd who plays her husband in this movie. McCarthy and O’Dowd play a husband and wife who are expecting a new baby. They begin in their baby’s room painting a wall with trees and flowers. Then something happens which changes their lives and sends them in different directions. Despite three very good comedic actors, this really isn’t a comedy. Kevin Kline plays a vet who has in his past some psychiatric experience. He is suggested as someone that Melissa should speak with. The starling, in this film, is a device which uses plenty of CGI to have an interaction with the human beings. It is used more than it likely should be, and it doesn’t really provide the comic punch that the producers were expecting. I liked this even less than The Guilty. It feels forced. It deals with a difficult subject matter for which the spin taken isn’t really appropriate, in my mind.

September 27, 2021

In and Of Itself: Back on Feb 1st I reviewed this movie directed by Frank Oz. I re-watched it again as it was just released on Crave. I enjoyed it thoroughly once again. It is a one man show from a guy named Derek DelGaudio. It is hard to describe it in a single word really. It is part philosophy, part illusion, part parlour trick and altogether interesting. I won’t describe it further because it bears viewing with fresh eyes. So if you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Scenes From A Marriage (Episode 3): This show is on weekly at present. Once again it stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. Both are very good in it. It is slow. It can be painful. The character that Jessica plays, for me, is one that is becoming less and less admirable. That likely isn’t a desired trait, or perhaps reflects exactly what the producers had intended; not all people act admirably. So this can be a mirror to what people experience. Episodes one and two have the changes within this marriage beginning. They have been together for quite some time, and she had some news which resulted in a particular direction. Then, once again, she had in episode two after some passage of time some more news that she wanted to bring to her husband. This episode is really a continuation of that news after some time has passed. It is a tough position for the husband to play in this context. Isaac plays it very well. He has been in reactive mode, trying to adjust his life. He has also sought out to evaluate himself and his contribution to the recent happenings. After all there are always two people in any relationship and rarely it would be solely one person who is making decisions in a vacuum. There were moments here that I was actively cringing and speaking aloud for the husband to choose a different path. If you are watching this, you will know when I mean. I will continue to watch.

Last Week Tonight: This ongoing series from John Oliver is always fun for me. The host makes interesting commentary on the news of the day, then has segments of other items of interest. It is done with humour, but also a critical eye. His news item this week was addressing the refugees seeking to enter the US from Haiti and how they have been turned back. At times forcibly with border agents on horseback. His other segment was on Voting Rights and how certain States (mostly red Republican States) are putting forth legislation to limit the ability to vote or at least curtail its availability. Mail-in voting, specific ID requirements etc. are being put forth which can have a disproportionate impact on the non-white voters. There isn’t much of a surprise there, but it is an effort that President Biden isn’t really taking too seriously. Finally he did a segment on Duck Stamps, which was quite funny. These are stamps that are generally sold to hunters, but also collectors. 97% of the proceeds is used to save wildlife habitation and during its life, has raised over $1B. Each year a team selects the art to be chosen from a list of entries. John’s team entered a number of suggestions.

Here is one of them (note the dog from Nintendo’s Duck Hunt in the back):

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver "Duck Hunt" by Eric Joyner | eBay
Last Week Tonight Failed Entry for 2022 Duck Stamp now up for auction

All his entries failed to get consideration from the judges, but he is now auctioning them off with all contributions going to the charity. It was all very funny. In the same way as his purchase of Russell Crowe’s divorce movie paraphernalia or having Danbury CT name their waste management plant in his name. Enjoy!

September 20th, 2021

This week I watched some older films and the new release on Crave with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: This is a classic movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture back in 1975. It also won Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher and Best Director, Milos Forman. Forman also directed Amadeus. It is an iconic role for Nicholson. This is role where Jack Nicholson actually plays a role than playing himself. He plays Randall McMurphy who is convicted felon, who thinks that being in a psychiatric hospital is better than being in a prison with assigned work details. He meets up with Nurse Ratched an experienced tough-as-nails, no nonsense woman who runs her floor like a well oiled machine. Over time one questions whether she really is looking to improve the lives of her patience, or rather this is an affirmation daily of her superiority. She isn’t to be challenged. In comes McMurphy who quickly looks to upend her structured existence with her patients. The patients are all men, and are important to dynamic. There are some well known actors here in their early days like Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd. The story is really a power play between McMurphy who challenges the other patients and pushes them to be more independent, and Nurse Ratched. McMurphy has an impact on each and every one of them becoming the somewhat leader of this motley group. The acting is first rate all around. I was re-visiting this because I haven’t reviewed it, but I had seen it a long time ago. The performance of the Chief is one that has struck me more upon another viewing. Forman tells this story, one that my brother read in high school, but was unread by me, in a moving way where the performances shine and you get a sense about an aspect of life for some that wouldn’t normally be seen. The story remains as effective today as back in the 70s. People are people, even though I expect that shock treatment is no longer used as a means of “treating” people with mental challenges.

