I managed to get out on back to back nights to the theatre. This time to catch Shape of Water, and then the next day Call Me By Your Name.
I was asked by someone how the Star Wars universe has changed since it first came out in 1977. The iconic film from relative unknown George Lucas, whose greatest success to that time was the independent American Graffiti. He wrote a story very broad in scope and time, which traced the beginnings of the Republic and then to the Empire and Jedi, and then beyond. He realized that this was way too large and cut it down to a middle story about a young man seeking to find himself and defeat evil.
We are one week away from Christmas, and this year has just flown by.
First the elephant in the room is Star Wars: The Last Jedi as it was seen by all of us here. I am giving a spoiler alert as I plan on talking in some detail about this film, and where the plot goes. May I first say that the hype machine and all the trailers yet again take away from the film itself. I need to learn to avoid trailers altogether – since Blade Runner and Alien Covenant had too many. It takes away from going into a movie with fresh eyes.
Last Jedi was a long film, and I felt that it started off slow with getting the Luke story underway. And then there’s Luke as this whining, pouting dude who “just wants to be left alone to die”. Well, be careful what you wish for, I would reply. In many ways I can more fully understand the feedback and seemingly bitter soundbites that have come from Mark Hamill for this film and the arc of his character as he has talked about it. He was a grumpy old man, and now I see why. His only hope (pun intended) is now to become a ghost and drop some wisdom every now and then. I did like how Yoda came back to admonish his reckless pupil one last time before dealing with the Secret Scrolls of the Jedi. I also liked how they dealt with Rey and her storyline, and that she is not born of privilege or from some special meta-chlorean spring. Or Luke’s daughter or half-sister of Ben Solo.
What I was not so happy with are the unknown and previously unseen abilities of the characters, or those of any character before. For example, the ability to project and interact oneself with other characters. The benchmark had always seemed to be for the Jedi to re-appear as a ghost and speak with the living. Here was another whole level – think about how Luke interacts with Leia near the end. Think about he actually creates matter in the form of the dice. All of this before having the dust up outside with all the technology from the First Order.
I was also surprised with the treatment of Leia, and how seemingly they had given away in a trailer that she had been killed in the command ship. And yet, there in the middle of space (SPACE!) she does something and reveals a power that no one has ever had in a Star Wars film (not even Yoda or Darth Vader). Which then leads to a paradigm where Leia as a character is almost indestructible, but Carrie Fisher the actor has died and we are told there will be no more Leia in these films. It is a head scratcher since she died shortly after filming ended, and they could have easily killed her off in that very spot. Anyway, there are surprises and plot twists and then there are created U-turns. I feel as though much of the new parts in this episode were created out of thin air.
There is some humour and some good humour which shows that the new writer has seen Robot Chicken and appreciates it. It does beg the question on why JJ Abrams would turn over the reins on the hottest film in Hollywood to another writer and director and become just the Executive Producer. I ask though, is JJ Abrams a great director? Is he another Spielberg or Scorsese or Coppola? Or does he just take existing ideas and build upon them like Star Trek and Star Wars?
There are creatures here that are created just to make them into stuffed animals I think. From the baby-eyed penguin-like creatures, which Chewbacca in earlier times would have simply eaten without hesitation to the crystal dogs. Ah, the crystal dogs. On a planet that they are presumably native, why on earth are they running into the fortified bunker? Why not just ran away? Away from the guns and explosions? And then, of course the reveal for having them is to show this new escape route out. Ugh.
In the end, despite some flaws, everyone will see this film, and they will continue to make more. Disney is getting its money out of this investment, and then some. At $220M for the weekend (the second best weekend ever) you can be sure that there is many more to come. Oh, and the still champion of the box office is at $248M, you guessed it – The Force Awakens. Disney spent $4B to take it over in 2012. Force Awakens made $2B, and Rogue One $1B. This film will take them into the black. All in less than 5 years! I was asked by someone how Star Wars has changed since 1977, and I will detail that out from my perspective in another piece shortly. Is this the best Star Wars film yet? No. For me Empire remains the best film of the series. Episode I remains the Worst!
