On Crave they have released some newer films that I need to review. The one I stumbled upon in passing. Endings, Beginnings is a 2019 film starring Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan (of Fifty Shades fame) and Sebastian Stan. Shailene Woodley burst on the scene for me playing the eldest daughter of George Clooney in the 2011 family drama set in Hawaii The Descendants. It is a role and a movie worth watching if you haven’t seen it. As her star was ascending from this she took on the role as Tris in the Divergent series. I read that she questioned whether to sign on to such a venture, but in a conversation with Jennifer Lawrence, who had just finished The Hunger Games, she had been encouraged to do it by JLaw. Woodley was concerned more about the pigeon-holing herself like had happened with Kristen Stewart and the Twilight series. In the end, she went forward but sadly not only did she seem to get pigeon-holed, but she also had the albatross on her neck of a failed franchise as Divergent never even finished the trilogy (and for good reason). As a result, this talented actress didn’t work as much. She did the movie Adift in 2018 which was a decent one-woman show about the true story of a woman surviving a hurricane on a yacht. She had also begun work on the series Big Little Lies that was well received drama surrounding women and families in the Monterey CA area starring as well Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and others. All this is background, but I pleased to see Woodley working once again. In this movie, she plays a 30s woman looking for some direction in her life after a failed relationship. She attends a party and meets two young men who both seem to intrigue her. She makes very human choices, and the viewer watches as the consequences unfold. The character Daphne has to make choices about stability and excitement in her primary relationship, and try and find what makes sense for her going forward in other areas. It isn’t easy to watch her at times and the choices she makes but they are very real. I think Woodley has always been genuine, and she is likeable even when she makes choices that aren’t so likeable. If you like her, and you like a relationship drama then this may be something to catch for you. I don’t think that this had much success in the theatres. But like Kristen Stewart I think Shailene is making choices and doing movies that aren’t so mainstream but that will expand on her skillset. Enjoy the summer weather and the NHL playoffs as they continue – it has been a busy sports calendar with NHL, MLB, NBA and then the PGA Championship in golf. So from having very little to watch from sports, we are now overwhelmed with choice.
On Crave I caught quite by accident the sci-fi, B-movie thriller (?) entitled Upgrade. It stars the male lead scientist from Prometheus, Logan Marshall-Green who in that better movie had the misfortune of slighting Michael Fassbender’s David. Funny I can’t remember the last time I actually said the term “B-movie” but it is appropriate here. This movie carries themes like other similar films like Ex Machina, where an uber-wealthy techno-geek is looking to have huge strides with tech and people, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Avatar and Alien, with a computer intelligence that is looking to expand its impact and ultimate influence. This takes the form, typically, of a machine with a hidden agenda. By the way, it flatters this movie greatly to be even mentioned alongside those better films. In this tale our married protagonist is driven by a self-driving car to a bad part of town where thugs kill his wife, and leave him for dead. He wakes up a quadriplegic, but is offered by the Wile E Coyote-like Super Genius use of his limbs once again if he only has a superchip implanted into his spine. The computer will take care of his limbs once again. The hero decides to move forward and wants to track down and take revenge on his attackers. He finds that the underlying plot is more complicated than first anticipated. The story unfolds. There are some laughable elements for example when the hero gives up primary responsibility for his actions and there is this disjointed walking and inhuman ability to fight in hand to hand combat. But overall it is tiresome and I cannot recommend it. There is a reason why some movies are straight-to-video/streaming. This is a good example of it.
I was realizing yesterday that another series of movies that I haven’t reviewed in this blog is the original 1968 Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes. It an original set of five films (Beneath POTA, Escape from POTA, Conquest for POTA, and Battle for POTA). Most of which starred Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter. Heston did the first two. It spawned a poorly conceived remake directed by Tim Burton, and then later still the very good trilogy with Andy Serkis as Caesar. What made the original so compelling was the make up (it was cutting edge at the time with the mouthpieces allowing the apes to talk. It had some political commentary as well with the ultimate trial of Heston’s Taylor by the powers that be, with the Minister of Science also having the title of Keeper of the Faith. Man in this world is at the bottom rung of the food chain. They are mute and kept in the jungles around the city. They are hunted for sport by the gorillas on horseback. Taylor was an astronaut who blasted off from earth with his colleages (two other men and a woman) but something goes wrong and they crash land on this planet. The woman didn’t survive the trip. They are captured by the apes and Taylor who was shot in the neck cannot speak, for the time being. With the help of chimpanzee couple Zira and Cornelius, he manages to escape his captors. The ending is legend. It came at a time with space exploration was ongoing, but there was an undercurrent of wariness with the Russians. The movies are based upon the book Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle. The original movies incidentally also spawned a TV series which was just not very good. Of the original series the first and second are the most compelling. Although the idea for Conquest where apes had been transformed from pets (the dogs and cats had mysteriously died and humans needing pets adopted apes) into slaves. They were shouted at constantly “No!!” Anyway, they rise up and conquer the planet (presumably one city at a time). For me it brings back good memories. I had the whole POTA action figure set going on (not ALL characters but a few). POTA was a start and then Jaws and then it just went from there. Movies have always been there to inform an entertain.
