January 24th, 2022

Fanny: The Right to Rock: Crave has this documentary that was recently released. It starts with three mostly grey-haired women in a convertible 60s era car and singing as they drive. We learn that these women were part of an all-woman rock band in the 60s. They were eventually called Fanny, with a drummer, two guitarists and a keyboard player. They were good players, notably with the bass and guitar player who were the front people for the band. They were on TV and released six albums. But fame and success was elusive.

Or this:

Hey Bulldog

The headwinds for this group was that they were ahead of their time. They had lesbians playing in the group. They were full on feminists at a time when Women Power was just emerging. The times were very different in the late 60s and early 70s. Despite having well known celebrities like David Bowie endorse them (and also date one of them), it was just not enough. Tours basically paid their expenses and lifestyle. But they didn’t get rich, even if some felt that they were the female Beatles. That was an overstatement according to history, but they didn’t have any hot pop songs. It’s one of the things about the music business that you don’t hear about very often. This band saw a glimpse of success, but it was fleeting and things just petered out. Now as these women enter their sixties, they are looking to recapture the magic, and gain back some notoriety. History has been more kind to them, and they want to see about ‘getting the band back together’. Things happen. It was a warm story and showed another side of the creative process. They wrote plenty of music. It can be catchy. I enjoyed this, and I was cheering for these women, despite the challenges that they faced previously and face today. Well worth your time.

Judy: A year later, I have finally taken the time to watch this movie about Judy Garland and some of her later performances. I am not a Renee Zellwegger fan. I have mentioned it before, and she won the Oscar for Best Actress for this performance. Other nominees included:

  • Cynthia Erivo. Harriet.
  • Scarlett Johansson. Marriage Story.
  • Saoirse Ronan. Little Women.
  • Charlize Theron. Bombshell.

Is this deserved? Not in my opinion. Cynthia Erivo was robbed really. But standing on its own, the performance is the best aspect of this tiring movie. It is slow. It treads along familiar ground with the aging child star, who is an addict, had a number of failed marriages and doesn’t really take care of her kids. Then it points the finger at Hollywood itself, and how they treated talent, but especially young female talent in the late 1930s. One wonders where the parents for young Judy would have been. A film exec/producer berates young Judy on the set of Wizard of Oz. The implication is that they are all to blame for how she has turned out. Part of this may be true, but where does individual responsibility come into play? I think of Judy Garland as “older” when she passed away, but in truth she died at the age of 47. That’s young. We are shown that she could be difficult, late, unreliable and unable to curtail her drinking even for a show. Very sad for a young darling of the silver screen. I can appreciate a performance even though I don’t necessarily like the actor. I am also on the side of believing that doing a biopic in many ways is easier than creating a character out of thin air and a script. There was footage of Judy Garland. One can mimic the way she spoke. Make up and dress can be the same. So much of the heavy lifting can be done. I cannot recommend.

The Crown: I re-watched The Crown recently and marveled at a number of things upon second viewing. I think universally the acting, sets and writing are excellent. Absolutely first rate. Clare Foy initially and Olivia Colman are both excellent portrayals of Queen Elizabeth herself. Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies playing Prince Phillip were excellent too. I feel that Season 3 showed much sympathy for Prince Charles. Played incredibly by Josh O’Connor. You see the young Prince as someone who has very little say in his life. Much of his goodwill however is lost in his relationship with Lady Diana Spencer. Diana was far younger than the Prince, and as Ann explains to the Queen in the show, Diana was more immature than her years and Charles was far beyond his biological age. Charles is a spoiled, self-centred young man, who feels slighted and bemoans his station because the powers that be deemed that Camilla was not worthy of being his wife. So they arranged for her to be married off. Add some political intrigue as Margaret Thatcher enters office as PM, played brilliantly by Gillian Anderson. In her performance we see who the real talent in the X-Files really was. But I digress. Events happen like the Falklands War with Argentina. And the avalanche in which Charles was caught in Switzerland. Not everything is entirely accurate, and it doesn’t pretend to be historically accurate. It is entertainment and it is very entertaining. I think we gain insight into the Royals, whether you like them or not. But they are well crafted stories and certainly are worthy of watching, even more than once.

