November 26th, 2018

This week I had the pleasure to attend a movie in person with my daughter and her best friend.   We decided to see Boy Erased.   The story is pretty straightforward with a Baptist preacher and car dealership owner (Russell Crowe) and his Wife (Nicole Kidman) who have one son, Garrod (Lucas Hedges).  The parents decide to send their son to conversion therapy to cure him of his homosexual thoughts and actions, which was sprung on them by surprise by another troubled young man at College.  This is set in Arkansas back in 2004, so NOT ancient history.   The son was at the time 19yo and was given the choice to be disowned by his parents and family or go to get “cured”.   He decided for the latter with his shame and uncertainty surrounding his own feelings.   He attends Love In Action which locks the subjects away for an assessment and then later makes decisions on what should happen to them longer term.   The viewer sees in detail the teachings and methods used to break down the subjects and get them to re-learn themselves and identify the source of their problem (usually past family members or others).   There is plenty of finger pointing and justifications.  The circumstances surrounding Garrod’s outing were dramatic.  Later scenes with other subjects at the therapy sessions are emotional and powerful.   In the end we learn that 700,000 people have gone through this therapy in the US.   It’s sad to think of all these souls struggling and being subjected to this type of manipulation.   For the family, we have an emotional couple of scenes where Nicole Kidman shows her acting chops (and I confess I am NOT a Kidman fan – but here she was very good at delivering an important moment in the film).   We also see a much heavier Russell Crowe being pressed to think through his own values and beliefs, as a father, a husband and a preacher.   Hedges plays this role very well and is articulate in expressing his feelings.   We (daughter and friend) had a debate amongst ourselves about whether homosexuality is born or bred (nature vs nurture) from the science of is there a gene for this (there isn’t) or whether it is learned behaviour?   In the end it doesn’t matter, but the impact will be on the viewer’s attitude of whether this type of therapy (by people who may not even be doctors or psychiatrists/psychologists) makes any real difference at all.    Worth a viewing, and likely gets Kidman another nomination and could be too for Hedges.

Last night, the MLB network was playing The Natural, with Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Glenn Close and others.   This film from 1984 is a fictionalized, fable for baseball with the NY Knights, and the legend of Roy Hobbs.  Hobbs is a talent and gifted smalltown boy with dreams of baseball in the early days of the game.   His journey gets sidetracked by a troubled woman, and he disappears for 16 years.  He shows up in a last place team looking for a spark with a manager fighting to keep the team (battling a co-owner) and also looking wins and spectators.   Along comes the new rookie and he eventually is able to play, and make his mark on the game.   The rest flows as you would expect.  The score is iconic, written by Randy Newman, and adds to the overall joy in the film.   I can watch and re-watch this film many times over.  Along with Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out, these are some of the best baseball movies that there are.  It was nominated for 4 Oscars including music and for Glenn Close.   I note that there are these films that I haven’t reviewed in the water cooler conversations, nor over the years, but they are friends who I am happy to invite back into my home and make me re-experience the joy of watching them unfold.   These are what films are all about.
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November 19th, 2018

This week I saw two movies of note.  First was the Netflix film, that was released at TIFF in September Outlaw King based upon the story about Robert the Bruce starring Chris Pine.  The story is in many ways a follow up to the Braveheart story about William Wallace, which starred Mel Gibson and won Best Picture from 1995.   The new film borrows a great deal from the Braveheart tale, but doesn’t carry with it the production value, nor the acting from the principals.   Pine struggles with the Scottish accent, and the action sequences are nothing that we haven’t seen before.   In fact, the charging horse scene with the English horses is very close to the Gibson version at Sterling with the long spears.  In the end it felt forced and just not as good, and not really a story that needed to be told in this forum.  I am pleased I avoided at TIFF, because once again the film simply wasn’t worth the money and I would have been disappointed.   I like Chris Pine.  But I think he has a particular niche where he fits where, and being a Scottish King, just simply isn’t it.

