December 28th, 2020

This week is a tale of two reviews for the same topic; Mulan.  I had never seen the Disney animated original back in 1998.   Knowing that I was going to view the updated real life version I decided to check out the original.   Mulan (1998): The animated version is a musical and tells the story from the 15th Century with the Chinese emperor engaging a conscripted army (one male person from each household) to engage with the horrible Huns who have invaded the northern territory.   Mulan’s elderly father has two daughters and a wife.  Eldest daughter Mulan is a tomboy who isn’t interested in being “matched” by the local matchmaker.   Dad volunteers to be conscripted and fight despite a wonky leg.   Mulan decides (against the family wishes) to take his armour, sword and horse to fight in his place.   She is part of a group of new recruits.    Before she arrives, she meets up with a small dragon, voiced by Eddie Murphy who is the comic relief.    His role is very much the same as Donkey in <strong>Shrek</strong>.   Shrek was from 2001, but it also seems to channel 1992 Aladdin (which was also recently remade in real life).   In short Mulan acts as a young man, and then saves the platoon from the Hun hoard and ultimately the Emperor.   I doubt that I am giving anything away by stating this.   The songs are okay.   Eddie Murphy has a couple funny lines.   The ultimate battle sequence Mulan does something that in hindsight isn’t all that remarkable, but it took some outside of the box thinking.   The Forbidden City entanglement was more than a little unbelievable.   This is a story of a strong woman in times of great repression.   She overcomes cultural challenges and proves her worth to her father, her family and her Emperor.    I know more than a few women who look upon this in a favourable light.   For me, it was okay.

The latest Mulan released on Disney+ was from 2020 and unlike more recent re-makes from Disney is not a true translation.   In most instances the musical aspects are supplemented so that the now live version is longer than the 90 minute animated feature.    Many Disney remakes have done this like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.    In this instance the music is eliminated entirely, and I think to the peril of the overall look and feel.   There is a more serious tone as the young Mulan attends training and eventually encounters a new character, a female witch, who is assisting the Huns.   Mulan’s family speaks of women being labelled as witches and this is obviously not a good situation.   Ultimately the witch and Mulan have more encounters.   This is a significant difference to the original.   There are other scenes as well including the romantic interest who are also very different.  Adding the witch along with other changes didn’t make the story better. In fact I found it a distraction. I wasn’t expecting to do a full scale comparison between the two, but I kept being reminded how different the live version was to the original. Disney+ wanted a significant contribution to watch this when it was first released. I am glad that I didn’t spend the money for it. This is beloved story for many. Having seen it twice in the last week, I don’t feel as though it is something that has added to my Disney catalogue of movies worth watching. So I would avoid this one.

Finally, the Mandalorian Season 2 was completed with the conclusion which I have to admit was a little bit of a surprise. We had learned earlier that the Baby Yoda could potentially engage with some Jedi, although there weren’t many left by sitting atop that one mountain where he was snatched by the bad guys. I won’t reveal more than that. I will say that the technology for making actors younger isn’t really as good one would be hoping. Enough said on the subject. I did enjoy the season, however I would say that for two seasons there were more than a few episodes that felt like filler. By the last couple of episodes it was better and moved along. Was this a satisfactory ending to it? Meh, I don’t know. Was it worth watching, sure. I am more impressed frankly with the ability to have the episodes LOOK like they are filmed in Tunisia and other places in the Star Wars universe. They weren’t. They are projected screens on sound stages. You never would know it in looking at it. There is a documentary about the technology in bringing this series forward, and it was good to see. The ongoing technology is evolving so very quickly. Still. Real actors are a benefit and add to the viewer caring and being engaged.

December 21, 2020

Aladdin: Disney has taken upon itself to remake virtually anything in their animation library.   More recent efforts have included those included in my review of Black Beauty, also a remake from December 7th.  Now Disney has taken on the remake of the Robin Williams vehicle Aladdin.    Will Smith takes on the leading role of the genie.    To his credit, he and the buff CGI body that he exhibits doesn’t try to emulate in any way the comic genius of Robin Williams.    No one could and it would be folly to try.    Instead he does a lot more singing, and throws in a few extra jokes.   The rest of the cast isn’t really remarkable or known to me in any way.    The story has remained the same with the “diamond in the rough” street rat who needs to be found in order to obtain treasure from a perilous cavern.   He meets by accident the local princess from the Sultan’s palace and impresses her.   She is forced by culture to be married as she cannot be a ruler.   Her father, the Sultan is a bit nerdy and has been influenced by the sinister Jaffar with plans of his own.    The songs remain the same, and they have added a couple.    Notably they have tried to make the Princess more independent and strong-willed to show her breaking free of the societal norms placed upon her.   In the end it is all too familiar, and by the end you wonder why this had to be made in the first place.   Yes I have a Disney + membership, but that has been for The Mandalorian and some other classics more so than these remakes.  I am already paying for them, and will watch Mulan for example, but I didn’t and wouldn’t have paid for them in the theatre.   There are better places to put my more expensive movie dollars.    Anyway, if you love all things Disney, and many people do, this may work for you.    For me, I value the Robin Williams performance enough that I respect it remaining on its own.   I didn’t need to see this.   I cannot recommend it, and it seems like a lot of effort for no real pay off.   You want your kids to experience Aladdin and some laughs, watch Robin.  

Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart:    This new documentary has a more recent interview with the eldest Bee Gee, Barry Gibb, and survivor of the Gibb troupe.   I enjoy seeing documentaries about musicians when they get into the creative process.   How does a person get inspired to create something totally new?    Those who can do so, are remarkable in my mind with a special gift.   Those who are able to exploit that gift fully are entitled, in my mind, to everything that they get.   The world is a better place for the efforts that they came.   I am reminded at this point about the recent review I did about Dolly Parton.   Like the Bee Gees, I wouldn’t seek out a live concert with Dolly Parton, but she has written hundreds of songs, and she is able at times to create a new song in minutes.    Here, the Bee Gees for example where a young act in Australia and decided to move to Britain after the Beatles were massive in the 60s.    They were successful song writers early on, despite their sound feeling like copycat Beatles.   A song like “To Love Somebody” and “I Started a Joke” are those that I knew upon hearing but didn’t know that they were from the Bee Gees.  They are quintessentially sixties.   But then you are told about the rights to a New Yorker article about Dancing in Manhattan in the 70s, you have the purchaser reach out to the Bee Gees to write some appropriate music.   It includes Maurice being told to write the greatest love song of his life, and coming up with “How Deep is your Love?”   The other songs for Saturday Night Fever create the greatest selling soundtrack to date, and a colossal movie hit.   One thing I did not know what that Robin and Maurice were twins.   With old brother Barry they were the group.  Later little Andy joins in, although he later succumbs to drug addiction at the age of 30yo.   Drugs beyond this aren’t really mentioned, but you have to expect that the partying and scene for disco in that time with the Kings of it, with money and power would have been tremendous.    I found this interesting and worth my time.   The Bee Gees, well Barry, would like to be remembered as song writers, rather than creators of disco.    They wrote songs for people like Barbra Streisand, the aforementioned Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross etc.    Even with “Disco Sucks” and the backlash for being associated with it, they remain formidable songwriters of their era.  

December 14th, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy: Newly released on Netflix, this is a new Ron Howard film with a very good cast, principally starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams. In a recent listing of Best Performances, both of these two actors were mentioned for this story. This is a movie based upon a best selling book. The casting and make up teams have done an excellent job to find talent and then make them look like their real life counterparts. In a rural farm area of Kentucky this family has its origins and we learn that it goes all the way back to the Hatfields and McCoy feud. They are poor, with few prospects. The family moves to small town Ohio early in the lives of the children. The story has three generations with Close playing the Grandma, Amy Adams playing the Mom and then two siblings. The young man was bullied and a bit awkward, but smart enough and finds himself on the verge of breaking free of this rural life. The challenge is that his Mom especially, finds ways to bring him back. Not generally being an Amy Adams fan, I can say that here she plays a character that is very difficult to like. She is what one thinks when you hear the term “hillbilly” or “redneck”. She isn’t a Mother of the Year candidate nor is her Mom. It is not a family really that you would wish to share a holiday meal. If August: Osage County has a dysfunctional aspect, these people have them beat. In the end, I was scratching my head about some of the decisions of the young man. I can understand family and being there for them, but I can also make a compelling case that he helps his family more if he can find a way to break free from the life. I cannot recommend this, but the performances were decent, however unlikeable that they were. Close who is one of the most nominated people without an Oscar will likely garner another nomination here. I won’t predict if she can break her streak.

Safe (series): Safe is a 2018 series starring Dexter star Michael C. Hall. That is a series that I did not watch, but is held in high regard. It is from the author Harlon Cobin, who writes popular crime/drama books. It is an 8 part series, with the typical who-dunnit style. A young person is dead, and the daughter of a prominent doctor (Hall) is missing. Hall, like most fathers would do, is scrambling to find his daughter, and doing some detective work of his own. The police are involved, and they too are following up on leads. The characters in this small gated community are all pretty tightly linked. They are friends, or neighbours and are bound by some collective history. The good doctor’s wife has passed away from cancer, and we see her being buried in the opening sequence. Her death has created tension in his household with his two daughters. The elder one goes missing. The story unfolds rather slowly as various people and their agendas are revealed. The viewer is left thinking about who the ultimate culprit is as the series comes to its close in the final episode. I will reveal nothing further than those higher details. I often wonder about the motivations and actions of various characters, in this instance the teenage mind at times needs to be forgiven. The adults and their situations are a little more perplexing. Was this worthwhile, or at least on par with a Broadchurch (season 1), The Bodyguard (UK series with Rob Stark)or The Fall? No. I can’t say that. It tries hard and means well, but I can’t put it up to those levels of quality. But if you have seen all of those, you can give it a go.

The Mandalorian (Episode 14: The Tragedy) again kept the momentum moving forward after the quality Episode 13, although not the same extent. Baby Yoda is taken to the planet that was discussed and manages to do the expected. Meanwhile, the new Empire leader is busy with trying to re-acquire the Asset. The two parties converge at this site.

SPOILER ALERT. The Mandalorian runs into Boba Fett (hard to not name the character without having a more fullsome discussion about him). Maybe I have the timelines wrong with respect to the Mandalorian but I don’t think so. Boba Fett found and captured frozen Han Solo and brought him to Jabba the Hutt in Empire Strikes Back. In Return of the Jedi, he was seen in Jabba’s chambers and nodded to the bounty hunter (Leia) who brought forth Chewie to Jabba. Boba Fett rather unceremoniously and lamely was felled by a half-blind Han Solo who turned around with a weapon and inadvertently launched Boba Fett’s jet pack to plunge him hard into the wall of Jabba’s sail barge and have him fall into the pit of the Sarlacc (ending with a belch). So seeing him here (with the same actor from Episode II: Attack of the Clones) was odd. It’s the thing about Star Wars people, we remember these not so insignificant plot points and then question how it all ties together. And maybe I am totally off but I am reading The Mandalorian is set 5 years AFTER the Luke timeline but before Rey and the latest episodes. So that doesn’t really work for me. Is Boba Fett resurrected somehow? Did he survive being “slowly digested over a thousand years” as C-3P0 exclaimed in the Sarlacc? Unknown but it makes little sense to bring him back here where there is a universe of characters that could be used that aren’t dead.