Turning back into the real world, on Thursday night I went out and saw the highest rated film at rotten tomatoes of all time; Lady Bird. This is Greta Gerwig’s semi autobiographical coming-of-age story around a young woman as a Senior in Sacramento CA. The young woman is played by Sairose Ronan, and she is quite simply excellent. For me, knowing that she is Irish (well, transplanted really from NY but with a thick accent) this playing the Californian teen was very good to see. The surrounding cast is uniformly excellent too. Laurie Metcalf who plays her Mom shows a middle age woman struggling to keep her family together and sanity all around her. She suffers as her family is generally in the same spot as they began 20+ years before, and her husband is struggling to keep up. She has a son who has an unexplained history which deserves some more attention with his girlfriend. It is an Oscar worthy performance. Her daughter is exploring universities and has a final year to figure out ultimately that you don’t need to find yourself and your path by the time you are 18yo. That goes for school, but also in relationships as well. The lead here changes herself to approach and be engaged with two different guys. Each reflects the reality that can occur in high school with cliques and students. This is not the best film of the year. It shouldn’t be the highest rated of all time at rotten tomatoes, but I can why it would. It has some universal truths, and is a reflection on a time and place. Between this and On Chesnil Beach, Ronan is making quality and varied choices for her career. It bodes well. Also it can be said that Timothee Chalamet has had an equally impressive year with quality choices in this film, and also the unseen by me Call Me By Your Name. He has been nominated for Best Actor there and it remains a film I wish to see.
There was a sad barometer on the state of affairs with the moviegoing public on Friday night. It happened at Queensway Theatre where the 9:40 showing of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri was being played. This film has just recently been released (and was a standout at TIFF as Alison reported on). I am saddened to say that if there were 15 people in this theatre I would be shocked. I can only imagine how many had gone out to see Thor! Sadly a film that is likely a Best Movie contender and well acted with a quality cast and script, is overlooked at the box office. In the end, that is what Hollywood cares about. And the script/screenplay is marvelous. The generous sprinkling of profanity throughout it, even with younger members of the cast was funny. Without repeating your review and the high level plots aspects, for me I liked that each character is shown in shades of grey. Neither is completely good nor bad. It shows that we all can have our moments. Many top news stories on the tip of tongues are covered (like racial issues, the media, news, brutality, homosexuality, broken families etc) are all covered. There are some stereotypes, like with young women and older men, but it does not play falsely. In the end, small town America takes it on the chin while sending a message to us all. I note that Sam Rockwell does an excellent job playing despicable characters. He has redneck down so well, from the haircut on down. Also I like Woody Harrelson a great deal here, as I did in War for the Planet of the Apes where he channeled Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now so very well. He plays a character that could be a caricature with some more depth and understanding. I really liked this film, and Karen and I spoke about it at length after it was over and the next day. There should be more movies like this, and encouragement for them to be made.
I re-watched on Netflix Field of Dreams, and this movie holds up well. Like Shawshank, it is a feel good movie that keeps its emotional impact. I like the characters and even though I don’t feel that Amy Madigan is a great actress, she does a good job here playing the wife who tolerates and supports her husband’s unusual behavior (even when he is prone to hyperbole like “this may be the last opportunity I have to do something like this”) – -all at the age of 36!!
I also re-watched Star Wars Force Awakens last night to see if I have missed any tidbits and in preparation for The Last Jedi. There is the talk about bringing Rey to the bad dude for her to have her training completed. There is Leia and Han talking about Ben and how he isn’t all bad that “there is light in him”. There was Rey being unwilling to touch Luke’s lightsaber after the first time where she saw the future and the past, but then uses it against Ben. I wonder about her, and the untrained powers that she has, and how she was able to channel them. I also wonder how the First Order recovers from yet another massive technological undertaking being blown up by a small group of individual star fighters (It makes me laugh about the Robot Chicken episode about not having fully paid for the Death Star)
I have been busy with travel the past couple of weeks. This allowed for some airplane viewing time with Delta. Delta has a new free wifi service on some of its planes that allows you to watch films from their own app, as well as in-plane texting (which is slick!).
I decided to watch a couple of old friends instead of the newer fare (of which there is very little that I want to seek out).
So I re-watched Gladiator, although I have to admit that it is the less intense version with less language and certainly far less graphic blood. In the end, and upon further review, this film and its CGI still bothers me. The Coliseum that I have stood in, in real life, comes across here as a video game. The flags and people and all are so not real, that they are a distraction. My other main complaint is with Joaquin Phoenix, who is such a whiny, crying baby all the time. There is NO WAY a reigning Caesar would have a thought about squashing a difficult gladiator. The Imp simply would disappear, never to be seen again by the fickle crowds. Problem solved. Hans Zimmer’s score is excellent throughout and something I can have in the background while working any time. Brilliant.
I also re-watched The Matrix on Netflix on Sat night. I do like that film. From the great work of Agent Smith and his delivery, to the performances of the entire human team working in the real world. The camera angles, the showering down of empty shell casings from the helicopter to the battle between Neo and the agents all resonate with me. The interrogation scene with agent Smith remains a great launching point where as a viewer you realize this is not a typical film, in a typical world.