January 17, 2022

The Worst Person in the World: This 2021 Norwegian film is a character study for a young woman searching for her direction. Played by Renate Reinsve, she is a refreshing, likeable, engaging young woman who in the role is a brilliant student who can’t seem to finish anything. She shows tremendous promise but then finds ways to justify taking an exit ramp. From looking to initially become a doctor, her thoughts and desires change. So too in her relationships. She meets an older young man, played effectively by Anders Danielsen Lie. They begin a relationship. They move in together and they start their lives, he as a comic book writer of an edgy counter culture character. But it is starting to get traction. She is working in a book store as a salesperson, nowhere reaching her potential. The story is set into twelve chapters, showing aspects of her life over a four year period. Things happen for her that given what she is shown in her character so far are not altogether unexpected. So why the title? There are moments in her where you can see from where the title comes. Not only does she act in her own self interest, she can be quite callous. I like both of the lead characters. It turns from a more light review of a young woman’s life to something much more serious than I expected. It meets this challenge head on and with quality performances, especially by Danielsen Lie.

Everyone brings different things to their viewing experience. For me, there are traits in me and that others have seen in me that are reflected in this young woman. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed this movie more than many I have seen in the past year. There aren’t many memorable films for this year, but I enjoyed this one. The Europeans I think make relationship movies that are more real. The characters aren’t caricatures looking for a simple laugh, and a predictable end game. Rather, they are more real with possible situations and exploring real feelings and emotion. I won’t get into the ending, but it wasn’t in any way what I was expecting. So if you can find this, it is worth checking out.

The Worst Person in the World - Clip 1 [ov st fr] - Cineuropa
The primary characters in the engaging Worst Person in the World

Stay Close: I finished watching this series. After finishing it I realized that I had also watched Safe, which was another Harlan Coben story. This was a who dunnit with its own twists and turns. The characters are colourful and somewhat predictable. Coben follows a fairly predictable path but it has some surprises. Although it took longer than it should in this series to reach the end, the last couple of episodes picked up speed. The ending made sense. There are moments where the main Irish detective has things happen that are laughably fortuitous. Things happen that you just have to accept. Is this memorable TV? Not really. But it was alright, and there were some good scenes.

Dune: I re-watched this movie, and as expected without having the focus on who was who and the underlying plot, I enjoyed it more. I think that the performances are very good. There are excellent scenes with remarkable visuals with these amazing spaceships. It is an epic film with bold vision. Director French Canadian Denis Villeneuve has put together a much better representation than done earlier by David Lynch. It reflects the source material well and is a great launching point for the rest of the story. This is truly a theatre film because of the visuals are so stunning. On the small screen it is effective but not to the same extent. I look forward to the Second installment and how he will show us some of the scenes that I am expecting as the worms become more important and Paul transforms into the leader of the Fremen people. This, much like Arrival which I have seen a few times since my in-theatre viewing, and Blade Runner 2049, are films that can reveal more upon multiple viewings which make it richer and deeper. So it is one that I was glad to spend some more time with.

