April 1st, 2019

I was delayed in writing this segment as I was watching one of the reviewed films just last night.   I simply didn’t get an opportunity to get to the computer when it was completed.

The first film this week was on Netflix, and I know that Alison has always talked about and enjoyed a good swashbuckling adventure.   Add to the swords and period costume a fantasy aspect and there can be some good escapism.   For me, I like all of that as well, and add that I also really like the King Arthur and Excalibur story.   I own Excalibur, the 1981 film with a young Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson etc. where the focal point was Merlin (Nichol Williamson) and he manipulating people, and ultimately being manipulated himself by Morgana.  But enough about the history and why I wanted to give King Arthur: Legend of the Sword , directed by Guy Ritchie.    This is not my version of the Arthur story at all.  Likely that is the point, that they wanted to put a fresh new spin on it.  That was the intent, but the story itself falls flat.   There is an updated style, which is definitely Ritchie with his quick shots, cuts and rapid movements.   Add in the more modern music (less strings and orchestra, and more drums and beat) and it has a whole different look and feel.   It’s disjointed.   The very young Arthur, isn’t taken from his parents dramatically by Merlin, but rather escapes in a Christian fashion from a new King who kills his brother and wants to kill all the offspring.   Sinister witch-like forces, reminiscent of Macbeth, are at work for this new King (played by Jude Law) as he tries to strengthen his power.    As I watched I kept thinking, “where’s Merlin?”.   No where to be found except a young female disciple who has some power over animals (think Brandon Stark in a way).   The young street rat Arthur has no interest in wielding Excalibur and fights accepting and utilizing its considerable powers.   The story moves on in its new way, but with predictable results.   Sadly it wasn’t very satisfying.

Last night was renting (finally) If Beale Street Could Talk, and I will wait for Alison to send me a Mary Tyler Moore response of “Oooooh Rob…” and explain to me what I was missing.   Because after I finished, I wondered what all the fuss was about.   I waited for the Regina King Oscar worthy performance.   I waited for the story to move me in many ways.    Where do I start?   First there is the age old challenge of expectations, and mine were set high for this given all the hype.   From TIFF where people commented about how it should have won the People’s Choice Award as Best Film (Oscar Winner Green Book did) and how the performances were so amazing.   So I was awaiting a riveting evening of cinema.   I watched and watched as the story of this young black couple in the Bronx unfolds.   There were storylines that were begun and then fell away (like the boyfriend’s family and notably the Mother).   The attitudes of the fathers that I hope are beliefs not held by all, where “we know some schemes, and we can go out and make some money for our kids” as they begin a fencing operation.   That may be reality for some but it is a sad commentary.   Then of course, as a lawyer, the criminal justice system that gets put on trial.   There are corrupt cops, and prosecutors and judges presumably who are aiming to keep putting these young black men down.   They conspire and fix situations for reasons that are not entirely clear.   Finally my biggest challenge was following the timelines as the story jumped around from one time to the next.   A sequential plotline would have helped as the jumping back and forth was just confusing, like even the whole issue of conception.   But I won’t delve any further into that.   In the end, it was not very satisfying and I even mumbled to myself “this better not be how it ends…” and then it did.   Ugh!   Roll credits and then I roll my eyes.   I couldn’t even bother to finish the Extras on the DVD with deleted scenes, because I just didn’t need to see any more.   Some movies inform, some movies entertain, some movies enlighten — in times where it’s hard to find something positive to point to, this movie didn’t provide any feeling of being uplifted or adding to the human story.    Maybe more time for me should be spent watching the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to do that.

Advertisements

March 25th, 2019

This week it was one for catching up on Netflix.  Netflix and HBO Crave.

Netflix it was seeing the film Life, starring Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson.  I will admit that this movie for me was watched solely to see Rebecca Ferguson.   She who was a standout in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation (she in the yellow dress) and then came back for more in Mission Impossible Fallout.   I had looked to see what else she had been in a little while ago, and seeing the forgettable Girl On A Train and The Snowman listed, and The Greatest Showman and Florence Foster Jenkins.   Some good and some bad.     This was the latter and in spades!   Life is terrible.   Basically it is a retelling of the Alien storyline, but just not as effectively and with a creature nowhere near as terrifying.   A spacecraft returns from Mars and then studying the sand particles adds water, re-heats it and then watches it move around and grow.   It’s more like a bad recipe for an 11-year old than for a film.   There are ridiculous things that happen including the newer, badder creature (which kind of looks like a starfish) moving and floating around in space.  All the while we are told, this “creature needs air”.  Well if that’s the case, then the vacuum and cold from space might prove to be a problem!   Apparently not.   It’s laughable and silly.   I wish I could say that there was something, anything redeemable in it but I can’t.  Even some smart ass quips from Reynolds aren’t all that funny.   So pass.

