December 26th, 2022 Boxing Day

The Fabelmans: This really should be called The Spielbergs, because it is more or less the autobiography of a young Steven Spielberg with his family as they move around the country before the parents divorce. Directed and produced by Spielberg, this was released at TIFF back in September. It is a very personal story, from the eyes of a young man as he comes of age as a young Jewish man surrounded by Christians in various places including Phoenix and California. Dad (played by Paul Dano) is an engineer of note who has cutting edges about computers and networks. His artistic wife (played by Michelle Williams) was a very talented concert pianist, but gave that up when her husband and children came along. Young Steven, named Sammy Fabelman (played by Gabriel Labelle) from a very young age was interested in movies and getting images onto film. In the movie one of the earliest scenes has him watching a train wreck. He then looks to duplicate it at home, which his Mom recognizes and Dad was oblivious.

Like any family, there are challenges, but Sammy’s filming allows him a greater eye in viewing the comings and goings of his family. As he edits a short film to cheer up his Mom, he sees something that was unexpected. It changes the family dynamic. One of the themes in the movie is the power of film, and the editing of the film. A film made later at the high school as a Senior Day Off at the beach in California is editted such that some fellow students are made uncomfortable. The short, nerdy, filmmaker gets to wield a great of power in that position. The film follows the family, their moves as the children go through their formative years.

I have to admit that I was never a big fan of Michelle Williams, from the days of Dawson’s Creek with Katie Holmes to her take on Marilyn Monroe and as various long suffering housewives, like Brokeback Mountain. I begrudgingly admit that I think that she did an admirable portrayal of the wife who we see in her vulnerabilties while she puts a brave face in front of her family at the same time sacrificing much of who she is. As a child, one doesn’t see that in a parent. They’re not people, that is your MOM and DAD! As we age, they are people who have their own thoughts, dreams, hope and ambitions. They’re not always coming true. For Mom in the movie, she is deeply distressed in the move to California. We learn more details, as Sammy struggles himself in this new high school. I liked this more than I thought that I would. It was engaging. I did think that Judd Hirsch who plays an Uncle was really good, adressing those who are so fixated in their art that the rest of their life can suffer. it seems that this stuck with Spielberg and seems to be very true for him and his life. I also think that Seth Rogan was effective as a family friend, who seems to be everywhere where the family goes. This has been nominated for a Best Picture Golden Globe. It won the People Choice Prize at TIFF, which usually guarantees at least an Oscar nomination and often a win. So expect to see more awards for Mr Spielberg who has taken his love for movies to reshape the Hollywood landscape. From here you get to see, with a wink every now and then, the origins of this ambitious career which Spielberg has taken to heights that even he could never have dreamed! Well worth seeing.

RRR: I have heard some bizz about this movie on some Best Of lists, and it was on Netflix. I haven’t ever watched East Indian/Hindi movies which were very long musicals, usually involving a love story with an extravagant wedding. But the buzz was such that I wanted to check it out. It didn’t disappoint.

I won’t delve deep into the plot other than to highlight that the story generally involves the oppressive British rules, with accompanying ruling class treating the native Indian people horribly. A young girl is taken by a nasty British baroness, being bought for a token from her family, and the rest of the movie focuses on getting her back into her small village.

There are some stunning scenes, with a dance sequence is a marvel to get on film, no matter how unbelievable some of the visuals, especially involving animals. The animals are of course all CGI, but it shows you just how far the technology has come, and how it can be utilized. The movie is long. The British are as offensive as you could expect them to be. Some of the scenes are over the top in how much punishment an individual can take, but think of it like WWE wrestling with plenty of jumps and punches and very little bruising. There are plenty of religious imagery included too. Rather than try to explain it all, it’s best to view fresh and just to experience. This is dubbed into English, which for such an action filled movie is helpful so you don’t miss the action for reading the dialog.

