January 13th, 2020 Bonus Alison posting

From Alison:

Odds and ends from 2019

I have no idea how many movies I watched in 2019 but assuming a minimum of three per week, a ballpark estimation is likely somewhere around a hundred and fifty.  One stands out for me as the worse thing I willingly sat through; Gemini Man.  There was a close runner up in Rambo: Last Blood but I’m giving this to Big Willy.  I didn’t watch this movie looking for him say very much, the plot was obvious. I watched so I could see things get blown up real good and handsome young men get punched in the throat.  Stallone had the good sense to just get down to business but Will just kept talking, then his clone kept talking and then the bad guy and the sidekicks all had too much to say.  Only one stunt scene (the one in the commercial) delivered and the rest were meh.  I know I don’t have to tell you not to waste your time watching this but like the warning on a pack of cigarettes, I’ll just remind you.
Won’t You Be My Neighbour? was more than even the great Tom Hanks could salvage.  The movie was not about Mr. Rogers per se as much as it was about the reporter hired to write a piece on him for Esquire (this part is true).  I acknowledge that Fred was about positivity and stillness but outside of a documentary it just plays wrong.  Mr. Rogers was a guy I watched as a kid, made fun of as a teenager and mostly forgot about as an adult.  His passing was sad but this was a tribute to him that wasn’t particularly sentimental and at times was uncomfortably bad.  Hanks did his level best but I can’t recommend it.  They chose to end the movie with a scene where Mr. Rogers was alone on the set and began playing the piano.  Quite unexpectedly he slams his fists down on the keys in what appeared to be anger.  It was just odd and failed at helping the viewer understand this special man or perhaps it was to show that he struggles just like everyone.  Skip this mess and watch the documentary instead.
A few thoughts on Apple’s new streaming service…
Apple launched its new streaming service with only a handful of original offerings.  In true Apple style they threw a lot of money into this project, bagged some of Hollywood’s top actors to join in the fun and sunk mucho dinero into the production of its shows.  I managed to finish See with Jason Mamoa and Alfre Woodard in 4K and Atmos and enjoyed the ear candy a show about blind people in the wilderness had to offer.  The series is slow until episode six before I became interested in the outcome.  Servant is a medium given of and to the mind of M. Knight Shyamalan and so far is the best offering IMO.  A family hires an odd nanny to care for their child which turns out to be a doll.  The actual child died sometime earlier and the mom has had trouble adjusting, hence the dolly.  But something else just isn’t right… Saying much more might ruin some of the fun but given the origins of the show you can expect to be perplexed and mildly creeped out. I was just about to turn off Dickinson when Wiz Khalifa showed up with a spliff.  This is a modern not modern take on Emily Dickinson as a petulant teenager coming into her talent. I’m three episodes in and will likely finish it.  Lastly, The Morning Show and For All Mankind started out as novel and with a small b bang.  Both have fizzled for me and I’ve yet to complete either.  I will at some point but its not high on my priority viewing list.  Hopefully they’ll surprise later.  Hopefully Apple has a few more tricks up their sleeves (or in their pockets) to encourage someone, anyone to subscribe.

December 30th, 2019, Happy New Year

At this time of year we start getting people writing lists.   Being the end of a decade, we get further lists too (Best of the Decade).  These lists are for films and performances.  Roger Ebert didn’t like creating lists, but when pressed to do so, he would come up with something.  Movies, especially from disparate genres are virtually impossible to compare.

It’s interesting that Roger’s website creates its own Best 10 List.

https://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/the-ten-best-films-of-2019

I will say that ANY list which includes Ad Astra and Midsommar (even in their Mentionables) makes me wonder about the quality of the list.  The Golden Globe list can also be used if one is curious as well.   Not surprisingly the lists of best performance can mirror the lists of Best Films.

Golden Globes 2020: The Complete Nominations List

For me I quickly realized that I hadn’t seen many on the list Best Films.  In fact I had only seen two (The Irishman and Parasite).   Now I have seen four.

I was interested to seek out some of these listed films, and the first of these was on Crave.   Us is a movie that is by Jordan Peele who offered up Get Out.  For me, that doesn’t provide it with additional weight, in fact it takes away from it.  I didn’t like Get Out at all.   I can honestly say that I felt similar feelings when I watched Us.  Lupita Nyong’o plays two roles in a movie that virtually all play duplicate roles.  In short this is an alternate reality, psychological thriller where things happen that don’t make a lot of sense.   In sort of a Invasion of the Body Snatchers way, alternates dressed in red jump suits and sporting large scissors are threatening their like-likes.  Lupita Nyong’o is the most impressive in being one character and also the alter ego.   i likely have missed the point of the film, but that’s because I eventually just give up on what I cannot understand.   To say that this is one of the Best Films of the year says much about the year.  In the same way that Get Out was listed as an Oscar nominee.  I was very glad that i didn’t spend the money to see this is the theatre.   Pass.

Marriage Story has multiple nominations with Best Picture for Globes and acting with Johansson and Driver as Best Actors as well.   It is listed from Ebert site.  For me, I think the people who enjoy this type of film (like Kramer v Kramer and Revolutionary Road) think that it reflects reality well, with good acting.  Maybe that is true.  For me, as one who has gone through such discussions and splits, it is painful to watch.  Agonizing to watch on screen as people who once cared for one another, have their stories twisted and maneuvered by lawyers and those intent on “winning” and extracting as much money as they possibly can before they turn the poor, less financially viable afterwards back into the world.   The family lawyers collectively Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda are sadly reflections of the world, but one in which Law Societies are at pains to show are not accurate.   There is a ethical and professional responsibility to seek settlement.   It’s not about “winning” and should be reflecting the wishes of the parties.   Like real life, wishes of the parties are not always spoken and rarely with one another when the lawyers get involved.  But for me, I cringe when I see an Assessor sent by the Court sit uncomfortably and watch a father and son eat dinner while evaluating them, and the father’s suitability.  Who is she to judge?  The father asks her “do you ever watch a married couple?” and she dryly responds “why would I?”   Why indeed.   I almost had to turn this off and take a minute to catch my breath where there is an ugly exchange between the two.   I admit that my admiration for Driver (the father) increased immensely with the scene at the bar in New York.   He shows and ability that I had never seen from him before, and does it better than expected.   Who should watch this?  Maybe young people looking to get married.  They may feel that this can’t reflect reality and how things can be.   Maybe spouses looking to split amicably should watch to realize that engaging lawyers make a long term happiness for all scenario more challenging.    Lawyers, by the way, having seen the financials, know exactly what a given file would be worth and they will extract it.   But watching people spew venom at each other, in heated exchanges or shaking their heads at the “System” and how it is pre-conditioned not to reflect what their relationship reality was in the least, is not particularly enjoyable, even when done well.

