October 19th, 2020

Trial of the Chicago 7: This movie was just released on Netflix this past weekend. It has an impressive cast including Oscar winners Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance, with Sasha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, J Gordon-Levitt and others. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin you know that it will have really good dialog, from his previous efforts like Molly’s Game, Steve Jobs, The Social Network, Moneyball etc. From TV he wrote series like The West Wing and The Newsroom. The story focuses on the story of a trial for eight organizers of protests outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968. One of the eight was the leader of the Black Panthers. Others included Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and Jerry Rubin. Most only know Hoffman as the flamboyant and outrageous hippie from Woodstock and other memorable gatherings. J Gordon-Levitt is the young prosecutor on the case sent by John Mitchell (the new Attorney General under the Nixon White House). This is a quality political and court room drama. One can see the effect of a judge in a proceeding. Further one can make parallels with the uncertain times with much unrest in the population. There is a Republican President (Nixon) with his own agenda, his own views of Presidential power and how the country should be run. A change in the Oval Office leads to a change in the treatment of those who attended the rally, where there was some police instigated violence, and also addressed those who were still protesting the Viet Nam war effort. Discussion is made about a “political trial” where Abbie Hoffman first brings up the concept. The events of the actual arrests unfold over time and we can see the actions of the police and those of the City of Chicago. In short, I think Sorkin has out together an excellent cast who dramatize the events of this group in uncertain political times. Lessons to the present day are everywhere. Rylance as one of the lawyers does an excellent job continuing the educate the presiding Judge over the lack of legal representation of the Black Panther leader. This is definitely worth your time to view.

James Vs His Future Self: I have to admit that my limited experience with Canadian film generally leaves me with an idea at first that the Canadian subject may feel like “second class”. It’s kind of like watching a made-for-TV movie rather than Hollywood production. With Canadian content rules you see many of the same Canadian actors. But more recently I watched and enjoyed Away From Her, and now I have seen this with Daniel Stern (from Home Alone, Wonder Years and Diner fame). He plays the elder version of himself in a time travel movie that principally deals with issues like love, marriage, work, quality of life etc. Younger James, played by Jonas Chernick is a scientist in a large company who is looking to advance the technology in time travel. He is one of the principal researchers and looking to obtain a promotion from the principal researcher. Along comes his future self, proving that it works, but discouraging him from doing so, because of what he personally has given up for the sake of the project. There is a push and pull of his present self justifying his own ambitions and looking to convince the older self that he can make it turn out differently. All of this is filmed in Sudbury, of all places, but the lake and the environment are inviting. Much to my surprise I did enjoy this. The high tech and CGI was downplayed and the story with the characters emphasized.

The story with James builds on a theme for a book I was reading entitled Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, the Detroit sports writer and author. It is a quick read and discusses Albom’s meeting up with his old college professor as he is fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). It is not a disease for the squeamish. But Morrie has a different perspective, feeling as though he wants to live by helping others, not fading away into obscurity, quietly passing away. He reaches out. He does TV interviews with Ted Koppel of Nightline (three times) and expresses his views on the important things in life. Love, Marriage, Family, Relationships, Friends – not Money, Power, Prestige, Work and Objects. He is a rich man for the things that matter to him, intent on teaching until the end, and showing others how life corrections can happen at any time. I am thankful to have read this and it was impactful for me.


October 12th – Canadian Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all for the Canadian Thanksgiving. It has been a surreal time and with Toronto’s COVID-19 cases rising to levels unseen since March the city has been starting to shut down again, like gyms and indoor seating in restaurants. For me, ice hockey has been suspended for the next few weeks, which really sucks. For me, I am most thankful that those I care about are COVID-19 free. Everyone in my immediate circle remains healthy, thank goodness. Kids, parents, friends are all lucky enough not to be touched by this virus. Schools are back in session but many are taking classes remotely. These are strange days indeed, and the possibility is that there won’t be exams for high school students.

On the TV, I have started watching Ridley Scott’s Raised By Wolves. It is a futuristic story with human beings born and raised by humanoid androids who have some seemingly special powers. I am only a couple of episodes in.