In the theatre I took youngest son to go see The Grinch.   This is from the same company that did Minions and the Despicable Me films.   I liked Despicable Me and felt it had a good heart.   This film is another adaptation of the classic book and the 30 minute Warner Bros. cartoon with Boris Karloff voicing the Grinch.   There were some memorable songs too in that original, a couple of which seemed to make it to this new version, which is a very good thing.   The Who-ville Who’s song of rejoicing is there, and you have to be pretty Grinchian yourself not to feel the seasonal cheer from that.  Anyway, the Grinch is now voiced by American sounding Benedict Cumberbatch.   He has his sidekick Max, and they fret about the approaching Christmas season.   There is a backstory made, which makes some sense that the Jim Carey/Ron Howard live version which simply never did it for me.    Youngest son LOVED it, and watched it consecutively on a loop, but it was just not very good.   This is better.   Better than I expected.   I liked the animation and the scenes of Who-ville.   They took the idea from the book and built upon it.    The homes are stacked and all flowing natural shapes.   The look and feel of the film is pleasant and welcoming.   From the storefronts to the interiors, it is creative and well imagined.   We all know the story, and once again the Grinch is that flawed character who learns the true meaning of Christmas.   That’s a message that everyone can hear again and have it reinforced.   Do you need to see it in a big theatre?  No.   But it’s a holiday film that I think could be replayed on an annual basis and still create smiles.

November 13th, 2018

Last week I managed to get out to the theatre to catch Bohemian Rhapsody.  This film has had some polarizing reviews, and I can see why.   For me, this movie should have had more of an edge to it.  Much like I think ANY David Bowie future film should try to capture the entire man, and his intricacies and eccentricities.   Much can be claimed here.   In some ways I feel like I watched Theory of Everything where it was based, in part, on the recollections of Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife.   Well of course she’s going to made out to be better than it likely really was!  Perspective is everything, and this is no different.

We start the film of Freddie Mercury, when he was nobody, Farrokh Bulsara of Parsi decent, working unloading baggage at the airport.  He likes clubs and hanging out and meets upon a band who lost their singer who felt he had better options elsewhere.   In comes Farrokh, and provides an impromptu audition and manages to impress the singerless group.   We meet Freddy’s family (Mother, Father and sister) where there is nothing but some questioning of where the young man can ever end up.   It’s more cliche really than anything else.   How many times do we see a supportive family (especially a father for a young man looking to play music?).   But nevermind.

For me, I wondered about the treatment of Freddy’s personal life, and how he chose to be.  He was married early on and then later lived as a gay man.   I didn’t expect, and don’t believe the Freddy Mercury would live the life shown in the film with the lights from separate rooms with his wife, with him by himself.   Maybe I am jaded and conditioned to think that all rock stars are constantly in a party state with an entourage and party goers.   Maybe he lived more solitary life.  Maybe it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.   I don’t believe it.   I think Mercury was a larger than life personality who did everything to extreme and excess!!   He would be the centre of attention and have and take all that he wanted.   This is briefly depicted but not convincingly nor enough.

I wish we had seen more creativity and the inspiration for these songs.   It’s the real genius at work, with songs that will last forever.   The creative process is fascinating, and understanding the influences and how they chose to make their sounds and put them together would be an amazing story unto itself.  It isn’t there much.   There is a silly Mike Myers cameo that added nothing for me.    In the end, I felt that this was not a story or the true Freddy but a story that others wanted to tell on his behalf; a toned down PG rated version.   Who gains from this?  Perhaps the surviving members of the band.  His Wife.   Not sure.   If there was ever a rock star life that deserved an R rating, it was Freddy Mercury.    David Bowie too!   Let’s hope that any David Bowie project looks better, and respects the artist fully – unlike what I anticipate that Rocketman (preview at this film) will be for Elton John which comes out next year.  No thanks.