Dune movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert

January 10th, 2022

Get Back: I finished Peter Jackson’s three episode multi-hour documentary of the Beatles working for the month of January 1969 in preparation for a new album, and potentially a movie or TV special. The structure is footage from each day as they strike off the days in the calendar towards a performance. There is music to be created. For me, the fascinating part is seeing how musical geniuses work. McCartney early on is the driving force and wants to get to work. He is working on most of the memorable tunes of what becomes the Let It Be album. John is working on I’ve Got A Feeling. I was amazed to see Paul at the piano and bringing forward Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road. John seemed fixated on Yoko earlier and lounged in whenever he pleased. George in the first episode quit quite suddenly, as he was feeling left out. He is a third wheel often with John and Paul crafting the songs they are working. But at the same time, he is considerable talent in his own right. In the third episode, we see Ringo working on very rudimentary Octopus’ Garden, and George adds tremendously with his suggestions on the structure. It seems the Beatles generally are music first and then the lyrics come after. As a viewer, we know these songs well, and seeing the alternate language and suggestions are fun to see. Songs are efforts over time and change from day to day. George can speak of struggling with a particular song for months. After three episodes some general observations: I think that the boys in the band do enjoy themselves, they have fun. John not only is able to break the ice with some good quips and jokes, he also later on focuses on valuing George and his songs and contribution. There was, at times, and underlying tension between Paul and George as George resents being told what to do. Paul is a perfectionist for his songs and he has much of it formed in his head. But he works hard and wants to be productive. The lack of focus with these guys is interesting. They don’t have a set agenda each day and often times are just jamming with various tunes (theirs or others). The introduction about the midpoint of keyboard player Billy Preston adds an energy to the rest of them, and some creative juices flow as a result. I am in awe of people who can just play. Sit down with an instrument and just play. The end of episode three has the famous outdoor concert on the rooftop of Apple Studios. I hadn’t realized that they only played about 5 or 6 tunes. A few like Get Back multiple times. So while the crowds gather for the lunchtime performance, there are bobbys who are gathering to shut it down due to complaints about the noise. Little did they realize they were interrupting the last performance in front of an audience that the Beatles will ever do. Perhaps had they known that, it wouldn’t have been so disruptive requiring a phone call to the police. The London police are polite, but they have no sense of the moment or history. This is must viewing for Beatles fans, and for casual fans of music and creative process.

Harry Potter Reunion Show: For those who are Harry Potter fans, you, you may be surprised to learn that the first instalment of this series was released twenty years ago! Feel old yet!? Young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were unknowns and were given lottery tickets for this series. It was a tremendous success. Along the way, the acted along side some of the Who’s Who of British theatre and film. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson and Ralph Fiennes among others. They learned, developed and grew before our eyes. This reunion brings them face to face with these actors, the directors and the sets. There are some fun stories. You learn that Emma Watson had some consideration about whether she wanted to carry on with it. The young actors obtain fame and wealth as the multi-billion dollar franchise. We learn that Tom Fenton (Draco Malfoy) and Emma Watson (Hermione) have a connection. And there are other little tidbits. This is on Crave. Funnily enough Emma Watson played Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but otherwise none of these primary young actors are doing what lesser lights like Robert Pattinson or Alfred Enoch have had done in other projects. Radcliffe has played some quirkier small roles but isn’t a box office draw it seems.

Stay Close: This is a new series from the UK on Netflix. I am halfway through the ten episodes for Stay Close. It is a murder mystery with characters living in a seaside town on the British coast. It seems to be a relatively quiet, uninhabited place. There is a strip bar (Vipers) which is the focal point. A woman is trying to restart her life, getting away from the stripper life after a creepy guy was stalking her. All the while men seem to be disappearing annually. The local detective is a colourful Irishman who was formerly married to his present police detective partner, and seems to have various other people he is involved with. Among them are the older female barkeep at Vipers. The story is from the book Harlan Coben, who is well known writer, unknown by me but familiar in the genre. The plots twists and turns back onto itself. There are of course inconsistencies and stupidity as characters do things that don’t make any sense. But if you ignore it, then it can be entertaining. If this is the type of story you like, then the British can do this pretty well.

January 3, 2022 (Happy New Year)

Happy New Year to one and all. As we here in Toronto head back into more restrictions from Covid and the ever-rapid spread of Omicron, it feels as though the optimism for early 2022 is dissipating from what we had in the Fall of 2021. The silver lining in a cloud of ugliness is that there seems to be less extreme symptoms and fewer hospitalizations. At least for those who have been vaccinated. The requirement for booster shots I can foresee coming in the very near future. But we can all hold our collective breaths and hope for the best.