December 7th, 2020

So this week on Disney+ I was able to view the following:

Black Beauty: This is a remake (of a remake of a remake) – no less than 8 movies on the subject – from Disney starring Mackenzie Foy (from Interstellar fame as younger Jessica Chastain) and Iain Glenn (Jorah Mormont of GOT) and finally and surprisingly the voice of Kate Winslet. The previous versions in both TV and screen I have not watched, so I am seeing for the first time. With Disney these days it seems if you can’t come out with original content, recycle or sequel what you already have. Recent examples would include Lion King, Jungle Book, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, and of course Star Wars. The former movies are all computer graphics re-doing of the original cartoon. Scary enough when you list them all – curse you Jon Favreau!! Anyway, a girl loses her parents in a tragic car accident (what is a Disney story without parental death after all?) and she is sent to live with her horse trainer uncle. He works on a ranch where part of what they do is purchase wild mustangs and look to “break them” and resell them. Black Beauty is one such spirited mustang that he is charged with training. The horse is stubborn, and we know this because the horse is voiced by Kate Winslet. It’s a distraction really to have an outwardly thinking horse, I won’t say talking because the lips at least aren’t moving like Mr Ed. How do we really know what the horse is thinking? How does the writer? Unknown to me, but then again it’s a movie so I will ignore the disbelief to see where it all leads. The young girl connects with the horse, and that allows her to respect her Uncle a little bit more. The horse matures but ultimately needs to be sold off, and separated from the young girl – who continues to grow herself. She at some point has a summer away with a very wealthy family with a very large ranch and they jump horses. I hadn’t seen the actress in a while and it was good to see Mormont, but in the end this story didn’t really impact me. I suppose that I am not really the target market for this; young girls and women would be. I think in part I was expecting this to be a remake of National Velvet that starred Elizabeth Taylor in 1944. It is decidedly not that. The movie ends with a cheesey whimper and isn’t really very uplifting. But there are pretty horses. There are young girls showing their independence. This will have a market, but for me I can’t really recommend it.

The Mandalorian, Season 2, Episode 5, story chapter 13 called The Jedi, was I think the best and most interesting episode of this season series, and perhaps through the entire show. It seems that much of Season 2 has been filler stories where the Mandalorian has been taking on sideline stories, helping those who he doesn’t really need to do anything for, but does so to allow there to be something to do. Why he would put his own life at risk for a person he could overcome much more easily isn’t explained. Finally, mercifully, we have him meet up with a character of some skill and ability. Rosario Dawson (yea!!) plays Ahsoka Tanu who is a Jedi. As an aside I really like Dawson and I would like to see her work more. She brings an edge, she has intelligence and character. I liked seeing her here. Her character is from The Clone Wars, the cartoon series that I have not completed, where she is an apprentice and working alongside other Jedi like Annakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi. Now a full fledged Jedi, she is making an attack on a walled town where a new leader has been oppressing the locals. She is here to help. The Mandalorian impresses the local bad ass, who engages him to try and kill the Jedi for a reward. The story continues. Not only was there Rosario Dawson here, but Michael Biehn from Terminator movie, Kyle Reese. It was good to see him, even more aged than expected. Overall, some quality action. Things happened and the story of the Baby Yoda, now named, gets to inch forward. This wasn’t just action for the sake of action, but it had purpose. I hope that there is more to be seen from Dawson going forward.

November 30th, 2020

Flight Attendant: Kaley Cuoco was a huge star with the TV show for 12 years for The Big Bang Theory, a show that I have to admit that I have not watched. My youngest son is a big fan. Cuoco is not long the star of this new series, she is also the Executive Producer. There have only been three episodes released. In the US, it is found at HBO Max (which John Oliver makes a big joke about it time and again) but in Canada it is found on Crave and HBO Canada. The premise, so far, is that a flight attendant who seems to enjoy her jetting lifestyle of partying and various relationships. She meets a guy in her first class flight, who she post-flight meets up with them and they have a fling. She wakes up groggy and hung over the next morning, with him bloody and dead beside her. I give nothing away by providing this information. The trailer all but discloses this. She then begins to do many questionable things. Some more questionable than others; for example deciding not to not pick up the phone and just say what you know and can remember. It then snowballs into more complex deceptions, with some “supernatural” aspects where similar to American Werewolf in London, where the Attendant interacts with the dead rendezvous. She does far more drinking and sleuthing than is healthy nor recommended. Stay tuned, but I losing patience with this, despite hearing about some positive reviews of it.