Next I watched after spending the afternoon with two sons at a local rock climbing gym the documentary The Dawn Wall.   Ironically and interestingly the picture with the route maps for El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.   It’s the story of Tommy Caldwell and him making a remarkable (and unbelievable) trek which he researched and found up a sheer cliff on this 3200 foot wall.   It is a story about resilience on an elite level, where one can imagine the self-doubt and questioning of skills which must occur as you sit with your own thoughts for days at a time trying to traverse the impossible.   At least the impossible for YOU.   Having climbed up beginner climbs at the gym, you see the insane climbs in the film.   Wow.   The upper body strength, the finger strength and ability to grip and hold onto razor sharp rock was hard to believe.   There is real drama that takes place.   There are real plot twists and turns that couldn’t have been written any better.   In the end I want to see Free Solo even more with Alex Honnold.    Another World Class climber who’s film just won The Oscar.   Incidentally, Free Solo also takes place on the same cliff.

Finally I watched Leaving Neverland.  This is 4 hours of going through the young boys and Michael Jackson and the alleged abuse that took place.  Certainly the young men who are primarily retelling their stories from their days of early introduction with Michael Jackson and what happened believe.   And they tell a compelling story.   They are very similar.   The one young man gets wrapped up in the fame, the money, the opportunity and doors that can be opened as a dancer and choreographer.   The other was a Super Fan who was just brought into the inner circle for a while.    And it is really just for a short period of time.   Michael seemed to be the odd little man who was confused and a product of his celebrity and fame upbringing.   It doesn’t take away from the musical talent and his legacy in the music industry, but it does paint the man and his humanity in a different brush.   To me it is an indictment on the parents, and more specifically the mothers.   It was the Mom’s who were star struck along with the very young boys (7yo).  But there is a wake of suffering and bodies behind this story.   Does any of this surprise me?  Were there real revelations?   Not really.   I think the stories of the Moms are surprising the level of change that they introduced into their families (like moving from Australia to LA to make your little child more available to this guy).   Anyway, it takes too long to cover what in essence is a simple story.   The detail is there.   The overall message to me is that everyone is human.   No matter who they are, no matter the level of fame, and sometimes (maybe most times) you shouldn’t meet your heroes, because you might find out just how ordinary and messed up that they are.

March 18th, 2019

If you ever feel as though life isn’t really what you hoped for, and you aren’t getting a fair shake, sometimes it makes sense to experience life of someone less fortunate than yourself. In this case the movie on Netflix might just be the remedy that you need.   In 2009 the film Precious was released to much acclaim.   The Academy came calling too for Supporting Actress in the form of the Mom played by Monique.
The story is a fairly simple one.   Young 16yo black girl who is overweight and illiterate.   She lives with her Mom who sits around doing absolutely nothing except collecting fraudulent cheques from “the welfare”.   Her only other activity seems to be tormenting her young daughter with profanity and insults.  Young Precious is in school but pregnant once again.   The story unfolds as Precious finds some people to give her a modicum of care.  Mariah Carey shows her acting skills from Glitter.   She plays a government support worker.
I found the story somewhat slow early on as a familiar pattern repeats over and over.   The final 30 mins or so have some remarkable acting and dialogue.  The Academy award was well earned.   There is raw emotion of people hoping to find their way in very trying circumstances.   After credits roll, you take a deep breath and are thankful for the life that you lead.   You were shown a window for a brief time for which it can only scratch the surface.   Still.  Well worth seeing if you get the chance.

I have ordered Crave and HBO and have been catching up on Game of Thrones to re-watch Seasons 6 and 7.  Season 8 comes in April.  But also I can see Westworld Season 2.  Also Last Week Tonight with John Oliver who is excellent.   So much to see.