I am also watching The Third Day with Jude Law. More and more it feels like the Midsommar story which I didn’t really like. It was previously reviewed, but it was ultimately just weird with people who don’t act like they should. In The Third Day, which was at TIFF, Law is a guy who from England who has a financial transaction heading south. He is driving near the western shores of England and comes upon a strange happening with a young girl. He ends up taking her to this island only reachable by a road that disappears with the tides, and so is only traversable twice a day. On the island, he runs into odd characters who have their own religion. Emily Watson assists him with a hotel room. Things happen that are simply strange. In Episode 2, after what can only be considered an ordeal, Law has the ability to leave the island. He doesn’t go. Then more bad things happen predictably. I lose sympathy for those people who act outside what the average person would do, and for little reason. On Crave there are only four episodes and I was thinking/hoping that this would be the end. It isn’t. Episode 4 makes even less sense, but tries hard to justify itself at the end. There, like most horrors these days, have uncomfortable pictures of weird things. It can be a gross out – although it is by means a slasher series. Anyway I am growing less enamored by it each episode.

Finally I completed watching McMillions, which was a docuseries which addresses the (unknown to me) scam in the early 2000s with the Monopoly game at McDonalds. There was a rumour flying around the Jacksonville FL FBI office that there was something amiss with the popular game where Monopoly pieces are collected off drink, fries and burger purchases. There was even a possibility that one could instantly win a million dollars ($50,000 a year paid over 20 years). It generated significant extra sales for McDonalds when the game was on. McDonalds had outsourced the game to a Marketing company who had the pieces made at a secure facility in a rural town in the South US. What caught the attention of the FBI agents was the number of people from in and around Jacksonville who were winners in a national contest. The odds were astronomical. The scam unfolds in layers with tracking the winners, to monitoring their phone records to find connections with the same number. The scam grows more involved reaching higher levels of the mob. The kingpin seems to be a middle man who gets more and more involved financially. The basics were that the pieces were taken from the secure facility and then given to known third parties (with an upfront payment required by that recipient). Then they head to a McDonalds and claim their prize. After receipt of the prize, then a portion of it would go to the Recruiter (the person looking to profit from the stolen winners). The FBI follows the money, and comes upon some interesting characters. For me, much like Filthy Rich about Jeffrey Epstein, the (mostly) white, white collar crime perpetrators are treated judicially with kit gloves. Makes me wonder looking back on it, it after all was 18 years ago, a different time by another example of a system that is unbalanced. Ultimately McDonalds was defrauded of about $25M. The one Recruiter says after his short stint in prison that he would do nothing different, and would repeat it. He pocketed about $600,000 for his efforts. The system is broken, with even the FBI agents who shake their heads at the end result. The time, effort and money put into investigating this comes to a resolution that it disappointing. The scam itself was overshadowed by the news of 9-11 in September just as the case was ramping up in the Courts. The FBI were reassigned to terrorism, and this fell to the back pages. The ultimate aftermath was, as often happens, the marketing company getting terminated for one man’s greed along with the small company in rural South that is shut down. This isn’t a victimless crime. Worth checking out.

October 5th, 2020

A Hidden Life: Terrence Malick, for me, is a painter of pictures. His art is moving pictures along with music and soft voiceovers. In his last few films efforts, he has been following (more or less) a similar structure of storytelling which for many viewers can be seen as slow and boring. The previous three features, Knight of Cups, To the Wonder and The Tree of Life have all followed this telling style. I like it. As a teenager I would have been bored, but now I am taken in by the images and the surrounding storyline. It was most successful in The Tree of Life. Less so in Knight of Cups. This one is somewhere in the middle. There is more structure with this story as it shows the times of a husband and wife, with children in rural Austria during WWII. The husband is effectively played by August Diehl, previously unknown to me. He plays a conscientious objector to Hitler and the Third Reich. He refuses to swear his allegiance to Hitler and feels as though humans are losing their way. He puts not only himself but his wife, children and extended family at risk by taking the position he has. For Malick films the actors have to have expressive faces, since there isn’t always a lot of dialog. He and his wife are both very effective with this. The surrounding cast too. I think it could be a difficult task to act in these movies because there is so much that is just free flowing. Light is always a crucial factor. You can wait a log time for a cloud to move or the sun to sit higher in the sky. Much would not be scripted, and Malick would likely talk in broad strokes about how he would want to actors to interact. They would have a camera in tight shots to their faces often. The surroundings here in a farm in the mountains of Austria are breathtakingly beautiful. In truth, the mountains were in Italy and it was made to feel like Austria. But the scenes with mountains, streams, fields, grass, fences, barns and all of it are vibrant. They bring the viewer in. Malick could be flipping pages in a large coffee table book when scenes move from one to another. I won’t delve deeper into the storyline because it in some ways for me was a little incongruous to what I had known about the Nazi regime. I will take them as reflective of a process since there are specific dates which are noted when things have occurred. Movies like this for me can be measured on whether they successfully make you feel something. In this instance, can you empathize with not only the main character but also the wife, the sister-in-law, the surrounding townsfolk. A small rural farming community in a time of war isn’t the easiest place to make a political statement and blend in. Quite the contrary. The story has of course subtle implications for the present day, and looking through the lens of the future with acts of those who were at the time condemned but in hindsight appear to be of someone who saw through the noise, propaganda and rhetoric. I enjoyed this film. Austria/Italy hasn’t looked so pretty since The Sound of Music! Part of me hopes that the Malick style can evolve, since I do believe that Tree of Life was the pinnacle of his art. Still, seeing more pretty pictures married with words, music and story is not an unwelcome prospect.