The Crown, Season 4. This could be an entire posting unto itself. There is much to unpack here, with the 1980s coming upon the Windsors, as Charles meets Diana and Britain elects The Iron Lady, Maggie Thatcher, with her version of Reagan-omics with tremendous slashing of public programs, all the while spending money on an expensive long distance war with Argentina in the Falklands. In short, I think the Gillian Anderson did a marvelous job with Thatcher. But I wanted to address my thoughts on Prince Charles in this season. First and foremost, one must realize that this is NOT a documentary. We are NOT watching scenes acted with the knowledge and blessing of the Royal family. Every conversation behind closed doors is created. The series is very well researched, without a doubt. Having said that I switch from having sympathy for Prince Charles to having rage for him as a spoiled, unfeeling, uncompromising twit. He can do things with his much younger and stunning wife Diana (married at the age of 20yo) with his 32 years that are quite simply head-shaking. He is jealous of her popularity rather than embracing it. Yet, when he is having his troubles with Diana, he is completely marginalized by his Mother and Father. He is ignored. They won’t listen and he lives in this island. As before the wedding, Princess Anne very poignantly asks her sister the Queen when the family will stop forcing marriages onto people who don’t want them. It’s quite remarkable as you are screaming internally for attention that no one seems to acknowledge you. So as I said, he is intriguing, frustrating and utterly complex. I don’t presume for a moment that these people are in any way simple. The series is simply must watch TV for those who have any interest in the Royals, or Britain, or good story, acting and drama. Season 5 incidentally will have new actors for The Queen herself, Diana, Charles and others. I look forward to it.

In 1992, Spike Lee released Malcolm X, about the 1960s Black Activist. Denzel Washington plays the lead role, which I regard as one of his best. This is a very good ensemble cast, including Angela Bassett, Spike Lee himself, and others. The opening sequence of this movie shows the incredibly brutal attack by white police officers in LA on Rodney King. Twenty eight years later we had a similar attack on various innocent black people by white police. This movie is as relevant today in these times, if not moreso, than in those days of rioting back in LA. Injustice in whatever the time always seems to get people emotionally engaged. Sadly there is an ebb and flow which doesn’t result in underlying and fundamental change that seems to be more and more apparent. In this movie Malcolm X speaks of ridding himself and the black people of the trappings of white America. He speaks about the “House Black Man” in the times of slavery who speaks of “We” and “Us”, referring to him and the house owner as opposed to the labour out in the fields who are being oppressed. Goos points are made all around. It is compelling, and then the Muslim leader who Malcolm is representing is undermined by his own careless actions. Malcolm X in a time of martyrs, and violent assassinations (JFK, Bobby Kennedy, MLK etc) adds his name to a distinguished list, and in a most violent and remarkable way. If you didn’t know this, then I apologize, but you may wish to pay a little more attention in History class. Many lessons to be heard, and yet another time of unrest to show that this is an ongoing challenge for the United States. Do I believe that much has changed since the 60s? Not really. White privilege very much still exists and we all have a role to play. Maybe it starts with police department, but it certainly doesn’t end there (like with the Justice system, the voting and registration system etc).

Dolly: Here I Am: Late Friday night I ended up watching a documentary that I am certain my Mom would certainly enjoy. This is the story about Dolly Parton. For me I knew very little about her, except maybe her couple of signs, her bust, her tiny waist and wigs and a couple of movie roles. She was in 9 to 5, and also wrote the hit song about it, and also in Steel Magnolias with Julia Roberts and Sally Field. What I learned is that she has been around the Nashville, Grand Ole Opry scene for 50+ years. She has written 3000+ songs. She was challenged to write a song about love and she came out “I Will Always Love You”. The song Whitney Houston took to new levels in the movie The Bodyguard. Apparently it was a farewell song from Dolly to her TV boss Porter Wagoner. But it became an anthem selling millions of copies and making Dolly millions. She also wrote “Jolene” and “9 to 5”. She performed but didn’t write “Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers. What you don’t see in this is NOT a story of fame and wealth undermined by drugs and philandering. Dolly is a business woman, and a remarkable talent who knows her brand. You also don’t see very much, or hear much about her husband Carl Dean for whom she has been married for 55 years. Such longevity. Hers is a story of talent, determination and staying power. Well done Dolly.

November 23, 2020

Snow falls on Toronto for really the first time this Winter. Covid cases are rising as the snow is falling. It means for this city that as of this day at midnight, we are under further restrictions (no barbers, restaurants closing, gatherings limited to immediate family etc. It is disappointing to be back here but this virus seems to be very aggressive and resilient. What it means from this blog point of view, is that I have more time to watch and report on what I am seeing. So let’s start with the lows and work towards the highs.

Home Sweet Hell: A long time ago in the heydays of Grey’s Anatomy on TV, and later films like Knocked Up, Katharine Heigl was an up and coming actress, who was given the opportunity to become an A-lister. Then she got derailed. She complained publicly about her role in Knocked Up and pissed off the Director and Writer. She then butted horns with the writer from Grey’s Anatomy. Further she demanded more and more money, and basically was looked upon as “difficult”. I have to admit that I am not a fan, but I did enjoyed Knocked Up. My favourite scene was when she meets with the Seth Rogan character to tell him that she was unexpectedly expecting. Too funny. All that background to show how the mighty have fallen. Home Sweet Hell is a 2015 film where she plays a cold, calculating housewife with money, who is married to a man who has a job selling furniture store owned by her father. Then the darkness descends as the husband has an affair to which she needs to react. It goes in a direction that you don’t really expect, but then again you don’t really care. Heigl plays a woman who is just nasty. Maybe she is leveraging her already toxic reputation and embracing it, but it doesn’t really work. In the end I cannot recommend but in truth it’s not really readily available (I saw on Amazon Prime and there is plenty more there to watch instead). So pass.

