December 27th, 2021

The Matrix Resurrections: When I was seeing a couple of the trailers for this sequel, 20 years after the original cutting edge first installment, I thought to myself that “I hope that it doesn’t suck”. The puzzling aspect was that in the original trilogy, which progressively got worse from one sequel to the next, ended with our Christ-like Neo figure is dramatically killed and enveloped by the computer city existence. Trinity had died earlier in the crash with Neo in the craft to get him to meet with the supreme being in charge of it all. I give away nothing in this sequel to state that up front. The mystery was for me, “how are they going to deal with bringing these two central characters back to life?” For me, the answer wasn’t very compelling. I won’t explain further for fear of spoiling the plot but it is confusing. I think it makes a lot of sense to have a refresher course in the previous three episodes. There are tidbits as they talked about this system of control for humans to act as a power supply for the machines, in short humans are enslaved to becomes batteries, with their minds occupied with the alternate reality for their minds. In many ways, it is all just a computer with programs and associated firewalls. I attended in the theatre on Wednesday. The theatre was about 55-60% full. The beginning is a replaying of the first Matrix movie, with a call being traced and a woman who looks a lot like Trinity being surrounded by heavily protected and armed SWAT-like police, as opposed to the ordinary police in the original. It is those inconsistencies which troubled me. So the suggestion is that one can watch a replay of the first episode and learn more as we are introduced to Morpheus, another confusing character since Lawrence Fishbourne is nowhere to be seen, but this computer-image look alike fills in for him. A very John Wick looking Neo with a beard and longer hair is questioning his reality as he works in a software company. Further details I will save. But it takes a while for things to get going, and for Neo to finally meet Trinity once again. We learn about their connection, in a way that for me is different than what was explained in the first trilogy. In the original, Neo was The One, the singular presence who would be the saviour for all humankind. He is the second coming of a man who could manipulate the matrix, and was the recruiter for people like Morpheus before he was killed. Morpheus had been searching for The One, as predicted by the Oracle, and we later learn is a glitch in the programming that creates such a creature periodically. If much of this sounds like jumbled spaghetti logic, that’s because it really is! This movie has sections in it where they speak a gobbleygook, techno babble that goes right over my head. I don’t design and make computers. I understand the basics to make it run, much like my car, but I can’t deconstruct one and rebuild it. There were audience members who walked out of this showing. I didn’t. I did find it long, and confusing. There were moments were I checked my watch and wondered “is this going to be resolved in the next minutes left?” It does. But sadly, it shows abilities in characters that we have never seen before, much like Star Wars decided to do. That becomes part of this Neo-Trinity connection. Neil Patrick Harris (aka Doogie Howser) explains much of this as the story unfolds. I do think that there was a new tangent created by the now female director and writer Lana Wachowski, who was part of the Wachowski Brothers team before her sex change. The Matrix is no longer a male dominated world, waiting for a male Messiah. For me it was often much ado about nothing. I will say that you need to know the first three movies pretty well to understand anything that is going on. When the French character shows up, you need to recognize him and understand how he has changed from episode 2. Further, the realities and separation of the two realities, the “real world” versus the created Matrix world (and which programming is being run in what partition) become muddied. So, this was confusing and disappointing. It often made little sense. There is too much shooting of people using automatic high powered guns. Maybe that is a first person shooter game impact on it, but it is difficult to watch. One wonders why the agents, and those that become agents are such terrible shots with such powerful weapons? But nevermind. There is a part of me that thinks the pile of money for Carrie Ann Moss and Keanu Reeves had to be pretty tall to make them do this one. I am not sure whether the film makers will ever recoup this money for actors and production. See this one at your own risk. I likely need to see it again to catch some of the subtleties. I will note that Alison liked it a lot better than I did.

Bad Santa: This 2003 movie was seen as a joke this Christmas Eve. It is not really a Christmas movie. Rather Billy Bob Thornton (Santa) is a jaded safe cracker who has teamed up with a black little person (Tony Cox), who plays an elf, for malls and then steals from them during the holiday shopping season. Thornton is constantly drinking and profane, much to the chagrin of the elf side kick, who really runs the show, and in truth is the best part in the movie. By chance, Santa meets up with a local structurally-challenged kid (aka chubby kid) who gets picked on while he lives with his Grandma (Cloris Leachman) while his Dad is in jail for embezzlement. Santa meets a woman who seems to have a Santa/Daddy sexual fetish who adds to the plot. In short, the two have some funny scenes interacting with children at the mall in a totally inappropriate manner, and then fighting with the store’s security manager who is figured out what they are planning, and wants a cut on the action. It was light entertainment. I laughed a couple of times. It was successful enough to merit a sequel, but that I haven’t watched and wouldn’t need to see these guys again travelling down a similar path. Fun to spend some time during the holidays but I wouldn’t seek it out.

P.S> Note that this was John Ritter’s last movie. Also Bernie Mack who plays the Security Manager didn’t live too many years past this release either.


December 20, 2021

Power of the Dog: I started the week thinking that I would be seeing a quality Western starring Benedict Cumberbatch. He has done a number of projects that I really like, including his on stage performance of Hamlet a few years back. In this movie, newly released on Netflix, he is a wealthy rancher in Montana in 1925 that lives with his brother, played by Jesse Plemons. Plemons’ real life wife Kirsten Dunst plays a local town hotelier and provider of meals to patrons. Cumberbatch plays a complex man on a number of levels; he is educated, chooses to be a rancher, acts gruffly and irrationally at times, and seems to keep a distance to those around him. His brother is quieter and seems to be the financial brains of the two-man operation. We see Cumberbatch be cruel to Dunst’s teenage son who is helping as a server in the restaurant where she feeds the men. In another scene, Cumberbatch is cruel to a horse, never a way to make friends with an audience. Plemons meets and likes the hotelier Dunst and they end up married. Then things happen. Jane Campion directed this movie. In 1993 she had Oscar nominations for The Piano with Holly Hunter. This for me was slow. Too slow. The son was a character that just screamed to be picked on. In many ways, this is a movie uses 2020 sensibilities and attitudes and looks to impart them on the 1920s. Many concepts that we take for granted, like autism and the spectrum are more clearly understood and would be foreign to someone in the 1920s. So it just doesn’t translate well. New Zealand where Campion is from, also doesn’t play Montana very well. Yes there are mountains, but they are too high and too close together. I didn’t believe it. When it ended, I could only summarize it with the gif attached and leave it at that. I cannot recommend.