With the holiday season here, and some time off, I hope to see The Whale, with Brendan Fraser and also the 3 hour, 10 min Babylon. Why can’t they make a two hour movie anymore?! Hell, Avatar had 30 full mins of previews and commercials before the 3:10 screening which makes for a long time to have your ass go numb.

December 19th, 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water: I went out to see at the IMAX 3D theatre on Friday the $350M James Cameron sequel to his ground breaking sci fi story, thirteen years in the making. Apparently the word is that this movie must make $2B before in breaks even. Recognizing that my ticket in Imax was about $25, this means that filling theatres around the globe should make this easier to attain, than what that scary number would mean before this time. It seems James Cameron is ALWAYS breaking expense records when he makes his films, as Titanic was also a record cost of $200M back in 1997. It made $3.4B from the theatre and DVD sales. The real question everyone wants to know, and my primary question going in was “Did it suck?” Followed by “is it worth the money?” In short, it didn’t suck and it was worth the money to see it in the biggest screen I could find.

I had been very careful to avoid all trailers and any preview information before seeing this. So I went in cold with only me memories of the original as a starting point. I hadn’t even recently re-watched the original in preparation so some of my memories had faded a bit. So let’s talk about the Pros and Cons of this epic.

The Pros: This movie is visually stunning from beginning to end. Pandora is a character in the film. The scenes throughout take the viewer to a new world, with all new characters accompanied by creatures that however fictional still seem very much part of this place. I give full credit too all the artists who create the characters large and small. This from both the forest to the ocean.

Then there are the people who inhabit these different worlds. Pandora believes in Darwinian adapting to one’s surrounding environment and the Sea-People are very different than the Forest-People. There is an underlying physiology that is the same but they are different.

The movie is escapism in its purist form. For 3 hours and 10 mins (yes!) it whisks you away to another world which can capitivate your imagination. It sticks with you as well. After a busy weekend I am still thinking through many aspects of it, that I don’t think is fully attributable to me looking to write about it. It likely needs a second viewing for me to have me catch more of the subtleties that it brings. Cameron has attention to detail if nothing else. So I think it is a success in hopefully attracting people back to the theatre through a busy holiday season where the lulls can be for the family to experience something together.

The Cons: For all the stunning visuals, the story isn’t anywhere near as strong as one would hope. In any science fiction/fantasy film, of course one has to check reality at the door. But beyond that, there are many aspects of the storyline that don’t make a lot of sense.

Alison had asked me to get back to her about how a human, who merges into being a Navee can father a child, let alone multiple children. A good question. Presumably sperm is sperm to put it simply, and the children are not pure Navee in that they have more fingers on their hands. It remains a good question, as the whole experiment if you think through it could go horribly wrong, from the size discrepancy alone.

The villain for me is a convoluted storyline that wasn’t necessary. It didn’t have to go that way, because in truth in the first Avatar humans ARE the villain, and we have plenty of those to go around! Even as the movie progresses (and if you choose to buy into this villain) what happens later didn’t make a lot of sense either. I will leave it at that without over-sharing too much about the plot.

The transition from the forest world to the sea is a clunky one for me. I can understand of course looking to protect one’s family. However as things unfolded, it actually delayed the inevitable, which Jake should have clearly seen and it becomes just an excuse to bring in this whole different world with challenges that Swiss Family Robinson had to take on and then some! I am not so clear too how in a manner of weeks/months that skills which have been acquired over generations can be so quickly learned. I don’t care how long I have to practise, I won’t be holding my breath while holding onto a sea creature for the length of time required (or be able to equalize my ears during that time!). But nevermind.