As a follow up to the posting from last week where I noted I had started watching the 1940s era Manhattan which was a dramatization of the creation of the atom bomb by the US authorities. I finished the first season, and began season 2. I read however that the characters and stories about them are fiction, except for the names of Albert Einstein and J Robert Oppenheimer. Key characters in the story like Charlie Isaacs and his wife never existed. Others on the two teams as well. This was disappointing news but not altogether surprising. The drama among the characters just seemed too outlandish. I have little doubt that there was latent homosexuality and infidelity and other things happening given the number of people cooped up in a site for so long. Still much of it didn’t seem very plausible. The end of season 1 still doesn’t have a viable working bomb. This unending debate about whether or not implosion was even possible rages on. Interestingly as we know, two bombs were dropped and they were of each type worked on at the site. Both worked equally well. I won’t delve further into the merits of utilizing the atomic bombs, but suffice it to say that the desired effect of ending the war in the Pacific was accomplished. I will continue to watch season 2 (it was cancelled after this season) but I will be a little less enthused. Incidentally, Harry Lloyd who played spoiled Viserys Targaryen plays the same type of weasel-like character in this series as in Game of Thrones.
A new release on Netflix was the series called Indian Matchmaker, and it getting some buzz, not all of it is positive. The premise is pretty straightforward as we have an older East Indian woman who is assisting other East Indian people and their families to find a match/marriage partner. Arranged marriages are not uncommon in India, and the show brings forward many examples of long term married couples and their stories. The matchmaker in question has hundreds of families that she is working with, from all around the globe. We see young people in places like Houston, Colorado, New York, Mumbai, etc. She is quite the jetsetter to be seeing all of these various people. No where do they talk about her fees. She can’t be cheap. Still with a divorce rate in “love marriages” hovering around 50% one would think that arranged marriages can’t be any worse. In fact, they could be better. As a single person, I take solace that there are many around there like me. The struggles faced by meeting and finding the right person are real no matter where in the world you are, or your station. I was surprised at her use of biodata forms, astrologers and facial reading people. So much of all this for these people is fated, and in the stars/signs. I admit that the facial reading guy who sees a number of her clients was surprisingly good at seeing traits of these people just based on a phone picture. Now whether or not one can see someone having twins from just a picture is another story. You have all sorts of characters in this series, for me a couple that stuck out was the female lawyer in Houston, who has a pushy Mom and her own prickly, picky personality. She seems so set in her ways and not really willing to open herself up to almost anything new. The other was the young man with the overbearing Mom who dictates all that happens in her household. The young 25yo man has a younger brother who is engaged, and he is told that he MUST get engaged and be married within the year, to make Mom happy and allow the younger brother to get married himself. He rationally asks how these two events must be tied together, but all around him side with Mom. Such pressure on him. He sees hundreds of profiles and you wonder whether he is just being overly difficult or that he just isn’t ready. Maybe a little of both. Sadly, though there are other stories that the viewer doesn’t see finish. You would think you get to see what the results of the matches are and this dating, but it just isn’t so. Not even a follow up at the last episode with a review of who was met and what their latest status is (married, still dating or single). I was also somewhat surprised at the continuation of the separation of duties and attitudes about women. Our matchmaker can through herself or her colleagues put pressure on women to be subservient to their future husband; they must take a back seat to him and his desires. I was quite shocked at how bluntly this was put to these independent women, one in particular runs her own online clothing store and is quite successful. The cultural pressures are substantial, and add to that the pressures of thinking that one might want to have children and for women it is a daunting task. Never mind the later conversation if you are a single Mom in these communities! One very pleasant was told that her chances in the Sikh community would be very limited because of her status being divorced and with a child. There’s nothing quite like turning back the hands of time to the early 1960s for us in North America!! Everybody in the end has a story.
I like Edward Norton, always have from the moment he burst onto the scene in his breakout performance in 1996 with Richard Gere in Primal Fear. It earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee. Now at 50yo, he has had some hits and misses. I wish he would work more. He has decided in 2019 to write, direct and star in Motherless Brooklyn. Set in the 50s, it begins with Bruce Willis portraying a private detective who is looking for backup in an upcoming business meeting. The backup are his two underlings in his detective agency, one played by Norton, who has an excellent memory for detail but also a version of Tourette Syndrome. Now Norton has played a character with a challenge before, notably in the excellent and underviewed The Score with Robert De Niro. Here Norton has this affliction, which he can’t control. It adds some humour every now and then (like with the waitress at a bar) but generally becomes a distraction as it pops up randomly. The plot deals with corruption at a municipal level with New York City. Alec Baldwin plays the head of the Bridge Authority who is head of Parks and Bridges, but also given a new appointment as the cleaner of “slums”. You must pay attention to the plot, but it is also predictable with some characters, like Willis’ wife. In the end, this is longer than it should be (about 20 minutes). Other characters like Willem Dafoe add some intrigue, as well as the presence of the female lead looking into the “relocation” aspects but there are various other tangents. Have we seen other stories about corruption in a city? Absolutely. Baldwin plays the bad guy well as he usually does. He has a group of cronies around him strong arming those who put up a battle against his plans. There is a speech late by Baldwin where you hear about the building of Central Park back in the day. He translates this into the activities that he is currently taking. I can’t recommend this, even though I like the cast (save Willis).