I re-watched Manhunt: Unabomber with Sam Worthington and Paul Bettany over the past few days and once again I am struck by the course of action taken by Kaczensky’s legal representative. In the US where there is a constitutional doctrine of “fruit of the poison tree” which dictates any evidence found from an illegal search must be thrown out, means that a valid challenge by Kaczensky on the Search Warrant issue runs the risk that all that damning evidence could be inadmissible. In Canada we have a further test which allows that if the legal justice system would be put into disrepute by such a finding, that the evidence could still be admitted. We have an extra layer of societal consideration which can overcome an individual’s challenge in such a case as this. In this case, Kaczenky’s lawyer found a legal loophole to run counter to his interests. He was railroaded. It is an interesting example of how the system can find ways to address stickly situations when lawyers act not only as staunch defenders of their clients but also as officers of the Court. The experiments undertaken at Harvard as well are surprising to view. That professor should be ashamed of his methods with the ongoing negative impacts to the participants of the study.

September 28th, 2020

Capone: Crave is showing the Tom Hardy movie Capone. The story chronicles the final year in the life of the notorious Chicago gangster from the 1930s. He, as we know, was imprisoned for tax evasion which Hollywood showed in the film The Untouchables. Robert De Niro played Capone there. Capone was imprisoned at age 33. Now in this film he has been released to a mansion down in Florida. For someone who was hit with tax evasion charges, he still lives in a palace. This is changing because with no income, he is struggling and looking to auction off some of his various statues and assets on this property to keep it. I say “he” but that really is a stretch since he, at the age of 48 is suffering from dementia and the effects of syphilis, and not really very coherent. He smokes a cigar incessantly while shuffling around in pajamas and rambling a combination of English and Italian profanities. He is suspicious of those around him, even those closest to him. Tom Hardy playing him LOOKS with all the makeup to be in his late 60s or 70s, and learning that he was late forties makes me pause. He looked terrible and sounded even more so. The story is slow, and there were two paths that it took; one story about a potential $10M hidden away somewhere, for which he can’t remember and the communication with an estranged adult son. And though there are some (unintended I think) comic relief moments, like moving Capone away from cigars, in the end it seemed odd to show this very normal aspect of this well-known person’s unusual life. Capone lived more interesting days, these weren’t any of them. So it became almost as entertaining as the vault of his that Geraldo spent hours trying to find and open on live TV. With the cast involved with this project, it was a shame that there wasn’t better material to focus on.