Miss Baja: On Crave, this is a story of a latina make up artist. She lives in LA, and decides to go to Tijuana to attend a beauty pageant with her best friend. This 2019 film stars Gina Rodriguez, who looks a lot like Eva Mendes, and also Michelle Rodriguez who is no relation to her. In short, she attends a pre-pageant party where a group of local thugs tries to take out the Police Sheriff where she ultimately gets taken hostage by the thug leader, and he wants her to do some things to advance his cause. You see, he is in a battle with the corrupt Policy Sherriff and looks for an opportunity to take him out. It is a convoluted story where ultimately they look to make a young woman dressed in heels and tight dresses do things that we guys can be only amazed. Apparently this is a remake of a 2011 film. I have to admit that I don’t see any need to do this once again. There are moments you are uncertain about how the heroine will react about her predicament, and the US DEA don’t help her in her cause. So pass once again.

Emma: Another remake that didn’t need to be made. The most interesting aspect for me is how the star in this version Anya-Taylor Joy is talked about everywhere for her work in Queen’s Gambit, and justifiably so. Emma is the Jane Austen story, the late 18th Century British writer, who also wrote Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. It’s a period piece, and generally I can enjoy period pieces (Downton Abbey comes to mind, or Elizabeth and many many others). In it, there is the privileged, “handsome, almost 21yo” from her community who befriends the young Harriet. Emma is a match maker of some repute and decides to step away from matchmaking for a time. This is a slow story of romantic intrigue. There are young men, encircling various women of various stations. Class plays an all important role where one is expected to stay in their class or look to move up. Bill Nighy plays the eccentric father to Emma, and provides some welcome comic relief. In the end I kept thinking to myself that this movie would have been intolerable to watch with Gwyneth Paltrow starring from back in 1996. Joy plays spoiled well enough but you don’t necessarily feel the need to physically put her in her place, unlike Paltrow who is that way 24/7. So I would take the suggestion that Alison gave me to give this one a pass. It is beautifully shot, with excellent colours, chateaus, horses and costumes. But pretty pictures don’t necessarily sustain the interest.

Papillon: When I was a teen, I read the Henri Charriere arguable autobiographical book Papillon about his days as a prisoner at various prisons in French Guyana. It was a compelling page turner and I would recommend that book to anyone. It provides a detailed history of the places and people that he encountered. At that time who knew how much one could place in a small receptical and put up your rear end. The 1973 movie starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman was a decent telling of the story. Generally movies are challenged to put on screen the full story told in a book. This is such a story, with such scope and breadth. I had thought that the McQueen version was not really in need of a refresh. Then in 2017 they did exactly that with Rami Malek playing the Hoffman Degas character and Charlie Hunnam playing McQueen. There is more time spent in Paris and the charge made against Papillon, so named for the butterfly tattoo on his chest. He is wrongfully convicted of murder and sent into exile like 80,000+ of his countrymen to prison colonies. The conditions in these camps were horrendous. There was hard labour, poor food and fellow inmates who were out to kill one another for their stash. Ultimately it is a story of escape, and solitary confinement – where one man can spend years by himself and remarkably survive. This was a descent rendering of the story, but I still prefer the book.

Secretariat: this 2010 film, available on Disney+ is about the famed Triple Crown winning horse from the early 1970s. It stars Diane Lane and John Malkovich. It is reminiscent of Seabiscuit which was a 2003 Oscar nominee. Seabiscuit is a better film. But that doesn’t take away from this one. The challenges for the Lane character were very real, and by chance coin flip she ended up with the famed horse (she lost the toss). Despite family pressures, a father who was ailing, and an industry which is largely male dominated, she manages to the find the people necessary to cultivate a unique talent. Breeding of course is paramount in the horse world, but at the same time there is heart, desire, competitiveness which is seemingly individual. Secretariat’s father was Bold Ruler, who sired many horses, but this one is widely regarded as the greatest horse of all time. I enjoyed this movie, and it has a good emotional hitch. Diane Lane is very good and Malkovich although not French Canadian plays Secretariat’s trainer as quite eccentric. There is Canadian element too with both the trainer and the rider being Canadian. These two played important roles in the development of this remarkable horse. Certainly this is worthy of a watch if you have any interest in sport or horses.

Dark Waters: This 2019 film starring Mark Ruffalo was a surprise find for me, as I had thought it by name was another Sci-Fi thriller type film. Also starring Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins it is rather the story of one lawyer’s struggle to battle against chemical monolith Dupont and their product Teflon. Everyone knows teflon. Developed in the Second World War to protect tanks, it was further developed to be used on kitchenware. The trouble was it is also a carcinogen. The chemical industry was self-regulated and decided that the billions in sales were more important than the health of their own workers, or in communities in West Virginia where the sludge was dumped. The story is really a re-telling of the Erin Brockovich story in California. The main difference is that this product is everywhere! The chemical is likely in all of us already. The lawyer Robert Bilott had been a corporate defense attorney (defnding many chemical companies already as an environmental lawyer) but not Dupont. He then switched sides and took them on for over 20+ years. This was eye-opening and scary at the same time. Self-regulation in such a powerful industry where they financially support candidates and are the life blood to various communities is a difficult way to expect those companies to do the right thing. It is yet another story of large corporations acting in their self-interest and ignoring the greater community good, but at the cost of many lives. Well worth watching if you want to rethink what you eat and drink and how you prepare your food.

Latest episodes on Disney + of Right Stuff and Mandalorian were both “Meh”. They were neither compelling nor moving the overall story along far. I would like to see both make positive strides. I am not convinced yet that The Right Stuff series is an improvement on the previous movie. The verdict is still out on that one.