I hope that all readers have had a good 2019, and that 2020 will be more successful and prosperous!    On to 2020, with more films on the list to see like 1917 and Little Women.

 

 

December 23rd, 2019 (Merry Christmas – Skywalker Ends)

With much skepticism I headed to the theatre on the Thursday night opening of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.   I say skepticism because I so thoroughly disliked the previous The Last Jedi installment of this storied franchise.   Few movies can garner as much hype and anticipation as a Star Wars film.  This one is no different.  42 years in the making, this is to be the end of the nine episode, trilogy of trilogies, albeit the George Lucas final trilogy will never be known as Disney bought the rights and continued along with the saga.   JJ Abrams after the last episode debacle helmed by Rian Johnson, returns to direct and write this film.    Query whether Abrams will ever be thought of as a brilliant writer and/or director.   Abrams mostly directed TV before getting involved with the Star Trek reboot and before that Mission Impossible 3.    For me, despite earning massive dollars with his movies, he shows an annoying ability to mirror a story structure from previous stories.  Star Wars is an excellent example with his first The Force Awakens, mirroring A New Hope and the goal to destroy a Death Star.   I mention this because Rise of Skywalker, does the same thing with Return of the Jedi (even returning to the moons on Endor for an inexplicable reason).   It’s a galaxy for cryin’ out loud!!  Does everything have to tie back to the originals?    Does every character have to make an appearance?   Seriously?

My main point of contention in seeing the trailers was that the background voice of the Emperor was plainly heard.  The Emperor (formerly Senator Palpatine) is dead.  In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader threw him into a massive chasm where in a puff of cloud and smoke he was gone.   As part of the Emperor’s manipulating Anakin, he spoke of a legendary Sith (Darth Plageis The Wise) who could create life and prevent people from dying.   But later he spoke of having to “learn it together” when Anakin was finally turned to the Dark Side.   Now he shows up.   I spoil little by mentioning this, as if you have taken off your jacket and had your first handful of popcorn this is revealed in the film.   If that spoils your movie, you have bigger problems coming.  In short, dead was dead and I saw no reason for resurrecting him.   So then it begins.

In short this movie, for me, didn’t suck.   But it wasn’t great.  My 15yo younger son was not as enthused.   He didn’t like it.  It was just too all over the place for him.   He also hasn’t had an additional 27 years to familiarize himself with the source material.     He asked me what about it did I like directly after we finished, and I struggled coming up with an answer.   Funny.    My answer at the time was that I felt that they did a credible job with some aspects of the Kylo Ren story.   I also felt that they addressed the Princess Leia issue with some tact.   But upon reflection and sleeping on it, I think the main source of positiveness came from the fact that the theme was that individuals have choice and they are not chained to their blood and destiny to decide what they will do with their lives.    Game of Thrones missed out on this lesson in the biggest way!   Danny, since was a Targaryen was to be a ruthless, mindless killer who was power hungry and incapable of being a competent leader.   She avoided this fate for 7 seasons, then reverted back to her blood (her Father after all was the Mad King) in the Final season.   So she must act in the same way, and must be stopped.   Suffice it to say that breaking the bonds of your destiny is just a matter of choosing to do something else.   In Return of the Jedi, when Luke overpowers Darth Vader in the Emperor’s room, the Emperor wrongly states that it was Luke’s “hate that made (him) powerful”.   Actually it was the love of his sister that did, and his desire to protect her from these psychopaths.   So it was refreshing to see moments where characters get to make a choice in Rise of Skywalker.

Other things that I will mention quickly.   I didn’t like the continuation of skills and abilities of characters that have never been seen before from a character.  These come from all sorts of characters and mostly revolve around the force.   Random spaceships are left indiscriminately around for characters to take, and miraculously they fire up and fly without issue (and the characters know how to fly them).   The introduction of a new light sabre (you’ll know what I mean when you see it).  The romance aspect which just sort of fizzles.  The incredible ability to identify which particular Star Destroyer has a ridiculous beacon from just a “feeling”.   Finding escapes from areas that look pretty locked down, and moving around space (or so it seems) with no spacesuit of any kind and running atop space ships that are flying in this space.   I could go on and on and won’t.   Just check your realism metre at the door.    Star Wars will make gazillions of dollars this weekend.   Although this may close out the Skywalker story, given the money to be made, and the success of The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda, expect to see more Star Wars movies.   But a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, let’s find some new totally independent stories can be created that introduce new ideas and characters.

I finished watching the first season of Killing Eve on Crave which is a TV series that was given many accolades at the Emmys and Golden Globes.   Sandra Oh (Canadian stars) along with Jodie Comer (previously in The White Princess).   There are many familiar British faces from Harry Potter, other British TV series etc.   Oh won the Golden Globe for Actress in a TV series.   Comer won the Emmy in the same category.  It is a good cast with clever writing.   Comer is particularly excellent.   The basic story is that Oh works for British Intelligence and they are looking to track a thread for numerous seemingly unrelated killings.   They are wondering if there is a new assassin loose who is smart, effective and elusive.   Comer plays the assassin.   I have finished Season 1 and I have enjoyed a great deal.   There are complex relationships at work and people who are equally complex.   Season 2 picks up 30 seconds after Season 1 and I am finished just the first episode.   If you can, check it out.   Well worth the time, with plenty twists and turns.