I struggle with the overall cost in equipment, lives and money in order for the human hoard to be seeking out one guy. One could argue I suppose that the American effort to take down Osama Bin Laden was comparable, and in many ways Jake Sully is a terrorist leader for the humans but still! Further, I am not convinced about the need to address fatherhood throughout this film, and notably with the Grace character which was a real stretch for me. Apparently beyond Dory in Finding Nemo we learn that there are other characters than can speak whale! Who knew? But it is a skillset that on first blush shouldn’t be apparent, nor needed. I see the parallels throughout to previous human history, but I am not also clear why the human hoard should be re-directing their efforts away from the mining of the Unobtainium (cool name!) into something far more offensive. So all in all there are plenty of laughable “Yea Right” moments to remind you that this is a Hollywood production.

I didn’t feel the length of the movie and wasn’t shifting in my seat. I will note that before my film even began there were 30 minutes of previews! Including a sneak peak into a stunt for the new Mission Impossible movie. Add to that the new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and a couple silly superhero movies that I won’t see and that makes a long movie even longer for the audience. In the end, this is a worthy sequel to Avatar. It should be filling theatres over the Christmas holiday, and if you are a movie fan, it should be you too. Updated that Avatar made $435M globally over this past weekend.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover: Netflix has released this re-telling of the D.H. Lawrence book, not read by me with Emma Corrin who starred as Lady Diana in The Crown Season 4. It is a period piece set around the time of WWI, in the English countryside. Newly married Connie is part of a wealthy, established, land-owning household, not dissimilar to Downton Abbey and the Crawleys, with her husband Clifford. He is about to head off to war. He comes back a man in a wheelchair and the challenges of life become readily apparent to the young couple. Clifford is painfully aware of his situation, as a husband and lover, but also importantly as the head of a name and household that needs an heir. He approaches his wife with a proposition that she can, without telling him any details, take on a lover and find a way to produce an heir. She had wanted children, but initially pushed back on his suggestion.

On the estate there is a gamekeeper, Oliver, who attracts her attention. The story unfolds with these two at her insistence engaging in an affair that becomes deeper than either had expected. I am sympathetic to all three involved in this triangle. None of whom had asked for this to take place and are doing what they can to maintain the current state. Certainly Clifford never wanted any of this, and he is trying to assist in keeping his bloodline. Connie has her place but wants a family and some love and affection from her husband which just isn’t happening. The most sympathetic for me is the innocent Oliver whose heart is overlooked as Connie initially looks for a transaction to take place. It never was taken into consideration that he may develop feelings for Connie. He calls this out directly. Over time, Clifford has trouble with this arrangement and acts out against it and others. He is less likeable and more cruel.

The acting was good, and Connie and Oliver have no difficulty with the nudity required in this film, which has been remade time and again in series and movies over the years. I haven’t read the book, but a part of me thinks that the resolution in it can’t be as it is here. I was thinking more along the lines of unrequited love, and money and power overcoming feelings of emotion with a woman and an employee. But watching some of these previous versions may inform that knowledge into the story a bit more. This is a rare occurence where Netflix becomes a littele more racey with nudity. If you like a period piece, then this could be for you.

Golden Globes: The nominations came out and I was surprised that Avatar was nominated for Best Picture. I don’t think that it is. Joining it is Top Gun: Maverick, Tar, The Fabelmans, and Elvis. The only one that I haven’t seen yet is The Fabelmans, which should be remedied over the holidays. It is a lean year. Much is being made about the snub of Tom Cruise as well as Will Smith. I guess they don’t need any more slapping incidents at this year’s awards ceremony. I am pleased that Ana De Armas was nominated for Blonde. I am surprised that Banshees of Inisherin gets all this love, for Best Picture Musical or Comedy, as well as acting nominations. I think those that run off to see this may have expectations set too high in what they are going to get. Either that or I missed the point entirely! Del Toro’s Pinnochio was nominated as Best Animated. The Awards take place on January 10th.

https://www.goldenglobes.com/articles/golden-globes-2023-nominations-80th-golden-globes-have-been-announced

December 12, 2022

Pinocchio (Guillermo Del Toro version) 2022: This is NOT the Disney version of this story. It is done through stop motion animation, a very different process than drawn cell animation as the Disney version was done back in the day. Stop motion animation involves models that are painstakenly moved just tiny amounts for each shot of the film making process. So there are models, sets, background all created in which a person then needs to manipulate the characters within it. There are also different sized models to have scale for some of the shots. This was an expensive movie at $35M, and one can see why given all the details. A-list actors were also involved like Ewan McGregor, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Switon, Christoph Walz and David Bradley (from Harry Potter and Game of Thrones).

