July 13th, 2020

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.

July 6th, 2020

On Friday with much hype and fanfare Disney+ has released a 2016 performance from the original cast of the stage performance of HamiltonHamilton 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.

June 29th, 2020

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.

June 22, 2020

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.

June 15th, 2020

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.

 

June 8th, 2020

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.

 

June 1st, 2020 – Interesting times

These are interesting times.  Historic times of change.   The COVID-19 pandemic continues throughout the world.   Dissipating in Europe somewhat where stores and people are beginning to have their lives of quarantine rolled back  bit.  Canada has provinces like BC opening back up while Quebec and Ontario (the epicentres of the virus) are taking it more slowly.   Meanwhile in the US, they have over 1.7M people who have the virus and over 100,000 dead.   They have more dead than any other nation.   But in the US, they are opening up despite the lack of control with the virus.   It has become a political issue (Republicans don’t wear masks while Democrats do).

Last Monday, shortly after my posting on May 25th, in Minneapolis MN (the midwest) a police officer murdered ordinary black citizen George Floyd after an allegation of Floyd passing a phony $20 bill at a store.   The one white officer arrives and puts unarmed and in handcuffs Floyd on the ground and puts his knee on his neck for almost nine minutes.  All of this was captured on numerous videos.   Three other police are watching their colleague do this without reacting even as Floyd repeatedly says “I can’t breathe!”  He died tragically.   No charges laid for all four.   Since those events, for each night there have been midspread riots in cities throughout the US.   Minneapolis/St Paul to start, then Atlanta, Washington DC, LA, Seattle, and even Des Moines.    The reporting of the various cities is scary and heart-breaking all at the same time.  Fires, protests, looting, police, National Guard, State troopers are perilously taunting to each other.   Such scenes I haven’t seen unless I watch footage from back in the Rodney King riot days in LA, or from the Civil Rights movement with JFK, MLK, Bobby Kennedy etc.   It’s a new day with the outcome very much uncertain.   On Saturday the primary officer was arrested and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.   The other three officers, although terminated, have not been arrested or charged to date.   Apparently that first officer was divorced by his Wife.   It’s not often that you get to see the fabric of a society melt away.

Finally on Saturday, we had the other historic event with the Space-X manned space flight to the International Space Station (ISS) from the US.  The first time in nine years the US had a manned rocket launch.   It was exciting amongst all the bad news throughout the US.    Sunday the Dragon vehicle docked with ISS.   Remarkable pictures.   One comes here to read about movies, but these are unprecedented times.

One film I watched was forgettable, which was the Angelina Jolie sequel to Maleficent.   In Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, this continues the story of Maleficent, the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty, who in the first story you came to realize had reasons for doing what she did.  Much in the same way that the backstory for the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, tells you in Wicked.   So in truth Maleficent was a sequel to the Disney story.   This sequel is a mess, almost from the beginning.  Aurora (Elle Fanning) gets engaged to the prince of the human castle.  The prince with his King and Queen (Michelle Pfeiffer) parents want to have Aurora and Maleficent over for dinner.    The Queen has other plans for them.   Through it all, we find out that Maleficent is part of whole race of horned flyers like her.    There is a dust up between the human, fantasy/natural/magical worlds, and the flying horned people.   There are aspects borrowed from other better movies like The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones.  It doesn’t work.   It’s all a little too contrived.   So I would suggest passing on this fairy tale.

I haven’t seen a lot of Wes Anderson films.  You may not know of him by nae as much as his work.   His works include The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums etc.  Collectively I can say that I haven’t sought out his movies because I found them weird.   In truth I didn’t watch them to completion.   I couldn’t get over the “weirdness”.   The 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom has a really good cast including Edward Norton (who I do seek out), Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Bruce Willis (who I don’t seek out).   The story is set in the mid 1960s in a secluded island.   There is a young scout troop, lead by Edward Norton.   The young boys have one misfit who decides to resign from the troop and mount a dramatic escape.    He leaves to meet up with a young misfit girl.   The story revolves around with this, with parents on one side, a police office (Willis) and other older scouts.   It’s funny.  It’s quirky.   It’s a somewhat strange and that’s what works.   The various characters tie in well with the story and the young kids end up teaching the adults.  I think that was the whole point.   I think Tilda Swinton in a relatively minor role is very funny.   It’s probably better to not know more than the rough skeleton of the plot outline and just experience it.   Worth a viewing if you don’t know Anderson’s work.   Maybe this is a perfect place to start.   Unknown at this point for me,  but I might just explore another film of his…