November 16th, 2020

Good Liar: Is a 2019 film with an impressive cast of Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan. They are two people meeting up on a website, with the McKellan character looking to be one of these deceptive rogue types who are looking to bilk lonely women out of the wealth (see others like this with Love Fraud). Set in London, Mirren plays a widow who is seeking companionship. She meets up with McKellan who quickly gets close to her and then starts chatting up investments for her. The story continues. For me I was not surprised with where this story went. Others may not agree. I won’t disclose to avoid spoiling it. Suffice it to say that there is a point where details that weren’t previously shared become a turning point in the story. It all seems so very elaborate, but in a way that is somewhat confusing. Can I recommend it? As something to see on an airplane, as I did, sure. But otherwise I don’t see much need in seeking out further.

Season 4 of The Crown has just been released on Netflix and we see the stories of Maggie Thatcher (played by Gillian Anderson) and also the introduction of Princess Diana (played by Elizabeth Debiki) and it looks once again very good. I will begin getting through this and report back.

November 17th update. I noted in here that in The Crown Season 4, that the role of Diana Spencer would be played by Elizabeth Debiki of Tenet fame and Widows. This was incorrect. Debiki will be playing the older Diana is subsequent seasons. For this season, it is Emma Corrin who plays the teenage Diana. Having watched the first three episodes last night I continue to be impressed by this show. The acting is superb, and those playing each of the known characters do it very effectively. I think the addition of Gillian Anderson as Maggie Thatcher was very good, and this young Corrin playing Diana. What we see with Diana is a very young (16yo) when she first meets Charles, who at the time is dating her older sister. Apparently the story with Diana is Midsummer Night’s dream costume isn’t true, the much of the rest is. I think that they have shown a good balance here, with Diana being shown as very willing to target the Prince and be part of this life. She was 20yo when she married the 32yo Prince. She was noted as being “just a child” and very immature. Still she got more than what she bargained for with the Prince. He was very much still in love with Camilla. Sadly even at 32yo, he was unable to prevent a 6 week separation from Diana upon their engagement, as well as ignoring her for all of those weeks, meanwhile suggesting before he leaves that Diana meet up with Camilla because she “is good company”. Add to that a “parting gift” to Camilla and as Diana had pointed out, there were three people in that marriage. The Queen’s sister Margaret appropriately and ironically questions when the family will stop preventing people from marrying who they love, as they insist on Charles marrying a woman he isn’t in love with. Meanwhile Diana shows signs of an eating disorder early on. The scenes in preparation for the wedding are very telling and apparently sadly very true. The story plays out as a tragedy for what it most undoubtedly is. Diana would likely be alive today if it wasn’t for her being involved with the Prince and the Royal family. Yet she targeted Charles and wanted to live a life that was more “important” as her own family called her “Duch”, short for Duchess. It is must see TV for those who have even a passing interest in the Royal Family, and also Princess Diana. My viewing continues.

November 9th, 2020

Five Feet Apart:  if you liked the teenage angst movie The Fault in Our Stars, then perhaps this movie will warm your heart and bring a tear to your eye.   A female teen has been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis which is a disease of the lungs.   She is played admirably by the spunky Hayley Lu Richardson who I admit has many mannerisms and looks of my daughter.   She has just returned to hospital after a spiked fever.   There she meets the moody Will who is not so accepting of his more recent diagnosis.   What seems most eerie in these days of Covid-19 are the masks, the isolation (using FaceTime meetings) and keeping six feet apart.   You see, for two people with CF if they get any bacteria from another CF patient, then it can be potentially fatal.   So much of what is now everyday for us in 2020 would when it was filmed have been unusual.   I wonder aloud about how CF patients with such a compromised lung system fare with Covid-19.  I suspect it isn’t very good since essentially they run at limited lung capacity to begin with and ultimately this is what takes their life; dying from lack of oxygen. This movie tries hard to illicit tears, and can be successful on a couple of occasions.   It boils down to whether you care about the characters and whether they have been convincing in their disease.   I won’t get into the details as they really aren’t necessary to a viewer’s enjoyment.   If this is your kind of story, and you feel like a cry then you can spend some time here.  Incidentally the five feet apart is our heroine taking back a foot from the disease that has taken so much from her.  

The Queen’s Gambit:  a new series on Netflix.  Anya Taylor-Joy who was more well known for scary teen movies stars in this fictional account of a young chess prodigy.  She is orphaned at the age of 9 and placed in an orphanage where she is provided with drugs and generally mistreated.   She makes some friends, including a custodian who plays chess in the basement office.   He teaches her and she is a very quick study.   In time she reads more about chess and strategy and improves to be invited to play against the local high school chess team.   Despite being much younger she defeats them all.  About the same time she is taken in by a husband and wife looking to adopt.  Well, the wife is looking to adopt, the husband doesn’t seem too interested in anything.   The wife takes a passing interest in the chess between drinks.   The story progresses as we see her move from the local stage (Kentucky State Finals) to national and then internationally.   I am no chess expert but I know someone who is and they state the chess is very realistic.   Filmed well and gives a sense of what it was like during the late 1950s and playing chess.   The Russians are formidable and rule that world.   Things happen.  The prodigy grows up and learns to deal with adult challenges.   This was despite claiming to be Kentucky was filmed in Cambridge Ontario.   So there is a Canadian aspect to this.   I thoroughly enjoyed this despite a bit of a predictable ending.   All through it I was thinking about different (and darker) possibilities, thinking my about another prodigy like Bobby Fischer and his story (which despite other prominent players of the time being mentioned was not in this film).  Well worth a viewing