Reaction gif tagged with what the fuck?, Jack Black
In three words the summary of this film for me

The Unforgivable: Sandra Bullock produces and stars in her latest movie on Netflix. In short, I cannot recommend it. It was a downer and depressing. Bullock’s character is released after twenty years in prison for what we learn was killing a local police officer. There are snippets of the past that are shown through flashback. To start, Bullock is being released from prison and is a woman unto herself. She has to make her own way and no one is there to help her. One wonders how anyone can get away from the rut of prison and the system with the working conditions and living conditions that they need to endure. The setting is dreary Seattle in its grey best with rain and overcast and sketchy neighbourhoods. The story follows Bullock as an older sister who is seen trying to protect a young girl that we learn was her sister. Mom had died and it was up to the older Bullock to take care of the little girl. Fast forward to the release from prison and we see that Bullock is trying to track down her now older sibling. Things happen. She meets up with a lawyer, played by Vincent D’Onofrio and he is married to Viola Davis. This is a good cast. But they aren’t given really compelling material from which to work. Bullock has so very few lines, and she appears so very hard which is to be expected. That is the role. But the plot gets very predictable, up to a point and then sets out to deliberately be surprising. As the credits roll, for me it was a letdown. The storylines with competing interests, the prisoner, the sister, the relatives of the police, the lawyer who lives in the old house just don’t add up. This was too bad as I was hoping for more and the trailer made it seem more compelling than it turned out to be.

14 Peaks: After two rather disappointing and depressing stories it was good to have a feel good story to watch. My eldest son had recommended 14 Peaks, and I knew very little about the premise. It was a story of a young Nepalese man who was looking to climb the 14 tallest mountains in the world in 7 months. He called it Mission Possible. Each of these mountains is over 8000m tall, which to a laymen like me is 8km all up! Here is a man and his small team that were going to do this 14 times, against some of the most dangerous mountains in the world. Alex Honnald showed the world about free climbing in Yosemite National Park, and the Dawn Wall. Nimsdai and his team showed the world that people are capable of remarkable things. He made the seemingly impossible, possible.

New Netflix Film on Nirmal Purja Climbing World's Highest 14 Peaks in 189  Days - Gripped Magazine
Nimsdai on a peak
Has the summit of Mount Everest become an overcrowded tourist trap? - New  York Daily News
Crowds at Mt Everest up and down

On his trip back down from Mt Everest, he showed the dangerous crowds of people looking to climb the world’s tallest peak. His picture of the Disney World-like lines at Everest were shown throughout the world. But for me, his actions in leaving no man behind, which reflect his elite military training were quite remarkable. His attitude is infectious as evidenced by him and his team arriving at K2 where other teams were resigning themselves not to reach the summit that year. He rethinks the climb, and he leads 20+ people to the summit in a few short days. In his words where those around him said that the mountain wasn’t going to be climbed, and that he was “fucked”, he responded that “fucked is only 45% fucked”. Brilliant. He wouldn’t listen to naysayers and was committed to complete his ambitious project. I cannot imagine three of the tallest peaks in a matter of days. After a while you see less mountain climbing and hear more about the surrounding story. This was remarkable, and exhilarating. Nimsdai made his point that had a European or North American done what he had, that it would be world news and the top story in news media everywhere. He and his team of Nepalese, didn’t get that attention. Perhaps this documentary can help provide the recognition and respect that this man and his team deserves. Who knows what can be the next task for this group. Well worth watching, if only for the breathtaking pictures from the top of the earth and those mountains!

December 13, 2021

The Virtuoso: this is a typical hitman movie that stars Anthony Hopkins in the periphery. It stars Anson Mount in the title role with an otherwise forgettable supporting cast. I hadn’t seen Abbie Cornish since she played along side Russell Crowe in the 2006 A Good Year. This isn’t worth your time. I can readily say that. The story is fairly formulaic with the principal assassin being asked to take on a hit from a reclusive boss (Hopkins), but without being given much more than sketchy information. The assassin needs to figure it out and report back when the job is done. In this instance he needs to head to a small town. There he is given a time and place from which he must figure it out. Let the drama begin. I won’t delve further into the plot, because I would expect that a seasoned movie watcher will anticipate more than a few of the moves that take place. What may come as a surprise to some, won’t be for others. The acting was pedestrian for the most part. Hopkins gives one speech to the principal that tries to make this better than it is. Avoid it if you can.