I also watched Harriet, and this stars the ever-rising Cynthia Erivo (who excelled in The Outsider.) Harriet Tubman was one of the few women involved in the freedom of slaves from the South to the North, like she had freed herself earlier. With assistance, she managed to walk from her home in South Carolina. The fact that she decided to turn around and make run after run getting hundreds out. The true story is compelling and an extraordinary tale of someone committed to freedom. Her freedom, and the lives of others like her. This movie resonates more now than it did at the time of its initial release (2019). Everything really has changed (in truth to be determined), and the hope is that the country which regards itself as the home of freedom (even though it allowed slavery to continue in its Declaration of Independence in 1776, written by slave owner Thomas Jefferson) can find ways to make strides towards true “equal treatment under the law”. But disregarding the wider big picture for the moment in present day, the movie is a quality performance from an actress who garnered an Oscar nomination for this role. Sadly Renee Zellwegger won the award, but this is a worthy performance. Erivo is English, and that may have raised some eyebrows, but it shouldn’t. She provided an excellent performance of the woman who deserves to have more recognition and notoriety. People like her, I think, would applaud the efforts now 150 years later to find that freedom the founding fathers were seeking to begin with.
I have begun watching the Starz series Manhattan (2014) which dramatizes the race to build the atomic bomb. Manhattan refers to the Manhattan Project led by Dr Oppenheimer. The bombs created and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan to end the war in the Pacific. The bombs themselves were nicknamed “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”. I had not realized that these were two different types of bombs; one was an implosion bomb, the other was uranium gun-type bomb. The two types were created by different teams within the Manhattan campus. There is plenty of drama surrounding the people within this campus. Think of it like The Imitation Game with much personal drama and relationships along with the challenges of creating new under the veil of secrecy. Rachel Brosnahan stars (before her memorable time in House of Cards, and then The Marvelous Mrs Maisel) and she is really good in all the roles that I have seen her. Also starring a much older looking Daniel Stern (from Home Alone, and voiceover in Wonder Years). It is longer than it should be at times (I am on episode 11 of season 1) and there is more to come. They haven’t even made a bomb yet, as they are still trying to figure out how implosion works. Issues like being gay, lesbianism, espionage, Jewish etc are all covered. I will continue to watch. It’s not as good as The Imitation Game but then again not many things really are.
Let’s start this week’s review chronologically as I watched them. I have to say that the week started off very slowly.
It was only recently that I managed to watch The Big Lebowski. I am glad that I saw it, as it had some funny moments with irreverent humour. Marble-mouthed Jeff Bridges was pretty understandable as Dude. John Turturro played a fairly minor role as Jesus Quintana, a tough talking bowler. Turturro decided to write and then direct a sequel (well, a loose sequel) called Jesus Rolls. In a word: terrible. I am still unsure what the premise is here. Jesus just gets out of jail and is picked by his friend. They apparently do everything together, share everything together. That is everything. Jesus apparently is comfortable with both men and women. A good cast joined into this project including Susan Sarandon, Audrey Tautou (from Amelie), Jonn Hamm and Christopher Walken. How they were convinced to join in this mess I am at a loss. I won’t delve into it further, since I am trying to forget it quickly. So I would suggest avoiding.
Next I watched Slumdog Millionaire (2008) which was a worthy Best Picture back in the day. The story was well done and well told, with quality acting. This is one of the older films I saw before my reviews seemingly got into full swing. In short this is worth your time. It tells the story of an Indian street rat, who ends up the game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, and is being questioned as to how he can possibly know the answers to random questions given his station. The story moves from giving answers in the show to the backstory. It all makes sense. Dev Patel plays the young boy. He manages to stay alive in his slums with his brother and this other young girl, who then grow and find new places in life. The young actors are very good. It all ties very well together and is a feel good story. If you actually do the conversion, 20 million rupees is $360,000 CDN. This isn’t retirement for a teenager (at least not in this country) but is obviously more than this young man would have ever seen. If you haven’t watched before, there are worse places to spend your time, if only to see the living conditions in these cities far away from here.
Next, despite my own hesitation I decided to venture to Disney + and watch Captain Marvel. Brie Larson stars, as an Oscar Award winning actress from Room. There aren’t many superhero movies that capture my attention. The Nolan Batman trilogies do, because they were really good movies on their own merit. Wonder Woman was well done. Even Man of Steel had its moments (like its soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, who also did Batman). But Iron Man, the various Spider Mans etc are all just Meh for me. Eventually I may see them, on an airplane or streaming, but not in the theatre. I like Larson. I don’t understand why she signs up for this, other than the financial security that comes with being a character in the Marvel universe who will then become an Avenger (I think). It guarantees money, but won’t push her acting ability, like it hasn’t for Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johannson or Jessica Chastain. Annette Bening, Jude Law and other quality actors join in here too. There is the “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra from Spiderman. But it is a disjointed as the Marvel figures out, like Jason Bourne who she is, and where and what time she came from. The green shape-shifting orc characters are very futuristic, and from a time that I can’t fully place. But then there is a flashback to what seems to be the 80s with F-15 fighter jets, nothing like the space craft and suits, with Samuel L Jackson trying very hard to look and act younger. In short she seems to be a Steve Austin-like pilot put back together for a reason with some powers. Okay. She needs to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad ones. The cat in this film is just silly. Full stop. So add this superhero movie the pile of other predecessors who didn’t capture my attention. I won’t out to see any Avengers movie. Can we see any vulnerability in this character at all? With Superman he at least had Kryptonite. Not sure how Brie gets hurt. But in the words of Arnold in Predator “if it bleeds, then it can be killed”. So maybe. I just don’t care enough to find out.