November 2, 2020

So it snowed last night here in Toronto. Can’t say that I am anxious to see the Winter coming back this way. Add to the cold and the darkness, since we also fell back Saturday night for Daylight Savings Time, plus a new surge in Covid-19 cases, and it means that we here are more isolated once again and holed up inside our own places for the time being. It means no theatres (closed down once again) and watching some of the seemingly infinite content on the streaming services. So here goes:

Just Mercy: from the book by Bryan Stevenson, unread by me so far, about a young black Harvard schooled lawyer from Delaware, who decides after an internship in the criminal justice system in Alabama to head there and defend those on death row. Michael B Jordan (of Black Panther fame) plays the young Stevenson. He has managed to secure a grant from the Federal Government, and proceeds down to Alabama to meet clients. One in particular, played by Jamie Foxx is a young black man who was convicted of killing an 18-yo white teenager in a store in a small town where To Kill A Mockingbird was set. The irony is not lost on the viewer. This movie is timely in that it shows, once again, how in 1989 (not ancient history) that discrimination and unequal treatment (and defending) under the law is very prevalent. As this week there is a Presidential election, don’t forget too that in the US, District Attorneys, Sheriffs and Judges are all voted on as well. This is NOT the case in Canada, where these positions are appointed. Nevertheless, what the viewer sees is a system where the Sheriff and D.A. have on one man’s testimony, which was coerced out of him, had a man (Johnny D) convicted for first degree murder with the death penalty. This was a high profile case, where they relied on the shaky testimony of that previously convicted witness over 20 plus people in Johnny D’s community who swear under oath that he was not even in the town the day of the murder. The viewer will be amazed at the results. There are good performances all around, and I can easily recommend this movie.

Soul of America is a very interesting documentary which speaks to this particular time in American history. Seen through the eyes of Vanderbilt professor and former editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham, this is the story from his best selling 2018 book of the same name. In it, he explains how despite to hyperbole and protestations of news groups these days, he sees this time as a logical extension to what has transpired over in the US to date. In his mind, progress seems to made on issues like rascism, equality, women’s rights etc but then the tide will ebb back. He sees various Presidents, a couple notables like Woodrow Wilson and FDR are mentioned, but they still have their moments of questionable behaviour like the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. In his argument, there are Angels and Darkness, and for the time being we are in a time of darkness. This is no small part to a population who reads less, listens less (to radio for example) and gets their information from online sources. My more recent reviews will show how each person is targeted in that “newsfeed” and there isn’t a sense of collective understanding. So these factors have conspired to bring about this schism in American society. So rather than being surprised by what he sees, he thinks that we can learn from history (like the 1930s with the Depression, or the 1960s with the civil rights movement) and hope to find a leader who wishes to lead. This was instructive and informative and shed light on a checkered past which can hopefully guide the future that should be given direction sometime this month after tomorrow’s election.

Fahrenheit 451: Michael Shannon and Michael B Jordan star in this story from Ray Bradbury. From a Canadian perspective, it was filmed in and around Toronto and Hamilton. The story itself is another dystopian future society where a centralized government is burning all the books so that the collective society can be told what to think. It’s not a compelling story to me as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, which now is a new series out on Showcase. Overall it was okay. I can’t recommend it, even though I always enjoy the intense Michael Shannon in his roles.

You Are Here: Come From Away Story: If you haven’t seen the musical Come From Away, then this documentary will not only address the background source story, but also the reaction and follow up from its release and success. I have to say that this moving story makes me a very proud Canadian. Sure we Canadians are viewed globally as being “nice” and “polite” but this further shows small town Canada, Maritime Canada and all of its special gifts which we get as a country but can often forget. The story begins with the terrible events of September 11, 2001, where on a bright and sunny morning two commercial aircraft are hijacked and slammed into the World Trade Center in New York, as well as taken from midair over Pennsylvania. Once the threat is identified, all aircraft worldwide heading towards the US are grounded. For many that means being forced to land in Gander Newfoundland, the furthermost east airport in North America. Gander is a very small town, with a population of roughly 7000. Thirty eight (38) widebody jets landed at Gander that day, with total passengers of 6600. The passengers came from throughout the globe and were initially kept on board and told nothing about world events for the first 24 hours. The people of Gander didn’t know what to expect, but had to act quickly to find food and shelter for their new shocked guests. Boy did they respond! They housed, fed, clothed all of these guests and treated them as their own. They showed Eastern hospitality as only they can do so. When those planes left up to five days later, they left as new friends and family. A couple from the Sheridan College Theatre program decided to interview the people involved and created a musical called Come From Away. It has been a smash hit, and nominated for 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and won for Best Direction. The rest of the story is just heart warming, as you see the people who out of the kindness in their hearts did what they felt was the right thing, and get to see the results of these actions. This story does show that love can triumph over hatred; that kindness can overcome uncertain times. People can rise up collectively and be counted and view others as fellow human beings, worthy of assistance and a hug. If you haven’t seen Come From Away the Musical, check it out. If you don’t know this story, check out this documentary for a short time of warmth in cold and dark days that we have presently.

The Mandalorian Season 2: Disney has only released the first episode of season 2, to much fan fare. You see the practical part of me thinks on this story, that the Mandalorian really shouldn’t risk his neck or that of the child for the sake of this Marshall. Overpower him, kill him and get back what you want. Roll credits. But it’s not really an episode. Then again, this particular story doesn’t move the tale of returning the Child to his kind either.