I also watched last week, Red Sparrow.   Oh Jennifer Lawrence what is it about these projects that you are selection for yourself?    Another turkey with this one.   A young Russian ballerina cut down by an injury and sold out by her Uncle to this ultra-nasty group of spies/chaos inducers/special forces, who use their bodies to get what they need.   The story is messy and convoluted.  The agent/double agent mystery doesn’t unfold well, and the ending is contrived.   I cannot recommend, and wish that JLaw, would find something more substantial and better for her talents (Passenger, Mother! and others are beneath her).

November 5th, 2018

I didn’t get out to see a movie in the theatre this week.  I was disheartened to see the Ebert review on Bohemian Rhapsody, where it was given 1 star.   There are mixed reviews on this film, but I was hoping for better.   I may get out to see anyway for myself and decide.

On Netflix I saw the second and third films in the European Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy with Noomi Rapace.  The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second installment taking place shortly after solving the mysteries of the first.   The story digs deeper into the past and motivations of Lisbeth, and her family situation.   The character herself is fascinating and the Rapace portrayal of her is excellent.   The supporting cast is all good and the story moves along well.  I won’t share the details as it is best to see first hand where it all goes.   I don’t know the details of why the US version with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara wasn’t created, but this covers the next few novels.   The final chapter is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest where there is an attempt to have a court proceeding to silence Lisbeth and keep her (and her magazine writing friend) from uncovering and publishing the story about some political shenanigans going on.   It is more Swedish based, and could be a reason why an American follow up did not occur.   Most North Americans don’t know the political landscape in Sweden, let alone what they might follow and understand in their own country.  Still it is compelling film making and you don’t need to really know it to understand the forces at play.   Not as much happens in this episode from an action point of view but there is still some intrigue how evidence can be brought forward to support Lisbeth and her contentions.    Query how you prove yourself to be sane, when respected Doctors are claiming exactly the opposite to further their own selfish agenda.   All worth watching and seeing where this story goes.   Note that there is Claire Foy playing Lisbeth coming out this month.  I am not exactly clear where it fits into the trilogy (if it does at all).   It may be post the trilogy, but I guess we will all find out.   Claire Foy is excellent in The Queen.   This would be a new take for her.  Trailer is here:
I also watched on a gag, Smokey and the Bandit, the 1977 chase movie with Burt Reynolds and his mustache, a very young Sally Field, and over the top Jackie Gleason as unforgettable Sheriff Buford T Justice.  Gleason steals the film, and is just hamming it up in every scene he is in!  This is a simple story, with a fun flashback to the 70s with outrageous clothing (check out jeans on Burt and Sally, as well as collars on those polyester shirts).  Funky!   Self-proclaimed show off is challenged by rich guy to pick up and return in a few hours a truck full of Coors beer (which when crossing the Georgia border then was criminal bootlegging).   He and his buddy take the challenge, his buddy in 18 wheeler and he is new hot black Pontiac Firebird, an iconic car.   They drive to Texarkana Texas pick up Coors and drive very fast back.  Along the way Burt gets Sally Field aboard fleeing a wedding, to Sheriff’s idiot son.  They drive fast, have good chemistry and protect the slower truck by keeping the police busy making fools of themselves.   There is CB language and some fun jokes (diners = choke n puke).  In the end this was beginning of a multi movie franchise which morphed into other similar films (also with Burt) like Cannonball Run.  Hot girls, hot cars, drive fast and make police cars crash.   So if you are looking for some nostalgia, check it out.

October 29th, 2018 – Halloween Edition

Our title this week involves the impending candy-filled holiday for children rather than a review of the latest iteration of the Halloween franchise, sill starring Jamie Lee Curtis, unseen by me.   But I did manage to have another week where I was able to see an “oldie”, a “goodie” and something interesting.

First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the World Series win by the Boston Red Sox last night in LA against the Dodgers.   This team lost only one road game during the playoffs (and it was 18 innings long!).   They showed resilience and fight and defeated the three best teams in all of baseball (Yankees, Astros and Dodgers).   2018 World Series Champions sounds good!  Oh and there was a movie presence at the game last night as Matt Damon was there in full Red Sox hat and “I Am With Stupid” shirt with Jimmy Kimmel and Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman sitting next to Billy Crudup, and of course Mary Hart.