December 16th, 2019

It’s amazing how quickly the year goes by.  It seems like yesterday it was TIFF.   That was 3 months ago.  Wow!  We are rapidly closing in on and Christmas, and this guy already had the first of his family Christmas parties!

Free Solo: Alex Honnald is a remarkable young man.  He is a world class climber, rock climber that is, and he can do youtubes that address the believe-ability of the climbing sequences.  Like here:

I had previously reviewed the other climbing movie about The Dawn Wall.  That movie focused on Tommy Caldwell, another world class professional climber, who was tackling the Wall in Yosemite.   He was looking to climb a very difficult path up this mountain.   It was his struggle along with his partner, who found one section particularly challenging.   Caldwell makes an appearance with Alex in his quest to scale this mountain.   The catch for Free Solo, is that as the name suggests Alex is looking to do this without the use of ropes, or with a partner.   It is him, his skills and the mountain.   One slip.  One mistake and he falls to his death, like many of the colleagues of his on other mountains.   The film is a documentary, and the tension increases as you see what Alex endures, both physically and mentally.   It’s a challenge in all aspects of his life, include close friends and his girlfriend.   She simply can’t understand him and his desire to put himself at such risk.   The scenery is spectacular along with the ability to get this film made (how do you get a camera up there with Alex to record it?).   This movie deservedly won the Oscar for Best Documentary earlier on in the year.   There is drama, suspense, and one sits in amazement as you see Alex precariously perch himself halfway up a mountain only securing himself with his hands and feet.   If you have ever done any rock climbing in a gym or aboard a ship, you will realize that he is holding his body up and in place by little cracks and creases hard to even see.   The strength in his fingers must be amazing.  Not to mention his arms and legs.  This is an elite athlete training and working on a life achievement.   See this, and on a large screen TV with High Definition (or even better a large theatre) and enjoy.   A good double feature would be this and The Dawn Wall.

While on the subject of documentaries, there was a movie about Jane Fonda called Jane Fonda in Five Acts.   I knew about Jane Fonda, the actress who was the daughter of American acting icon Henry Fonda, who like Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck were viewed as close to perfect people.    Jane reveals in these five acts, the first four which revolve around the men in her life, how less than idyllic that being raised by a legend can be, for her and her actor brother Peter.   I didn’t know other aspects of her life, like the suicide death of her Mother.   Nor about about early marriage and birth of child to French director, Roger Vadim, in France.   She has won two Oscars, for Klute and Coming Home.   She has been nominated seven times.  This from a young woman who had no aspirations in acting whatsoever.   But then she was an activist, protesting Viet Nam but taking on many other causes.   In hindsight turns out that she was right.   But then ushering in the video era with her highest selling VCR tape, Jane Fonda’s Workout from 1982.  Oh and she had assigned the rights to these videos to the organization she was working with.   Then she ultimately ends up with Ted Turner, the billionaire media mogul but that lasts less than a decade.  She finishes realizing that she doesn’t need a man, and can stand on her own two feet.  She is still working.   Quite a life.   By the way, she went many years thinking that she was “fat” and also hated her hair.

Finally, Netflix has released the latest Michael Bay film with Ryan Reynolds entitled 6 Underground.   Here is a film that wants to be Mission Impossible, Bourne Identity and other group terrorist fighting organiations (rogue or otherwise) who wants to make the world safer.   In the meantime, to accomplish this goal they “blow up good” just about everything in sight.  Never mind the pedestrians walking the streets and museums in Florence, they are collateral damage.   There were some clever one liners and quips (mostly delivered by Reynolds) in his best DeadPool way.   He plays smart ass well.   But in the end, the death and destruction just didn’t add because I wasn’t seeing the position results.   Maybe we don’t see that in the recent MI films either  with baddie Solomon Lane.   But this wasn’t at that level.   Not by a sniper’s shot into a roof top condo pool!!

 

December 9, 2019

The Golden Globe nominations formally kicked off the Awards season with their list of nominations today.   The list is here:

Golden Globes 2020: The Complete Nominations List

My overall assessment, shared by Alison who brought this my attention, was “M’eh” in the words of my daughter.   A couple nominations make my eyebrows raise, like “Rocketman” for anything, but Best Picture and also Best Actor?   Really?!   I would have thought that Bohemian Rhapsody shine would have worn off by now.   Apparently not.   The overly long The Irishman, picks up a Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actors (Pacino and Pesci) while notably absent was DeNiro for Best Actor.   Also in the TV category it was the first time ever that the alphabet main networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) were completely ignored.   The streaming services won out, with Netflix, Amazon, HBO and FX for cryin’ out loud got nominations but not them.   It is a changing of the guard.    Game of Thrones had one single nomination for Kit Harrington.   Well deserved for an awful final season of what was a fabulous show overall.

For my watching, I finished The White Queen, which I enjoyed a good deal.  It is the War of the Roses story, a ten episode season from back in 2013, starring Rebecca Ferguson of recent Mission Impossible as Ilsa Faust.  She is played along with Max Irons (son of Jeremy) who is King Edward.   Incidentally George R.R. Martin had inspiration for Game of Thrones from these stories.  Shakespeare wrote these times as well with Richard II (who is given less glorious treatment in this series, although he is initially far more sympathetic, but grows more tragic).   As the name suggests, this is Ferguson’s series and focuses on her from being a widow with two children as she meets a young King, to seducing and marrying him, becoming Queen.   There is internal strife and all manner of game playing going on with serious consequences.  This is England in the mid-1400s.  Whenever I think of Canada and the history here, I marvel at places like England where Kings and battles for the Crown have been going on for centuries earlier.  These pale in comparison too to places like Rome and Greece and they even more less than China.   But Ferguson is very good, and it is this role that caught the attention of Tom Cruise to select her for MI: Rogue Nation in 2015.   I am certain very little had to do with the nudity especially early on in the series.   It doesn’t factor into my positive thoughts AT ALL, about this series…..well a little, maybe.   A bit.   This is on Crave, for those who have it, and can find it.   If you like some good historical fiction with swords and fancy dresses and intrigue, then this could be for you.