May 25th, 2020

Alison had watched and reviewed Booksmart back in October last year.  Search for her review.   I had heard good things about this movie, and this being the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde.   The movie stars a good young cast, who are playing a modern day version of Fast Times at Ridgmount High and the predecessor before that American Graffiti with a bunch of high school kids on their last day of high school and before graduation.

The primary star is the young Kaitlyn Dever, named Amy (who was also in the series Unbelievable) and closely tied with her on screen best friend Molly, the school’s valedictorian (played well by Beanie Feldstein) and their graduating class and some school personnel.   These two best friends, and school outsiders, pledged to focus entirely on studies and school government with a view to getting into good schools and avoid typical high school trappings (partying, drugs, trouble etc).  On the last day of school Molly realizes unexpectedly that some of her classmates, who didn’t seem to focus entirely on school managed to get into equally notable schools as she did (but they also had fun).   She pledges to Amy that they will party it up on their last night of high school, even though they weren’t invited to any parties.   The story moves on to their numerous adventures.    It’s a fun story, and I had a number of good laughs along the way.  Things just happen to them, and they have encounters with a number of their classmates and others along the way.   Problems arise that need to be solved and the two face a number of challenges.   The story is well told and the various side stories match up well (I thought anyway).  I like the message about high school as a stepping stone and even those who you may think have it all together, don’t necessarily do.   There is a good message about friendship.    Things don’t always turn out the way you had planned, even for a single evening of fun.   This isn’t always a bad thing.   We learn, we grow, we take next steps.   The hope is that you meet some good people along the way that you can relate to and connect with.   Some will stay with you briefly, while others may be around for a lifetime.  As one ages you can see some of these people as you look backwards at your life.    There are a lot of truths to be found.  I can hear my daughter telling me that I am being pretentious and obvious at the same time.   Some moves are fun.  Some movies have messages and others still can do both.  This is a quality first time directorial debut for Wilde.   She seems have to a very good grasp of the material and allowing her able actors to make it work.   I note that she didn’t write the screenplay.

I am continuing to work through Killing Eve Season 3, which I do enjoy as well as RUN Season 1 which seems to be getting better each episode.   It started slowly with the other adult investigator star from Unbelievable (Merritt Wever) and Domhnall Gleeson, but it gets better and more complex.   This is yet another series where Phoebe Waller Bridge has her input (and acting skills).   Waller Bridge in also involved with Killing Eve.   I am also continuing to watch Westworld Season 3.   I realize as I watch these episodes just how complex this series really is.   I am not even sure after a short time whether I had watched that episode or not.   Dolores is exploring the “real world” having escaped the adult amusement park.   She has a few friends with her.    Plenty to pay attention about.

I am missing movies.  I am missing the theatre.   This goes without saying I suppose.   I am more distressed about the delays in movie releases like James Bond, Dune, Top Gun etc.   Of course the studios don’t want to lose out on the theatre revenue at $15 a seat.   But it would seem that this virus will keep people out of theatres for quite a while – well maybe everywhere but the US, unless they start showing movies in church.    Stay safe.   Stay home.