Image result for matt damon world series game 5Image result for jason bateman billy crudup world series game 5

The “oldie” was a DVD rental for the 1987 Kevin Costner film No Way Out, with Gene Hackman and Sean Young.    Sean Young was at the peak of her fame, having been in Stripes, Blade Runner and Dune.   The story was a political thriller with some espionage thrown in for good measure.   Costner plays a Navy man, who is hanging around Washington DC and meets a buddy who works for a powerful politician (Hackman) hile impressing Young at a party.  They hook up.  He then heads off to sea where he can be heroic on the bow of a ship in a storm (which interestingly makes the newspaper).   Powerful politician decides to bring him in to assist with some work based on that story in the newspaper, and things move along from there.   The buddy begins to spin a new perspective on a turning point event and the title begins to take on more meaning.  I enjoyed this film when I first saw it in the theatres as a young 20-something, but that may have been just Sean Young.   There is some intrigue here, but generally it wasn’t as good as I remembered it.   The ultimate resolution is a little less satisfying than I had remembered.   If you can rent from a library, as I did, for nothing this can fill some time and you can see some stars from 30 years ago.
The “goodie” is a modest thumbs up for the TIFF release Beautiful Boy starring Steve Carrell and Timothee Chalamet in the leads.  This is an addiction story, tracing the real life events surrounding Nic and father David Sheff.  In this film, I found that the director’s choice to bounce around haphazardly with the timeline was more than a little distracting and took away from the ultimate story.   Had he chosen to be more linear it might have helped some.   The starting point is Carrell seeking information about crystal meth from a doctor (Timothy Hutton).  But before answers are given, we are whisked away to an earlier time.   Much is made of the pictures of the young boy Timothee is playing and later the young man who he becomes.   Father and son seem to be close, with a broken family early on which may or may not impact the choices the young boy makes.  Parents bicker and are snippy with one another (Dad having moved on, remarried and had a couple more kids with new wife, played by Maura Tierney).  This is not for the feint of heart, as we see the slippery slope of looking for the greater high.  It is depressing seeing the adults swirl around the young man who demands more and more of their attention which takes away from others in their lives.   He is a walking time bomb, and you never know just what Nic you’re going to get.   I would have liked to see more of the Nic perspective on what happened to him; how was rehab?  How did he perceive it?  What happened there?   What was the thought on relapse, and when did temptation overcome the teachings you gained in self control?   I further wonder where did all the money come from for the young Sheff to maintain his habits?   Dad seems pretty comfortable, yet it’s hard to see where and how all this could be paid for; he disappears for seemingly long periods of time.     There is a good scene (in the trailer as well so I give nothing away) at a restaurant between father and son.  You can see Timothee heading in a downward direction unable to maintain control over this addiction.   Likely there are award nominations to come from these performances (Carrell and Chalamet).   In the end, the film felt more like an infomercial for the rehab business and the lack of funding for these valuable support services.   In a society that is fundamentally built on the idea of personal freedom and liberties, there are those who will choose to destroy their bodies and their souls for moments of fleeting and ultimately unattainable artificial joy.  It’s just hard to watch it, and see the impact that it has on those innocents around that person.
Finally, I watched Victoria and Abdul which is the new Stephen Frears film about Queen Victoria (played by Dame Judi Dench) and her Indian consort and assistant  (Ali Fazel) who her son, and later monarchies tried so very hard to wipe from history.   Frears has done High Fidelity, The Grifters and The Queen and more recently has poked at British society with Dame Judi in Philomena (and the Catholic church) and this with Queen Victoria.   Interesting here is what is not filmed really and left until the end (the cover up and attempted erasing from history).   But back to the film.  The story is about the relationship of Victoria in her final decade or so of her longest reign with this Indian gentleman who she happened upon at a dinner in which she was given an Indian coin.   All this takes place in the 1890s with Britain still ruling over India.   The Queen had never visited (it was deemed too dangerous for her) and she seemed tired of those buzzing around her looking to stake their claim in the next monarchy.  She was tired and listless and going through the motions of her everyday life.   The entrance of Abdul heightens her interests and brings her back to life.   It is hinted that she found him attractive and felt betrayed when he discloses his marital situation.   Because of him, she takes interest in learning about the culture and language of her realm (imagine that).   I wondered as I watched how a King like Henry VIII would have handled the situation; with squabbling and activities taking lace against the King’s wishes.   I suspect that it would have been met more harshly.   You can also see some of the same activities that occurred around Diana’s time and those who provide guidance and advice to the monarchy from the movie The Queen.   In the end, this was a satisfying story and I am glad that the evidence was uncovered that could bring this back into the spotlight.   I further wonder how a future King, like William, might view this as a reflection on his ancestors, and those around him who provide that guidance and advice all in the name of “protecting the Crown”.