Basic Instinct: In 1992, this movie became a sleeper hit and mostly on the performances by Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. Stone shines in a movie that is a psychological thriller and murder mystery. For 1992, there was more nudity and titillations than for its time. There is plenty of frontal nudity. Stone plays an author named Catherine Trammell, who inherited a great deal of wealth from her deceased parents, and writes murder mystery books. Her books tend mirror people and characters in her life. There are some classic scenes like the interview scene with Stone in the white dress. She uncrosses and crosses her legs in full view of her male police, legal interviewers. Later there is a bedroom scene where a scarf is used and then an ice pick comes into play. The players get more entangled and the story moves on, with the audience not knowing whether Trammell did or didn’t do what occurs. Is this an Academy winner? No. But is it entertaining? Yes. One can view and wonder about how this will all unfold. If the reader doesn’t feel like watching this, likely male teenagers in the house will.

Scarface: This is an iconic role for Al Pacino. For a man who has played many incredible roles, including the unforgettable Michael Corleone in The Godfather, this is one for which many people will think of him first. His Cuban accent is forced, but this 1983 movie directed by Brian De Palma is a tour de force for Pacino in a role of a Cuban exile who becomes a major drug king pin in Miami. He plays Tony Montana. Like the other movies reviewed, this movie has some memorable scenes, like the early scene in the motel with the Columbians. There are also many lines used that have become part of the every vernacular of life like “Say hello to my little friend” and “All I Have In This World Is My Balls And My Word, And I Don’t Break ‘Em For No One!” and “In This Country, You Gotta Make The Money First. Then When You Get The Money, You Get The Power. Then When You Get The Power, Then You Get The Women.” Steven Bauer plays his best friend and side kick. From a new immigrant to the US, to a dish washer, he has street smarts and ambitions for bigger things. The end always justifies the means. He will do anything to get ahead. He has a hair trigger temper when it comes to his sister. He lives boldly and passionately with a strong business sense. Together he and his best friend rise in the Miami drug world. Tony has early visions of owning the world. He meets his boss’ girlfriend, played by Michelle Pfeiffer and is immediately struck by her. Early advice on having longevity in the cocaine business from that old boss is quickly forgotten. The story is one of unbridled ambition and excess. If the entire focus of a life is making money and getting ahead, something can get lost. Usually this can mean relationships, with family or friends or both. This is a remake of a film from 1932 of the same name. This addresses the cocaine drug scene in Miami in ways that weren’t seen before. The performance of Pacino makes it, and the circumstances that reveal just how crazy this business was, along with the participation of bankers, legislators and the Columbians.

Scenes From A Marriage: This new series on Crave was just released last week. It plays each Sunday. Yesterday the second episode was played. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain play a married couple with a young daughter. Chastain plays a woman who works at an IT company. She is the bread winner in the family. Isaac plays a professor who is the primary caregiver for the daughter. The first episode was slow but got better as the wife has some interesting news. The couple needs to deal with it. The series is a re-make of the 1973 series from Ingmar Bergman. Michelle Williams was apparently supposed to star in it, but she bowed out. Chastain stepped in. These two played a married couple from A Most Violent Year. They are former classmates from Julliard School. Like Revolutionary Road, with Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio from a few years ago I wonder why these dramas about marriage have to seem so miserable. I suppose that there wouldn’t be much drama if things all went swimmingly in a blissful union of two people so deeply intertwined. Life is more complicated than that. Especially when there are children involved, there are painful discussions that take place. Decisions are made, and they are never easy. There is deep hurt and emotion. Things both said and unsaid. The ebbs and flows of connection and disconnect. Rarely is it that two people are in sync at the same time. One is almost always on a different plain at a different time. One doesn’t enjoy this, and the scenes that are painful but you experience them. In many ways, this isn’t for younger viewers. They don’t have the life experience to understand that this can be very real. Love for the young can be very black and white, an absolute. The truth can be that it is more shades. The simple act of packing a bag can be more impactful emotionally, and tell you a lot about the people involved, than you might expect. Two episodes in, I enjoy the performances. I will continue to watch.