Finally I stayed with Disney + to catch the “live action”, extended version of The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau who had much success re-imagining The Jungle Book. Extended because they took a 90 minute original animated film and made it 2 hours. I will admit that the added time doesn’t really add anything to the enjoyment of this version. There is a new song from Beyonce (ugh!! Have I mentioned that I don’t like Beyonce and her screaching. Well I don’t). The others are filler. They brought back some of the original voices, like James Earl Jones, which is a really good thing, but failed to bring back a voice like Jeremy Irons for Scar. Which was too bad. I also didn’t like that they changed the turning point scene with Simba in the watering hole with Rafiki where he sees his reflection and his dead father then appears. For me, it is crucial that he says in the original “Simba you have forgotten me”, to which the son denies it. The Lion King really is a re-telling of Hamlet, and Simba is that frustrating young person unable to take proper revenge for the death of his father. Nathan Lane and his voice was missed. Seth Rogan cannot sing. It sounds like a bunch of negatives, in a movie that has some remarkable, lifelike images of animals in Africa. For me, the live, real life safaris that I watch from Wild Earth in South Africa colour my viewing of this. Yes I see the realistic movement. I also know that hyenas are nowhere like they are portrayed and I miss a real lion roar (Disney decided to use a Tiger roar instead). I mean, really??!! The lion roar isn’t intimidating enough? Was this entire enterprise necessary? Not really. It very much mirrors the original, which is the attraction but also a distraction. In the back of my mind I was replaying the original, noticing the differences and realizing that I still preferred the original. So Disney puts out more retelling of classic stories and stays away from new and original content.
As an aside, I watched Disney + for an interview with the cast of Hamilton in HAMILTON: HISTORY HAS ITS EYES ON YOU where Robin Roberts interviews much of the cast in recent days. Hamilton was filmed back in 2015, and much has changed in the world since that time. The pandemic and more importantly the racial issue becoming highlighted. Hamilton was a play created by a Puerto Rican man (Miranda) and a mostly person of colour cast, each of whom is excellent. It is a good discussion about how this plays out in these times. I think an excellent point made, as they had a Harvard History professor on, was to point out that this play wasn’t meant to be historically accurate, but it was meant to raise questions and allow the viewer to do more digging for answers by themselves. I didn’t know the Alexander Hamilton story at all. I am tempted to revisit some of his writings. If I among many people do that, then this art has succeeded. More still, if everyone who watches Hamilton on Disney + (likely more the first weekend than all those combined who saw the show on Broadway) finds a way to register and vote in November 2020, then it also will have accomplished its goal. I can’t imagine that anyone interested in American history and the Revolution wouldn’t want to better understand the man who was by George Washington’s side. Check it out.
On Friday with much hype and fanfare Disney+ has released a 2016 performance from the original cast of the stage performance of Hamilton. Hamilton was a sensation. Tickets were virtually impossible to get, and when they were announced for Toronto they sold out in record numbers. Sadly the shows were all cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The show was nominated for 16 Tony Awards and won 11, including Best Musical. So Disney+ offers up the Broadway cast, including creator Lin Manuel-Miranda playing the main role of American founding father during the 1700s and beyond. Alexander Hamilton, the man on the $10 US bill. He was a right hand man to George Washington. He was the original person responsible for setting up the federal Treasury, centralizing banking and the credit for America as a nation.
In terms of the performance, it is excellent and worthy of your time. The cast is uniformly excellent was tremendous voices. I can’t point to any one particular song (you don’t finish thinking that you need to buy the soundtrack) but they move the story along well. It is a story that I don’t know, but I am glad that I had some context of the time by watching a series like John Adams (on Crave and HBO). The founding fathers and their stories are intertwined with Washington, Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton all living during tumultuous political times as America violently rebelled from the British Empire. Jonathan Groff, who plays the King, and is well known now for his role in Mindhunter is excellent. He is funny, he is over the top, and he drools like a doberman as he sings. The man who played Washington has an excellent voice. They all have excellent voices. Each contributes to a memorable play experience. The mostly unknown story of Hamilton is mostly forgotten in US lore (President Obama actually was pushing to replace his image from the $10 bill – but pulled back when the play was such a colossal hit. Miranda has done something quite remarkable in putting forth an historical musical which teaches while at the same time entertains and informs. I am glad that I was able for the price of Disney+ to watch this play, and obtain my refund for the play in Toronto. Do I need to see this again live? I am not sure. I would be glad to do so, as I think I could catch more a second time. The music for older viewers, as I watched with Mom and step-father, was more difficult for them to follow. The music can be more rapid style rap than they are used to. It is not your traditional showy Broadway tunes. They both enjoyed the second half more than the first.
On Netflix the new popular film is the Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell comedy entitled Eurovision: Story of Fire Saga. This is a lightweight comedy focused on a fictional musical duo from Iceland looking to win the popular Eurovision contest. It has a number of cheesey performances and really bad Icelandic accents (notably Pierce Brosnan as the father of Will Ferrell). In Alison’s words she said “I didn’t hate it” which I don’t take to be tremendous praise. It is mind candy and filler for a couple of hours. Not having been familiar with the actual contest itself, I don’t get the references to performers from the past that are as unique as they come. From the silly to the outrageous. Do I actually believe that Rachel McAdams did the singing? No. Does it really matter? Not really. There were a couple of laughs in this in the slapstick variety, but overall I can echo the sentiments that “I didn’t hate it”.