October 22nd,2018 – Birthday edition

Hard to believe that my youngest is 14 years old today, how time flies – and how old am I ?!?!   This past weekend was checking out an oldie, a goodie and an interesting character sketch.  All of these were on Netflix.   We were tempted to go see Sharkwater Extinction, but he decided to stay inside instead.

The goodie was the recent release on Netflix for The Kindergarten Teacher with Maggie G.  We saw her at TIFF on the red carpet along with the young man who played the prodigy in the film.   This was a remake of an Israeli film of the same name a few years back.  An experienced kindergarten teacher with a husband and family of her own (older son and daughter) recognizes innocently that one of her students, played by Parker Sevak,  is periodically spontaneously spouting poetry out of the blue.   She begins to write it down, and she recognizes how deep the words are immediately.  They are well beyond the average student at this age.   Given the swirl of the life around her, she decides that she should try and cultivate and nurture this gift.   She sees him as a young Mozart of the art of poetry.  She is affirmed in her discovery by a university course she is taking herself in English and poetry.  After some less-than-stellar feedback on her own work, she reads out the young man’s work, as her own, and is applauded and encouraged by her fellow students and professor.   She feels somewhat thwarted by the father and caregiver of this boy who don’t seem that interested in his ability.  They want him to carry on a more “normal life”.   The story carries on and you can see our teacher with the best of intentions looking to find ways to develop this young man.   Mozart was fed sweets by Kings and Queens, and was allowed to develop his talents, rather than become bogged down in social media and the mundane everyday life.  I enjoyed this film and the performance.   This is Maggie’s movie and she carries it well.  She is believable, and you can sympathize with her recognizing the talent in her midst.  You wonder at times whether she is seeking out the development and growth of the boy, or whether it is becoming more about her.   Like Salieri in Amadeus, she wants to be a part of the gift rather than having just enough talent to recognize the incarnation.  She wants this talent to rub off on her and bring her glory too.   There is a social commentary too about modern society and the lack of cultural pursuits.   Her own children get good grades and are normal kids, but they don’t work on developing any talents and she resents the lack of creativity in her own house.   I was thinking about seeking this out literally last week at TIFF Lightbox, and was surprised to see it so quickly on Netflix.  So my monthly $9.99 subscription just saved me $13.99 at the theatre.   Works for me.  In the end, well worth the time spent.   Alison will be miffed about the desire for Maggie to remove her clothes, but that seems to be the situation that she has created, and one that doesn’t seem to bother the star in the least.
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The “oldie” from this weekend was the Stephen King movie with Christopher Walken called The Dead Zone.  This 1983 film was filmed by director David Cronenberg and was based on the 1979 novel from King.   It was filmed in and around Toronto and Niagara Falls.  Walken plays a school teacher Johnny Smith who has a girlfriend (Brooke Adams), whom he loves and one night driving home has an accident that puts him in a coma for a number of years.    He wakes up to find his life has changed, his girlfriend has moved on, and he has these episodes where he has visions of other times.   Martin Sheen plays an enthusiastic and bombastic Senatorial candidate who is in the midst of election time.  There are interesting parallels between Sheen and current figures in politics.  Ultimately Johnny comes to realize that his visions when he touches certain people are premonitions of what it is to come, but his “dead zone” is his ability to impact those visions and change them.   I leave the rest of the plot for the viewer.  This is one of my favourite King stories brought to the screen.   My top story of course is The Shawshank Redemption.  Others would include The Green Mile, and Misery among others.   I enjoyed this long ago, and I think it holds up well.  Walken is very good and believable and you sympathize with his plight.  It is unclear how I would view such an ability, and whether it is a gift or a curse.   However you may feel you can see how this story takes that ability for a good thrill ride.   Funny how both movies have a teacher as the main focal point.
After seeing A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, I had mentioned to a friend that I wasn’t much of a Lady Gaga fan.   I was encouraged to watch the documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two.  This is another Netlflix film and it was released in 2017.   Lady Gaga was preparing for her Superbowl appearance (Patriots vs Falcons game) and she also just had found out about doing the role in A Star is Born.   As I watched this ball of energy I could how she was looking to develop and grow and move away from her earlier “glam diva” role.   She was toning down the fashion and all the make up and trying to be more whatever mainstream normal is.  It was a conscious choice.   What I also saw was in behind the performances, where once again she shows off her remarkable and strong voice and writing talents that she is suffering from constant pain from a hip problem.   I am reminded of Prince and Amy Winehouse, and notably Amy from her documentary where you see her struggle with alcoholism and people around her who enable her continued abuse of her body and talent.   Gaga looks a lot like Amy too when she has the eye makeup with the ends turned up (like Egyptian eyes – I am a guy and have no idea how to describe it).  I hope I am wrong and that Lady Gaga can get this under control.   She is seen having injections, and numerous physio manipulations and taking some pills.   I wonder about that whole star persona and handlers/managers/record labels pushing them to keep creating.   Maybe there is something inherently in the personality of one so talented for injury (internal and external) I am not sure.  The movie does not show the Superbowl performance but I was able to youtube it.   I missed it live since I was on an airplane back from Nashville when it was on.   She’s good.  She’s very good.  I think the backstory to her album Joanne was interesting with that family connection.  She is obviously very close to her family and this grounds her.  Did I go out an order her songs on Itunes after watching this?  No.  But I gained a greater insight into her life, and I am hopeful that she can keep her head about her and continue to share her talents with the world.