The Way Back: Ben Affleck stars in what purports to be a basketball movie. In some ways it can mirror quite a bit from the much better 1986 Gene Hackman movie called Hoosiers. In that earlier story the disgraced coach is invited to a small Indiana town called Hickory that found itself coachless in a basketball crazed environment. He has a small team, and he works them hard. They come together. They learn and succeed. Hackman has a really good side story with the father of one of the players, who battles alcoholism, and another with a player that had the most skills. in this 2020 movie, Affleck plays a role that hits pretty close to his real life it would seem on the surface. I say that because the early part of the movie shows Affleck’s character working on a construction project with rebar, but dealing with an obvious alcohol problem. He drinks on the job, in the car and in his life. He is separated from his wife, and yet out of the blue he is called by his old high school looking for him to coach. Hackman’s disgrace was physically assaulting an active player in a game. Affleck’s character checked out as a superstar player for reasons that are explained later. Do I believe them? Not sure. For me, being offered a full scholarship at a top university would be the ticket away from parents (eg: if you live in LA, go to Villanova in Philadelphia or to Kentucky or Kansas). But I digress. Further details are revealed about his situation which are meant (I think) to tug at the heart strings, but they aren’t as effective. It feels like manipulation. This isn’t an uplifting story, quite the contrary. You would think that the title would suggest that there is redemption and to some extent it is there, but not in the way that you might anticipate. Again, this falls flat for me. I am not a big Affleck fan. This doesn’t change that fact at all. His is a character that struggles and can’t seem to turn a corner. Was there a feel good story for one of the young players? Yes, somewhat. In the end is it worth seeking out to see all the details for yourself? I can’t recommend it. There are other movies with coaches and sports involved that are more compelling and better all around.

Succession (Season 3): Sunday night was the last episode in Season three for the well reviewed and excellent Succession. The story of an older father figure, a media mogul worth his billions, with his senior staff and his children, who have their own challenges. Season 1 he had a health crisis. Season 2 there was the challenge by his second son Kendall. This season was a continuation of the Kendall challenges but also dealing with internal Board and adult child strife. The final episode was the wedding of the children’s mom, who had been divorced long ago to the father. Everyone descends to Tuscany in Italy for the wedding, all the while trying to put together a merger with a betting, online company on the rise from their newspaper and TV media empire. It is intriguing. Fun to watch. The writing is excellent throughout and despite the excessive use of profanity, it is clever and cutting. I laugh at least a couple of times an episode with what one of the characters say, usually Roman played by Kieran Culkin. Others chip in as well as the rats collectively turn on one another in a bid to try and get a step up on another of the rats. It’s all good fun as you can see how a group of adult children that could potentially be a formidable force if they chose to utilize their strengths and build a collective front seem incapable of working together and supporting one another. Logan Roy, the father, played expertly by Brian Cox shows time and again his resilience while navigating through the larger issues that seem never-ending for him. This was one of the best series of the past season. It is worth watching and binging.

December 6th, 2021

Tick Tick Boom: I have admitted as recently as last week in talking about Get Back with the Beatles that I am fascinated with the creative process. This is a movie brought forward by Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) which tells the story of Jonathan Larson. Larson is played by Andrew Garfield. This movie is another reason to dislike Garfield, and I say that in jest of course. Amazingly Garfield admitted on Late Night television that he didn’t sing. Garfield shows that not only can he act, but he can sing and play the piano so it seems. Jonathan Larson is a young aspiring NY playwright and musical creator who was still looking for his big break. He struggled to make ends meet, living with various friends and other creative people. In his life he had always felt that he was in a race against time. As he was about to turn 30yo, he spoke about how he felt like a failure. He wrote a song about it, in fact. Writing music for musicals is different than songs in a band. The songs are telling the story, and moving the plot along. But it also needs to have an emotional punch, and be something that (in a perfect world) your audience wants to hum on the way home or listen by buying the soundtrack. Many musicals are like this. The story has Garfield telling his own one man story through song, which was a Broadway play in its own right (Tick Tick Boom) but told the story of his earlier musical that never really got off the ground. In the performances you can see a who’s who of Broadway (like Bernadette Peters, Judith Light, Lin-Manuel himself and many others). They are very good. All the while he is dealing in the story with his relationship. He and his girlfriend who cared deeply for each other were at odds because she wanted to move on. Start a new a career. But his life was living in NYC and Broadway. So there is an emotional underpinning to the story which is effective. If you know the history of Broadway, the Tonys and musicals then know that he went on to write Rent. So this I can encourage people to watch. Watch because you can see the absolute talent of Andrew Garfield. Watch because you can see a quality cast doing what Jonathan Larson was born to do, through and through. Watch because you can set aside some time and feel good about a story well told. I enjoyed this.

Belfast: This movie won the People’ Choice Award this year at TIFF. Usually that means that the Academy will come calling. Often this can mean a Best Picture award. But we will see. For me having been to Belfast back in 2019 and sitting through a guided tour through the locations where many stories of The Troubles are told, it brought back thoughts of how it would be to live during troubled times. Kenneth Branaugh directs and wrote the story. It is more or less autobiographical, as he was 9 years old in 1969 when the story is set. There are quality performances by Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciaran Hinds and a young boy, Jude Hill who is excellent. It is a story of a poor Protestant family living in Belfast where there is a move afoot to rid the neighborhood of the Catholics. This isn’t ancient history. The young boy at one point is playing with Hot Wheels kept in the plastic box with trays to keep the various cars. He is innocent. He likes a girl in his class. All the while Dad works near London and spends a lot of time away from home. He has grandparents that he is close to. The young and innocent ask direct questions. They want to understand. Events are happening around them that seem so foreign. Adults are angry and confused. I have never lived through strife. I have never lived in a war zone, and make no mistake that living in a barricaded block with a burned out car and cement slabs and armed soldiers nearby is a war zone. As an outsider, I didn’t and don’t understand. They speak the same language. They share in struggles, and have common history. And yet there is that religious chasm between the peoples, and ongoing discrimination that ensures that the issues continue. As a writer, you write what you know. That very line was delivered to a young Jonathan Larson by his agent. Branaugh has brought forward a poignant story that shows a place in time which even today, while there has been peace in recent years, still has some underlying tension. I wish that I had spent more time in Belfast. It doesn’t have the vibrancy and energy of Dublin, which is just a short drive away. This story personalizes it, in the eyes of a young boy with his parents trying to make difficult decisions on how to best serve the interests of the young boys. The Irish may be born for leaving, but is it best to have your population split and forced to make these decisions so very young. I am thankful that I have never had to endure any of these situations. I haven’t had to fear my life walking down the street. I have been safe with people who generally respect one another and allows for everyday tasks to take place. We’ll see about Academy Awards for this movie, but I won’t be surprised if there are more than a few levied here. I think Hinds as the Grandpa was excellent, and the work from the little boy. Another film worth checking out.