Guillermo Del Toro has a look about his movies. He has often employed fantastical characters within those movies. Think about Pan’s Labryinth or The Shape of Water. They can be dark, exploring the darkess of humans and how they treat one another. Generally I like his films, as I find him someone with a unique way of telling the stories. I had wondered allowed before seeing this on the Netflix menu whether I really needed to see another Piunocchio movie? I was skeptical. At the end, I decided to watch the Making Of Pinocchio 30 minute special, and I was more engaged and compelled with the making of this movie more than the movie itself. The details and the artistry within each frame is remarkable, and notably Gepetto and Pinocchio themselves. But the movie itself was a Meh for me.

The Disney story of Pinocchio for me has always been a bit clunky, with scenes of the young puppet, who gets distracted going to school, then ends up in a circus, followed by an island of misfit children, and more implausibly the insides of a whale (of all things). Much of the same ground is covered in this story. However it travels deeper, with themes of life and death, depression, belief in people as they are, and other areas. There is some time reference added with the introduction of Mussolini (yes the Italian dictator in the Second World War), along with a Nazi-like character. We have more backstory into Gepetto and his relationship with his son Carlo. What is a Disney story without death? In this case, Carlo dies tragically and Gepetto is depressed, angry and drunk, unable to shake the tragedy that has befallen him. The fairy of Life shows up, and brings the wooden puppet alive to make Gepetto’s life more full. We learn that Pinocchio can’t die, as seen with a new mythical character Death in an underground lair. One can see the influence of the Faun in these characters. They add depth to it, with a new wrinkle of how something that can’t die could be used in wartime. Much of the art is just beautiful. Taken on its own, it is a remarkable achievement. I thought that whale interpretation was excellent. This is a deeper movie for this story than I had anticipated. I am more impressed with the artistry in getting this movie on film. Yes, there are some songs, but this isn’t a musical. It is a movie with music in it. None of the songs are as memorable as “When You Wish Upon a Star” or “I Got No Strings”, and in truth they could have been skipped as far as I am concerned. In the end the question remains, “did I need to see another Pinocchio at this time?” The longer answer is that no only did Del Toro have this new version of the story, Disney themselves have released another on Disney+ with Tom Hanks from director Robert Zemekis (Forrest Gump and Back to the Future). I certainly didn’t need to see two of them! I haven’t watched the Disney re-make and have no intention on doing so. I would imagine that IF you need to see one, that this one is the one to choose.

She Said: From real-life drama to on screen drama with actors in a few short months seems to be where Hollywood is going. No sooner has disgraced, famed movie producer Harvey Weinstein from Miramax film been incarcerated for 23 years, there is a movie out starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as the female version of Woodward and Bernstein from Watergate in Watergate, this time researching and outing Harvey and his predatory actions which were overlooked by the Hollywood establishment, including his own company for years. The real question becomes: why? Why would Miramax the company have an executive acting in this way, and settling numerous lawsuits with accompanying Non-Disclosure Agreement gag orders without doing something about it? People knew. Assistants, handlers, associates, and his own brother knew exactly what was going on! Harvey was enabled, protected, shielded and permitted to continue in his compulsive actions against young women.