Robert The Bruce: This new release is starring Angus Macfadyen, the same person who portrayed the role in the Mel Gibson’s 1995 Best Picture winning story about William Wallace. Macfadyen also produced this new film and helped write the screenplay. Clearly he was looking to relive the glory days of his past. It’s sad though on the choice of years that he has chosen for his famous Scottish King. At the end of Braveheart, it was a footnote that Robert the Bruce united the clans and won Scotland her freedom. This isn’t that story. Instead, we have an Unforgiven-like story of an older soldier/warrior who is uncertain about his place and looks to find a way to quietly disappear. It is explained that after Wallace’s death, Robert took arms against England initially and failed at turn after turn. It was at this moment, Robert has his moment of doubt, disbands his small group of followers and heads out alone. He ends up injured and found by a woman and three young people. They take in the King and nurse him back to health in an isolated farm house. The woman’s husband died fighting with Wallace. Two of the young people had their father die too. This describes the first 90 minutes of this slow-moving story. In the end, like Capone, Robert the Bruce lived a storied life for which movies are produced. This particular set of years for him, even if true, are not the most interesting part of his life. In fact it is a footnote, and I would have rather seen the time AFTER this movie takes place, with him uniting the clans and defeating the English to gain Scottish independence. That would be a much better movie.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (2018): I was encouraged to watch the sequel to the original Mamma Mia from 2008. Firstly, it has been 12 years since Mamma Mia – wow! The original was based on the Abba songs, of course, but also the stage play which I have seen on both NYC and Toronto. It was a fun musical, and the signature moment in it, for me, is the song “The Winner Takes It All”. In the movie, Meryl Streep stars as Donna, who has a daughter, with potentially three fathers. Donna has a place in Greece that she is fixing up. Her two friends assist. The three men are played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard. All three accomplished actors in their own right, including an Oscar for Firth (The King’s Speech). The cast has reunited to address the continuing story of the hotel in Greece. Daughter Sophie is looking to renovate and re-open the hotel after the passing of her Mom. Yes, the Meryl Streep character has passed away. Much of this movie goes back into the past with young Donna (played by Lily James) after her graduation from university and finding this place, along with introducing these three young men. The Abba songs are mixed throughout with mixed success. For me, not knowing the Abba catalog intimately, I felt as though the well known “hits” were in the first movie. So this was the “B-sides” as it were. In truth, as I noted during my viewing of the movie, that there were quite a few well known songs like “Waterloo” or “Knowing Me, Knowing You” or “SOS”. Some were repeats like “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia”. Still there were others which were unknown to me, and for a reason. For whatever reason, they decided to let Brosnan sing again! Ugh! He was terrible in the original, and follows up with an equally dull rendition here. They also had notoriously hardened character Skarsgard crying/weeping. It was unusual and not typical, nor overly believable. This should be taken as intended I suppose; mind candy or some time away from everyday life. The scenes of Greece are amazing, those filmed there anyway. It can be a good travel log. Some of the songs are known and familiar. My main challenge revolves around the storyline with all the stories seemingly coming to their happy conclusion. The Andy Garcia story just seems a little too convenient. I find Lily James not really a good younger version of Meryl, and I find her a little over-the-top with her mannerisms and lip synching. It’s all just a little too “up”. Anyway, in the end, if you are an Abba fan and want to see more of their music set in Greece then this could be a sequel for you. If you want to know more about Donna and her hotel, and the parallels between her life and Sophie’s it is also something to view. For the actors, I see why these Oscar winning talents want to take part – because they get paid to spend time in Greece! Not a bad gig!! I won’t spoil the ending of this film, and leave it to those that are curious.

September 21, 2020

TIFF has completed for this rather strange year with limited films, but more accessible viewing. The list of of award recipients is here:

I have to admit to being surprised that Nomadland won the People’s Choice Award. Previous winners often go on to obtain Golden Globe and Oscar consideration. For me as I had indicated in my review last week, I found this slow and didn’t see a significant journey for the McDormand character to travel, certainly emotionally rather than physically in her case. She seems to finish the way that she has started. Maybe that was the point. But for me, I would like to think that even the disenfranchised are able to connect with other people and feel something. In the end, there were not as many movies to choose from and I really wonder whether 2020 should have an Oscar asterisk (like the Homerun asterisk for Roger Maris) to indicate a significantly smaller field of choices. But the choices have been made and I expect that if there are awards to be handed out, a number of the films highlighted will be a part of them.

On Crave there is the HBO series entitled Love Fraud. It is a four-part series that looks to uncover the activities of one Richard Scott Smith, who goes by the various names of Mickey, Scott or Richard. Smith is a convenient last name because he is able to blend in with the crowds. He is a polygamist, married 11 times, twice to two women at the same time and leaves a trail of destruction behind him. He takes money and preys upon women when they are vulnerable with grandiose stories of exotic locations, business opportunities, fancy cars and boats. His typical process starts with dating apps and moves into karaoke bars engage with these women. The series begins with a couple women scorned who engage the services of a bail bonds-person, in this case a woman. Richard has outstanding warrants for his arrest in two states. The stories of these women, and his continuing activities are the focus. I was astounded at the lack of ability for those involved to seemingly take any action. It is a cautionary tale for those who date, especially using apps where the person on the other side is largely unknown. Rather than have someone lie to you about their age, weight or size, this is exponentially more sinister than that. It also speaks to a legal system overwhelmed with cases, and there is simply no time to chase after a character like this. Once he marries these women (often in record time) then he proceeds to look to his economic motives, and can turn into a controlling and abusive person. The fourth episode by far is the most compelling of them all. I won’t give away what occurs but it is a fascinating perspective on what had transpired and how different people can view the underlying facts and circumstances over time. Throughout this I was cheering for someone to success against this guy and I had absolutely zero empathy for him at all.