Don’t Look Up: Recently released on Netflix, a viewer may wonder how so many mega-stars are part of this project. With the likes of Oscar winners Leo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and many others the impressive cast takes on the story directed by Adam McKay, who was involved in The Big Short. The story is really a tongue in cheek ridiculous commentary of life in 2021, about the end of the world. Scientists have observed a 9 km wide comet that is going to make a direct hit on Earth. This would be an extinction level event. The scientists are DiCaprio and Lawrence who then go through traditional channels (NASA, government) to try and get the message out. They are met with skepticism, questioning and a desire to put a positive spin on the story. The same occurs when the media is approached. The obvious metaphor for all of this is Global Warming. What is a scientific fact is then considered in the public eye to be conjecture and a conspiracy theory. In the US the camps looking to do something then get impacted by political and business interference. The story goes on. It’s a sad commentary on where we are today. Politicians waffle, the public considers everything to be one side versus another politically and a personal imposition on their individual rights. The rest of the world can’t seem to get itself organized as well. It is so tragic in a “fact” that is eventually capable of being seen from the ground, thus the campaign to “not look up” to see the actual comet as it hurtles towards Earth. Is it interesting? Yes. Like The Big Short, it signifies a failing in the social media, along with leaders who are incapable of leading, and a distrust in government, science and fellow humans which leaves us paralyzes to act; even when a collective action can actually save the planet. Worth a viewing when one understands the ultimate aim.

King Richard: Will Smith stars in this film about tennis’ Williams sisters rise into fame. The focus is on the father who was committed to his daughters becoming these stars in tennis when saw a professional tennis player earn $40,000 for a weekend of work. He made $52,000 at the time. He told his wife that it was time to make two new babies to play tennis. This is an over simplification of course. He was a determined (to say the least),committed father to these girls as he taught them dedication, attitude, and a goal-based approach to life to achieve what he predicted as their destinies, in much the same way that Earl Woods felt about his prodigy Tiger. Both men were right. Richard Williams was raised in Louisiana and took his life experiences in shaping his girls. He was raising the girls in Compton outside LA. Note that for this movie, Venus is more the focus as she was 14yo at the time. Serena was 12yo. Both girls look older. There are times when I wished that the Richard character would say less and listen more. It was especially true when having the coaches around the girls. But it was also in dealing with an endorsement deal for Venus. He turns out to be right, and had very good instincts but the message as delivered is harsh. Veins of truth run in the teachings. What is hinted at by the Mom, was that Richard had a previous wife and previous children in his life. But they are not a focus at all. Some take exception to that, since he basically abandoned them. As a movie, I feel as though much of it is sugar-coated. Venus and Serena are actually producers on the project. So there has to be a ring of truth, but maybe memories as a youngster fade as your success and fame grow. Certainly the ends justified the means in this case. It is worth a watch. I don’t see any awards, but that isn’t what all movies are striving for anyway.

The Book of Boba Fett (episode 1): I was skeptical from the beginning about this new series from Disney. As I think more on it, I don’t think that anything that Disney has added to the Star Wars universe has been very good, save Rogue One. The rest spin the Star Wars characters in ways that don’t work for me. This opening episode in a new series, following the success of The Mandalorian follows the original trilogy bounty hunter Boba Fett. We are introduced to Boba Fett who is tracking down Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back. He ultimately takes away a frozen Han to return him to Jabba the Hutt. He dies (let me underscore that!), he DIES, in one of the most lame ways in Return of the Jedi, off the Jabba’s Sail Barge. In a fight that Luke initiates, a Han Solo who can barely see from poor eye sight, turns and knocks the engine pack on Boba’s back and launches him into the barge, ultimately falling into the Sarlacc. The Sarlacc belches. That was the history. I wondered whether Disney would do a retrospective, and the back story to Boba Fett. This episode shows that they are looking to continue on the Fett story after the death of Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine. My eyes glaze over with the explanation that they use for continuing on with his story. It doesn’t improve either. I can still not imagine using the same actor that we were introduced to in 2002 (twenty years ago) in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. He (Temuera Morrison) may be well preserved in a Sylvester Stallone kind of way, but let’s be real. Perhaps this may get better, it really can’t be much worse, but so far Disney’s body of work doesn’t leave for much optimism. Sure The Mandalorian was okay, but there wasn’t much added. On some level, it is a universe, so perhaps we can expand on the characters to be explored further and the worlds to be worthy of further discussion.

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.