Get Back: I finished the first of the three episodes in this series by Peter Jackson. At the end, very casually George decides that it was time for him to leave the band. He casually walks off. The other three after lunch return to the studio and try and put in some work, but they didn’t manage much. Again in the creative process, you can hear Paul “putting in some piano work” while the others talk through an inane idea about where to hold the future concert. Remarkably, everyone seems quite alright with talking about the daily events, without pausing and listening to the piano and singing of “Let It Be” and later “The Long and Winding Road”. Paul doesn’t have all the words yet, but the structure is there. It is interesting too to see Paul and Ringo work away while the others roam in much later and try to catch up. However much we have read that it was Lennon and McCartney, you see that for these songs anyway, the documentary seems to show that it was more McCartney. You also see the real affection that these guys had for one another. Yes they had rows, and George was frustrated by being the third wheel with two musical geniuses, but they had one another. They were pretty tight for many many years. This is a really cool glimpse into some of that life, in pictures that aren’t grainy but rather vivid and you can see just how young that they are. It is fun to watch.

November 29, 2021

Get Back: Peter Jackson a couple of years back did some work to take World War One film coverage and colour it, add sound and make it more relatable to today’s audiences and the result was the excellent They Shall Not Grow Old. He has turned his sites from New Zealand now into unseen raw coverage of a proposed documentary film for the Beatles in their writing new songs for what became the Let It Be album and the famous outdoor office roof performance from January 30th, 1969. I have not finished the series, three episodes and the first one is over two hours long. It chronicles the days leading up to the performance in early January 1969. I am forewarning viewers that this is a sizeable investment in time, watching the four members of the Beatles interact during rehearsals and early days. A couple of early observations: Paul seems to be the driving force to try and get the material completed, and come up with new ideas. His off-the-top guitar playing with rambling lyrics in a matter of minutes to ultimately begin the song Get Back is quite simply miraculous. I marvel at the creative process, and this is an excellent example of someone creating on the spot. I think generally Paul and John would work together on their own and bounce ideas off each other in their earlier days. Having a camera there to record everything is a little forced, but over time the guys tend to just be themselves. Some of the dialogue can be hard to hear and understand with the accents. Still it is compelling. I cannot see this early what Yoko Ono does on any level. She occupies a chair near John, but says nothing, sometimes reads or looks like she does some craft. She may have been emotional support for John, but creatively in this setting she does absolutely nothing. George is frustrated by this process, and you can see what eventually builds up to his departure from the band during this time. He is creative himself and talks about songs that he has developed but they all seem to be, in his words, much quieter songs. He seems angrier with Paul and he gripes about any show, and seems uneasy in his role as third wheel with Paul and John. He will “just play whatever [Paul] wants [him] to play”. Then Ringo is adding nothing creatively but has the daunting tasks of keeping up, and adding rhythm and beat for the songs being developed. John early on is fixated on working through the song “Don’t Let Me Down” and there is time spent trying to finalize that. For Beatles fans, this is a must see. For more casual fans, you can watch a creative process taking place in two weeks for writing an album that has iconic songs like Two of Us, Across the Universe, I’ve Got a Feeling, Long and Winding Road and of course Let It Be. Utterly remarkable.

Peter Jackson talks about John and Paul relationship – “how utterly painful this was for Paul”

Succession and The Crown: Discussion about how females are treated: I was re-watching the end of Season 3 of The Crown with the episode about the disintegration of Princess Margaret’s marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones but also the latest episode in Succession and the treatment of the women in these series. Margaret as the younger sister of Monarch Queen Elizabeth had plenty in her life impacted by the perceptions of how it will impact the Family and the Crown. She was unable to marry her true love Peter Townsend, who was divorced (because his wife cheated on him) because of the whole abdication of the Crown by Edward VIII. She has a tumultuous marriage with Mr Armstrong-Jones who openly is having an affair before the whole world, but no one seems to care about that, including her sister although she did encourage a reconciliation. But then Armstrong-Jones amazingly attacks Margaret for an affair with a younger man who has finally brought some happiness to her world. It seems her Family and her position will just not allow her to be happy. She wanted a meaningful role, in the same way that Phillip did and it just doesn’t come. The Queen is a strong character and develops into a force politically which many acknowledge in this third season, like Edward VIII himself when he was about to die. But Margaret is left to the sidelines to deal with her unfortunate station. In the latest episode in Season 3 of Succession, at Kendall’s birthday party, we see how Shiv is being turned aside in the family as Roman becomes more of the relied upon sibling to execute Dad’s wishes. Roman begins showing his true colours as he gains in confidence while Shiv becomes increasingly frustrated with her seemingly back seat role. Her husband, Tom, who has been fixated on his pre-determined path is given really good news, but he remains unable of moving forward. That marriage is an interesting one, and Shiv has seen her position relegated to secondary status. This season is fairly slow moving but it it brilliantly written with tremendous dialogue. Part of me thinks that the underlying premise is to explore how it seems first generations of wealthy families generate the money, and then the later generations fritter it all away. The story is not unlike the Vanderbilt story with Anderson Cooper just recently reviewed. But it is these female characters that in their time, Margaret was a completely different generation, while Shiv is more or less today, reveals that not much has changed for them and how they are viewed. Both women are extremely capable. Yet when the chips are down, it seems others are relied upon more directly. To be fair about Shiv, I don’t think that she did herself any favours by the events at the Shareholders Meeting. But ultimately we will see how it plays out. There are plenty of good things to be watching these days.