This weekend I also revisited a couple old friends The Adjustment Bureau and Adrift. Both of which I enjoyed once again. I maintain that the opening sequence of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in the hotel bathroom is one of the best examples of on screen chemistry that I have seen. Adrift was revisited to see the scenery and the nice yachts. Some of us live and work in cubicles, others take different approaches as to how to spend their time on this earth. Some of us then have an opportunity to experience what sailing through a hurricane in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would be like and floating for 41 days.

September 14th, 2020

Nomadland: TIFF 2020, such as it is, began on Thursday. There is a live component where they are showing about 50 films, rather than the traditional 300+, and they have fewer venues (a couple of drive-ins and TIFF Lightbox) and an online component. Bell has set up a digital theatre (sadly only for Canadian viewers it would seem) to stream some of the available films. For the cost of a ticket during TIFF normally ($26), I was able to stream at home the latest film of Frances McDormand entitled Nomadland. McDormand has won the Oscar twice before (once for Fargo, and the other Three Billboards…). Both of those performances are excellent. She is also producing this latest story. In it, she plays a woman in her sixties from a small mining town in Nevada in 2011 named Empire. Empire’s sheetrock plant was closed and the town, according to the movie’s open lines didn’t even have a zipcode any longer. Fern was married, but her husband passed and she is one of the last to leave Empire. She has very little and has packed up what she had from a storage locker facility into a panel van. She is living out of the panel van, and moving from job to job and place to place. The story is slow. I had half expected there to be a challenging moment, which would force some decision to be made (likely health- and safety-related) for Fern. It doesn’t really materialize. Instead you have scenes of her mingling with various people she meets along the way. Nomads, by definition, are loners generally. So groups of loners meet from time to time in various places and take up random, temporary work where they can find it. The western economy philosophy is explored about the almighty dollar with perspectives of those chained to desks, doing jobs that they don’t like, and trying to pay for things that they don’t need. This is a story of the disenfranchised. The free market has left them behind, and they likely don’t vote or can’t vote given that they have no fixed address. Do they even care? I am not sure that this is an Oscar-worthy performance, but then again, I am not sure that even having awards for 2020 makes much sense. How many films will be new and released? How many will people actually see? In an unusual year, I don’t foresee that this movie will take the honours for Frances. Without a doubt she carries this movie, but for me, it didn’t really have a lot to say. 

Knives Out: I managed to see this murder-mystery caper last week with a very good cast, including Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, and others. It was well-done and fun. It is ultimately more complicated than I had anticipated, so you have to pay close attention. Things are not as straight-forward as they at first appear. It will keep you guessing all the way until the ultimate conclusion. Christopher Plummer plays a family patriarch who is a successful murder-mystery writer. He has a family not that altogether different than the dysfunctional family seen in Succession; that is, hangers-on and screw-ups who are waiting in various degrees of patience for the old man to pass away. The setting is a gorgeous mansion in the country. Someone dies, many have legitimate motives, and fingers are pointed. Craig plays a Kentucky-based detective who was hired to oversee the whole sordid affair. This is a throwback to Agatha Christie novels with a good cast. This was worthy to check out and some fun.

Les Miserables (2019): This is NOT the movie where Russell Crowe tries to sing, and does about as good a job as Pierce Brosnan did in Mamma Mia. It is NOT the musical set to film about the French revolution. It is an Oscar-nominated film for Best Foreign Film from last year. I love Paris, it is my favourite city in the world. The history, the architecture, the museums, the wine, the cheese, and of course, the baguettes. When I wander around Paris, I can feel the history in those cobblestones. What I don’t think about while standing in line at Notre Dame or sitting on the hills near Sacre Coeur is that this is a modern city as well, with over 12 million people. Like any big city, it also has its challenges. 

This movie explores a young police officer joining an Anti-Crime Brigade in an urban part of Paris that tourists won’t be visiting anytime soon. He is a relatively new cop, and joins an existing team of two. The head white guy is introduced and almost immediately puts the rookie down with a label that is meant to make him understand who is in charge. The other colleague is a black man who has been with the other guy for quite some time. Together they drive around the neighborhood in a way reminiscent of Training Day with Denzel Washington. 

The similarities are evident, with the street smart leader in the car who takes liberties with his power and muscles his way around showing how to work the streets. There are competing factions at work, like the gypsies who are in town with a circus, and demand the return of one of their animals. The gypsies accuse one of the local black boys, who has a leadership voice of a gang leader in a soccer jersey. He hates the cops and their ways. There is a stand-off, and the cops enter the fray to try and find this circus animal and keep an uneasy peace. Things happen. The cops act like many cops these days in positions of power, and an already tense situation grows more complicated. The connection between the cops fractures somewhat too. 