May 18th, 2020 – Victoria Day

Disney + is showing Nature shows through their DisneyNature brand.  They made a big deal about how Elephants is being narrated by Megan Markle.  For me this was more a detractor than an incentive to watching.  It was released at the same time as Dolphin Reef.  I do marvel at the pictures that they are able to find.   As I watch more live safaris from Wild Earth, it is so difficult to predict where the animals will be, let alone getting the light and them doing something movie worthy.   Then to wrap a human story around the footage makes it even more challenging.   For me, te weakest element of these shows are the “human story”, because they are giving human emotion and motivations to animals.   Who’s to say what an elephant is thinking or how they are feeling?   I have little doubt that they do both (think and feel) but I doubt that our interpretation through the words in these pictures are accurate.    The attraction for this film was a recommendation from my eldest son, and also the fact that these elephants are filmed not far away from Kruger National Park in South Africa where Wild Earth films.    Some of the pictures are breathtaking.   I hope you have HD and a large TV screen.   The aerial shots of a large herd are amazing.   Some of the activities of the elephants which I won’t spoil by revealing are remarkable.   So to that end, these stories are worth seeing and spending some time with nature.   The story, forget about it.   The little elephant who is named (as they mostly all are) is cute, and is a youngster so they are just fun to watch anytime.   So in the end, there was no need to pay the former Prince Harry’s wife, and they could have had virtually anyone narrate this.

Much to Alison’s surprise, I revealed Saturday night that I have never seen 1998’s Coen brothers movie The Big Lebowski!   It is on Netflix, and is a good laugh and a lot of fun, in a dark comedy kind of way.   There is an impressive cast with Jeff Bridges starring as “Dude”, and his good friends John Goodman impressively playing his intense Vietnam veteran bowling buddy and Steve Buscemi who is generally told by Goodman to keep his mouth shut.   The entire premise of the film is a mistaken identity, where the unemployed Dude, a hippy pot-smoking flower child, has his hom broken into and he strong armed by two guys looking for money.   The one bad guy urinates on his front hall carpet.   Rather than just throw out the carpet and move on, Dude is convinced to confront the man who shares his last name, Lebowski, and for which all the confusion was started.   He wants money for the carpet, but is rebuffed then asked to do something that only he can do.   The story moves on from there with good writing and performances.   Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro and others are here.   I think that Goodman’s performance was really good.   He is an over-the-top guy who has anger issues, and obvious unresolved Veteran issues from his Viet Nam experience.   He creates more problems than he creates, “am I wrong”?   Bridges too is very good, and sounds less like he has marbles in his mouth, which I think his tongue is still growing in his mouth as he ages.   But it was a good laugh, at a time when we can all use a good laugh.   There are certainly dark aspects to the story, but I kept realizing that this entire story takes place because someone pissed on his rug, and it is a continuing source of laughter. (This is also the high point of the career for later forgotton Tara Reid of American Pie notoriety).   I was shocked to see her here.

Finally I did finish the second season of Narcos, with the story of Pablo Escobar.   Just wow.   It was well done.   The complexity of this cocaine cartel issue was remarkable even as the walls start coming down all around Escobar.   His focus shifts to getting his family out of Columbia so he can wage a war against the usurpers (a ruthless group of former members of the cartel and some right wing extremist mercenaries).    Much of the story is true, as the real life Steve Murphy and Pena were part of the group advising on the project.   As they say in this series “you can’t make this stuff up”.   I am glad I watched.  I know that the Murphy character doesn’t appear in Season 3, so I am less enthused to watch it.   Incidentally, the real life wife of Murphy was said to have “one small gripe” with the series as she says she would have never have left Steve in Columbia herself (and she didn’t) but it made sense to have the story go that way for dramatic purposes.   Fun to watch, and scary too.

 

 

May 11th, 2020 – Mother’s Day weekend

My eldest son has been told by numerous people that he is actor Ansel Elgort’s doppelganger.   He channeled this fully a couple years ago dressing up as the young Elgort from his movie Baby Driver.

Baby Driver Ansel Elgort Jacket | Ansel elgort, Ansel elgort baby ...