I realize that I have never reviewed the 1999 sci-fi classic The Matrix. It was on Crave again Sunday night and I find that this is easily watchable time and time again. It was a innovative for its time by the wire work that was done on the stunts. This was part one in what turned out to be a three part series. This, by far, is the best of the series. In short, a computer hacker, played by Keanu Reeves, is intrigued by some outsider computer felons making his online news feeds. He leads a double life as a hacker himself, but also works as a worker bee in a software company. In dramatic fashion he learns that his life in the world as he knows it isn’t what he imagines. In fact, he learns that the humans have become slaves and live in a virtual world to keep them mentally occupied. A virtual prison for their entire lives, to serve the machines, a product of Artificial Intelligence. The story traces the battle between the machines and their agents and the people trying to survive in the real world. There is an excellent supporting cast with Laurence Fishburne, Carrie Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano and Hugo Weaving. Together they tell an exciting, compelling, unique sci fi story in search of The One who live save humanity and end the destructive war with the machines. There is a scene fairly early on where Neo (Reeves) is interviewed by an agent and it turns in an unexpected direction. I was hooked from that point onward. This is a good time to point out that a new Matrix movie has been announced for 2022. The story is unknown. Given the scope of the original three episodes, and the ultimate conclusion I am uncertain where this new episode can continue, but I guess we will all find out. Reeves is back as Neo. Carrie Ann Moss is back as well. Reeves was 35yo in 1999. Twenty two years later it will be interesting to see how the new Neo will look. They are apparently filming this now.
So let’s talk about sequels. When is a sequel not really a sequel? It’s a good question. Sequels typically are used as a continuation of a story that (generally) has been successful. Sometimes in anticipation of success, the studio may pre-green light a series of movies despite seeing the box office numbers for the initial installment (Episode one). A really good example of this was the Hunger Games ripoff Divergent, with Shailene Woodley to replace Jennifer Lawrence. It was a flop. What was meant to have multiple sequels was eventually halted after Epiosode 2. Typically there are sequels that follow along fairly quickly from the initial episode 1. For example, famous sequels would include Godfather and Godfather II. Some would argue that this is one of few situations that the sequel was better than the original. For me they are a 1 and 1A, but that is a story for another day. So why start the conversation? Well it addresses a movie review for this week; Doctor Sleep. Starring Evan McGregor (Obi Wan Kenobi), and Rebecca Ferguson (who incidentally is rising fast among my thoughts on hottest and intriguing actors) in the “sequel” to the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining. The original was an interesting take on the Stephen King novel starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. For me, I found it confusing and slow. There were strange things going on throughout and odd conversations with the characters in this secluded hotel in Colorado in the middle of winter. One of the characters was the little boy, Danny Torrence, who has a gift not fully explained. As the father character became more unhinged, Jack Nicholson went on a murderous rampage with his famous axe through the bathroom door sequence shouting “Heeeeere’s Johnny!!!” Fast forward forty years and Stephen King had penned a “sequel” called Doctor Sleep in 2013. The movie is next to come (it is Stephen King after all, and he’s a pretty bankable writer to Hollywood). For me, he is more miss than hit. But the hits are really good – like Shawshank Redemeption, Green Mile, or Carrie. The Doctor Sleep story for me is different because for the vast majority of the early stages it only tangentally deals with the plot from the first movie. I understand wanting to address themes not fully addressed in the original, but there are large segments that are just really new. The whole explanation of “shining” is more fully discussed as an older Danny (now played by McGregor) is having discussions with the (new actor) but older character played by Scatman Crothers, who has a unique voice and presence that cannot be duplicated. They try. They also try with Shelly Duvall and some other characters with mixed success. But in truth the whole Rebecca Ferguson character is a completely new concoction. Her and her crew. She has some unique abilities, like flying through the air with no shoes on as she looks to find some new prey. Then of course there is the whole concept of how she gets energy for herself and that of her crew. There are also some tie-ins with The Outsider and the ability for someone to have this paranormal gift. In the end, it doesn’t really work. It is really only near the end that the tie-in takes place with Colorado and the old hotel. It is a stretch really, and leaves me scratching my head. The movie wasn’t a success and I see why. It’s not overly compelling and it’s hard to follow up an original story forty years later when your core viewers of the original are much older and likely not going to theatres for a psychological horror. To me it was never a horror to begin with, but certainly psychological. The whole lifeforce thing too didn’t really click. Finally it was too long, and maybe that’s because of the forced tie-in at the end, which only somewhat made it a sequel. So however much I like Rebecca Ferguson, I can’t really say that this one is worth checking out, but don’t call it a sequel.
I was looking forward to seeing Clemency. I do like Alfre Woodard, who is similar to Viola Davis in quality of acting and quality of roles selected. I knew little about the story, but it turns out that it focuses on the issue of capital punishment. This time the focus of the story is on the warden of the prison. That is a perspective that I don’t think I have ever recall seeing. It’s an odd one, truth be told I think, but a different perspective. Alfre plays the warden, and she in a Green Mile type way has an execution go badly that she had a front row seat to experience. It was a shit show, and there is another inmate on death row that is next. His lawyer is actively looking for a temporary stay while they figure out what went wrong with the previous one. Meanwhile Alfre at home isn’t sleeping and is having some marital challenges. All this to say that she is suppose to garner sympathy because she is the person doing her job in the process of State sanctioned murder. The inmate has his own story, but when I think of this story versus Dead Man Walking, it just doesn’t draw the viewer in as much. I wasn’t as sympathetic towards him even though they did their best to bring forth some evidence about his guilt or lack of evidence against him. Focusing on the warden in a story like this is misplaced because they have less at stake; one’s life is much more weighty than one’s job. I think the discussion points about the the value of capital punishment have been beaten to death. It really isn’t a deterrent. The story about how it might negatively impact those who work in prisons has been told better in movies like The Green Mile. In the end, I found this slow and not meeting up on the expectation meter. Unfortunate enough to say but there it is. Alfre deserved a better story to showcase her talent.