The two New York reporters, get hold of the story about workplace sexual harrassment, focusing on the incidents from Miramax. Interestingly Megan Twohey, played by Mulligan, was part of reporting on the Donald Trump incidents before the election where even when reported, he was still elected. Fellow reporter Jodi Kantor was already running with the Miramax story, and getting stonewalled with no one willing to talk, and she decided to join in the story to assist in fereting out the truth with the people involved. Quickly they realized that there would only be a full release of stories if numerous victims came forward together. In time, it is found out that 12-18 settlements/gag orders were made with various victims. This became the basis on which the story was released. I had not realized that Ashley Judd, seen in the movie playing herself, was one of the early whistle blowers who went on record for the initial story. Rose McGowan I had certainly read about as one of the first people to come forward.

I found the movie itself to be rather slow. We know the end of the story, as it was in the recent headlines, so the key for me is what is uncovered along the way and the process that took place to get there. Reporting with the necessity in reputable publications involves research, fact-checking and corroborating sources to verify the facts. This discipline has been worn away with recent years in the age of opinion rather than facts. The lines of “news” have been blurred on political lines with the “fake news” accusations from the highest office in the US. The deeper question about why is it that the system protects the powerful, rich, perpetrator remains unanswered. There could be those who continue to argue that these aspiring actresses would have done anything to get famous and be part of these movies. The whole defense of Weinstein hinged on it, with their “consent” to these “consensual acts”. What emerges is a pattern in Weinstein’s actions that show the bully for what he truly was and is.

It has been in the news since incarceration that his health is ailing, with his teeth being the latest issue. He is in a wheelchair and was involved in smuggling Milk Duds into the prison which is against the rules. In short, he is requesting mercy from the Court, all the while facing additional charges against him for sexual impropriety. The vast majority of people, like me in this case, would think that karma is a bitch and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person. As a movie this was okay. It is presently in the theatres and didn’t show much more than I had already seen or read about as the story unfolded. I think that Carey Mulligan is overrated. Just my opinion.

December 5th, 2022

The Swimmers: I was encouraged by my Mom to check out this Netflix release. I am glad that I watched this. The story surrounds a family in Syria in the early 2000s. Dad was a swimmer himself and was teaching his girls, in many ways like Richard Williams with Serena and Venus, about being a champion and going to the Olympics. The goal was to swim for Syria in the Rio Olympics. In March 2012, fate stepped in with ongoing Civil War within the country. Remarkably with armed soldiers in the streets, military jets flying overhead, the girls continued with their training and their studies. Dad was committed to keeping the girls focused. The strife escalated, with a dramatic incident during a swim meet. The girls decided that they would flee Syria with a goal of going to Germany. Within Germany there was a program of family reunification for minors 18 years and younger. The girls with promises of continuing the training decide to take the unknown path of fleeing their country. Once in Germany they would seek the family to get back together again. The story continues.

I remember seeing news items during this time where the number of people leaving Syria was massive, and that people were losing their lives taking perilous journies in overcrowded boats to seek their salvation. At the end of the movie we are told that there were approximately 6.9 million people displaced since the beginning of the conflict, from a country that had a population of 21 million before the conflict began. The need for humanitarian aid hasn’t gone away. Many Syrians are still seeking asylum. To me it was interesting that Germany became the focal point, and they took on an enormous global burden.

The performances here were all very good. The scenes highlighted the gravity of the overall situation, and focused our attention on two engaging and different sisters (both in real life and in the story) who show the challenges of this very difficult time that still continues to this day. What has the world done to address the return of these people to their homeland? What CAN the world do against a country that splits their population and demands exile? The movie is well done and you cheer for these young girls. The acting is convincing, and the young actors involved are really good. I won’t divulge further what happens, but this story is obviously bigger than sport. I am certain that other world wide stories, like eventual stories that will come out from Ukraine will show other parts of the world, and in a time of preparations for holidays and end of year celebrations, the challenges that we have here in Canada are small in comparison to others in the world who are fighting for their very existence.