As for new films, I watched the 2016 film Frank & Lola with Michael Shannon, and Imogen Poots. Shannon is steadily growing on me as someone who I will seek out for his roles. He has driven past the mono-layered bad guy General Zod from Superman and become a much more full force. He says a lot without saying much at all, and here is a really good example of it. Here he plays a 40-something accomplished chef living in Las Vegas. He has come across this 20-something woman who has captivated him. “Love is blind” or so they say, and here you can see the truth of it. The film begins with the lovers in bed overlooking the Vegas skyline. As he gets to know more about her, he sees and questions certain things that are revealed, and then looks for concrete answers. The journey takes him to Paris where he looks into her past, all the while working on a new opportunity for himself. Men swirl around his lover, and he is skeptical about all of them. His trip to Paris looks into what turns out to be recent past for her, and there he must find a way to deal with what he finds. On the way, he must cope with his doubts and his desire to not know. The best of Shannon shows when he is steaming and simmering inside and palpably ready to explode in a fit of rage. You can sense it as you look at him; his posture, the facial expressions, his whole body. Another well-known saying is that you meet people for “a season, a reason or a lifetime”. I think that the Shannon character here could be able to sit back upon reflection and pick out which was most appropriate for him. It’s worth a view and only takes 1.5 hours of your time.
I managed to watch Gold on Netflix as a recommendation from my friend David. This is basically a retelling of the Bre-X fraud but without the Canadian content. In short a down on his luck prospector with a family tradition in mining comes across an opportunity for a gold mine in a remote part of Indonesia. He meets and later befriends a miner/project manager, who in Bre-X were two separate people (John Felderhof and Michael De Guzman). You know the rest with the salting of samples.
This story tries to make the point that no one wanted to know about the salting and the fraud. Matthew McConaughey plays the Walsh character who comes across as a loser and a lush. The question remains what Walsh knew and whether he was in on the fraud. Ultimately the movie makes its own mind up on what was the result. Not sure why the Canadian part of this had to be now a fictional Reno outfit. In the end it is intriguing to see how this plays out. Also the resolution where the refusal to sell to a big shot results in government intervention and a requirement to give away the business to that government. In truth the deal struck with Indonesia was better than the movie made it to be.
Yet another story where business and Wall Street are not shown to be positive. McConaughey after his turn in Dallas Buyers Club where he lost so much weight shows here that he was able to regain it (and then some!!!).
The Lovers is a film that reflects upon marriage, affairs, relationships, human nature and adult children. I watched this because it brings back to me Debra Winger in a more significant role. She has played smaller roles (like Rachel Gets Married) but here she is the star. With her is the familiar face guy from Homeland, Tracy Letts. Here we have empty nest married couple both who are having respective affairs. Son is to be arriving shortly with girlfriend in two. The film is examines the dynamics of how they got here as well as the respective lovers. Then the waters are muddied further. It was well acted. I liked seeing Winger again. In the end it was not something to run out and pay for but on Netflix there are worse ways to spend your time. A younger reviewer may live in the black and white world of the son here and be angered at the thought of lies and deception. We who are north of 50 will better relate and understand more – not to condone, but will have a better grey perspective.
Littlefinger from Game of Thrones is here. After being unceremoniously removed by the Starks this guy will have more places to work. GOT did his career a great service.
The last movie I saw at the theatre was Professor Marston, so I have been watching more on Netflix and catching up.
First was the Netlfix film the Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected) was one of those, reviewed at RogerEbert.com and given 4 stars. I was intrigued. After seeing it, I cannot agree with the assessment. Not sure what all the fuss was about. Here a good cast is playing a family in NYC. Dad (Dustin Hoffman) is a multiple married older sculpture/artist who never has quite made it. Some of his contemporaries have and it is a sticking point for him. He is focused on one thing, and one man, and that is himself. He has three children, two from one woman (played by Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel – almost not recognizable from her role in House of Cards), and then youngest with another woman Ben Stiller. Dad’s children have not “made it” as artistic people, much to his disappointment. The children come together as something happens and then interact with one another and their father. The film is told in chapters with the focus being outlined by that chapter title. For me, I found the chapters truncated, and they can end quickly and with little notice. There is a flow and direction, but I am not sure I need nor want to follow. I feel sympathy for the children, and recognize that this would not have been a fun childhood in those households, and later the broken homes. We adults can shape and impact those offspring in undetermined ways in the future by the acts of selfishness at the time. Well, I can only speak for myself but it holds true. Anyway, despite the glowing review, mine won’t be. I found this slow, and not engaging and not worth my time. Sandler does a better turn once again as being a more serious actor; as opposed to the yelling and profane man-child. Emma Thompson plays the latest wife who is drunk and forever locked in the 60s. In the end, there were some smiles but they were too few and far between.