On Crave they are showing some “oldies but goodies” and some other “just oldies”. In that vein, this past week Giant was on with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and a new face by the name of James Dean from 1956. It is a 3 1/2 hour story from Texas and a massive family ranch for the Rock Hudson character. He early on heads to a farm to purchase a horse. There he meets Taylor as the daughter of the horse breeder. They get married in short order, and head back to the ranch (500,000 acres). There is a farm hand, Dean, who helps out and is close to the sister of Hudson. Ultimately the Dean character and the Hudson characters get to be in competition with one another. Time passes. The characters slowly but surely move on with their lives. WWII begins, and some of the members get involved. I was struck by physically just how much taller Hudson is than Taylor. She was short. He was around 6’4″ while Taylor was just over 5 foot. I wish there was more to this story. Ranch hand manages to find a way to obtain wealth and yet even with the riches the flaws remain the same. Taylor meanwhile tries her best to show a stronger woman capable of making business decisions and contributing to the ranch. She pushes against the old boys, including Hudson. Hudson’s son (a young Dennis Hopper) wants to be a doctor rather than a rancher and he marries a Mexican woman. There are issues about racism, all the while there are black and hispanic workers on the farm. Life was very different in 1950s USA. I always remember the very large painting with cowboys and horses on the wall in the main ranch house, but that is about it that was memorable, maybe except the poor job of aging the main actors that takes place. I can’t say that I recommend this one either, except perhaps as a time capsule for movies with big Hollywood actors.
One of the things that I have realized over time is that when I started talking with Alison we generally were talking about movies seen in the theatre over that past week. It was likely around 2005 when we first started doing this. A lot has changed in the movie watching world in the past 15 years. Principally the difference is no theatres are even open these days and it is about streaming and catching movies on DVD/BluRay. The realization was that movies pre-dating 2005 for the most part haven’t been reviewed, or at least in detail. Of course there are some that have popped up or been part of a compilation list but for the most part this is the case.
For recent content I finished watching Season 3 of Ozark. What started out as a different spin on Breaking Bad (in my opinion), where a Dad with Wife and two kids is money laundering for a drug cartel rather than making crystal meth to have something to leave to his family, has changed somewhat. The overall theme remains the same, but the tactics and how the characters interact is different. Different in a good way. I like how Marty and his wife are at odds on the direction to be taken with managing the money with the new casino license. The kids are involved, and the main new character introduced is Wendy’s younger brother, Ben who early on shows that he can be a volatile personality. The details become more apparent as the season goes on. He is played well by Tom Pelphrey and becomes a divisive character among almost all of the others. Everyone has an opinion about him, and the arc of his story is a good one. I enjoyed this season although it took me plenty of time to finally get through, and I am not sure why. For me a Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones kept me engaged and I was itching to see what was going to happen next. It was very binge-worthy, but here it’s not so much. I could take it or leave it. The final two or three episodes had some momentum and it carried me through to the end. There will be a Season 4 I expect and we will see where this takes us. I have to admit that I am bigger Ruth fan as this season wore on.
In all of the years that I have been going to movies, and seeing movies in the theatre and elsewhere, you would think that I would have seen the 1975 cult-classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. I have never. I have seen bits and piece of it, mostly Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite songs, but never from beginning to end. This was a film back in the 80s that would play at midnight at a Toronto theatre and the people who attended would dress up, act out the parts and participate (like throwing toast). For whatever reason, I never made it out. I think that the theatre-going experience would add so much more to this campy classic. It stars Tim Curry in a never-to-be-duplicated role as Dr Frank N Furter. It is an over-the-top performance and elevates the tone for the entire B-grade production otherwise. A very young Susan Sarandon also stars. The two songs listed above are memorable, and were stalwarts at high school and summer camp dances for years to come (I can still lip synch both songs in their entirety). Is it a great movie? No. Is it fun and a frolic? Absolutely. I can see why parents would be a little hesitant to have this shown to impressionable teens, but the teens went anyway. This in the same fashion that my Mom when she saw some parts of the movie The Phantom of the Paradise (1975), with Paul Williams and a more highly sexualized take on the Phantom of the Opera, was not impressed as we watched late night on City Tv. I wouldn’t watch this again in the comfort of my own home, but if it was playing at a theatre at midnight I may seek it out to re-live some high school days (maybe bring some older kids along as well)!
From Rocky Horror I then re-watched Caddyshack just because it was on. The premiere golf movie from 1980, directed by Harold Ramis of SCTV lore. It stars Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. It has a memorable appearance of Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight as the Judge. It’s stupid and it’s funny as the Saturday Night Live crew did with this and Murray with other movies like Stripes and Meatballs. People ask me at times what movies are comedies that I can watch? These three films with Bill Murray could be a good start for an evening of fun. The Caddyshack premise is one of an exclusive private golf club where the local teen caddies are looking to get through a summer. The one older caddy (Danny Noonan) played by Michael O’Keefe has a large family, with little money and he is struggling with his choices on whether to attend college. Chevy Chase an older member of the club gives him some advice. Dangerfield shows up and stirs up havoc and ultimately ends up challenging the Judge to a round of golf for a growing sum of money. Meanwhile, Bill Murray is a groundskeeper tasked with getting rid of a gopher that has taken up residence under the golf course. It’s fun. Has some good jokes. It is light entertainment. Some may argue that Happy Gilmore with Adam Sandler is a funnier golf related movie, but I will respectfully disagree (mostly because of Sandler himself). But few would be able to add a funnier golf movie than those two choices.