November 22, 2021

JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass: In 1991, director Oliver Stone was on a roll. He was already a three time Oscar winner with Directing and Best Picture in 1986 with Platoon, and then again as Director in the Tom Cruise Born on the Fourth of July, while previously being awarded for Best Screenplay with Midnight Express. Then in 1991 he produced and directed the film JFK with Kevin Costner, Donald Sutherland, Gary Oldman and many others. The all-star cast depicted the story of the JFK assassination and the efforts of a New Orleans District Attorney to prosecute someone, anyone for the murder of the President back in November 1963. This newly released documentary addresses legislative updates by Congress in the US since 1991 and the movie to release more of the redacted evidence/documents. Stone is the interviewer and brings forth more evidence of the conspiracy and cover ups in the Warren Commission Report that had found that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman. Among the various pieces of new evidence, we have more fully explained forensics and ballistics to talk about the “magic bullet” that according to the Warren Report, struck both the President and Texas Governor Connally. It also disputes the gun recovered at the scene, whether Oswald was even on the sixth floor, the autopsy and the brain pictures, and the desire for the US military complex to take a hard stance on communism as opposed to the stance from Kennedy and his administration. The CIA, the FBI both look really bad with the additional information. At the very least it seems there were more than four shots fired that fateful day. In itself, that means more than one shooter. In total, it appears as though there was a concerted effort by powerful people to ensure that the evidence from that day matches the story that was formulated on the shooter, rather than letting the evidence tell the story of what transpired. It is compelling TV. For Stone he states in summary that “this evidence makes conspiracy theories, conspiracy fact”. I don’t think that most people believe the Warren Commission nor their findings. This helps to cement that belief a little bit more. It doesn’t bring back a beloved President, nor his brother, nor MLK or Malcolm X. It seems in the turbulent 1960s that assassination was a method of doing business. Sadly, no one is ever charged and most of those involved are dead and buried.

Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper: Anderson Cooper is one of many offspring of socialite Gloria Vanderbilt. Unknown to me, Gloria is part of a family that made their fortune in the early 1900s in the steamship and rail business. She led a long and interesting life. My limited knowledge of her was of her selling expensive designer jeans but there was more than that. She had little experience with her Dad, who married her Mom who was 20 yo at her marriage to a much older father. They divorced. She was was married multiple times, as she seemed to think that being in love is a state all should aspire to. She had a well known custody child legal battle when she was just a child. Anderson Cooper the CNN host is using this film as a documentary on her life and talk through it, memorializing it for him and her. She died back in June 2019. I learned something about someone that I didn’t know very well, and about the fortune that the Vanderbilt family once had. It is mostly gone sadly.

The Fugitive: this 1993 movie was another in a series of successful films that cemented the already stellar box office reputation of Harrison Ford. He had already been in two of the most successful franchises in the history of movies with Han Solo in Star Wars and then Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is a movie that was based off the TV series from 1963 starring David Janssen. Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble who is convicted of killing his wife, while he maintained that a stranger entered his home and killed his wife. A one armed man. Through a series of fantastic events, he manages to evade law enforcement and look to track down his wife’s killer. The most compelling member of the police forces searching for him is US Ranger Samuel Gerard played by Tommy Lee Jones. Jones won the Oscar for his performance and it is completely justified. He steals the show and every scene that he is in. This is fun, exciting entertainment that holds the audiences attention from the beginning. It is as exciting today as it was back in its original release. There are some good plots twists both expected and unexpected. For me it was personally more intriguing because the Chicago Hilton Towers Hotel featured in the end is a hotel I stayed at back in 1989 as my first trip to that fine city. I have been a number of times since. This movie introduced US Marshall Gerard and he starred in a follow up movie called US Marshals in 1998 (nowhere near as good as this one). But this is on Crave and worth a watch if you haven’t seen it, or worth a repeat viewing if you haven’t seen in a long while.

November 15th, 2021

There wasn’t an edition published last week since I was away and had little access to the computer (on purpose).

Scenes From A Marriage (1973): Jessica Chastain had worked previously with Liv Ullman, the Norwegian actress and director on films like Miss Julie. Ullman is widely regarded as one of the best European actresses, although I have to admit that I am not all that familiar with her work. She frequently worked with Ingmar Bergman. This movie, which was originally a TV series as well, was the original inspiration for the recently released series starring Chastain and the everywhere-man Oscar Isaac. It follows the same chapter pattern with moments in time with the primary couple, Marianne and Johan. In the first chapter, Marianne and Johan have their friends over for a dinner and drinks and it eventually becomes a more tense scene with the friends shouting their gripes about their relationship and a desire to end it. Marianne is a family law lawyer and Johan is an assistant professor. Marianne is able to be a source of legal counsel eventually through the end of the conversation. Chastain was an IT manager in the more recent storyline. In that first chapter Marianne and Johan have been together for ten years. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the latest version nor this one. There are many similarities between the two series but there are also some material differences. I don’t spoil that much to reveal that in this version, Johan comes early to their cottage property and announces that he has fallen in love with someone else. He will be setting off to Paris with this new person the next day for a number of months. I think audiences from the seventies where divorce was not so prevalent than it is today would be more accepting of the reaction of Marianne upon hearing this news. I am not sure that today’s viewers would be as accepting. Then again, this is true of much of the relationship between these two people. The underlying theme is that some people, whether together or not, seem to gravitate to one another. Maybe they are more mature in accepting the wishes of a spouse who questions the relationship they have? Perhaps they are less spiteful and looking for revenge, all very human emotions that don’t seem to show themselves. I am not sure. As things progress the sides have flipped from the latest version where it was Chastain who looked for more, and requested the divorce. Johan seems a little less manipulative in this series. The children are not seen and rarely spoken about except for Marianne to request that Johan try and make an effort to remember their birthdays. Rather matter-of-factly it is mentioned that the children don’t really want to see their father. The other theme that extends into both is this idea that there is no clean break. When children are involved that is absolutely the case. However when some of the scenes are played out, one wonders whether that ability to see it as just a momentary lapse can override a real betrayal. There are certain things that I feel are non-negotiable in a relationship, and in one of the later episodes it can be seen to occur. It was surprising and unexpected that it went there, but even more surprising that later there is a further meeting up. It was interesting to review, to compare and contrast the two versions. I can see where Chastain felt that there was updating necessary, and for her the stronger more independent woman of a household. Isaac in the later version is more sympathetic. Johan far less so, even while mumbling about how sorry he is in his life, at virtually every stage. There is no doubt that even with this 70s version that I still see Little Children comparisons. Still Marianne is more a victim in this circumstance throughout. After all is said and done, it doesn’t really speak too highly of the institution of marriage.

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Johan and Marianne discuss their relationship.

Silk Road: I have to admit that I haven’t heard much about Silk Road as a website until recently, and most of it is through books about the principal true character named Ross Ulbricht. Ross is a brilliant young man born in 1984, who struggled like many young people to find his niche. He had broad visions for himself as someone who could “change the world”. He was also very much a libertarian in the truest sense of the word. He believed generally that people, and notably Americans, have the right to do whatever they want with no government interference. He was attending University of Texas, and was about to finish as an engineer. His father notably looked upon him as a person who couldn’t apply himself and never seemed to finish what he started. In 2010, he came up with the idea that he could set up an anonymous marketplace where people could buy and sell anything, including drugs, which he regarded as a personal choice. He would not allow firearms or child pornography or the like. He had a view that using TOR, which encrypted the users identity and making payments in untraceable Bitcoin that there would be no taxes and no government interference. The postal service and couriers would be used to cut out to criminal undercurrent of the current on-the-street and illegal business. He set up his site. It became a news story through the website Gawker, and then took off.

Circuit Affirms Life Sentence for 'Silk Road' Creator | New York Law Journal

At the same time, there is a disgraced police officer who was an effective street cop, but had also become an addict. He had a well publicized incident that had him at an Addiction Centre and later psychiatric help for his demons. He is played by Jason Clarke in this movie. He isn’t fired, but placed with the cyber-security unit at the DEA with all the other computer geeks (no disrespect intended). He hears through a street source that drugs can be purchased through the web and he wants to track it down. His path crosses with Ulbrecht as he tries to gain his confidence. For me, the more intriguing aspect of this story is the Bitcoin. It was the currency of choice for the underworld. At the time, people were transacting in Bitcoin when its value was around $121. Ulbricht took a 10% commission fee for every transaction that took place. When he was arrested in 2013, the federal government seized 144,000 bitcoin. It is believed that the Silk Road commissions from 2011 to 2013 were closer to 600,000 Bitcoin. In mid 2014, the Government auctioned off 30,000 of his coins. All nine auctions went to a venture capitalist for $19M. Bitcoin today is trading at $64,307 USD and those 30,000 Bitcoin are worth $1.9B. And Ulbrecht’s fortune for the 144,000 Bitcoin would be $9.26B!!! Quite remarkable. He was convicted on only a few charges and when you see what happens, if you don’t know the story, I think that you will be shocked. This is a guy who believed in the free economy, not in any way impacted by the Government, yet he lived in modest means, and for all his talk of freedom he moved from place to place and couldn’t enjoy the fruits of his labours. He was always in fear of being arrested. He was a workaholic and that work consumed him. Yes he impacted the world, but at what price? Time and again stories show the drive for brilliance and impact is lost because of other flaws and insecurities. He is serving life sentences. His Mom actively propositioned Donald Trump as President to pardon him. He didn’t. So he remains there. This is an intriguing story moreso than the movie was. The movie was okay, but the subject matter is worthwhile checking into. Bitcoin has become mainstream, with Elon Musk being a major player, but it still smacks of a currency for the underground to me. I had a hockey buddy talk about what he thought the value of a Bitcoin and he was right. He was mining Bitcoin at the time. These people who have made all these riches from Bitcoin might want to investigate how the electrical grid can be boosted to allow all these transactions, and electric cars to take over. For further insight into that, see John Oliver’s piece from Last Week Tonight from last week.

November 1st, 2021

Succession, Season 3: I have begun watching the latest installment of this dysfunctional family series. Dad is a media tycoon, and his children swirl around him like bees on a hive. He in Season1 had a health issue, that sent the kids scrambling. Then Season 2 had the one son end with a press conference that sent shock waves through the company. This season continues on with that story. I think that the writing here is brilliant, with the banter among the characters as first rate. Kieran Culkin (yes MacCauley’s brother) has some of the best lines as the wise cracking, do very little middle sibling. It’s fun. There is plenty of profanity, and it seems that they know very few words that aren’t profane at times. But there are some zingers. Each character is very different and not one of them is honest or willing to deal from the top of the deck with their Dad or each other. I will continue to watch.

Body Heat: When there are more obscure lists that are created about movies, Body Heat from 1981 with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner comes near the top in the category of “sweatiest movies”. Set in small town Florida, in the middle of a heat wave, the look and feel is one of steam rising from the buildings and streets. Characters cool themselves by standing in front of the refrigerator. The plot involves a sole practicing lawyer, who is not remarkable in any way professionally and is known by his friends as a guy who gets around. He sees the Kathleen Turner character at a local event, and chats her up. She quickly notes to him that she is married. But later in the same conversation is not so subtle in her interest in him. Played by Kathleen Turner, she dresses like she has seen Faye Dunaway in Network often.

Kathleen Turner felt 'objectified' by men after first big film role in Body  Heat - The Irish News
Kathleen Turner meets and speaks to lawyer William Hurt

As he learns more, she is married, but he husband is away a lot. She lives in a massive place nearby. She begins to drop hints about how lonely she is. Hurt is happy to step right in. The two then plot to have the husband killed and solicit the assistance of a known arsonist, played by a young Mickey Rourke. Things happen and Hurt soon suspects that he is being manipulated, with indications for the slain husband’s murder that some fingers start pointing to him. His buddies, the local District Attorney (played by Ted Danson) and police detective are worried about him. Things progress and unravel for Hurt’s character, and we see just how deep it had become. This is a well acted adult story, with the intrigue in the plot of just how the end result could be reached. There are good supporting cast members and the chemistry between Turner and Hurt, crucial for a film like this, is there. This is on Crave but can likely be found in other streaming services. Well worth checking out.

Wendy: This is a 2020 film take on the classic Peter Pan story. In truth, I am not much of a follower of the Peter Pan story, and yet I can think of a bunch of movies that revolve around it that I have seen. Movies such as Pan, Hook with Robin Williams and Julia Roberts, Neverland with Johnny Depp, the Disney animated version and others. Of that listing I like Neverland the best. This one seems more fantasy based, with a intriguing use of a train that transports the children to another land.

Montserrat's St Patrick's Festival rolls out the Red Carpet for 'Wendy |  Loop Cayman Islands
Peter Pan staying young forever

This interpretation wasn’t awful. The young actors playing the roles were very good throughout. Wendy herself played by Devin France is notably good. Beginning in a small diner, Wendy and her siblings are introduced. She has a Mom working hard to keep her customers satisfied, and she speaks about the children taking on this little business in time. The one boy has no interest in it and wants to be a pirate. One day after a quarrel with the adults, he strips off his pants and jumps on a passing train and disappears. After a time, Wendy and her twin brothers decide to take such a train themselves and meet up with a young black boy in a red jacket. Peter. Their adventure begins. There is backstory to explain Hook. There is further backstory to explain the lost boys. The young Wendy keeps your attention, and she is compelling. Still, I cannot recommend for those who aren’t avid Pan fans, if such a thing exists. Given the number of Pan related films there must be, and given the quality of the actors engaged in such projects. The underlying themes of staying young at heart, keeping active and avoiding the ruts of adulthood are well explored. Is it better to stay young forever while others around you are aging? Does aging necessarily mean that there is no more fun or adventure? Do the adults have to let their children go and lead their own lives, seek out their own dreams and place in the world? Time and again we have seen answers to these questions. Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to be a little kid all my life, but maybe it’s because it has those strings of being told what to do, and not independent and able to stand on your own. Even still. I may want the ability to fly, and more than just to believe that I can do it.

October 25th, 2021

Dune Part One: There will be inevitable comparisons between this latest version of the Frank Herbert classic sci-fi novel published in 1965 to the David Lynch film from 1984. From this reviewer’s perspective, this Denis Villeneuve version is far superior, although that really isn’t saying much nor is it a high bar to hurdle. I read the book many years ago, but I have to admit that it isn’t all that fresh with me. For the uninitiated and unfamiliar with the story, I think that Villeneuve has taken his time to explain the plot well. Note that in the opening credits it is noted that this is Part One. At 2:35 running time, this movie takes it time and keeps the audience aware of what is happening. It is a complex story about a planet in the universe that is the only source for “spice”. Spice is mined and important since it is crucial for interstellar travel, so it is very valuable. There are native people, the Fremin on the planet, but the Emperor has chosen to ignore them and placed families in charge of the spice production. The Emperor has replaced the incumbent family of Harkonnen’s with the Atreides family. There is much political jousting taking place with intrigue and suspicion among the players. The Fremen are unknown in numbers and fight against the occupying force, whatever that may be. In many ways there are themes from movies like Avatar. Within the Atreides family, there is father, played by Oscar Isaac who we discussed is everywhere these days, along with his son Paul, played by Timothee Chalamet. Paul’s mother Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson, isn’t married to the Duke and she was part of a female order, the Bene Gesserit, but she decided to have a child with him and left to be on his planet. The head of the Order shows up for a meeting with Jessica and her teenage son. We learn that the Bene Gesserit have been looking to genetically create a Matrix-like One, who can become a galactic leader. Paul is put to a test, as he has learned through his Mother some unique talents like speaking in a Voice, or communicating through alternate means (like sign language).

I won’t delve further into the plot because it is complex and not really necessary for a discussion. Many of Denis Villeneuve’s films are about the visual experience than the plot anyway. Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 show him to be the next Ridley Scott when it comes to ships, and visualizing new unseen worlds. The costume design is first rate and he has well selected actors who are able to show much while saying very little. He borrows images from other directors too, like Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now when we are seeing the overweight Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz. There are other camera angles and images that are borrowed too. I think these are an homage to the other great films, and they do not distract from the story. The time passes by quickly and despite having a bladder that was ready to explode, I wasn’t shifting in my seat. He had my full attention.