I noted as I posted on the movies in this review that The Exorcist did not pop up.  How odd, but I have mentioned it a few times in any Best Of List that I would compile.  It wins Best Horror film ever each time.   I was watching The Extended Director’s Cut on Blu-Ray.  I own this.   I knew that Director and story writer William Peter Blatty did not see eye to eye on this film.  They shared first names but that is about all they shared.  William Friedkin narrates the Blu Ray extras.   The extra scenes added for me, actually take away from the effectiveness and impact of the original.   For example, adding scenes in the medical testing of Regan where she is belligerent and profane with the doctors, takes away from the shock of the language that comes out of her when she is first possessed.   And oh what language it is!  In 1973, this was shocking and disturbing.   It was breaking down barriers and a slap in the face to audiences.   I wasn’t watching in the theatres, but I can imagine.   The setup takes some time, and it is necessary for both the exorcist Father Merrin as well as Father Karras and his relationship with his Mother.   You also see Regan with her Mom, actress Ellen Burstyn.   All characters are excellent.  For me, the horror and shock comes from small little additions, like the demonic face that pops up from time to time, and you can miss it if you blink.   There is dread, and one’s heart beats faster in anticipation after some time about what you could possibly see when you open the door to young Regan’s room.    It never disappoints.    It holds your attention and interest to the very end.   This is classic movie making, and for Friedkin, between this and The French Connection in 1971, he is at the top of his game.  It doesn’t return.   Any one interested in film and film making owes it to themselves to see this.  Linda Blair talked at length about the impact on her, it made her a big star straight away, but also injured her back (you’ll know the scene when you see it).   But I would suggest seeing the original, without the additional scenes like the reverse spider walk which is creepy but out of place.   This is a far cry from slasher films and mass murderer films like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th where a psychopath is running rampant.   It a small innocent girl turned into a demon for no reason and no explanation who transforms the lives of those all around her.   A classic.

December 2nd, 2019

Netflix Has been busy financing films and putting many directly to streaming.   They stepped up most recently with the latest Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman.   I am not certain whether the reunion between Robert DeNiro, director Scorsese and Joe Pesci in another collaboration (like Raging Bull, Good Fellas and Casino beforehand) is more notable than the use of CGI to make the almost 80 year old actors younger.   The Irishman also has Al Pacino (seen on screen with DeNiro for the first time since 1995’s Heat) and Harvey Keitel.   The impressive cast is brought together to tell the story of Frank Sheeran who was the muscle and hitman for a number of powerful people in the 1950s-1960s, and was heavily involved in the Teamster’s Union Jimmy Hoffa story.   Studios balked at financing this, and Netflix decided to step in.   It had a short release in the theatres (but when you announce a short timeline when it will be streamed, you doom the box office for it).   In short the 3.5 hour time is too long.  It takes too long to develop the early introduced trip to Detroit.   These actors for me look just a little off.  And I say that now, not knowing exactly what it was, but I think it is their gait and how they move versus how their faces look outwardly and their voices.   Early on, a young DeNiro is needing assistance with his ice truck.   The dark hair and lack of lines on his face belie the body posture.   It just doesn’t fit.  DeNiro does an admirable job in the role.   He yet again plays a man without a soul (in 2017 playing Bernie Madoff who watched his family disintegrate with his Ponzi scheme, without any apparent conscience about it).   Sheeran as a person is distant and shows a remarkable lack of conscience all in the name of doing what he is told, and legalities be damned (his lawyer can manage to get him off certain crimes without consequence).   I was waiting while watching to see a Pesci rant.   It came from Pacino instead, who seemingly comes to newfound life as he rants about the people surrounding him and keep doing things that look suspicious for investigating eyes from the Federal Government.   It aggravates a man who is full of pride and feels himself worthy of more respect than some provide him.   It is a downfall according to the story.   I didn’t know a lot about the Hoffa story.   This provides a perspective.   I enjoyed it but it dragged, and it didn’t need to.   Worth checking out and it may yield some Award nominations in the New Year.

The Mandalorian (episode 1) has become the most watched streaming episode of all time at 100 million views surpassing the Netflix Stranger Things.  Although I wasn’t moved by the end of Episode 1, I have continued to watch.   The Jawa fight in episode 2 was a little silly, and the abilities of The Child when dealing with the one-horned dinosaur are skeptical (I am later to learn apparently the Child is already 50 years old).   Episode 3 for me was better as “Mando” grows a conscience and wanting to better understand what was going to happen to The Child.   He becomes an outcast from the Guild where he had been working and their poster child of success.   Episode 4 “dropped” on US Thanksgiving Friday.   A couple new characters are introduced and a new planet that could hold some sanctuary.   The story is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Blondie or The Stranger in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly or High Plains Drifter.   He is a loner and someone who is a mercenary, but is showing signs of sympathy for those around them.   Again the production value is excellent.  It looks every bit a Star Wars film, but it should for the $100M spent on it.  Bryce Dallas Howard directed this fourth installment.   In this episode the Mandalorian is looking for a safe haven and seeking somewhere for The Child to remain and be raised.   Mando helps out an oppressed and defenseless group all the while making a few new friends.   The ending is predictable as the series moves on.   I still have to wonder how on a planet, one can’t find another place to live!!   I don’t know people in Macedonia and what they are doing.  I couldn’t find one of them by just having been given a name alone, but anyway.   I will continue to watch.  Of course the Disney marketing machine is in full on swing with the latest (and supposedly last) Skywalker trilogy film.  I have to admit that I am not optimistic.