The Hunt for Red October was a Tom Clancy novel which introduced for movies the character of Jack Ryan in 1990. Sean Connery stars as the commander of a new Soviet Typhoon class submarine with a new propulsion system. Ironically, Tim Curry is part of his crew. Jack Ryan is portrayed by Alec Baldwin who famously only played the part once, after which Harrison Ford took over for other Clancy books made into film like Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Later Ben Affleck took a turn as Ryan. Currently John Krasinski is playing Ryan in a TV series on Amazon Prime. It is a long standing character that Baldwin could have done very well with for years to come. In this story, he is an analyst who knows much about the Connery character. The intrigue begins when word gets out that the Soviets have a submarine with a commander who is threatening the US to launch missiles. Ryan thinks that the intention may be more to defect than have a first strike against the US. There are good performances all around, and it is a high stakes thriller where you wonder how it can all play out. Questions like how do you manage to defect with a submarine the size of WWII aircraft carrier, and hundreds of crew members? This was a good book and I enjoyed it too. The story itself still holds up 30 years since it was released (scary to think about). Another movie that you can watch on Netflix.
Schindler’s List was released in 1993. It came at a time where Steven Spielberg was felt to be not a “serious” director. He could do summer blockbusters like Jaws, or Close Encounters or E.T. and make oodles of money, but he had not as much success with more serious subjects like The Color Purple or Empire of the Sun. In 1993, he directed Schindler’s List, the Holocaust story of Oskar Schindler, a German war profiteer who created a war-time factory using Jewish slave labour which ultimately he used to save 1200 lives at the end of the war. To hear Steven Speilberg tell it in the documentary Spielberg, this was a project that was introduced to him many years before, and then after Raiders Temple of Doom, and meeting and marrying his second wife, Kate Capshaw decided to take it on. For him, this was his opus and he wanted to represent flawlessly the story of the Polish Jews, and specifically Krakow Jews from initial forcible removal from their homes into slums, to then being moved to internment camps and death camps. It is almost entirely filmed in black and white for a reason. It is more powerful. Spielberg uses all his considerable skills, and those of cinematographer and production designer to bring the viewer into that reality. Liam Neeson portrays Schindler. He is assisted directly by excellent Ben Kingsley as his Jewish accountant Izhtak Stern, and the equally excellent Ralph Fiennes as the Nazi camp commander Amon Goeth. These are real people portrayed by these actors. The movie is a triumph, and takes the viewer into the unimaginable horrors that lived in that time. The uncertainty from day to day for each person whether you, or your loved ones, would live or die at the hands of an unpredictable and ruthless overseer rings throughout. The enormity of the tragedy with loss of life is astounding. Millions of lives were snuffed out in a systematic, production line murder process. Enormous resources in people and infrastructure were necessary to execute on Hitler’s Final Solution to the Jewish problem as he saw it. I have not been to Auschwitz, but I have been to Mauthausen near Linz Austria. Seeing a death camp is an experience to remember. How human beings can treat each other like something other than human confounds me. This won Best Picture, and Spielberg’s first Best Director Oscar. In total it won 7 Oscars. This should be mandatory viewing for all so that history is remembered. So that we don’t forget the lives lost, and we ensure that systematic racism does not ever get to this point ever again. This isn’t easy to watch, but it’s worth every moment and shows the remarkable Steven Speilberg at the top of his craft.
Love Life is a new series on Crave from HBO starring Anna Kendrick. On it’s face it appears to be yet another Friends-like sitcom with a laugh track being a half step above reality TV with dating shows/train wrecks. That was my anticipation going in. It is 10 episodes, but these are not an hour long (it’s closer to half an hour). So your investment in time isn’t that intense. Each episode focuses on a relationship that the Anna character (Darby) has at the time. It follows along chronically with some gaps between episodes. There is some flashback, and actually I felt that the flashback became the emotional anchor to the season. The viewer gets to better understand Darby and her past. Without giving anything away, the high school Darby was an interesting person, who has more depth than one would expect. Then there are episodes which focus on her friends or family rather than romantic relationships. In summary it was unexpected, and I enjoyed going on this journey with her. Ultimately this becomes about her relationships but the other episodes build upon her and reflect on those relationships and her friends. She grows. She becomes more secure and advances in her career, one which is important to her, and she kind of falls into it. It apparently has been announced that there will be a Season 2. That is an interesting development. The direction in how it would go to be determined. As I remember back to the beginning of When Harry Met Sally (one of the best relationship movies – also in NYC) they had the vignettes with the older couples talking about how they met. It shows that everyone has a story. Everyone. Think of your family and friends and you will realize that each of them has a story to tell about how they met their spouse (or how it didn’t work out). There are some episodes worthy of a conversation afterwards.