March 11th, 2019

Oh Disney, Disney, Disney….what are you up to these days?   How much money can you ring out of each and every property that you have is kind of what it seems like.  I have seen movies posters for this year alone for Toy Story 4, Live action Aladdin (with egad Will Smith making a fool of himself as Genie), and then Lion King, and last December’s Mary Poppins 2.   But without touching on any of those above, I am speaking about Christopher Robin, with Ewan McGregor.   I had heard the lukewarm reviews about this (somewhat) live action story about Pooh Bear and crew with an adult Christopher Robin.   Ho Hum.   Of course, what Disney story is ever complete without parental death?   Christopher Robin has a quick review of young Christopher and his connection with Pooh, and he loses a parent, and then grows up and heads to school.    He meets a young lady, has a child and takes on a War and then a job.   He’s a busy guy.  No time for dreaming and playing with bears of small brain.    Ewan works for a twit who Monty Python would be proud to take ownership of, and he tells Ewan that he must “make cuts” in the luggage factory.   Meanwhile his Wife and daughter were hoping for a holiday weekend.   Then Pooh shows up in the real world.   The rest moves predictably towards conclusion.   For me, there just isn’t enough substance in the C.R. backstory.   How many stories have we seen with the adult who needs to find their childhood innocence again (Peter Pan anyone?)   And what about backstories to famous stories like Saving Mr Banks?   It’s not satisfying here, and I almost feel like screaming “Is nothing sacred?”   I am sure somewhere in Disney offices there is a bean counter pitching a Snow White 2, where she fights off the sister of the witch that she managed to kill (wait, we have had that story before too!).   Or Pinnochio 2, Back To Donkey Island.   I cannot recommend this, and it was just no enough entertainment.   Thankfully a Netflix subscription is all it required.

 

So how about other nice little stories that wrap themselves up and into a neat little package with a bow on top?   That would be Blake Lively in The Age of Adaline from 2015.    We have seen Benjamin Button, and Time Traveller’s Wife and other time-based movies, and this one takes a woman in her late 20s and by some quirk of fate (and a ridiculous and unnecessary voiceover) she is frozen in her aging process and development.    I won’t even try to justify the science that goes along behind it.   Our poor Adaline (poor woman, looking like Blake Lively everyday) must suffer through day after day and eventually change her identity each decade for fear people realize her secret, and she gets whisked away to some government lab and treated as a specimen.   And so she goes, and meets people and runs away before she makes any real connections.  Her daughter grows up and beyond her.    She meets a nice guy, and despite reservations chooses to meet with his parents.    I won’t finish the rest.   I don’t really need to.  Those with a pulse can figure out much of the rest.   Needless to say I was shaking my head at the ultimate resolution.  You can choose if you want to go that far.   I feel like Blake Lively is a little like a female Keanu Reeves.  In the right role, with a fairly wooden character that doesn’t require a lot of depth, then she does alright.   Her turn at A Simple Favour was decent.   Her strutting around in an orange bikini for The Shallows, even better (it had to be said).   But this was weak.    I cannot recommend.

Finally this week the best of the lot was Eighth Grade.  I have a Ninth Grader in the house, my youngest son.   The film has very much a documentary feel about it almost.   When you think about it, what does the life of the average 8th grader (13yo child) consist of?   Most aren’t saving the world, like Ender’s Game, or meeting aliens in ET.   They eat, they sleep, they go to school and have some activities and see friends.   What is fascinating to me is the level of involvement with smart phones that this generation has.   Or at least the young people in this movie.   And before I spout off on, “when I was in Grade 8….I walked through 12 feet of snow..and had no internet or phone”.   Well I HAD a phone but it was plugged into the wall at home.   We all shared it.   But it is interesting to watch the players in the class, from Mean Girls, to Uber-horny boy looking for naked selfies, and other younger versions of the kids from A Breakfast Club.    Not a great deal happens, and that’s okay.  The principal female we focus on is a delight.  She is an outgoing, average young lady and she has personality and is pod-casting on YouTube.   She talks about being yourself, and having confidence in a “do as I say, and not as I do” kind of way.   Her Dad is a little too supportive and protective.   Will my Grade 9 son like this?   I am not sure.  It might be a little too close to home.  Or he may say it’s too Hollywood, but I doubt it.    So if you have a young person near you, and you wonder sometimes what happens at school these days, this may provide some insight.   I am glad that I am NOT this age again.   Maybe it would be better to be Adaline and perpetually 29yo, but it wouldn’t be fun reliving Grade 8 in this current world.    Check it out.

Post Oscar musings (March 4th 2019)

First off, congratulations go out to Alison once again as our Three-peat Officepool winner of the pool.   She consistently can out pick and guess the rest of us.   I thank everyone who took the time to join and have (hopefully) some fun with the choices.