September 13, 2021

Becoming Cousteau: This Liz Garbus newly released documentary at TIFF, first shown Saturday with the director and editor in attendance, shows some of the life of the incredibly complex Frenchman, Jacques Yves Cousteau. For those of us who were raised in the 70s, this man was an iconic figure on TV with his hour long specials showing the wonders of the undersea world. He and his small band of like-mind explorers sailed the seas on the Calypso, a converted British mine sweeper that one of the Guinness family (yes the Irish beer making family) paid to give him to do his work. He pioneered (and invented out of necessity) the aqualung as well as the underwater camera. With those inventions, he endlessly filmed the sea world that he experienced first hand for the early years of his life. Incidentally his first film of the seas, won him an Oscar for Best Documentary. He would add two more. He wrote books about sea life. It is odd, when thinking back on it, that a man who was so inspirational for many people to see the waters for the first time had all but disappeared since his death back in 1998, at the age of 87. The documentary decides to focus on the man, and his journey from a naval officer and making a living showing people the sea, to being an early observer of climate change, and seeing in a short 30 years how the oceans had been impacted by human ignorance and negligence. It does not dwell on his personal life beyond introducing us to his first wife, Simone, and their two sons Phillippe and Jean-Michel and then with his second wife the much younger Pierre-Yves and Diane. Here was a man who was instrumental in bringing together world leaders at the Earth Day Summit in Rio in 1992. He was at one point that Americans said that they most wanted to meet. Sadly it took 5 years according to the Director to get access to the video archives. The reason for the delay is the schism that has divided the Cousteau family and the legacy of Jacques. His second wife, a mistress and mother of two children was granted the rights to the Cousteau Society. Jean-Michel, the remaining son with first Wife, Simone, has been in litigation with her about the Calypso, the movies, control of the corporation and the legacy. What this clouds is a fascinating man who gave so much to the world. He is an inventor, explorer, film-maker, naturalist, and someone deeply committed to protecting the planet for future generations. He was before the US Congress in the late 1970s talking about the damage to the oceans, and the need to make efforts with action as opposed to talk. Unfortunately not much has happened since his impassioned plea. Environmental targets are missed, people are apathetic with the size of the problem. Meanwhile our oceans are warming. Coral is bleaching and dying. Fish are being massively over-fished. I think that in 2021 Jacques Cousteau would be very disappointed in the lack of progress by mankind. It is still an important message that it getting delivered, and I am hopeful that people can remember this man, and the younger generations can be introduced to someone who shaped much of our knowledge of the creatures in the sea. Well worth your time. It will be released to theatres in October.

A book that has been in my family for years circa 1970

As an aside I can say that on Friday I wandered the streets around King Street near Roy Thompson Hall. Usually the first Friday of TIFF there would be a buzz around the city. People in the streets, King Street closed, vendors on the street, people lining up for various films at numerous locations in and around the city. You could feel the energy. If you were lucky you may have a close encounter with a star. For me a couple years back it was Antonio Banderas and before that Jessica Chastain in 2017. The randomness of it all made it exciting. A black limo may pull up at any time and someone may step out. Now, there aren’t the lines. No vendors. No lines for movies. Fewer venues than ever before in my recollection. At the Saturday show at the Cinesphere there was no line outside. Inside masks were to be worn at all times in a socially distanced seating arrangement with about 25% of the patrons inside.. Hell, even the crowd didn’t give a pirate “Argh!!!” when the Piracy warning came up! It is not the same. It is TIFF Lite. And that is okay. I give kudos to those who have the unenviable task of trying to put together a world class event, and make no mistake that TIFF is one of the top film festivals in the world. For me personally, I won’t pay for a drive-in movie. I may pay for a digital film shown in my house. I will see a movie live with these Covid measures in place. I am hopeful that TIFF 2022 can be more like it has been in the past. Seeing Amercian college and NFL stadiums filled to capacity (106,000 in Michigan alone) one of us will be shown to be wrong with the D-variant.

The Grand Seduction: This 2013 Canadian production is showing on Netflix. It stars Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch. The story involves a struggling small fishing harbour in Newfoundland looking to re-invent itself. The fishing has been curtailed and the people (about 120) have mostly been on social assistance. They would like to attract a new oil based recycling facility. The catch is that they have been told that they must have a doctor to be considered. They don’t have one, and no real prospects. Think of this story like a Canadian Maritime Doc Hollywood, the 1991 Michael J Fox film set in the US south. My problem with it is the focus on deception from the town’s people. It is meant to be comedic, showing them showing themselves to be cricket fans to the new doctor (which is relatively harmless) but later lying to the corporate investors looking to place the new business. There is lying to the bank to try and find funds for a payment to the corporation. All in all, I would like to see the town be the honest hardworking people that we know that they are, and somehow they convincing the corporation for a chance. I did like the way they addressed the romantic side of this film. There is, naturally, only one possible option for the good young doctor to have any romantic connection. She however has better ideas, and her own mind. So while I like the scenery in Newfoundland, and the fishing village is quaint and pretty, the movie itself is a pass.