The underlying theme, which ties in with the Victor Hugo title, is one of “you reap what you sow”. That was true during the French Revolution, and it remains true today. If you beat down, belittle, take advantage of, and otherwise look to assert your superiority to another, you may find out that they don’t necessarily agree with you. There may be unintended consequences. I do think that the director was effective in the story when he showed the three partners back in their home situations. It shows more of the picture of who they are, with some being surprising and others not as much. In truth we don’t know anyone and their full story unless they tell us or we find out. This insight wouldn’t be readily apparent otherwise. This was a good movie, especially in the current climate post-George Floyd and other recent examples of police brutality. This is not an easy job, but there are ways to go about it that are more fair, reflect the values of the society, and will hopefully lead to better consequences. There are of course much larger societal and political aspects at play, like social services, engaging the disenfranchised, and even higher level still providing a livable wage and more fair distribution of the wealth within a society (whether that is the more socialist-leaning French, or we in North America). The story is no less relevant for those of us on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean.

September 7th, 2020 (Labour Day)

Friday night was a Disney + evening, catching up on some older movies. One I had seen and the other I had not. I also wanted to check out what was the investment to see the streaming of the Live Action Mulan, just been released. Turns out that Disney “Premier” is a $39.99 added on that I am simply not prepared to pay. This would be for a movie that I wouldn’t have paid to see in the movie theatre. Why pay more than that for home viewing?? I haven’t even seen the original animated film from Disney. So pass. Apparently it will be released for all Disney + viewers in December. So, I likely can wait for that long.

Pixar’s Up is the 2009 delightful animated film that won Best Animated Film deservedly. It was also nominated for Best Film. Quite an achievement. It is a non-traditional storyline, where a 78yo man is the protagonist, and he has a young asian scout along for the fun and some other characters. The early parts introduce us to the very quiet Carl, and his chance meeting with Ellie who are both young fans of the adventurer Charles Muntz. Shortly after the introduction there is about an 8 minute sequence of scenes with no spoken words but just music accompaniment that shows the relationship between Carl and his now Wife Ellie. It is touching. One of the best sequences of any film I can recall. It packs some emotional clout that cartoons aren’t supposed to convey, but Pixar seems to be able to harness with ease. Carl and the young Russell set on an adventure together and they meet up with some characters to challenge and define them. They learn a few things along the way, and move into new territory. This is of course worth seeking out. I cannot recommend this more highly. Hard to imagine this was released 11 years ago already. It adds another quality film to the Pixar library.

A year later in 2010, Disney released the live action version of Alice in Wonderland, helmed by Tim Burton and his usual cast of actors he likes to work with like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, among others. Those who are Potter-ites will see many a familiar face with the rest of the mainly UK based cast. I have to admit not to ever having seen the original animated film. I had never heard very good things about it. Walt Disney’s early animation work was the best for him before he turned his attention to theme parks. Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia were all part of their heyday. This movie I found too long. I also found that there were too many Lord of the Rings like battles that were unnecessary. Not just unnecessary but distracting to an overall theme. Is there really this epic battle between chess pieces and playing cards in the battle between the White Queen and her sister the bulbous-headed Red Queen? I incidentally would bet on the chess pieces every time. But nevermind. Depp plays the Mad Hatter and I see similarities with his character and the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. At least that is what they seem to be getting at. Other elements like Game of Thrones (and I do recognize that GOT likely borrowed the sequences rather than the other way around) but the GOT did it better. It was overly long, it did not capture my interest and I didn’t really say that I cared about what happened to Alice. I do think that the source material likely contributes to this, but still. Yes it has the Burton touch of heavy make up on characters who are more like caricatures than human-like. I cannot recommend.

August 31, 2020

Tenet:  FINALLY!  For the first time since March, I was able to attend a movie in the theatre this past week.  This is as much news as anything, and the surroundings were just as notable.   I went to a theatre in the northern part of the city on Yonge street, and the theatre was virtually empty.  See the picture below:


I wanted to see this Nolan movie in an IMAX theatre.   The process to purchase was that the seats were all assigned, and mine was the last one for that showing.  The theatre itself is a large one, but only about 20 people were inside.  Cost of the ticket was $21.50 which is much higher than usual.   I didn’t purchase any food or drinks but I expect that they are more expensive as well (this is the primary way that the theatre makes their money).   Masks were mandatory. No one checked my actual ticket.  Now onto the movie itself.