October 17th, 2018

I note that 22 July which was reviewed by me at TIFF (see TIFF Edition Sept 17th) is now available on Netflix.  None of this out to DVD and Pay-per-view stuff first, it is being shared and streamed almost straight away from theatrical release.   Netflix has done this before (and likely that is the point) with movies like First They Killed My Father, which Alison at last moment pulled out of seeing at TIFF, which its impending free showing.   So if you are looking for a Netflix stay in night, perhaps have a look.   Or if you are looking for something a little more “out there” check out Annihilation with Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac.   It too is available on Netflix recently.

At the theatre for First Man Saturday they previewed the latest (and endless) superhero movie to come to theatres shortly.   This time it is Captain Marvel.   I confess that I am NOT a superhero movie fan.   Certainly Alison knows this well.   It is an exception rather than the rule if I actually like a superhero movie.   For me the pinnacle was the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy with Christian Bale.   He IS Batman for me.  They were dark, they were brooding and they had a real life human dealing with human issues.   But back to the trailer, we have Brie Larson, who I really liked in Room and for which she won an Oscar, playing the lead role.   Not being a comic book guy, I am not sure whether Captain Marvel was a female.   But I’ll go with it.   Brie since Room only filled out a tank top nicely in Kong Skull Island, and I have not seen any of the other smaller films that she has done.   Now she is becoming Captain Marvel.   I don’t need to see this – nor any of the Avenger films and they won’t get any of my money.    Here is the trailer for those who haven’t seen it already.   What did Hollywood do for movies BEFORE superheroes?   Hard to remember really….!