The Crown Season 5: I finished this season and felt that it was an inconsistent season overall. Some of the stories were slow, not revealing too much. I did not remember this whole debate about the Monarchy and the Royals, as between the weddings and the celebrations for the Queen and her longevity, it always seemed that there was plenty of support for her and the Royal family, especially William and Harry. I follow on with my initial thoughts about Elizabeth Debicki as Diana. Although way taller than Diana, the facial features and how she embodies her in the dress, mannerisms and voice are just remarkable. I am less enthused by Domenic West as Charles. The new King in reality cannot like this portrayal of him as this whiny King-in-waiting, looking to encourage Mommy to give up the crown. It’s not a good look when he meets with the Prime Minister without her knowledge and speaks of younger, more progressive men moving things forward. One would hope if this is all true, and there is much debate that it isn’t (which is very likely), that at his age now that he has toned that down some, and not as anxious to be impacting William’s birthright.

At the same time, the hairstyle for Camilla is spot on. Jonathan Pryce as Philip is not as effective for me, nor is Imelda Staunton. There is a scene with Charles and Diana post divorce where he just stops by, which I cannot imagine had ever happened. The story with the El Fayeds is not as compelling either. Diana was a target, and never had any peace it seemed, in many ways like Marilyn Monroe, who was also on film with a possibly more fictional story earlier this year. I do think that the people recognize Camilla more now, and that Charles has found his inner peace with the woman who clearly he has loved his entire life. The metaphors of the Brittania and other symbols range throughout the season, as relections on the Queen. William is seen as having challenges with being put in the middle of his feuding parents, while clearly being closer to Mom, he is uncomfortable with being her person to share her romantic life with him. Overall, in a series that has been excellent from the beginning, this season was not as strong for me. The final Season 6 will be coming, and we will have well covered ground with the death of Diana and the subsequent marriage of William and then Harry and maybe even seeing Andrew’s fall from grace with the scandal with Jeffrey Epstein.

Time Traveller’s Wife Series: I finsihed this series as well this week. I don’t have a lot more to add other than I am not seeing how much more that they can stretch a two hour film with side stories. Much of the movie addressed the whole idea of a child, and those challenges. Whether such child would have this same issue as the father. Only in the last episode of the series was this highlighted as a sticking point for the couple.

November 28th, 2022

The Wonder: Florence Pugh has been busy. Already this year she was in the Olivia Wilde release with Harry Styles entitled Don’t Worry Darling. The 26 yo English actress was brought initially to my attention in her role in the bizarre psycho-drama Midsommar back in 2019. This Netflix release is a period piece set in 19th Century Ireland, with Pugh playing an English nurse being asked to observe a young girl who is said to have not eaten anything for three months. The scene is set for these two strangers.

As a nurse, when first told the tale of this young girl, she doesn’t believe it. Arriving in the town, there is a religious leader as well as a local doctor who direct her only to observe for a fortnight. The locals are looking for independent verification of what is happening in the town. The local people have already started to visit the young girl at her remote farmhouse thinking that something very spiritial is happening. We learn over time that there is a desire for this to be true. The family of the young girl had a boy who died earlier at a young age. The Mom is very determined that her children will go to heaven. Our nurse prefers to deal with science rather than religion.

Our nurse meets up with a reporter played by Tom Burke who is looking to write a story debunking the whole situation. To him, the girl is lying and the family is somehow finding a way to get nourishment into the girl. He wants the nurse to assist him. Things happen slowly. Predictably with the nurse watching the girl’s health deteriorates. Our nurse has her own reasons to ensure that her life isn’t for nothing. The solution to the problem is an interesting one.

I like Pugh. I think that she plays authentic and genuine characters. She seems to get put into situations in her films to date that have her character observe strange occurences and she needs to put them together. This is the most realistic situation and the most sad with a very young girl who has been led to put her own life on the line for those around her with obvious competing interests that have their own motivations. The Academy may like this movie more than the movie-going public. For me as someone who isn’t religious at all, I don’t see why anyone would be looking to sacrifice themselves for the sake of an unknown after-life. I certainly have no idea why a parent would be looking to carry on these attitudes at all.