I like Christopher Nolan films, and I entered this film with anticipation of what he would do now.   I tried as best as I could to avoid trailers and other discussions about it.  From one of his earliest efforts Memento, with Guy Peirce in a plot that goes backwards, to Interstellar and also Inception, with multiple levels of consciousness in dreams, Nolan likes to explore time and the impact on life as we know it if it isn’t fixed and linear.   I consider myself to be a pretty savvy moviegoer and I can keep up with most plots, but I have to admit that Nolan had me stymied with this one.   This is a very complex, complicated James Bond like plot.   In short and not to spoil anything, an American agent is tasked with trying to prevent the end of humankind.   The trailer makes a large point of the bullet returning to the gun, and the science involved in that but the plot is much bigger than that.   To say more risks giving away some spoilers, although I am sympathetic in how those may assist a viewer.   There is a scene near the end when a military-like mission is being explained when I have to admit that my head was swimming.   I thought of how those soldiers about to enter that perilous mission would have felt, since they had seen all the earlier parts that I had!!  I think I would have raised my hand a time or two for a little more explanation than which colour arm band I would be wearing.   The cast is uniformly excellent.   There are some familiar Nolan favourites like Michael Caine, Kenneth Branaugh and some new faces (including the new Princess Diana from The Crown, Elizabeth Debicki)  who are very good.   Robert Pattinson is a really pleasant surprise, and he is showing his acting chops in more serious roles these days like The Lighthouse.  He’s very good.   The main lead, the self proclaimed protagonist, John David Washington is compelling and has the requisite presence to make his role work well.    Sadly the movie jumps from one busy action sequence to another all the while rarely catching its breath to allow the viewer to keep up.    You must pay very careful attention because there are aspects are shown quickly which later on are impactful.   You will be forgiven if you miss some of them.   For me, this will require a second viewing.  I find first views generally are keeping up with a plot, and this one especially requires another view.   I am sure that the continuity is there, but I need to see more of the things going on in the periphery.   I can’t suggest you don’t see this, but perhaps this is a “be prepared” review to set the expectations.  Certainly don’t go see this if you are tired or had a long day.  This will require your full attention and then some.   I welcome discussion about it later.

From the big screen back to the small screen.   I can provide a short review for the 2019 art dealer related film Velvet Buzzsaw with Renee Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal and John Malkovich.  Quite an impressive cast for a less than impressive effort.   This is a thrilled set in the art world, where Russo plays a successful art dealer in LA, Jake plays an art critic and writer and Malkovitch is an artist, who’s role isn’t very large as it goes on.   An assistance to Russo finds an old man dead in the hallway at her apartment.   She hears that he is a recluse and that the artist gave explicit instructions that all his art inside should be destroyed.   She feels the need to snoop inside, and decides to remove the art to try and make a name for herself with it.   She does.   It becomes a sensation.  Then bad things start happening to those who are involved.   It goes downhill from there.   In a word, this was stupid.  Query whether it is more stupid than the time shifting going on in Tenet?  I think it is, and I can’t recommend this.

Finally this weekend I saw the Netflix series Unorthodox, that I heard very much positive news about.  In short this four-part series explores how one woman in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg flees from an arranged marriage and the oppressive religious environment to start a new life.  For me this was insight into an interesting way of life.   I think Shira Haas, the star Esty is excellent in it, showing her struggles and turmoil, along with the cultural aspects that she needs to lose like a cocoon.  She had been married off at 18-19yo to a well intended young man with busy body parents.   She was never able to pursue her passion for music.   She departs with some help off to Berlin Germany.   The film, incidentally was shot entirely in Berlin.  So those scenes of NYC are really Berlin in disguise.   Ironic that a young Jewish women seeks her freedom in Germany.   I was cheering for her.   I abhor when people are prevented from doing what pleases them with oppressive regimes on what they can and cannot do.   In this instance I see no reason why she must be just “a good wife and mother” and aspire only to that.  She sees over time that there are so many more possibilities for her.  This is worth watching for the insight into these lives, but also the very good performances.  It is based on a true story, and the woman who wrote it was involved in the production.   Check it out.

August 24th, 2020

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation blah blah blah is a new installment in the Suicide Squad group of movies, that remarkably after this will be adding a third installment called Suicide Squad to be released next year.