Finally Nextflix released the latest film from Alicia Vikander, and actress who I really like.  She has some impressive roles to her credit including a Best Supporting Actress Oscar from The Danish Girl Earthquake Bird is the latest story but it was not overly compelling.   Vikander does her best to play the young woman living in Tokyo with a mysterious past.  She plays the cello in a quartet, and lives a rather simple life.   One day a complete stranger takes her picture (old school with a SLR (single lens reflex) camera).   She stops immediately and engages with the stranger.  Later she meets an American woman looking for a roommate and someone who speaks Japanese.   Along comes Vikander.   The young American is played by Riley Keough.   Soon enough the three are spending time together.  Undercutting this story is a seeming back story where Vikander is being questioned by police.  It seems there has been a murder, or at the very least a disappearance, and she is brought in for questioning.   It is slow.  It’s not overly engaging, despite the star power.   As part of the story, you unravel the backstory to the Vikander character.   She looks tired for much of the time and this is done on purpose.   The Japanese cast is pretty good, and the young photographer is a good balance of handsome and rogue.   I can’t recommend.

November 25, 2019

I didn’t travel to the theatre this week, and so I was watching some Crave and Netflix instead.

A word about one of my favourite ongoing talk shows, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.   To put it simply I really like this show and it was one of the reasons for me to get Crave.   John OLiver started with Jon Stewart and then has grown from there.  This is a multi-Emmy winning show for writing.   This is brilliantly written and researched, and he seems to genuinely enjoy what he does.  Segments on FIFA (as shown below) are hilarious but also bringing forth issues of the day.  He talks at length and in multiple episodes about Brexit, and if you don’t feel that you have a real grasp on the issues, check him out and his three segments on it.  For me, FIFA was outstanding as well as his piece on the Russell Crowe Divorce Auction.   Most are posted on YouTube now, but the more recent ones about Stupid Watergate II and the Ukraine fiasco you will need to wait for…

And now, this……

I had watched the previews for Doctor Sleep, which in essence is The Shining 2.   For me I was unsure about whether I wanted to spend money to see this, and I decided to re-watch the original Kubrick film from 1980 starring Jack Nicholson at his crazy best and Shelley Duvall.  It also stars the young Danny Lloyd, who does his best impression of young Anakin Skywalker and/or Eight is Enough star (??) Adam Rich who all share the distinction of having a head waaaay too big for their bodies and a bad haircut to boot that makes it look even worse.   But I digress…. The Shining is the Stephen King novel brought to life by one of the most renowned and influential directors (Stanley Kubrick).    I have to admit that I have the DVD for 2001: A Space Odyssey but there are elements of that where I still scratch my head and say “what was that about?”.   The same goes here.   The basic structure is there of a family deciding to hotel-sit for a winter in this big resort in the middle of Colorado.  Dad, Nicholson, is a writer with writer’s block and you learn early on that he should avoid the booze.    His Wife is stay-at-home and watches over their son, Danny, who has an interesting talking finger.   I know!   We learn that some bad things had happened in the hotel before, and an older black gentleman explains to Danny that he has a gift.    Things happen unexpectedly, and there are some head scratching moments about what appear to be dreams or hallucinations, but they can apparently do very real things, like leave marks on living people and move things around.   In the end it is all a wonder what happened and why.   I can’t say that I can wholeheartedly agree with the resolution.   Maybe that is the point.   When all is said and done, I don’t think that I need to spend the money to watch the sequel.   Even though it is the return of an adult Danny to the silver screen, only his second movie credit.  There are some borrowed aspects here with a little of The Omen (1976) and the little boy riding around the house on a tricycle (in this case a big wheel).  And some of the creepiness of The Exorcist (1973) which is giving it far too much credit since I regard The Exorcist as the best horror film ever.   But the visual of the petrified little boy with the “orange on a toothpick” head was cool as he watched the elevators bleed in spectacular fashion.

 

 

 

 

November 18th, 2019

I had mentioned on Remembrance Day that I would go out and see the re-make Midway.   This latest version is directed by Independence Day (1996) and Godzilla (1998) Roland Emmerich.   The most notable stars are Woody Harrelson as Admiral Nimitz, Dennis Quaid as Admiral Halsey.  Other real people are played by less known actors but they acquit themselves pretty well.   Deadpool baddie, Ed Skrein, plays Dick Best very well.   This story has been told many times before, and in my opinion more realistically by others.   My underlining challenge is the expansive use of CGI in virtually all of the sequences.   This, in many ways, is a requirement because the ships, the planes, the people and locations are all vastly changed since 1941.  In 1976, that version had Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and James Coburn as leads.    It was more melo-dramatic, with Heston and his son having a strained relationship.   But they had some Japanese Zeros, which were used in-the-day TV shows like Blacksheep Squadron, with Robert “I dare you to knock off this battery” Conrad.    This version for the battle sequences, and we get into them quickly, looks like a video game.   Planes are dive bombing and making surprising moves.   Bullets and tracers are all over the place and seemed out of a Star Wars movie.   The story begins with Pearl Harbor, and then to the bombing of Tokyo, which was addressed in the film Pearl Harbor (2001) which leveraged Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett in a Titanic like struggle post-Pearl.   Then the battle of Coral Sea, unseen while the Americans show how their intelligence, who faltered so badly on December 7th, rallied to prove their value for the anticipated next move on Midway island.   There are scenes of John Ford making his film on location at Midway during the battle.   That was new.    Finally we end up with the battle at Midway.  The Americans who are outmanned and have a decidedly weaker position in ships need to catch a break and have anticipated the Japanese next move well.   Well fate would have them making the right choices.  The sea battles against the Japanese aircraft carriers are more CGI extravaganzas; more arcade game that reality.   I liked the fact that real people who actually fought (Dick Best as an aviator) and Bruno Gaido amongst others were used.    In the end, I was glad to have seen it but I can’t recommend it