We began watching Stranger Things 2, and finished 4 episodes. On the whole it started off fairly slowly in re-introducing these characters. I found myself asking aloud, “what happened in the previous season” and once finally coming up with it, seeing where this one takes us. Clouds and storms are the horizon and poor Will from the first season seems to be the target once again for visions and bad things. The rest of the younger cast continues on in school and deals with some new characters. The adults are forging some new paths it would seem, and it moves along. While episodes 1 and 2 were slower, episode 3 starts to get things moving, and episode 4 follows. For me, there is the plot but I almost enjoy as much the staging and homes from back in the mid-80s. Set design people had fun finding games, and trinkets, food and commercials. I will continue with this and see where it ends up. It is an 80s horror film cliché that hiding the unknown from people who may help can cause serious consequences (just ask the cat!)…..
As an aside, I wanted to see what the Top Box Office so far during 2017 has been. It is recognized that this year (and particularly this summer) has been one of the slowest and lowest revenue years in quite some time. There have not been many films to be excited about. When I look at the list I have a few observations.
First, like the years before it I am amazed at all the Superhero movies. I also recognize that Star Wars will blow away the competition this Christmas season once again. But check out some of the other titles here (Boss Baby $175M, Transformers $130M, Emoji Movie ??! $85M!!!) Boss Baby made more than Blade Runner AND Alien Covenant COMBINED! It makes me shake my head with the moviegoing public. How sad when they spend money on absolute junk, and a movie like Atomic Blonde comes in at $51M. I am still amazed at how Blade Runner has fallen off a cliff at the box office. Beauty and the Beast was not the original, and Emma Watson cannot sing. Dunkirk at $187M is NOT an American film so I am not surprised, but still it is in my opinion the best film of the year. We will see if it can hold that title. I am saddened and disappointed. Did you know that there is a new Mary Poppins coming out and Emily Blunt is the star? Some good films are coming, and I hope to get out again at some point.
This past weekend we ended up seeing one of the worst opening films of the entire year. I was reading box office numbers for this past weekend and Happy Death Day made more money than Blade Runner 2049 which dropped 40+% in box office in a week. I am astounded at that actually. A movie that gets almost universally positive reviews is beaten out by a terrible Groundhog Day slasher film. It says a great deal about the movie-going public, and what they seek. It’s no wonder that Hollywood pushes out sequels and superhero movies with abandon – and can often just get it wrong with the Oscars. Anyway, in the same Box office article it talked about Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women, and how it earned a year-long low of $700,000 or about $600 a screening for this past weekend.
We saw it! The over/under bet before going into the theatre for the number of patrons early was 15 for me. (I won the bet)….
Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women: Here is the biopic backstory about the creators of Wonder Woman and the genesis of their creation. Principally it was created by this Professor Marsten who was Harvard educated, and one of the inventors of the early lie detectors test devices (he gave away the technology without a patent, because he felt that it was something for “everyone”). He had a Wife, who was an academic herself who early in the film is denied a Harvard Doctoral degree because she was at the sister college, Radcliffe in Cambridge. She is smart and abrasive and to-the-point. She is played by the female lead from The Town. Together they as a couple teach and run across a young student who becomes a Teaching Assistant. Then she becomes more as they begin a relationship at a time when no one was ready for it (late 20s and 30s). They had children and lived a suburban lifestyle, but also enjoyed kink and sex play. This translated into the Wonder Woman character who the movie is quick to point out the bondage, the lesbianism and other aspects of their lives that became Wonder Woman. In truth, the Wonder Woman story is the back half of the tale, and it is the relationship that was the focus of the piece. Unless I had read the review beforehand, I would not have known anything about this film. Girlfriend went in with no knowledge of the story and it surprised her. Even as I knew it showed another story of people who lived an unconventional life, but who loved and supported one another, yet still had social and environmental challenges that pressured them and pulled them apart. This did not have to be a big screen film to see, like Stronger before it (and unlike Blade Runner) but it was interesting and I certainly will not look at Wonder Woman the same after viewing it.
Upon your suggestion, I did watch a few episodes of Big Mouth. It was funny and rude and on point from a 13 yo pubescent Grade 8 student (youngest son’s age). The Hormone Monster is funny (especially his sensitivity at being called a Fairy)! I will keep watching it. Girlfriend cringed at the white shorts and the Statue of Liberty school trip. It’s a miracle really that any of us managed to get through this time without serious therapy required! Perhaps I can be more sympathetic for my youngest son, who turns 13 shortly, as he gets through this time in his life!
I will write the easier review for this week, which is Netflix film Southpaw, with Jake G.