Hard to describe this any more than just being a mess.  Margot Robbie is a talent and can steal scenes but she is given so little to work with in this movie.   The plot is that she has broken up with The Joker, once and for all, and she takes it hard.   She does something silly in hindsight which makes her a target for many people who avoided her when she was under the protection of said Joker.    There is police (Rosie Perez) and other villians, notably Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis.   The title refers to Birds of Prey which becomes the end result of all of this.   Three other women who come together in Gotham to seemingly act as vigilantes.   Not sure that I would classify them as superheroes, although when the one does her version of extreme singing, you may look upon that as a unique skill (which it most definitely is).   In the end, although Robbie can work well with the right material, and she has no lack of work these days, this string of projects isn’t the best place for her talents.

I re-watched The Imitation Game this weekend and will continue to contend that it is one of the best films of this decade.   It should have won Best Picture.   It is strange times indeed when a country and its justice system treats a war hero (Alan Turing) as a criminal, and resorts to hormone therapy against him.  What a tragedy!   Great performances by Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch.   The whole cast was well suited and showed how they all pulled off the greatest victory in the war effort, with the end explaining that it saved two years of more war and lives.  The Queen has recently pardoned Alan Turing, but it seems rather empty for a man who created the basis for modern day computing.

I also re-watched Silver Linings Playbook this weekend and think the performance of Jennifer Lawrence is spot on, and deserved the Best Actress award.   It makes me pause however, knowing that BOTH The Imitation Game and Silver Linings were Harvey Weinstein projects.  How does Jennifer Lawrence go from obscurity (Winter’s Bone in 2010) to a twice Oscar winner?   In truth I don’t really want to think about it long, since I respect and admire her talents although her recent projects haven’t been as good as her earlier choices (Red Sparrow, Mother! and Passengers were all not very good).   Yes this story is a bit schmaltzy and too perfect with the parlay and the dancing competition but it is good.  Still they are a group of people that I wouldn’t want to share a dinner.   A few too many challenges there.    These days with very little content out, re-watching some quality past films is fun to pass the time.

August 17, 2020

(Note: this was revised somewhat and I apologize for poor prose in the original) The Aftermath:  Keira Knightley, the British actress who came to my awareness from her 2002 soccer film Bend It Like Beckham, never seems to age.  After doing Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom and its sequels, she did a number of period pieces.   She seems to enjoy getting dressed up in the corsets and poofy dresses, under a repressed society for females.   Pride & Prejudice, The Duchess, Collette all clearly showed her abilities well when being transported back in time.   I think she is a very good actress, and I enjoy her performances.   I was interested to see The Aftermath, which is set immediately after WWII in Germany.   Keira’s character Rachel is heading to Hamburg to meet up with her husband during the reconstruction.    He is in charge of many soldiers as well as the clean up effort.   Husband is played by the versatile Jason Clarke who always seems to play the honest, hardworking but less romantic partner who has his spouse have a wandering eye (think of All I See is You, with Blake Lively and her choices once she gets her eyesight back).   In this case, the couple takes over a chateau with a husband (played by Alexander Skarsgard, who any woman who watches films and knows Tarzan or True Blood, will tell you emphatically is no Jason Clarke), and his daughter.   Seems both Skargard and Knightley have both suffered losses during the war, and those stories become more well developed over time. 

As an aside, relationships are difficult.  There is a balancing, compromise and mutual understanding that takes places, especially over time.   Today, people may think we are in a complicated time, and we are with no doubt, but think how it would be during war time.  Everyday stresses are compounded by an ongoing fear of tomorrow of immediate death, either on the homefront from a bombing (in the case of Britain) or in the field by enemy fire.    The stresses would be immense.  Bullets and bombs are more immediate than a virus that could impact you and perhaps take your life (roughly 5% of the time).  It is no wonder that people speak of the WWII generation as the “greatest”.  Having gone through what they did, in some instances twice if they were old enough for two World Wars, they managed to keep it together.   Some managed better than others, but it was an enormously difficult time.   

Back to the film, Clarke and Knightley have a distance between them, and it is explored slowly with glimpses into the impact the event has had on them both.  Over time grievances are voiced and things move on from there.   More things happen.   Knightley’s character has what I can best describe as being a Bridges of Madison County moment.  Those who know the film, will understand what I am talking about should they see this.    It leaves the viewer with the question on whether they would make the same choice.   This was worth watching.  Knightley herself is very watchable and her interaction with the other two.   It is a small story in a vast War time.   But it is relatable and worth some time on Crave where it can be found.