For much of the enjoyable and fun Ford v Ferrari, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, the more appropriate title would be Ford v Ford.  Damon plays American Carroll Shelby, the automaking and racing legend and Bale the English driver and mechanic Ken Miles.   Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts, the son of the legend American car-maker himself, is looking to turn around failing sales in the late 1950s, and wants to invigorate sales with younger people.   He is advised that he should turn to racing to find the solution.   A new generation with Second World War veteran parents are looking to have fun and not drive their parents cars.   Ford is a large corporation, with many layers of management and plenty of ideas on how to move forward.   These ideas don’t necessarily coincide with giving some unpredictable and headstrong racers the fate of the future sales of the Corporation.   I wonder how those named executives would feel about how their fathers are portrayed?    It is not flattering.   Bale and Damon do their best on the track all the while fending off the forces who work against them both.   Chances are taken, gambles are made.   Ultimately it takes them to Le Mans 24 hour race.   I did not know about the racing history in the mid 1960s.   Ferrari was the team to beat with multiple wins.   Ford has manufactured a new race car, the GT 40 MK II.  For the race car enthusiast there is a feast for the eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of these race cars.   I saw the film in IMAX, and it was seat rumbling fun.  From the close ups in the car while driving, to test drives to squeeze more speed out of this car you can almost smell the fumes and feel the oil and dirt on your face.    There are some great race sequences from preliminary races to the final race in Le Mans.   Ford v Ferrari opened at TIFF, to some good reviews.   I would echo those reviews and recommend some time to see this on the big screen.  Incidentally, this movie shows the value in learning to drive a manual transmission, as crucial moves in the races are made through effective gear shifts.   Tally ho!  Incidentally, Shelby was married seven times.   Seven!   Lee Iacocca plays a prominent role and was witness to a great many of the events which occurred.   He fairs better than Leo Beebe in the eyes of the storytelling.

Finally, Disney + has been announced and they are seducing new subscribers to their new service.   Part of the enticement is the introduction of a new eight episode Star Wars side story The Mandalorian.  Jon Favreau of Jungle Book and live Lion King direction has penned and produced this story.   The first two episodes are on Disney +.   Disney + offers a free 7 day trial.   Given these first two episodes, I can’t say that I am seeing the need to subscribe longer than the free trial.   The time is right after the fall of the Empire from Return of the Jedi, but before the rise of the First Order.  Order hasn’t been restored to the galaxy.  These shows look amazing.   The sets, the locations, the costumes are all first rate.   The lead character is a bounty hunter, and looking very much like Boba Fett and Jango Fett (certainly the mask is very similar).  This Mandalorian is a man of few words and we do not see his face.   In episode 1 at the beginning, he has gathered a few bounties and gone to collect.  Carl Weathers, the head of the Bounty Hunters Guild, offers him less than what was initially offered for those brought in and then sends him on a secret mission to find an asset.   This asset at the end of episode is shown and I have to admit to being surprised and dumbfounded.

There is part of me that thinks the new Star Wars Rise of Skywalker film will have some of its premise justified through this series.  The part that is a mystery for me is the whole aspect of the Emperor in the new Episode IX returning to play an important role.   Ugh.   For me, the Emperor died at the hands of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.  Full stop.   However much Obi Wan, Yoda and even Anakin can return as apparitions, I have no sense that the Sith can do the same.   But then again, all new abilities of Jedi and Sith alike I suppose can be introduced at any time, notwithstanding what the previous films have shown.   So without disclosing much more about the end of episode 1, I am torn watching this and seeing some of the scenes proposed.  You will know when you see them, should you choose to watch.   Other things that can be questioned, would be (as in Star Wars The Force Awakens), the abilities of characters to know how to make and repair older spacecraft.   Rey knew how to repair the Millennium Falcon, and pilot it.   In this series, the Mandalorian can not only fly and older space craft, but he can fully put it back together piece by piece in short order.   Can’t say I would fly into space, and go into hyperspace with a machine I was also the mechanic on.   But clearly these new characters are multi-talented!  But there are more circular stories, that seemingly all have to intertwine into tight and neat little packages.

November 11th, 2019 Remembrance Day

Rather than writing about current films that are out, and I am planning on seeing the re-make war film Midway, I wanted to write on the great war films.   I don’t think that I have done this before, but on a day of remembrance, and remembering those who have paid the ultimate price for my freedom and those all around me, I was thinking about a Top Ten List for War Films.   As an aside, this is an important day.  Having been to the Normandy beaches, and seen the US, Canadian, British and yes German cemeteries in France I am reminded of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day landings and turning the tide on the war.

*Black and white photo credit to Kim Godwin Hines

So many were lost.   So many were so young.  Tomb stones that have birthdays for dead as teenagers, and I as a parent can think about my sons, my daughter, my nieces and nephews and how we are so lucky to not live in a time of war and conflict.   I cherish my German friends too, and think how in a different time we could be across a battlefield from one another.   I compile a list, and it is not easy to do.   War brings out raw emotions and passion and creates opportunity for great performances.    Even though I list 10 films I have chosen to list alphabetically, and not in a particular order it does not identify one as the best.   It can’t be done in my opinion.   I will also note that there are many on here given Oscars, but that doesn’t necessarily add them to the list.    Here goes:

  • Apocalypse Now (1979): for many, the list alphabetically as well as for merit would begin and end here.   Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece set in the Viet Nam war with a crew, led by Martin Sheen, on a small boat looking to end the command of a rogue elite solider, played by overweight Marlon Brando.   Graphic, gory, and made more poignant to me after watching the documentary on Viet Nam by Ken Burns.   Brilliant.   It did not win the Oscar for Best Picture, which most would say now was a travesty (Kramer v Kramer won).
  • Bridge on the River Kwai (1957):   David Lean directs this fabulous film, which won seven Oscars, including Best Picture.  Excellent performances all around led by Sir Alec Guiness, who most younger people see as only older Obi Wan Kenobi.  He won Best Actor for this.  A group of British POWs forced to build a bridge by their Japanese captors also look to find a way to destroy it.
  • Das Boot (1981): Not many films can make you feel like you more fully understand of a life in which you have no experience.   The life of a German U boat sailor is shown here, and shows in dramatic fashion how challenging that would have been.  It also shows a German perspective, showing that they had thoughts and feelings and issues to contend with on all side, which many films focusing on the Allied story seem to forget.
  • Deer Hunter (1978): Another chilling story starring Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken as close friends sent to Viet Nam and their war time experiences.   From the early wedding in a small industrial town, where the guys enjoyed hunting, to their experiences and how they impacted them from the War.   A gripping and excellent achievement for Michael Cimino as director.  Awards include Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Walken and Meryl Streep, and Actor for De Niro.
  • Dunkirk (2018): The recent addition to the list for me is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.  Filmed in IMAX and using very little CGI.   He recreates well the turning point in the Second World War, arguably, with the saving of the British and French troops trapped in France and surrounded by the German forces.   300,000 men were there, and the British army would have been wiped out had they not been rescued by a civilian armada of small watercraft.   Nolan shows the land, air and sea aspects with heroic efforts made by many.  The individual young soldier struggling just to survive in a confusing and desperate time is revealed.   The companion piece to this from political perspective is Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman playing Churchill.   The Americans at this point were not in the war, but it is a tale of British survival and resilience.
  • Patton (1970):  George C Scott famously played the controversial WWII US General in this epic film.  Another Best Picture winner, and also Best Actor for Scott.  He refused to accept the award claiming that he did not feel as though he was in a competition with other actors.   That is a sidenote to a film that shows the vanity and hubris of those who can fight in war.   Some people just live for it and thrive in that environment.   Patton was one of them it seems.   Patton famously struck one of his soldiers for being a coward.   War can shape many lives, and in this one it hardened the man who took it as his own personal campaign through Africa and Europe to defeat Rommel and the Germans.
  • Platoon (1986):  Oliver Stone, Mr Conspiracy, wrote and directed this Viet Nam film showing the dichotomy in attitude of a single platoon within this war.   The focal point is the young recruit played by Charlie Sheen, in many ways mirroring the personal journey of his father’s career in Apocalypse Now.  The young solider is shown the ropes in the wet, bug-infested jungle with various battles that take place.   His platoon is run by two different sergeant’s who are “battling for Sheen’s soul”.   Both played excellently by Tom Berenger and Wllem Dafoe.  This won Best Picture and Best Director.
  • Sink The Bismarck (1960): Maybe it’s me with a Navy bias because of my Gramps and his service, but I have always enjoyed this movie set in WWII.   The Germans had constructed a large battleship that was feared for its gun range and ability to cause destruction on the seas.   In its first real test, it destroyed the British HMCS Hood with one shot.   Hit and sunk.   The British forces realize that they need to sink the Bismarck before more destruction ensues.   There are no Oscars.   It is just a story well told of the war on the seas.
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998):  Steven Spielberg dramatically brought to life the battle on D-Day at Normandy with the landing at Omaha beach by the Americans.   This is an American story predicated ultimately on finding one solider, whose three brothers were already killed in Europe, and US Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall  decides to send a small group to go find the fourth brother and safely return him home to his family.   No parents should have to sacrifice so heavily on the altar of freedom, in the words of Abraham Lincoln which are used by Marshall to explain his decision.   The middle of this piece lags for me, but the opening beach sequence has no match anywhere.  The noise, the bullets, the graphic violence and injuries.   One feels exhausted watching it, and feels that anyone who survived that day, deserves to go home already.   But that was not the case.   Tom Hanks stars, along with a lesser known supporting cast.   If people don’t regard Apocalypse Now as the best war film, many consider this it.
  • Zero Dark Thirty (2012):  I am a Jessica Chastain fan.   I freely admit it.   This role took her career to new heights, as she showed herself as a CIA operative looking to find and kill Osama Bin Laden as a driven, smart, focused and formidable proponent of her cause.   This movie was initially to be about the unsuccessful search for Bin Laden, but then he was found and killed in May 2011.  The screenplay was then re-written and you see the operation in the last half an hour that took him down.   Chastain embodies this role and challenges her superiors and commits to ensuring that this terrorist pays for the actions that he coordinated on September 11th 2001, and for which many had given up hope of ever seeing it occur.

Other notables not on the list, because when you look into it, so many stories have been put on film about wars and war time.   These include: They Will Not Grow Old (2018), the colourized and improved WWI documentary directed by Peter Jackson.   This is simply mandatory viewing to better understand the First World War from the perspective of the soldier’s themselves in their own words; Schinder’s List (1993), epic story about holocaust;  The Hurt Locker (2008), much of the same crew as Zero Dark Thirty filmed this;  Full Metal Jacket (1987) Stanley Kubrick with memorable training sequence; Imitation Game (2014) about code breaking Enigma machine and Alan Turing; Dirty Dozen (1967) Lee Marvin leads a group of convicted prisoners on a dangerous mission to help the cause and would give them their freedom; Great Escape (1963) a great cast including Steve McQueen escapes from a German POW camp;  The Thin Red Line (1998) a Terrence Malick film showing the insanity of war on the Pacific side, Hacksaw Ridge (2016) the Mel Gibson WWII film of a conscientious objector who refuses to hold and fire a weapon, but will protect life as a medic as part of a platoon.   He ultimately is awarded a Medal of Honor, the first man to do so without firing a shot; Tora Tora Tora (1970) is the Pearl Harbor attack and also follow up with Midway which shows the Japanese forces first having an unmitigated success on December 7th, and then struggling with the follow up attack; finally Judgment at Nuremburg (1961) showing the Nazi trials which pose interesting legal issues and arguments like retroactive law making (there were no laws about war crimes or crimes against humanity before WWII), as well as making soldiers criminally responsible for following orders, and the upper level judges who allowed to have the Nazi regime decline so many rights and freedoms to ensure compliance and tolerance of atrocities.  Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor as German defense lawyer.  One final addition:  Glory (1989) set in the US Civil War, it is the story of the first regiments of black soldiers from the Union army.   Denzel Washington won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.   Morgan Freeman also part of the excellent cast.