On Disney +, they are pushing out a new movie starring another young hero who has to find a way to save the world, like Ender’s Game, or The Last Starfighter or many others in the genre. Here there is an impressive cast, with Dame Judi Dench and Colin Ferrell. Kenneth Branagh directs. The setting is Ireland, which is called a “magical place”, and sets the tone for a fantasy that seems to borrow a bit from Harry Potter as well as Maleficent in a way. I like the scenes in Ireland. Basically Colin Ferrell is a father with a mysterious job, who spends a great deal of time away from his only son. Mom, of course, is passed (what is a Disney story without parental death – think about it). But younger Artemis is very bright is an independent sort. He is causing some trouble with his teachers. He has been well versed on the Irish fairy tales, but there is an undercurrent that he should be believing them. Dad disappears. Artemis then needs to fix a problem. There is a clash among worlds as the problem to be solved unravels. Alliances are made. The bad people are identified. Sadly near the end of the 90 mins, the viewer realizes that this is an introduction. I don’t think I give much away by saying that. I was disappointed. So there is more to come with the oh-so-cute young stars, who act smarter than they likely are. We adults should be so thankful that they are around. The comedy relief is an over-sized dwarf who resembles a young, overly bearded Jack Black. He channels that vibe well anyway. Do I want to watch more? Do I need to see where this leads? Unknown. But you can judge for yourself whether this new Disney product might be for you. Said differently, I wouldn’t pay for Disney + solely to watch this. I originally purchased Disney + for The Mandalorian. I enjoyed that, but I am a Star Wars guy and have been since the original back in 1977. As a sidenote, I laughed when I saw one character who looked like one of the members of the disgraced group Milli Vanilli…you’ll know who I mean when you see him.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich: On Netflix. I have to admit that I never really paid that much attention to the story that broke about Jeffrey Epstein and then his sudden and unexplained suicide in the New York courts. But as I watched, I became more aware just how much there is a two-tier justice system in the US. By that I mean that there isn’t equality under the law, and justice doesn’t seem to be blind. It’s quite evident that those who are rich and well connected are able to buy themselves out of legal difficulties, even when the alleged crime is the molestation of young girls. The number of young girls that we are talking about is staggering. As a father, it sickens me that such predators are out there. Like most predators, Epstein or those around him, are able to sniff out weaknesses for his victims and exploit it to his benefit. It may be financial (many of the young women come from poor or broken homes without means) while others it can be emotional and still others for occupation or education. He made his money on Wall Street. He owns palatial property in Manhattan, Paris, New Mexico, Palm Beach Florida and an entire island near the Virgin Islands. He has a female partner, Ghislaine Maxwell (they aren’t married) who is the daughter of famous Brit media mogul Robert Maxwell. She assists in procuring the young girls. She is also an active participant. From a legal lens, this story sickens me as you first see the number of young women involved, the Palm Beach Police Department, and later the FBI and Justice Department. The sweet heart deal made with the Federal Justice Department is astounding, with more then one commentator stating “in all my years, I haven’t seen anything like it”. In short, he agreed to serve 18 months in prison, pay a fine and plead guilty to procuring a prostitute. Amazingly, while he is in prison, he was free to come and go and he pleased (including leaving the country to his island). He was the narcissist, rich, white guy who acted as though the rules never applied to him. He left a wake of bodies behind him to satisfy his fetishes. He has famous friends, some of whom won’t be surprising like Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew. Prince Andrew incidentally comes off looking like a fool and lying flat out to the news in an interview. Ultimately even Epstein’s last act with his wealth is a slap in the face to the victims involved. Some will argue that he was taken out in jail, and it was meant to silence him. Apparently his security cameras were everywhere. As protests continue for George Floyd, seeking equal treatment from police, seeking justice in this and other numerous cases, this situation shows glaringly just how unbalanced the scales really are. Well worth checking out.
Away From Her: this is a Canadian film starring Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie. There are scenes that look like they are straight out of Muskoka. Filming locations include Kitchener, Paris and Bracebridge by the Director Sarah Polley. It was released in 2006, and is a relationship movie of a long married couple (44 years) where she begins forgetting things and we find out that it is early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She seems to be more accepting of the fate, and convinces her husband that she should go to a local assisted living home. In 44 years he has never been away from her. The story shows the heart wrenching situation as it plays out. I have to admit that this is a horrible way to go, likely more for partner without the disease than the one with (but we’ll likely never really know that since the disease takes away the ability to talk about how they are feeling and experiencing it). It’s an example how life can be a lottery; you finally find a match/mate, and have a life together, then as you settle into what is seemingly a retirement then fate steps in and takes your partner away. The outer body of that person you loved is still there, but what made them connected to you is slowly eroded away. There are choices made that I won’t detail here. The performances were very good, and a good supporting cast (including Olympia Dukakis). I saw this on Crave but it can also be found here at CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/films/more/away-from-her
Edge of Tomorrow (Live, Die Repeat): I had read somewhere that the powers that be were looking to do a sequel to the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt film, but that once she had decided to do Mary Poppins that it just kind of frittered away. It’s sad really, because this movie is a lot of fun. It is a Sci-Fi alien invasion movie where the world is on the verge of being taken over. A D-Day like invasion is planned in France against a well-prepared alien enemy. Cruise plays a US Major who is more about promotion/recruiting unexpectedly, for him, cast onto the front lines of the first wave of an invasion force. He meets up with bad ass Blunt and they go about trying to defeat the aliens with Cruise who has been given this gift to reset each day so that they can try to figure it out. It’s fun, it’s intense, it’s funny and not your typical Cruise vehicle where he is always in control. He isn’t here. Blunt teaches him, gives him tools and abilities over time and grows into being a leader. I am hopeful that they can coordinate schedules and try to make a sequel to this.
Ladybird: This Saoirse Ronan film is a repeat for me, but worth catching once again. It is a semi-autobiographical film for the director, Greta Gerwig. A high school girl in her final year makes choices and deals with her mixed up family situation. The best of that is shown with her Mom, played well by Laurie Metcalf, who is a nurse who’s life hasn’t turned out exactly as planned. I stand by my previous review and think this is fun to watch, and similar to Booksmart, that I reviewed recently. Beanie Feldstein is in both and plays a similar character. But the young powerhouse actors like Ronan, Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet bring it all together. Gerwig was very fortunate to bring this talented cast together for her movie. Well worth checking out.