Elgort is in the new movie The Goldfinch.   His character, Theo Decker, in the movie has had a rough life, which is the understatement of the day.   Every where he turns it seems that people have disappointed him or betrayed him.   The story is rather convoluted to be precise as it jumps around in time, and as one watches it is more fantastic that all these things could happen to one person.    In summary, as a young boy Theo is at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art with his Mom, when  a bomb goes off.   His Mom and many others are among the killed.   His parents are estranged, and he has nowhere to go, and decides to stay with Nicole Kidman (a fate worse than death as far as this guy is concerned).   She is married with a few children of various ages, the eldest being an obnoxious jerk.   Another is roughly the same age as young Theo.  The Mom is kind to him.  As the young Theo gets more comfortable in his surroundings his estranged father shows up.   He is moved from NYC to Las Vegas where Dad (played by Luke Wilson) shows numerous ways that parents can betray their kids.   I won’t continue further with the plot as I said earlier, it was convoluted.   It turns back onto itself, and the theme is really one of betrayal and looking to preserve that which should last.   Finn Wolfhard is part of the cast and seems to be everywhere with Stranger Things and IT, always seeming to play similar characters.  He’s an odd looking duck.  Add a Russian accent here (poorly done) and he helps to move the story along in unexpected ways.   I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the Goldfinch is a painting which was on the wall at the museum.   For me the challenge was believing that all these things can happen to this one young man.   The last act is adding a thriller aspect to it, which flies in the face of the rest of the film, which was a family drama.  I am using the word “thriller” in its most generous form.   I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat.   On the whole a bit disjointed and disappointing.   Maybe the novel read better.    One can always hope.   Many books don’t translate well to film.  This may be just one of them.

Downton Abbey is on Crave now.  Just released.   This is the film and not the series that was available on Netflix and other streaming services.  The series began in 2010 and had 52 episodes on 6 seasons.   It is a modern retelling of the British series Upstairs, Downstairs in theme and not translating those stories here (that show is unwatched by me).  The movie is a continuation of the last story of the Crawley family starting from 1912 after the sinking of the Titanic.   This is quality UK based TV with good performances, a gorgeous chateau and people-driven drama.  I have to admit that Dame Maggie Smith steals scene after scene with her performance as the matriarch of the Crawley family.   Her son, Robert The Earl of Grantham, is the head of household at a time when things are changing dramatically in UK society.   Women’s roles are changing, young people don’t want to be confined to traditional roles and the house struggles with being able to maintain staff and a way of life.   The movie looks to have an event involve all the people in the household.   Do you need to watch all the TV series to see the movie?  It helps.   You’ll know the history of some of the characters and understand why certain events can prove to be a source of angst for them.   Notably it would help to know that young Tm Branson is part of the “upstairs” part of the house, but in the series started as a chauffeur in the “downstairs” part amongst the help where the youngest Crowley daughter Sybill fell in love with him.   He is Irish and has distinct opinions about the British occupation in Ireland.   Sybill passes away in child birth.  In this movie the drama is created by all involved by the notice of arrival of the Royal Family arriving at Downton for a dinner, parade and overnight visit.   There is an emotional component near the end that brings the story together that I won’t divulge.   Generally I found the many characters having to be dealt with in a two hour film can’t compare to 52 episodes that have come before.   Do we really need to see the story of Thomas Barrow as the now Head Butler?   It added very little for me.   The engaged Daisy story didn’t add much either for me.   In the end I enjoyed this, and brought together a few of the actors that were in Imitation Game.   That was good to see as well, like Tom Branson.

This week I finished watching season 1 of Narcos.   Set in Columbia in the early 80s, you see the beginning of the cocaine cartel shipping their product off to a voracious US customer base.   The focus is on Pablo Escobar, the kingpin and Don who heads a coalition of drug producers and dealers and drive astronomical profits along the way.   He is the ideas guy and brains of the operation.   He is ruthless.   He has no soul.   He has his ambition in mind and the idea that he should and could become the saviour for his country Columbia.   I gave some background last week.   The ending of Season 1 takes place at the luxurious castle acting as a prison for Escobar and his men.   The army has been sent in by the President, but it is unclear just how motivated that they are to finish the job.   The cliffhanger is whether or not Escobar has survived the activities at the castle.    It is interesting to watch.   Well acted.  It shows a place where no one is safe.   It is a police state where an ongoing war with heavily armed drug thugs makes every day life unimaginable.    I cannot imagine being an ordinary citizen in Columbia in those times.   Season 2 continues the story with the characters who manage to survive the ending of Season 1.    I will continue watching.