1991: This a Canadian/Quebec film currently on Netflix. It is a university relationship movie with a young man who thinks he has found his partner, although he hasn’t really told her as such. She decides to take a semester in Italy over a summer and invites him to go along. His parents seeing a lack of funds and no real motive for him to go push back in colourful and funny Quebec style (certainly the Mom does). There are a couple of smiles as I watch this and you try to anticipate what happens to this young man on his travels. It was okay. I can’t recommend it beyond being an escape from watching reality TV.

October 26th, 2020

One of the things about growing numbers in COVID-19 cases, there is more time to be watching new things.

David Byrne: American Utopia: This was a film that was at TIFF, and was well received. David Byrne, for those who don’t know, was the lead singer of the Talking Heads and had a well received concert movie, Stop Making Sense, back in 1984 which I remember seeing at the theatre at Bloor and Avenue road. But I digress. Byrne has been busy with putting together a new band and performing on Broadway. Spike Lee saw the show and decided that it might be a good idea to put it on film. This was the result. It is more concert than Broadway production. The band is collectively outstanding, and they bring forth sounds like carried instruments that are quite remarkable. There are known songs to me, like Burning Down the House and This Must Be The Place, but many more that I didn’t know. Still it was enjoyable for me. If you like Byrne and his music, you will likely enjoy this. If you don’t, well then you’re best to stay away. I was glad I saw it, but I also was left thinking “is this it?” It was. Upon finishing, I was pleased I didn’t spend $25 on a TIFF ticket to watch it.

Corner Gas: The Movie: I did see this. It was mind candy, and Canadian mind candy at that. By this I mean as I spoke about when I talked about James vs His Future Self, that Canadian productions can often just look not as authentic. They are cheaper productions. The series, not previously watched by me, is about a small town in Saskatchewan and its inhabitants revolving around a corner gas station. The story goes on too long and quite honestly I cannot recommend it, unless you are a die-hard fan of the series.

The Great Hack: I was recommended to watch this by my eldest son. If you weren’t aware of the UK company Cambridge Analytica, then you will be well aware of it after you see this. If you weren’t aware of your own data, and personal information about yourself, that you may choose to post on social media platforms (predominantly Facebook in this story, but equally important are Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Instagram etc) then be prepared to have your eyes opened. The Social Dilemma touched on these issues, this is another tangent for them and explores the implications to democracy and the voting in elections. Primarily there is talk about the Trump Presidential election in 2016 and the Brexit vote also in 2016. What these two have in common in the analytics company who complied data from Facebook and would scrape it to find what they called “Persuadables”; those who are on the fence in how they are going to vote. The other key aspect is the State in which they live, whether it was a pivotal State like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. By obtaining 500+ data points on EACH VOTER, then they were able to target specific ads to the people that they wanted. The Trump campaign claimed to have run 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s 66,000. The real revelation for me was that each individual had a targeted news or ad feed. So I don’t see the same ads or news as someone from another area of the country. By having personalized, targeted news there isn’t any longer a collective understanding. This explains a lot. From a legal perspective, the idea that an UK based company, subject to stronger EU Privacy laws would refuse to disclose to an individual the data that they have about them was shocking. If you think that the data you share about yourself is yours, and you control it. You don’t. Another scary revelation was that within Facebook, if one of your friends decided to fill out some personality survey, then your information may also be used, just because they are your friend. You never consented to anything, or the sharing of your data, but it was sent. It is troubling to see just how far this goes. I have often said that I believe that the opening up US news stations to opinion and 24 hour news, was the turning point in the divisiveness that plagues the country. Turns out, the social media explosion also further widens the divide among the people. Long gone are the days of collectively people watched the 6PM News with Walter Cronkite (or Tom Brokaw or whomever). In thirty minutes everyone saw the news of the day. Now people aren’t reading newspapers. They watch news, but their own view on “news”. What they see are less facts and more opinion. A debate can be watched, but then switch to your favourite channel and the talking heads will spin their own opinion as to who won and why. If you have any interest in technology, or your rights to your data, or how your data has been used without your knowledge or consent, this is a program that is worth your time. The law always trails in discussions like this, but expect new legal battlegrounds as people decide just how much these powerful platforms that hold much of who you are decide what can be done with your information. Our democracy is at stake for voting and the ability to recognize hate mongers, demagogues and dictators. A week tomorrow is the Presidential election. We will see the ripple effects of another divisive election in the US. The world is watching.

North Country: my youngest in his Law class in high school was watching the 2005 movie with an excellent cast including Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek, Jeremy Renner, Woody Harrelson and others. It focuses on the story in 1989 in a small northern Minnesota mining town where a young single Mom of two wants to work at the local mine. Women were granted the right to work at the mine in 1975, but by 1989 women were still outnumbered thirty to one at the site. The culture at the mine was one of overt hostility to the women, as it was felt that it was “man’s work” and that these women were taking a higher paying job from a man. The male employees were verbally, physically and indirectly harassing of these women. It is painful to watch. Ultimately the story deals with the class action lawsuit against the mine company for collective sexual harassment, actions and misconduct. In the movie Theron takes action but was alone, which put strains on her relationships with co-workers but also townspeople, her children and her parents. Dad is also a worker in the mine and has his own issues to grapple with. Useful aspects address how winning a lawsuit doesn’t necessarily win the day for you all around. You can see why women who had plenty to lose had often decided to just stay quiet. This is an interesting story from a legal and personal perspective. One can see how opposing counsel on such complaints of sexual harassment attack the female complainant, and how the rights to cross examine the accusers are not reciprocal. The #Metoo movement has assisted somewhat but it is still a daunting task to undertake. Check it out.