Odds and ends from 2019
Odds and ends from 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
The Golden Globe nominations formally kicked off the Awards season with their list of nominations today. The list is here:
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.
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.
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.