On to the awards itself, I have to say that I liked that there wasn’t a host.   From the beginning we had a good start with no hosts and just presenters.  I honestly didn’t see a great deal of the presentations live as I was out with hockey.  So I saw Best Supporting Actress given out (Regina King) which I felt was very deserving, even though I had not see the film.   I picked it up with Best Actress and like the rest of the world, and winner Olivia Colman herself, was the most shocked and surprised with Glenn Close clapping along with everyone else for The Favourite performance.   Wow!

I really felt Richard E Grant should have won, but I am not upset with two-time winner, Mahershala Ali.   I was thrilled Roma didn’t win Best Picture.   I shrugged my shoulders at Best Director and was pleased with The Green Book.   The Green book was the TIFF People’s Choice Award this year, and it was a feel-good story.  It is a little campy.   But it had good performances and a good message.   So that’s fine.   There are other years that I cannot believe what was selected.   In the end, it doesn’t matter.  The public will decide which films endure and which they want to see year after year.   So while a Winner like Shakespeare in Love is a footnote to the Harvey Weinstein story, Saving Private Ryan lives on and is remembered as the true gem.   As an artist, isn’t that really what you want out of your art?

Generally the fashion was okay, with some notable surprises like Rachel Weisz wearing some ridiculous rubber piece around her shoulders.   Others were looking very frumpy, say Maya Rudolph.   The men tend to wear these suits that all look a size or two too small.  Whatever.   But we move along and hope that the 2019 films provide a greater pool from which to decide.   Happy movie viewing.   In short 2018 were no where as good as 2017.

March 4th, 2019

I had heard mixed reviews about Mary Queen of Scots, and it’s one of the reasons that I decided to wait this long to see it.   When I saw the trailers, I thought that a film with Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan, about Queen Elizabeth would be fascinating.   I knew that the producers got the Mary Queen of Scots story wrong in Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth.   I later read A Column of Fire by Ken Follett and it shed more light on this period of time in England, and how Mary was kept in England but kept basically under house arrest for 19 years.   So she went in a young woman, and came out much older and in worse health.   Stones castles will do that in the 1500s.    The feedback on the film was that it was too slow, and confusing as to who was fighting whom.   There were endless scenes of horses riding back and forth.   So in short, it wasn’t very compelling.   I can see where that comes from.   Still in the age when women were more than second class citizens, this story shows two independent minded and strong willed women who fought back hard against the traditions.   The men all mill about and complain about being controlled by women, and looking to quickly marry these women off to someone who they can control better.   It wasn’t going to happen.   Elizabeth was married to her throne and her position, while Mary was an early widow and then married but found ways to turn the table on her man.   But in the end it was a fatal flaw that, like in most Shakespearean tragedies takes down the main character.   So too in this story.   Mary even when put in a precarious position, of looking for assistance, was incapable of being able to be humble and take a perceived lower station.   In the end it was surprising to see Ronan looking every bit the same as in the beginning taking her punishment.   I also will point out that at times the male combatants were all dressed the same and fighting one another and it became difficult to tell them apart.  I think that was the point with the Scots battling one another when they had bigger enemies to address.  As an aside I will state that Hollywood will be hard pressed to make Margot Robbie look any worse than she does.   I never knew that Elizabeth suffered from the pox, and it took a toll on her physical appearance.   So despite not loving this, I was glad that I saw it.   I think Ronan is making good choices for her career, even those films like On Chesnil Beach where she isn’t in all the local cineplex bunkers.   She shows a great range of emotion and convinces you of what her character is experiencing.    So if you like her, then check it out.

After having read an article on rogerebert.com about about who will won, who should win and who should have been nominated:

https://www.rogerebert.com/festivals-and-awards/oscar-predictions-2019-who-will-win-who-should-win-and-who-should-have-been-nominated

From this article was Toni Collette in Hereditary which I knew I had seen on Netflix.   So it was time to check it out.  This is NOT a movie for the feint of heart.  It is a psychological thriller in every sense of the word.   It has a remarkable screen play and non-traditional story.   It starts off simple enough with a family of four, addressing the death of Grammy (Mom’s Mom) where Toni Collette plays the Mom.   Alison had provided me with a review which I re-read and think it very well described what happens from the plot.  It can’t be captured in a few sentences of a review.   It could take many, many pages to actually write out in a way that is understandable.   There are moments of utter shock, where at that moment I had to text out!!   These are the “holy shit” moments where you are not believing what you are seeing.   Toni Collette plays unhinged as well as anyone, with a woman on verge of a breakdown.   And her suffering husband Gabriel Byrne can only watch from the front row.   To what end are you prepared to go to protect your family and your children?    There are moments of raw emotion and you can feel the hurt and suffering.   It was a work out.   And it will stay with you.   It will stay with me to the point where I know I need to watch it again, and see how the puzzle pieces come together.  Because it does come together in a way that the closing 30 minutes is just not capable of being described.  As I watched I wondered what the heck the title had to do with anything.   Then again, it comes together.  If this isn’t your genre then stay away.   If you like a good scare, and a mental challenge, you will likely enjoy this a great deal.   I used to say that there haven’t been many really good horror movies since The Exorcist, which I still regard as the height of the craft (And I don’t mean serial killer teenage hack and slash films (Friday 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street et el)).   But A Quiet Place and now this would be regarded by me as quality additions to the genre.   They are welcome.