September 6, 2021, Labour Day

The Green Knight: I have to admit that I am a fan of all things King Arthur, and Excalibur, the Holy Grail etc. For me, the start was likely Monty Python, but in truth and more particularly John Boorman’s 1981 Excalibur. That film I have watched time after time. Knowing the story well makes Monty Python that much funnier too. So when I had heard about a new film coming out that was an Arthur spin off story, The Green Knight, I was intrigued. The story has its inspiration from the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with an unknown author. Dev Patel stars in as Sir Gawain, and I have liked many of his films to date. So when I had a chance to see this, I was ready for some swords, chainmail and swashbuckling. What I got instead, was a disjointed, confusing mess with an equally confusing ending. One that leaves the audience hanging. An aging King Arthur is on the throne with his Queen (already a departure from Excalibur) where he would like to get to know his nephew better. The King is played by the same high pitched, soft spoken actor, Sean Harris from the later Mission Impossible movies. At a gala event, a stranger who looks remarkably like a tree monster, arrives on horseback and challenges any one attending at the round table to fight him and strike a blow, and then after a year return back to him at his castle to have that strike returned. Sir Gawain in attendance immediately volunteers. He is successful (more easily than expected actually) and then is tasked with waiting for the return trip in a year. After a year his begins his journey. Things happen. Some surprises, and then ultimately there is an abrupt ending. I won’t delve to deeply into the story for fear of disclosing too much. Suffice it to say that it is more complex and fuzzy than it is worth. The ending is just a dead stop where you wonder “is that it?” As far as production value, there is a lot of smoke. The armour, horses and sets are believable. Harris is not my King Arthur, nor is there really any visibility for Merlin. Much of the Arthur lore is put to the side. Had the King be called anyone else, then the story falls on it own. Perhaps the Arthur tease raises the bar for the story to heights that it just can’t reach. The book is unknown to me, but having seen this I don’t really have a great deal of motivation to seek it out. I cannot recommend this. I really wish that I could, because I did look forward to it. There must be other stories out there that are worthy of King Arthur and that time (however much I am aware this the main story was all fable to begin with).

Worth: Remarkably and incredibly to me, next Saturday is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Just wow! I remember in detail where I was (the tallest office building in Canada – downtown Toronto’s First Canadian Place) working for a big bank. I was on the 17th floor, and I heard about a plane hitting the WTC. CNN incidentally last night ran again the excellent Fire Fighter documentary that became the 9/11 documentary with a first hand account of the first fire department to be arriving on scene in Tower 1. They have an incredible on the ground shot on the first airliner hitting the Tower. That is backstory. Netflix is now streaming a new film with Michael Keaton playing a legal professor from Georgetown law, who volunteers with the unenviable job (and accepts no compensation for it) of computing compensation claims to the various victims in the tragedy. I have to admit that I am not clear on the justification for this. Shortly after the attack, Congress enacted the Victim Compensation Fund. The idea was to have victims compensated by funds and release their right to litigate against the airlines. It was felt that the airlines could not survive the litigation and that as a result the entire economy could fall. I am skeptical. Only two airlines were directly involved, United and American. Each had two planes involved. From a legal standpoint, I think that perhaps the airline passengers may have a claim against the airline for not acting reasonably to keep them safe. However, all those other victims (those on the ground, in the buildings, first responders etc) have a more difficult challenge. The chain of causation breaks when a terrorist group for the first time hijacks the four planes and attacks the buildings in New York (and elsewhere). But I digress. Keaton is taking a logical, legal approach to compensation based upon past statistics and cases precedent. He believes that he can come up with a formula which could be applied for each victim. Things like salary, marital status, number of offspring etc would be part of the formula. His stated goal is to have 80% of potential victims agree (it ends up being 5500) and take the deal with the government within two years (Dec 2003). Stanley Tucci plays a man who lost his wife in the attacks. He sees the formula approach as flawed. He sets up a website and garners support for his belief that the Keaton team isn’t dealing with people justly. Keaton in the early days makes an initial presentation to victims, and it doesn’t go well. He may have the law, and numbers on his side, but the victims have raw emotion and passionate stories. Keaton has a team that takes the interviews with each of the victims. Keaton’s team struggles with the power of the stories. Time goes by and he isn’t very successful. What you see are stories from the victims which are of course heart wrenching. What they don’t tell you, until the end was the amount of money that was in play. Nor do they tell you about the source of the funds, which presumably is the American public, as opposed to the airlines who really should be footing most of the bill. There are heroes and villains. There are money-grubbing lawyers playing angles, as well as poor people thankful for anything that they can get. Is this a compelling story? Well, it is interesting. It surprises me to hear the amount involved. I wonder whether the US government would then seek damages from another government (like Pakistan) for what they paid out. It also makes one wonder what the pay out would be for Covid-19 by the Chinese government for the people of Wuhan? Or what the Russian government would pay for those in Chernobyl? We partially know the Chinese answer from that latest documentary Last Breath where $100 extra was paid to the father whose son died. Incidentally this lawyer and his firm have been involved with many other such funds for other tragedies. If the subject matter is interesting to you, then this would be worth seeing.