November 4, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate:  So is this latest installment of the Terminator series worth your duckets at the movie theatre?   Terminator was the inspired story of James Cameron, who both wrote the story and directed the film from 1984.   According to IMDB, it cost $6.4M to make.  Cumulative worldwide gross is over $78M.   The original framed the story around time travel and future Artificial Intelligence (AI) network, called Skynet, who sends back a terminator to kill the unborn child of the human resistence from that future, named John Connor.   The futuristic humans had defeated the robots and Skynet decided to get creative.   Arnold Schwarzenegger was a Mr Universe body-builder at the time who’s previous claim to fame was Conan The Barbarian.  This new role took his career to new heights!   He was perfect in the role, even though he was the bad guy sent to kill our heroine, and mother to the future world leader.   She was played by Linda Hamilton, as a naive young woman working in a diner, and still figuring out the direction in her life.   Future John manages to send back a human body guard and protector for her, named Reese who fights back the Terminator.   It was exciting.  It had mostly car chase sequences and plenty of shooting and hand to hand combat.   It was a success by any measure, and also launched James Cameron too.  Terminator was his third film.   He went on to do the sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, along with Aliens, True Lies, Titanic and Avatar among others.   He is now an iconic director, writer and producer.   In the sequel Judgment Day from 1991, John is a young teen and staying with foster families.   His Mom has become locked up in a psych ward for his visions of the future and the theory of a person sent to kill her.   The future tries again and sends a new, updated terminator, with new abilities like being formed out of liquid metal, and being able to take the shape of those things that it touches.   It is virtually indestructible.   The human resistance sends a protector for John this time in the form of an original terminator, played once again by Arnold.   Linda Hamilton, John and the terminator are trying to defeat Skynet and eliminate the people responsible for creating this new AI defence network.   All the while the new liquid terminator chases them.   The effects were better, the chases more intense and there was clearly more money spent on making this a memorable franchise, according to IMDB $106M.   The cutting edge CGI effects were amazing.   The story was solid and there was a good emotional tie in between young John and his terminator.   The future in the end seemed to be, for the first time for Sarah and John, a new possibility rather than nuclear destruction and pain.

James Cameron then bowed out to leave the franchise in the hands of others and it lost its way.   Terminator 3 was released in 2003, followed in 2009 with Terminator Salvatation and then Terminator Genesys in 2015.    There were some good actors involved in the projects, like Christian Bale as John Connor, and Claire Danes, Emilia Clarke and always Arnold.    But it was flat.   This is the franchise history, and because of the last three missteps I was skeptical heading into viewing Dark Fate.   What I can say is that it doesn’t suck.    This is a good thing.   James Cameron is back involved as producer, and also a writer (shared).  He isn’t directing.  Tim Miller is who directed Deadpool.   The story picks up where Judgment Day left off.   Some time has passed and a couple of new aspects to the story that arise which were not known from the previous two films.   The future once again has decided to send back warriors to try and have impact on the future.   There is an even newer version of a Terminator as well as another protector.   I have some challenges with the underpinnings here, and mostly from the capabilities of this new terminator.   There are things that it can do which simply don’t make much sense.  I won’t detail them here but this is a formidable foe, which in some emulates the Agents from The Matrix, primarily being the theme that you don’t try to fight them, but you just try to run.   I give nothing away to say that Arnold also has a role to play, he is on the postor after all as well as trailers.   Does it make sense that a robot ages?    Not really when you think about it.  The combat exoskeleton surrounded by flesh to avoid human detection wouldn’t require those robotic manufacturers to anticipate aging and grey hair and beards.   It is a practical aspect by continuing to use Arnold that you don’t try and keep him looking like he did back in 1984 at 37 years old.   Now he is 72 yo.   Also, some of the stunts and actions of the new robot terminator are also a little far fetched.   But setting aside the logic of it all, it was entertaining.   It had some humour in it, which is welcome for a genre which is pretty dark and depressing.   There is some new political reality with the new terminator starting in Mexico, and the reality of trying to cross the US border and dealing with Border Patrol.    Other present day issues also are touched upon.   In the end, it was worth seeing.

Last night I watched The King, with the young up and coming Timothee Chalamet, who seems to be getting a lot of quality work.   He will be in the upcoming Little Women, also with Sairose Ronan and others.    He was in Call Me By Your Name, Beautiful Boy and Lady Bird.   Much could be said about him, but suffice it to say that the 23 year old actor has been making a positive impression with film goers and the Academy alike.   This latest Netflix release is a quality addition to his resume.   I would venture to say that this could harness him another Best Actor nominee (he received one for Call Me By Your Name).   The story in The King, talks about the life of King Henry V, set in the early 1400s.   Henry has an uneasy relationship with his father, Henry IV, who according to this story wasn’t going to actually name Henry as his successor.   That was going to fall to his younger brother.   Henry IV wasn’t well liked and was prevented from addressing his foreign affairs ambitions because of internal country strife and squabbling.   A guy called Shakespeare wrote a play about this King before, and it pretty well known.    This story focuses on his relationship with his counsellors, his friends, and his battles with France.   Chalamet gives a very good performance, filled with emotion and tenacity.   He shows range and commands the respect you would expect he would deserve.   I found it believable, and he shows the underlying desire to not be his father in many respects.   I will leave the details as to what occurs to the viewer.   Suffice it to say that this was a worthwhile movie to watch.   The find here, in addition to the lead was The Dauphine played by Robert Pattinson.   He has distanced himself well from the days of Twilight, and has done quality roles.  I have heard good things about The Lighthouse with Willem Dafoe, filmed in black and white.   This is a quality role and he provides some fullness to it.  He is not just a bad Frenchman.

I will note that there was no epilogue to this story explaining what happens to the young Henry V.   Yes, he was well loved and strategically well versed.  He had good advisors and followed a gut instinct.  He married young to the daughter of the King of France, and had one son.   He also died at the age of 35 years old.   Some reports claim dysentery and others claim from heat stroke.   He never really got to enjoy life fully as you might have hoped or expected.    By knowing this, a line given by the French King to him late in the film may provide some ideas as to which was the filmmakers here believe that he died.   For those who like historical drama and those who especially like British monarchy stories, this is a good one.   Just note that all this intrigue and deceit all takes place 400 years before Canada even becomes a country!!