February 25th, 2019

on Friday I managed to get out and take in Vice, which concluded the last of the Best Picture Oscar nominees.   I had Alison telling me that she didn’t like it at all, and others like my brother that thought it was decent.   Given the three acting nominees for Bale, Adams and Best Supporting Acting Winner last year Sam Rockwell.   In terms of structure and tone it felt a great deal like The Big Short.   That’s not much of a surprise given you have the same Director (Adam McKay).  Brad Pitt involved in producing this, as well as many of the same actors including Steve Carrell and Bale.  While that worked more in The Bug Short, it was less effective on my viewing.   I found the false credit rolling and the soliloquy scene in the bedroom false.   It just seemed force.   The performances are strong, and Bale embodies Dick Cheney in a way that he just disappears into the character.   Lynn Cheney, played by Amy Adams is shown to be the driving force in his life, and she plays that Lady MacBeth character well.   She challenges and pushes early under-achiever Dick well up to the highest levels of power in the US government.   He wasn’t and isn’t a speech-maker and won’t be elected for those powerful positions, but he works hard and behind the scenes.   He gets things done obviously, which put him into the position he was.   And he was loyal to his family and his two daughters.   I had to commend him early on his stance to protect and support his daughter.  He made that clear in his negotiation with George W Bush.   Now Dubya, what can you say about this characterization of him, as the Daddy-inspired empty shirt who becomes President.    He was so willing to pass along most of the important areas of concern for any President (foreign relations, military etc) that you realize that Cheney saw an opportunity and took it.   He was likely the most powerful Vice President in history.   And after him, the role has reverted back to more or less a symbolic one.   Obama certainly didn’t let Joe Biden take on anything important or crucial.   Pense for Trump just as uninvolved.   But it remarkable that in a system of checks and balances, that the VP role can fly between the House and the Senate.   And no one was stepping up to share that this was against the principles of the underlying government.   The US fought a war of independence to get away from Kings and monarchs.   You also see the beginnings of the Fox Network, and politically slanted news, which is now more prevalent than ever before.   It is scary to see just how influential that one more can be.   From that perspective this film is a cautionary tale on the potentially challenges with a weak leader.   This is even more poignant today.    The Big Short told a scary story about the financial system and corrupt structure collapsed in 2008.  This film tells a scary story about a man, his wife, and how they shaped a new role for the Vice Presidency.   Maybe it was the lack of Margot Robbie in a hot tub that took away from the impact of Vice.  Not sure.

One of the many snubs for this years Oscars was the documentary about Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers to you and me) entitled Will You Be My Neighbour?   The story documents his story and becoming a children’s television icon over the course of his 33 year career on the show.   What started out as a low budget local program from Pittsburgh PA, became every day watching for thousands of young children.   Rogers, not surprisingly, was Presbyterian Minister who came to realize that he was more of an impact by addressing children through this new medium, and giving them a sense of importance and empowerment.   It was a different kind of pulpit, but it spoke to the children.   He accomplished this by mostly dealing with puppet characters who lives in his World of Make Believe.   There was a King, and some various other characters who were all voiced by Rogers himself.   He had guest stars, but he made a point that he was not in this world.    He had dealt with weighty topics like divorce, and terrorist attacks and other important events that surrounded the world of his viewers.   As someone who grew up during these days, I enjoyed watching this background scenes into the world of his show.   From music, to story, to puppets and keeping a consistent message, he watched and participated directly into three generations of children.    Perhaps one of his greatest feats was his appearance standing before a House Committee that was considering cutting the funding for public TV.   He single-handedly spoke sense to the government decision-makers rather than numbers and business plans that they were able to concede “I can understand this”, after he talked about making children feel special.    This like the documentary shows a remarkable man and his impact.

See that testimony here: