October 11, 2021 Canadian Thanksgiving. Bond

No Time to Die:  Daniel Craig puts on the tuxedo as James Bond for one final turn.  Finally released after many Covid-19 delays, it has arrived in North American theatres a week after Europe.   I saw this in IMAX in a mostly full theatre, as in Ontario they just as of midnight Saturday allowed full capacity.   It was invigorating to be back in a full theatre.  At the same time it seems many people have lost all their sense of etiquette for attending with others.   I like assigned seats generally but it means people arrived 15 mins late in the dark disturbing others.  Others can’t seem to hold their bladders and were up and down multiple times.  Also disturbing.   

Now to the movie.  It was first and foremost long at almost three hours.  I had not anticipated that length.   It felt it too.  I found myself wondering the end scenes were actually the end.   

Craig of course is an excellent Bond and he delivers.  He finished Spectre with his foster brother nemesis lying lame on Westminster Bridge in London as he throws his handgun into the Thames and leaves with Lea Seydoux character (Mr White’s daughter).   I have to admit that I don’t see any chemistry with those characters at all.  In Spectre she goes from loathing him and the life he leads.  Minutes later she is professing his love for him.   You can’t unring that bell, and it means she her character’s emotions likely more than they should go at that time.   It doesn’t really work.  

The Spectre storyline is explored further and resolved in a way that is quite surprising.  It is disappointing at the same time.  With Blofeld behind maximum security bars the audience is left to wonder how such a man can have influence in the criminal underworld.  What kind of criminal organization is it that would allow him to even try?  Presumably there is a Number 2, to borrow from Austin Powers?   

We are introduced to a new character played by Remi Malik.  He can be difficult to understand.  He mumbles in crucial parts.  I am fuzzy with his role and how it interacts with Spectre.  Yes he had a family loss as result of Spectre but the details of it were not clear.  Add to that how this man gets the money and power to formidable person that he is, raises a few eyebrows.   But asking too many questions doesn’t help reconcile the story.   So I will wrap up plot discussion at that point and just go with it.  

This isn’t the best Craig Bond film.  I think that Casino Royale is.   A close second is Skyfall.  Quantum of Solace the worst.   A documentary on Crave on Being Bond explains that filming for Quantum started at the beginning of a writers strike in Hollywood.  They had no finalized script.  It deeply impacted that film.  

I like Bond.   I was unimpressed by the “new” 007.  She seemed to just have a chip on her shoulder and that is not a personality.   Rather this tension with Bond feels forced as he is not really bothered by being retired and her presence.   The more interesting person was the American agent that Bond meets in Cuba.  Played by Ana de Armas named Paloma.  She was interesting, showed tremendous skills (especially wearing high heels and a skimpy dress) and arrived and disappeared far too quickly.   

In the end, things that haven’t been done before with a Bond character were done here.  They are appropriate.  This series of Bond movies were not just stand alone movies against bad guys.   They were driven by more back story and character development with Bond himself.  We have learned a lot more about him as a man.   He was more an action hero than at any time.   Sean Connery would not being jumping off cranes or riding a motorcycle like he does.   Pierce Brosnan didn’t have the hand on hand combat that Craig has.  Craig has left his mark and in a very good way.   Where the franchise decides to go after this will be interesting.

October 4th, 2021

The Eyes of Tammy Fay: For the first time since late August 2020, I was able to see a movie in a regular theatre since I saw Tenet. I went on a “Cheap Tuesday” when the tickets are about half price. A deal! Usually a newly released, first run movie on a Cheap Tuesday would have packed theatre packing lot and theatre. My how things have changed. I arrived for a 6:55PM showing and there were parking spots available right near the entrance. I had pre-purchased my ticket and was able to show my vaccination status to head in. There ended up being four other people at showtime! Four! Now I wouldn’t say that this new Jessica Chastain movie would be for a mass audience, but it had just premiered at TIFF two weeks before. There was some decent press about the performances by Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain both as Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, the 80s tele-evangelists. Had Jessica Chastain not been starring I have to admit that I likely wouldn’t be attending. Quite frankly, the subject matter didn’t interest me. I had seen Jim and Tammy Fay live on TV with their PTL Club. I found that they are phony and plastic people who preyed on the weak and the desperate with a gospel in which paying them money led to the path of righteousness, and being granted your wishes. I am not overly religious at all, and so in concept I find the whole business model to be flawed. So I ventured forth to see the performances. Both Garfield and Chastain are very good actors with quality performances in their bodies of work. In this story we follow the life of Tammy Fay from a young impoverished girl in Minnesota with a family life which is challenged. Mom plays at the local church as the organist. Acting Dad stays pretty low key, while Tammy Fay is excluded. Excluded because she is a living example of a child out of wedlock. Mom is ashamed. She finds a clever way to get herself into the church from which Mom kept her away. She grows and heads off to school and early on meets a young Jim. He is ambitious in his bible readings. He looks to “teach” his instructors. Tammy Fay is entranced. They quickly marry and head out on the road, selling their brand of the church. They begin, quite accidentally, for Pat Robertson and his network show (the 700 Club) using puppets to entertain the children who, in turn, would bring their parents. This is a time of Robertson, with others too like Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell and others. They are popular, but in time are cut out by Robertson. So they set up their own show and network. The underlying theme is that Tammy Fay was not the business person, she was a performer and strong believer in people and belief. She wholeheartedly believed in Jim. His scruples were questionable and there are strange business dealings that took place. This later becomes his downfall for which he was jailed (not giving anything away). Tammy Fay was never jailed. I am not sure that I believe that she was willfully blind about the finances of this Ministry, as she saw her residences expand and grow becoming more and more opulent. She never wanted for anything and they lived the high powered life, using funds from their parishioners as their own personal funds. Yes, she cared about people and she was an early believer in treating all people the same, including those with AIDS. She supported the LGBTQ community without hesitation. Still, I get the sense that she was a performer. From first to last. Her trademark heavy mascara and endless tears were a source of humour at the time and for years to come. Incidentally Jim has done his time and is back on TV preaching, scarily enough. Tammy Fay passed away in 2007. I cannot recommend this film, but I am hard pressed at this point to think of a female performance that will garner the Oscar attention. I was distracted by the make up (enlarged cheeks) on both Garfield and Chastain. Chastain’s accent reminded me of Marge Gunderson, played by Frances McDormand, in Fargo. In the end it wasn’t overly compelling but that really shouldn’t surprise me.

I do look forward to more visits to the theatre in October, with at least James Bond’s No Time to Die and also Dune.

I managed to watch two very average movies this past weekend on Netflix, both recent releases.

The Guilty: This stars Jake Gyllenhaal, what could have been a Broadway play, since most of it happens in a single building. It feels similar in structure to the 2002 Phone Booth which starred Colin Farrell and the voice of Kiefer Sutherland. In this version, Jake plays a police officer who is attending a 9-11 call centre as a worker as part of a leave from his on-the-street job. He takes phone calls. He is stressed, angry, and dealing with the issue of trying to see his daughter, all the while trying to answer calls. Then he receives a phone call from a woman who is sounding very anxious. We find out that she is being abducted and she has two young children at home. Jake takes the call and on very limited information looks to piece together what is taking place. Things happen. More things happen and Jake’s character has to address not only this situation, but also a pending court appearance. The court appearance was a new development and I won’t get into those details. Its introduction was delayed as we got to learn more about this main character. There are many close ups of Jake and his emotional roller coaster. He does an admirable job, in revealing how his character is impacted by the things that are happening around him. It feels a little bit hollow as we better understand the title of the movie. But it’s not very satisfying. So I cannot recommend this.

The Starling: Stars Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Kline and her co-star from Bridesmaids Chris O’Dowd who plays her husband in this movie. McCarthy and O’Dowd play a husband and wife who are expecting a new baby. They begin in their baby’s room painting a wall with trees and flowers. Then something happens which changes their lives and sends them in different directions. Despite three very good comedic actors, this really isn’t a comedy. Kevin Kline plays a vet who has in his past some psychiatric experience. He is suggested as someone that Melissa should speak with. The starling, in this film, is a device which uses plenty of CGI to have an interaction with the human beings. It is used more than it likely should be, and it doesn’t really provide the comic punch that the producers were expecting. I liked this even less than The Guilty. It feels forced. It deals with a difficult subject matter for which the spin taken isn’t really appropriate, in my mind.

September 27, 2021

In and Of Itself: Back on Feb 1st I reviewed this movie directed by Frank Oz. I re-watched it again as it was just released on Crave. I enjoyed it thoroughly once again. It is a one man show from a guy named Derek DelGaudio. It is hard to describe it in a single word really. It is part philosophy, part illusion, part parlour trick and altogether interesting. I won’t describe it further because it bears viewing with fresh eyes. So if you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Scenes From A Marriage (Episode 3): This show is on weekly at present. Once again it stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. Both are very good in it. It is slow. It can be painful. The character that Jessica plays, for me, is one that is becoming less and less admirable. That likely isn’t a desired trait, or perhaps reflects exactly what the producers had intended; not all people act admirably. So this can be a mirror to what people experience. Episodes one and two have the changes within this marriage beginning. They have been together for quite some time, and she had some news which resulted in a particular direction. Then, once again, she had in episode two after some passage of time some more news that she wanted to bring to her husband. This episode is really a continuation of that news after some time has passed. It is a tough position for the husband to play in this context. Isaac plays it very well. He has been in reactive mode, trying to adjust his life. He has also sought out to evaluate himself and his contribution to the recent happenings. After all there are always two people in any relationship and rarely it would be solely one person who is making decisions in a vacuum. There were moments here that I was actively cringing and speaking aloud for the husband to choose a different path. If you are watching this, you will know when I mean. I will continue to watch.

Last Week Tonight: This ongoing series from John Oliver is always fun for me. The host makes interesting commentary on the news of the day, then has segments of other items of interest. It is done with humour, but also a critical eye. His news item this week was addressing the refugees seeking to enter the US from Haiti and how they have been turned back. At times forcibly with border agents on horseback. His other segment was on Voting Rights and how certain States (mostly red Republican States) are putting forth legislation to limit the ability to vote or at least curtail its availability. Mail-in voting, specific ID requirements etc. are being put forth which can have a disproportionate impact on the non-white voters. There isn’t much of a surprise there, but it is an effort that President Biden isn’t really taking too seriously. Finally he did a segment on Duck Stamps, which was quite funny. These are stamps that are generally sold to hunters, but also collectors. 97% of the proceeds is used to save wildlife habitation and during its life, has raised over $1B. Each year a team selects the art to be chosen from a list of entries. John’s team entered a number of suggestions.

Here is one of them (note the dog from Nintendo’s Duck Hunt in the back):

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver "Duck Hunt" by Eric Joyner | eBay
Last Week Tonight Failed Entry for 2022 Duck Stamp now up for auction

All his entries failed to get consideration from the judges, but he is now auctioning them off with all contributions going to the charity. It was all very funny. In the same way as his purchase of Russell Crowe’s divorce movie paraphernalia or having Danbury CT name their waste management plant in his name. Enjoy!

September 20th, 2021

This week I watched some older films and the new release on Crave with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: This is a classic movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture back in 1975. It also won Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher and Best Director, Milos Forman. Forman also directed Amadeus. It is an iconic role for Nicholson. This is role where Jack Nicholson actually plays a role than playing himself. He plays Randall McMurphy who is convicted felon, who thinks that being in a psychiatric hospital is better than being in a prison with assigned work details. He meets up with Nurse Ratched an experienced tough-as-nails, no nonsense woman who runs her floor like a well oiled machine. Over time one questions whether she really is looking to improve the lives of her patience, or rather this is an affirmation daily of her superiority. She isn’t to be challenged. In comes McMurphy who quickly looks to upend her structured existence with her patients. The patients are all men, and are important to dynamic. There are some well known actors here in their early days like Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd. The story is really a power play between McMurphy who challenges the other patients and pushes them to be more independent, and Nurse Ratched. McMurphy has an impact on each and every one of them becoming the somewhat leader of this motley group. The acting is first rate all around. I was re-visiting this because I haven’t reviewed it, but I had seen it a long time ago. The performance of the Chief is one that has struck me more upon another viewing. Forman tells this story, one that my brother read in high school, but was unread by me, in a moving way where the performances shine and you get a sense about an aspect of life for some that wouldn’t normally be seen. The story remains as effective today as back in the 70s. People are people, even though I expect that shock treatment is no longer used as a means of “treating” people with mental challenges.

Basic Instinct: In 1992, this movie became a sleeper hit and mostly on the performances by Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. Stone shines in a movie that is a psychological thriller and murder mystery. For 1992, there was more nudity and titillations than for its time. There is plenty of frontal nudity. Stone plays an author named Catherine Trammell, who inherited a great deal of wealth from her deceased parents, and writes murder mystery books. Her books tend mirror people and characters in her life. There are some classic scenes like the interview scene with Stone in the white dress. She uncrosses and crosses her legs in full view of her male police, legal interviewers. Later there is a bedroom scene where a scarf is used and then an ice pick comes into play. The players get more entangled and the story moves on, with the audience not knowing whether Trammell did or didn’t do what occurs. Is this an Academy winner? No. But is it entertaining? Yes. One can view and wonder about how this will all unfold. If the reader doesn’t feel like watching this, likely male teenagers in the house will.

Scarface: This is an iconic role for Al Pacino. For a man who has played many incredible roles, including the unforgettable Michael Corleone in The Godfather, this is one for which many people will think of him first. His Cuban accent is forced, but this 1983 movie directed by Brian De Palma is a tour de force for Pacino in a role of a Cuban exile who becomes a major drug king pin in Miami. He plays Tony Montana. Like the other movies reviewed, this movie has some memorable scenes, like the early scene in the motel with the Columbians. There are also many lines used that have become part of the every vernacular of life like “Say hello to my little friend” and “All I Have In This World Is My Balls And My Word, And I Don’t Break ‘Em For No One!” and “In This Country, You Gotta Make The Money First. Then When You Get The Money, You Get The Power. Then When You Get The Power, Then You Get The Women.” Steven Bauer plays his best friend and side kick. From a new immigrant to the US, to a dish washer, he has street smarts and ambitions for bigger things. The end always justifies the means. He will do anything to get ahead. He has a hair trigger temper when it comes to his sister. He lives boldly and passionately with a strong business sense. Together he and his best friend rise in the Miami drug world. Tony has early visions of owning the world. He meets his boss’ girlfriend, played by Michelle Pfeiffer and is immediately struck by her. Early advice on having longevity in the cocaine business from that old boss is quickly forgotten. The story is one of unbridled ambition and excess. If the entire focus of a life is making money and getting ahead, something can get lost. Usually this can mean relationships, with family or friends or both. This is a remake of a film from 1932 of the same name. This addresses the cocaine drug scene in Miami in ways that weren’t seen before. The performance of Pacino makes it, and the circumstances that reveal just how crazy this business was, along with the participation of bankers, legislators and the Columbians.

Scenes From A Marriage: This new series on Crave was just released last week. It plays each Sunday. Yesterday the second episode was played. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain play a married couple with a young daughter. Chastain plays a woman who works at an IT company. She is the bread winner in the family. Isaac plays a professor who is the primary caregiver for the daughter. The first episode was slow but got better as the wife has some interesting news. The couple needs to deal with it. The series is a re-make of the 1973 series from Ingmar Bergman. Michelle Williams was apparently supposed to star in it, but she bowed out. Chastain stepped in. These two played a married couple from A Most Violent Year. They are former classmates from Julliard School. Like Revolutionary Road, with Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio from a few years ago I wonder why these dramas about marriage have to seem so miserable. I suppose that there wouldn’t be much drama if things all went swimmingly in a blissful union of two people so deeply intertwined. Life is more complicated than that. Especially when there are children involved, there are painful discussions that take place. Decisions are made, and they are never easy. There is deep hurt and emotion. Things both said and unsaid. The ebbs and flows of connection and disconnect. Rarely is it that two people are in sync at the same time. One is almost always on a different plain at a different time. One doesn’t enjoy this, and the scenes that are painful but you experience them. In many ways, this isn’t for younger viewers. They don’t have the life experience to understand that this can be very real. Love for the young can be very black and white, an absolute. The truth can be that it is more shades. The simple act of packing a bag can be more impactful emotionally, and tell you a lot about the people involved, than you might expect. Two episodes in, I enjoy the performances. I will continue to watch.

September 13, 2021

Becoming Cousteau: This Liz Garbus newly released documentary at TIFF, first shown Saturday with the director and editor in attendance, shows some of the life of the incredibly complex Frenchman, Jacques Yves Cousteau. For those of us who were raised in the 70s, this man was an iconic figure on TV with his hour long specials showing the wonders of the undersea world. He and his small band of like-mind explorers sailed the seas on the Calypso, a converted British mine sweeper that one of the Guinness family (yes the Irish beer making family) paid to give him to do his work. He pioneered (and invented out of necessity) the aqualung as well as the underwater camera. With those inventions, he endlessly filmed the sea world that he experienced first hand for the early years of his life. Incidentally his first film of the seas, won him an Oscar for Best Documentary. He would add two more. He wrote books about sea life. It is odd, when thinking back on it, that a man who was so inspirational for many people to see the waters for the first time had all but disappeared since his death back in 1998, at the age of 87. The documentary decides to focus on the man, and his journey from a naval officer and making a living showing people the sea, to being an early observer of climate change, and seeing in a short 30 years how the oceans had been impacted by human ignorance and negligence. It does not dwell on his personal life beyond introducing us to his first wife, Simone, and their two sons Phillippe and Jean-Michel and then with his second wife the much younger Pierre-Yves and Diane. Here was a man who was instrumental in bringing together world leaders at the Earth Day Summit in Rio in 1992. He was at one point that Americans said that they most wanted to meet. Sadly it took 5 years according to the Director to get access to the video archives. The reason for the delay is the schism that has divided the Cousteau family and the legacy of Jacques. His second wife, a mistress and mother of two children was granted the rights to the Cousteau Society. Jean-Michel, the remaining son with first Wife, Simone, has been in litigation with her about the Calypso, the movies, control of the corporation and the legacy. What this clouds is a fascinating man who gave so much to the world. He is an inventor, explorer, film-maker, naturalist, and someone deeply committed to protecting the planet for future generations. He was before the US Congress in the late 1970s talking about the damage to the oceans, and the need to make efforts with action as opposed to talk. Unfortunately not much has happened since his impassioned plea. Environmental targets are missed, people are apathetic with the size of the problem. Meanwhile our oceans are warming. Coral is bleaching and dying. Fish are being massively over-fished. I think that in 2021 Jacques Cousteau would be very disappointed in the lack of progress by mankind. It is still an important message that it getting delivered, and I am hopeful that people can remember this man, and the younger generations can be introduced to someone who shaped much of our knowledge of the creatures in the sea. Well worth your time. It will be released to theatres in October.

A book that has been in my family for years circa 1970

As an aside I can say that on Friday I wandered the streets around King Street near Roy Thompson Hall. Usually the first Friday of TIFF there would be a buzz around the city. People in the streets, King Street closed, vendors on the street, people lining up for various films at numerous locations in and around the city. You could feel the energy. If you were lucky you may have a close encounter with a star. For me a couple years back it was Antonio Banderas and before that Jessica Chastain in 2017. The randomness of it all made it exciting. A black limo may pull up at any time and someone may step out. Now, there aren’t the lines. No vendors. No lines for movies. Fewer venues than ever before in my recollection. At the Saturday show at the Cinesphere there was no line outside. Inside masks were to be worn at all times in a socially distanced seating arrangement with about 25% of the patrons inside.. Hell, even the crowd didn’t give a pirate “Argh!!!” when the Piracy warning came up! It is not the same. It is TIFF Lite. And that is okay. I give kudos to those who have the unenviable task of trying to put together a world class event, and make no mistake that TIFF is one of the top film festivals in the world. For me personally, I won’t pay for a drive-in movie. I may pay for a digital film shown in my house. I will see a movie live with these Covid measures in place. I am hopeful that TIFF 2022 can be more like it has been in the past. Seeing Amercian college and NFL stadiums filled to capacity (106,000 in Michigan alone) one of us will be shown to be wrong with the D-variant.

The Grand Seduction: This 2013 Canadian production is showing on Netflix. It stars Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch. The story involves a struggling small fishing harbour in Newfoundland looking to re-invent itself. The fishing has been curtailed and the people (about 120) have mostly been on social assistance. They would like to attract a new oil based recycling facility. The catch is that they have been told that they must have a doctor to be considered. They don’t have one, and no real prospects. Think of this story like a Canadian Maritime Doc Hollywood, the 1991 Michael J Fox film set in the US south. My problem with it is the focus on deception from the town’s people. It is meant to be comedic, showing them showing themselves to be cricket fans to the new doctor (which is relatively harmless) but later lying to the corporate investors looking to place the new business. There is lying to the bank to try and find funds for a payment to the corporation. All in all, I would like to see the town be the honest hardworking people that we know that they are, and somehow they convincing the corporation for a chance. I did like the way they addressed the romantic side of this film. There is, naturally, only one possible option for the good young doctor to have any romantic connection. She however has better ideas, and her own mind. So while I like the scenery in Newfoundland, and the fishing village is quaint and pretty, the movie itself is a pass.

September 6, 2021, Labour Day

The Green Knight: I have to admit that I am a fan of all things King Arthur, and Excalibur, the Holy Grail etc. For me, the start was likely Monty Python, but in truth and more particularly John Boorman’s 1981 Excalibur. That film I have watched time after time. Knowing the story well makes Monty Python that much funnier too. So when I had heard about a new film coming out that was an Arthur spin off story, The Green Knight, I was intrigued. The story has its inspiration from the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with an unknown author. Dev Patel stars in as Sir Gawain, and I have liked many of his films to date. So when I had a chance to see this, I was ready for some swords, chainmail and swashbuckling. What I got instead, was a disjointed, confusing mess with an equally confusing ending. One that leaves the audience hanging. An aging King Arthur is on the throne with his Queen (already a departure from Excalibur) where he would like to get to know his nephew better. The King is played by the same high pitched, soft spoken actor, Sean Harris from the later Mission Impossible movies. At a gala event, a stranger who looks remarkably like a tree monster, arrives on horseback and challenges any one attending at the round table to fight him and strike a blow, and then after a year return back to him at his castle to have that strike returned. Sir Gawain in attendance immediately volunteers. He is successful (more easily than expected actually) and then is tasked with waiting for the return trip in a year. After a year his begins his journey. Things happen. Some surprises, and then ultimately there is an abrupt ending. I won’t delve to deeply into the story for fear of disclosing too much. Suffice it to say that it is more complex and fuzzy than it is worth. The ending is just a dead stop where you wonder “is that it?” As far as production value, there is a lot of smoke. The armour, horses and sets are believable. Harris is not my King Arthur, nor is there really any visibility for Merlin. Much of the Arthur lore is put to the side. Had the King be called anyone else, then the story falls on it own. Perhaps the Arthur tease raises the bar for the story to heights that it just can’t reach. The book is unknown to me, but having seen this I don’t really have a great deal of motivation to seek it out. I cannot recommend this. I really wish that I could, because I did look forward to it. There must be other stories out there that are worthy of King Arthur and that time (however much I am aware this the main story was all fable to begin with).

Worth: Remarkably and incredibly to me, next Saturday is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Just wow! I remember in detail where I was (the tallest office building in Canada – downtown Toronto’s First Canadian Place) working for a big bank. I was on the 17th floor, and I heard about a plane hitting the WTC. CNN incidentally last night ran again the excellent Fire Fighter documentary that became the 9/11 documentary with a first hand account of the first fire department to be arriving on scene in Tower 1. They have an incredible on the ground shot on the first airliner hitting the Tower. That is backstory. Netflix is now streaming a new film with Michael Keaton playing a legal professor from Georgetown law, who volunteers with the unenviable job (and accepts no compensation for it) of computing compensation claims to the various victims in the tragedy. I have to admit that I am not clear on the justification for this. Shortly after the attack, Congress enacted the Victim Compensation Fund. The idea was to have victims compensated by funds and release their right to litigate against the airlines. It was felt that the airlines could not survive the litigation and that as a result the entire economy could fall. I am skeptical. Only two airlines were directly involved, United and American. Each had two planes involved. From a legal standpoint, I think that perhaps the airline passengers may have a claim against the airline for not acting reasonably to keep them safe. However, all those other victims (those on the ground, in the buildings, first responders etc) have a more difficult challenge. The chain of causation breaks when a terrorist group for the first time hijacks the four planes and attacks the buildings in New York (and elsewhere). But I digress. Keaton is taking a logical, legal approach to compensation based upon past statistics and cases precedent. He believes that he can come up with a formula which could be applied for each victim. Things like salary, marital status, number of offspring etc would be part of the formula. His stated goal is to have 80% of potential victims agree (it ends up being 5500) and take the deal with the government within two years (Dec 2003). Stanley Tucci plays a man who lost his wife in the attacks. He sees the formula approach as flawed. He sets up a website and garners support for his belief that the Keaton team isn’t dealing with people justly. Keaton in the early days makes an initial presentation to victims, and it doesn’t go well. He may have the law, and numbers on his side, but the victims have raw emotion and passionate stories. Keaton has a team that takes the interviews with each of the victims. Keaton’s team struggles with the power of the stories. Time goes by and he isn’t very successful. What you see are stories from the victims which are of course heart wrenching. What they don’t tell you, until the end was the amount of money that was in play. Nor do they tell you about the source of the funds, which presumably is the American public, as opposed to the airlines who really should be footing most of the bill. There are heroes and villains. There are money-grubbing lawyers playing angles, as well as poor people thankful for anything that they can get. Is this a compelling story? Well, it is interesting. It surprises me to hear the amount involved. I wonder whether the US government would then seek damages from another government (like Pakistan) for what they paid out. It also makes one wonder what the pay out would be for Covid-19 by the Chinese government for the people of Wuhan? Or what the Russian government would pay for those in Chernobyl? We partially know the Chinese answer from that latest documentary Last Breath where $100 extra was paid to the father whose son died. Incidentally this lawyer and his firm have been involved with many other such funds for other tragedies. If the subject matter is interesting to you, then this would be worth seeing.

August 30th, 2021

Stillwater: This 2021 film release stars Matt Damon, playing an Oklahome, blue collar labourer, who we find out makes trips periodically to France to visit his daughter who is in prison there, for a murder that she claims that she didn’t commit. In many ways, there are parallels with the Amanda Knox real life case that was set in Italy. A roommate is killed with a highly publicized trial with an American at the centre of it. Abigail Breslan (from way back when in 2006 in Little Miss Sunshine). She is all grown up now. She and her Dad have a strained relationship. Dad has a strained relationship with virtually everyone in his life. His wife and mother of the daughter took her own life in a timeline that isn’t exactly clear. Dad acts impulsively and not thinking of the potential consequences of his actions. He has a history with alcohol and other substances. He loves and supports his daughter and believes in her innocence. On a visit, he hears some new evidence and is told that the case would not be re-opened. Without speaking French, and having no allies he seeks to investigate further himself. He runs into, by chance, a woman and her daughter who just happen to stay temporarily at his rented room in the town. They help one another. This movie started out on a trajectory which would suggest that the Damon character in full Liam Neeson mode (a la Taken) would storm in, crack some skulls and dig up new information that would set his daughter free. The bad people would all suffer greatly from ever coming between a Daddy and his little girl. I had expected this, as the story started off slowly and seemed to be heading in this direction, and then it takes a turn for the better. It wasn’t quite so formulaic. We see how a seeming predilection towards acting impulsively, which we can fully understand, results in some serious consequences. The words of the Dad to those around him don’t always match the actions that he takes. However much we feel as though we understand his acts, we also see the other side. I enjoyed this more than I thought that I would. It isn’t shoot ’em up and car chases. But rather dealing with circumstances that are put before you. This is worth checking out.

Hacks: This is a series on HBO/Crave. It stars 70yo Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder. Smart you will know, and she has done some quality work lately with this series, as well as playing the Mom of Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown, where she had some of the best lines. She is mostly known for TV but has done some movies. She plays Deborah Vance, a Vegas headliner comedienne who has her star shining a little less brightly, and her material is a little dated. Think Joan Rivers, with a hard outer shell which her line of work (and her longevity in that line of work) would make necessary. She appears outwardly all together, but there is a vulnerability in the performance. She has an ongoing battle with the man who hires the talent for her hotel, the Palazzo. Along comes a young female writer who was released from her previous job in Los Angeles, and her agent suggests that she go work with Miss Vance. They both have complicated relationships surrounding them. They don’t get along very well in the beginning. Vance is sharper and more shrewd than she may first seem. She is wealthy, from the Vegas shows as well as a previously successful TV show with her Ex-husband, who has since died. The 10 episode season, each 30 mins, starts out pretty slowly, but then it builds. Things happen, and the characters do things that can make you laugh and also surprise you. Supporting characters like Vance’s daughter play a role, as well as her CAO of her company who has been with her during this lengthy time in Vegas. As an aside, Smart’s real life husband passed away during the filming of the show, and Smart decided to finish the shoot. The last episode is dedicated to him. Like Vance, Smart is the consummate professional. I liked this. I would suggest staying with it, because I found the early episodes dragged a little. The relationship between the two women has to grow. As with the Dad in Stillwater one can see the results of acting impulsively, and how the clean up can be much more involved than the initial volley.

She’s Out of My League: this 2010 film is a fun romantic comedy where an average nice guy Joe, played by Canadian Jay Baruchel meets up with an starts a relationship with a stunning beauty. The beauty, Molly, is played by Alice Eve, who other than Star Trek Into Darkness I don’t recall her in other things of note. Baruchel plays Kirk, and he works for TSA at the Pittsburgh Airport. He has his buddies, notably TJ Miller as the wise cracking know-it-all buddy Stainer. Kirk meets Molly at the security check, as she is turning heads to virtually all the men at the airport. Kirk just is the nice, polite guy that he is to everyone in his life. He listens to Stainer about his place, and believes that a girl like Molly would never possibly be interested in a guy like him. There is a priceless exchange about human rankings, and how the numbers have to work:

It is all in good fun, with some good laughs. We cheer on Kirk and Molly. We hope that they can find their way clear to be together, even though all the odds seem against them. Kirk’s family is hilariously dysfunctional, especially his overly competitive brother. This was on Netlflix and even my 16yo son enjoyed it. For a lighter evening, it is fun, and surprising in a way that these stars have not been in more films.

August 23, 2021

Plenty of movies and series to discuss this week, both new and older alike.

In the Same Breath: HBO has released what I think will be the beginning of a number of documentaries related to COVID-19 pandemic. Last night was the beginning with this documentary by a female director of Chinese ancestry, who is married to an American. The story begins chronologically with a trip by the director and her husband and 3 year old child to visit family in Wuhan China for the Chinese New Year back in early 2020. There was some radio discussion about eight workers at a plant who were inprisoned for “spreading rumours about a flu”. Shortly thereafter there was talk about everything “being under control” and then lockdown. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people. I remember a year ago when Covid numbers were put out that the Chinese numbers were extremely low. In Wuhan they showed the official count of deaths at 3,300 roughly. The difference between there and here of course is the central Communist government. The government controls not only the media and the message, they also control the hospitals and the morgues. There is fear on the faces of health care workers that they try to interview about Covid or about people and their loved ones. Later in the program they show the line up of people trying to obtain ashes for their deceased relatives, and the clear indication is that the real numbers of infections and deaths in China are dramatically higher. Confirmation of the worst kept secret. The documentary then shifts to the US, and the actions taken in NYC, which becomes the epicentre of the pandemic in the US. Incidentally there is another documentary by Spike Lee which talks about NYC as the Epicentre from 9/11 to 2021 1/2. It speaks about the City’s handling of the pandemic as well. In this documentary, we are replayed the initial assessment that “this is a flu” and “not to worry” and “it will be gone by April the weather turns nice”. The whole Trump dismissal of it, including those statements made by Dr Fauci who speaks of no need for masks etc. It is damning. Health care workers are interviewed and their stories are heartbreaking. Freezer trucks that are forced to make temporary shelving inside the trucks to accommodate more bodies. People not seeing loved ones. Healthcare worker burn out and stress. Then of course there are the protests and those who believed that it was a hoax. The Chinese government who claims that this failure of democracy shows that they have a superior system. I am left feeling vindicated in my thoughts about China and the pandemic. I am also frustrated how a health issue became a political issue. Thanks Donald Trump and those who turned their back on science. But thanks too for the scientists and doctors who took their marching orders from Trump and his Administration. Because of them, the public were deceived, in both China and the US. No one has clean hands. All suffer the consequences. This pandemic was and continues to be much worse on a global scale because of political pride in systems (democratic or communist) on both sides of the world. Had their been more open and honest communication, perhaps things may have been better. Perhaps. All the while, this shines some light on the issues, what went wrong, failures from all involved and the raw impact on families and people collectively. Well worth watching.

100 Foot Wave: This HBO docuseries ended last night, and I have spoken about it before. For me it was thrilling to watch these athletes surf these massive waves. Garrett is the focal point as the person who initially surfed the highest of these waves and he was supported by the Portugal Tourism Department to bring in the people to Portugal. He was very successful. This episode shows the 2020 Tow Surfing Event where the best of the best big wave surfers and their fans descended onto Nazarre. I admit that I felt it was a bit anti-climactic. From a series of shows that built up to this competition, we see that a dramatic and terrifying accident during the competition meant that one of the early focal points of the series “Cotty” had a huge wave that all the cameras missed. He was deeply disappointed. We also see Garrett as a guy who just can’t stop himself from seeking the waves, and putting himself in harm’s way. Despite the family, despite his age and his injuries, it is just who he is.

Mama: is a 2013 fantasy thriller that stars Jessica Chastain, as well as Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) which I did not know much about until I saw listed on Crave. Initially I saw the name Guillermo del Toro associated with the film I was excited, but he was not directed, and instead Executive Producer. There are elements in the creature that reminds me of his style. For Chastain, she has shorter jet black hair and just doesn’t look herself without her red locks. She plays a woman in a rock band who is dating the brother of a guy who one day has a breakdown and slays his wife, and takes his two young female children into a remote cabin. He while in the cabin meets with an accident. The little girls aren’t found for five years. Bring in Jessica and boyfriend to act as foster parents. The girls are both very wild, having been raised in the woods with little recollection of their time in civilized society. Things happen around them, as there is a presence, an entity, that follows the girls. The girls call her Mama. She is the fantasy part of this and has a backstory that is explained. Much of the rest addresses how the situation can be resolved. The fantasy is the backstory and how Mama is able to move from the cabin to the new home that girls live in. Chastain ends up as the primary caregiver, and you see her building a relationship with the girls. There were typical efforts to illicit screams and jumps. Some were more effective than others. I wasn’t scared, and the arc felt quite familiar. I wasn’t really convinced about Chastain as a rocker, I have to say. Not a movie that you need to seek out.

The Fly: Back in 1986 Canadian David Cronenberg brought this movie forth, which was refreshingly set in Toronto. Jeff Goldblum plays a brilliant physicist who is looking to development teleportation. Geena Davis is a reporter that he takes a liking to, and brags about what he is doing. He sees this as revolutionary, but he is struggling with teleporting living objects. His computer doesn’t seem to know how to deal with the flesh. He works on improving the programming. Meanwhile Davis begins to reciprocate the feelings for Seth, and they begin a relationship. On a night where he was alone, Seth drinks too much and decides that his updated technology is ready for a human experiment and he goes through. He had previously used a baboon with mixed success. An unexpected thing happens and then Seth begins to change. Cronenberg and his production team did an excellent job at the time of the make up and other effects. It still holds up to this day. The Davis and Goldblum relationship seems real because it became real off screen. They ended up being married to one another. It all comes together well with some cool effects, some believable gross aspects and a story that is compelling. I enjoyed it back in the day and feel that it remains good today. Today it likely would have had a lot more computer graphics, but I not sure that it would have made it better. Worth checking out if you come upon it.

Underwater: this 2020 movie stars Kristen Stewart who I had no seen in a film in quite some time. She of course burst onto the scene with the Twilight films and her co-star and love interest in real life Robert Pattinson. She will be playing the role of Princess Diana in the film Spencer to debut at TIFF next month. This movie is a thriller set at the bottom of the ocean. There are mining operations that have been set up there and some strange things are happening. Very early on we see Stewart and an emergency takes place which needs to be addressed. This movie borrowed heavily from other better movies like The Abyss and Alien series. The themes are all there and even Stewart looks a great deal with Ripley in Alien III with the short hair. I won’t go through the plot points because the two film references alone should give some sense as to where this goes. I cannot recommend it, as I just kept seeing the other films as being better. It is quite remarkable to think about being in that hostile environment (which might as well be space) and water that must be strikingly cold, not to mention the pressure! Query whether one would think that any creatures who were living in that environment would need eyes of any kind. There is no light down there. No need to seek this one out either.

August 16th, 2021

Settlers: This recently released movie was one that Alison had made available. I had never heard of it. The only even somewhat known actor was Sofia Boutella, the Algerian actress who was best known to me for her role in Atomic Blonde as well as The Mummy. The story is a pretty simple one, focusing on a young family who is, without any real explanation, on a new planet in the middle of nowhere. We can somewhat assume that it is Mars, but truly it could be any number of places. The young couple have a daughter. They inexplicably walk around without masks or space suits of any kind. If you are a fan of The Martian all of this will be a surprise. The story is slow. The family seems to have human invaders among them that are a threat. The Dad is looking to protect his humble abode. The story continues. Time passes and things happen that impact the young girl most profoundly. The mystery of the lack of masks and suits is revealed. The reason why people shipped across the universe to inhabit another planet are given guns and weapons is a true mystery. Why the few people on a new planet would choose to engage with one another rather than cooperate and work together I cannot comprehend. The production design does not come near to The Martian where Ridley Scott excels with providing the look and feel of a different planet. This seems like it’s more like a back lot somewhere or in Arizona. But anyway, the story moves along slowly and the years pass. The young girl grows and she interacts with her primary roommate. There is somewhat of a resolution, but it isn’t very satisfying. Quite the opposite actually so I cannot recommend this. While it may not have sucked, it wasn’t compelling either. A large humanity event, not explained, is encapsulated in three people and their relationships. I wish that there was more.

Slap Shot: this 1977 cult classic starring Paul Newman is one of the more memorable sports film, and likely the best hockey film of all time. Sadly that doesn’t say much for the hockey genre, as opposed to the baseball genre for example. This past week we have the Field of Dreams MLB baseball game at the corn fields in Iowa where the Kevin Costner film was made. Hockey doesn’t have anything comparable. But this movie has some classic scenes, and if you have ever played hockey at any level, you will remember them. From the Hanson brothers, to the opening scene with the French Canadian goalie, Denis Lemieux, with a local reporter. Basically Newman is the playing coach for a hockey team in the minor leagues, in a minor league town called Charlestown. The Chiefs are not very good, and they are struggling with fans in a mining town that is about to have their mill close. The GM is looking for another job. No one seems to know who the owner of the team is. Newman wants to impress his ex-wife, but also keep working in hockey. The team in the late 70s channels the Stanley Cup winning Philadelphia Flyers from the time who played an intimidating brand of physical hockey. The Chiefs have success in doing exactly that. They go from losing sad sack, to a team on a winning streak. Their most skilled player, a College graduate, refuses to play the goon style game. He is played by Michael Ontkean, and he and his wife are not seeing eye to eye about playing hockey for a living. There are philosophies about violence in sport as opposed to playing it “clean”, as well as corporate ownership in sports and whether owners should look upon the players and the town as more than assets on a balance sheet. There is also the matter of players in a sport and their wives who don’t have a choice in many cases about their lot in life. This isn’t Bull Durham, again to borrow a comparable baseball film, but it is memorable and some fun lore. There are a few laugh out moments for me, even when I know that they are coming. Of course hockey is near and dear to my heart – but it makes me smile. If you have never seen it, it is on Netflix now.

Battleship: Has there ever been a good movie based upon a board game, or perhaps the better question is whether ANY movie should ever be made about a board game. In this instance, the answer is a resounding “No”. Even Liam Neeson himself, who I expect took this role as a US Admiral (being the good Irishman that he is) was for the pay cheque, couldn’t save this Rah Rah America CGI extravaganza. The second hint would be the addition of Rhianna (the singer) to the cast for no apparent reason. The story, based on the Hasbro board game, is aliens come down to the world, and pick a fight with the Navy. They are technologically and militarily superior. Think of this as another Independence Day reboot. Same basic story. Same small band of US military people making an impact to defeat the bad aliens. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense. There is a the use of an older retired US battleship, as well as various other ships. No explanation was given about why submarines were not helpful in this battle. The aliens are trying to call for back up using the existing satellites and dishes on the mountain tops. People are trying to ensure that this doesn’t happen. There is some tangential drama surrounding the admiral’s daughter and the rogue, upstart Lt Commander but it really doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of saving the world from annihilation. Not worth while, or worth your time.

August 9, 2021

Let Him Go: Way back in 1990, Kevin Costner was in a film called Revenge. It was with Madeleine Stowe, and she was married to much older Anthony Quinn. Stowe had relations with Costner and he had to later find a way to exact some revenge on this man who did nasty things to spite his Wife’s indiscretion. Now 31 years later, he and Diane Lane (yes, Clark Kent’s parents) are looking to deal with some North Dakota rednecks that have (in their mind anyway) held the couple’s grandson against his will. The longer story is that the Kent’s son had a wife and a son and he died in an accident on their family farm. The year is 1961 and a couple years later the widow gets re-married. Without any warning the newly wed couple leaves town. Costner is a retired cop. His wife wants to get her grandson back. Then the fun begins as they travel to deal with the redneck family. Much of this makes little sense. Certainly the efforts made by Costner’s George reflect his resolve and understanding of his Wife. There is an attempt to tie the pieces together to an earlier time but honestly I was not seeing it. There is parts where the lawyer in me thinks that there is due process which could have looked to resolved the situation more peacefully and one wonders whether more of a mess is created than was initially created. Questions like “doesn’t the young mother take any responsibility for the choices that she makes?” “Do grandparents need to really shoulder all the responsibility?” George tries to impart some sense and wisdom as things progress. One can find out whether he was able to prevail. This is new on Crave. I am pleased that I didn’t pay for this at a theatre. I like Lane. I like Costner too and then together. I just didn’t like where the story goes. The scenery in Montana and North Dakota is beautiful. I wonder why it had to be set in the early 60s. I somehow doubt that I will think longer on this movie than after posting this.

The latest episode of 100 Foot Wave shows that any elite athlete, especially those getting older have to deal with injury and decisions about whether what they are doing is really worth it. Garrett suffers a bad accident and shoulder surgery and then later another head and foot injury. The rehab is brutal and real. The struggles are real and one wonders at what cost does he (and his team of surfers) seek out the fame. Certainly you also see that sponsors demand news and results. If not, you are dropped. And all of this to seek out the rush of fleeting adrenaline from these massive waves that are eight stories tall. Imagine!!