In comparing with the 1984 version, the Harkonnen’s are still a very unsightly bunch, but they aren’t over the top covered with boils and disgustingness. They find other ways to make you feel uneasy about them. Stellen Skarsgard looks almost unrecognizable in his role as their leader, flying around after eating and being intimidating. There is still a test for Paul which is similar with both films, and a similar introduction to the native planet’s worm population that can make mining the spice a very challenging job. They can get to be over 450 metres long and they move like whales through the sand. There are plenty of dream sequences, and I feel like there are more in this newer version. Because this is part one, there isn’t as much ground covered. This is a good thing, as we are allowed to keep up. Science fiction and fantasy films often like using similar and complicated names for the participants. Tolkien was infamous for them, and I welcome having a Paul and Jessica as primary protagonist names in this story. I have seen this once, and I fully expect to see it again. I feel as though that there is more to capture in a second viewing, much like Arrival for me, and Blade Runner 2049. That is a skill, and I greatly appreciate it. Villeneuve has said that he hasn’t committed to a Part Two until he sees that this version is a success. Releasing it during Covid-19 makes that measurement a more difficult task. I know that there has been no principal photography scheduled, and given the stars involved, it could be a challenge finding time for them. But I am hopeful that they carry on with this version to show more from the spice planet.

Foundation: Apple has released a mini series for the Isaac Asimov story from the early 1940s. This is more classic science fiction being put on display. I have watched 6 episodes. I will provide a more fullsome discussion about the series when I have completed it, but I have enjoyed it so far. It deals yet again with another Empire, and it’s royal three kings who are clones of one another at three different ages. They rule the galaxy for centuries, but their confidence has been shaken by a mathematician, played well by Jared Harris as Hari Seldon. Seldon is not a prophet, yet gets treated as one as he proves that the existing Empire has a finite lifecycle. He predicts the downfall. Then the intrigues continues. In many ways it is battling to keep knowledge, a library of sorts, alive to allow a species to grow and evolve. We as humans are around for a short while, but knowledge can carry on. I am hopeful that this doesn’t turn into Star Wars, because it isn’t. For those who pay attention, George Lucas borrowed many themes from both Dune and Foundation. I will continue to watch and see where this all leads.

October 18, 2021

Just in case you aren’t seeing enough Oscar Isaac these days, here are a couple more times to view him and his considerable talents before you see him playing Duke Leto Atreides in Dune next week. I have already mentioned in previous reviews the ongoing series Scenes From A Marriage where he is paired with Jessica Chastain. Last Sunday night the final installment of this series took place on Crave/HBO. As mentioned earlier this is a series, with episodes released in consecutive weeks and this was the last one. Episode five of five. Time has passed and our couple, with a young daughter between them, have been living apart. As we begin, Jonathan is getting ready to meet up with Mira. The structure of this series ensures that we don’t really know how much time has passed between the episodes. For the most part we have seen Mira acting in the most manipulative way, with Jonathan reacting to her. He has been hurt. He was surprised earlier in the series and has still be trying to put the pieces back together for himself. In some ways, this series reminds me of the movie Little Children with Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. There the adults were running around with no consideration for anything but their own needs. They left behind a trail of shattered lives. In some ways watching someone on screen do things that you are not emotionally engaged with can allow for better clarity. Jonathan’s actions often I felt were not seeing the bigger picture. His love for his wife, even when she was acting solely in her best interest, blinds him. I think that he comes off as an innocent party who has things happen to him, and he is left to try and put together the pieces for himself afterwards. This final episode turns this around somewhat. Jonathan as things unfold is doing things that I can’t imagine him ever doing before the previous episodes take place. He seems to be moving on, and then he does things that run contrary to that thinking. We can see where this journey has taken him. It’s not a positive place, and he will explain at length his justification. Mira meanwhile has been moving forward with her career, and has slowed down her relationships. Ultimately these scenes from a marriage don’t paint a very positive story. That likely is the point, and stories of good communication with people working together towards common goals wouldn’t give us much to talk about. Still. It can be a tough watch, where an actress that I like takes on a persona that is frustratingly annoying. Isaac plays and acts his part well, and they interact well together. This is believable, but not necessarily enjoyable. I wouldn’t want to spend a evening with drinks and conversation with Jonathan and Mira, although I suspect that, like in the first episode, that they can put together a good show, and say much by what they don’t say to one another.

The Card Counter: Oscar Isaac returns in this latest release where he plays a guy with a checkered past, and a rather uneventful present. As we meet him, he is making a living by moving from place to place and playing cards. We learn that he has taught himself to play cards and work the Blackjack tables. He explains how card counting works early on but he is also plays a mean game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, where “you play the person and not the house”. He is successful but not to the point of drawing attention to himself. He meets a young man who has a chip on his shoulder and wants to avenge some prior wrong. He knows our card player previously. How he knows him unfolds slowly in pieces and flashbacks. The young man has a beef with a man giving a presentation played by Willem Dafoe. Isaac’s character takes the young man under his wing. He sees a young man with passion but not a lot of sense about planning and executing on a complex plan. I had expected to see this plot travel the path of The Colour of Money, with the veteran showing the ropes to a young man as they work together to make scores. Not the case here. Yes, there is a “money person” who finds promising card talent and bankrolls their efforts (think Molly’s Game) and the veteran (Isaac) only looking to play for a very short period of time. But it takes a left turn. Rather than working together, Isaac wants something different. He reveals more about himself and we see more of his past, and his interest in the Dafoe character. It builds and then changes. I was surprised. It was a human story, and reflected a life that many people cannot relate to. In the end, seeing Isaac plays these very different roles in both look and experience is fun to watch. He is one of the most versatile actors out there today and he is getting plenty of quality roles. I look forward to seeing him next weekend in Dune. This is not action packed. It has its own pace and takes it time to develop the story of the protagonist. If you like Isaac, and want to see more of him. This is worth watching. If you want a greater pace with car chases and action scenes then it isn’t for you.