The Time Traveller’s Wife: Back in 2009, Rachel McAdams starred with Eric Bana in an adaption of the Audrey Niffenegger book. It was okay. The story is a curious one with a man who is a time traveller, which means that suddenly and without warning he can disappear to another time. HBO decided to make this a new series starring Rose Leslie (from Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey – also Kit Harrington’s wife) and Divergent’s Theo James.

Female viewers will enjoy the fact that time travel doesn’t allow clothing to go through, and so the frequent time traveller Theo is buck naked time and again. He has no issue showing off his backside time and again in each episode. So why did this series have to be made? This is six episodes, and so much longer than the 1:48 running time of the original. They seem to be exploring more deeply into the trauma in the life of the young Henry. An event that at whatever age he is, he goes back to time and time again. In this version there are mutliple Henrys that can appear at the same place and the same time. Which would seem to be odd, and certainly flies in the face of what Doc stated in Back to the Future. Time travel provides all sorts of challenges, one of which is that Clare at a very young age learns that Henry has a wife named Clare. She is then fixated on him. You add time by adding the complexity for Henry having a girlfriend when Clare comes onto the scene and announces that she will be his future wife. Odd, really, that he wouldn’t already know this. Clare as a teenager then has an uncomfortable experience in a middle episode where she seeks assistance from an older Henry to avenge her honour.

Do Leslie and James have chemistry? This is crucial of course in a story that wants you to feel that this is a couple that is destined to be together. Maybe moreso than McAdams and Bana. But that isn’t all that difficult. Bana was and is a little too straight laced, showing less emotion than is likely needed for that outward romantic connection. In this instance there are various versions of Henry who can be identified by their haircuts mostly. They are quite poor haircuts which don’t reflect the times in the least. Leslie brings her fiestiest game to the relationship, in her best “you know nothing Jon Snow” way. Maybe that was the point. Clare needs to show more that she is aware of her situation, embraces it, and helps to shape Henry popping in and out of her life. Henry is an angry young man wondering why his defining moment as a young boy is something that he cannot seem to impact. I will continue to watch and see where they take this series. Hard to imagine that there is enough material to deal with a Season 2. But stranger things have happened.

November 21st, 2022

A Christmas Story Christmas: Back in 1983, the original A Christmas Story was released to modest fanfare. But over time, it has gained a cult following including me that regards this as of of my favourite Christmas movies and I watch it each holiday season. Starring Darren McGavin as the Father, Melinda Dillon as the Mom and Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker in his quest to get the Red Rider BB Gun.

Ralphie is foiled at every turn by his Mom is his quest for the precious gun, while ultimately seeking out Santa Claus above to by-pass Mom’s blocks. The story is fun, and cute involving Ralphie, his picky-eating little brother Randy, and his two closest friends Flick and Schwartz. Darren McGavin as Dad is priceless with his battle with the furnace, to his Prize, negotiating with the Tree Salesman, and changing tires like he is at the Indy 500!

Flash forward to 2022, and we have a sequel with Peter Billingsley come back as Ralphie as an adult. Despite the good will built up over many years in the original, this can’t do anything but suck really, right? There is a fine line between paying homage to the original and pandering to it, trying to milk every nostalgic moment out of it, until all those fond memories are tossed aside. Darren McGavin passed away in 2006. Melinda Dillon sadly is replaced with Airplane’s Julie Haggerty.

It is now the 1970s, and Ralphie is married with two kids of his own. He is an aspiring writer and has taken a year off to write a novel. He isn’t meeting with much success for his 2000+ science fiction opus. He gets news from his Mom and and returns home. Interestingly this is filmed in Bulgaria of all places. Not Cleveland where I have seen the actual original house. Ralphie’s friends Flick, Schwartz who were cute kids back in the early 80s, are back in more minor roles. Even Scott Farkus, the town bully for Ralphie makes an appearance. But it all seems so forced, in doing what it can to replay memories from the original. From the daydream sequences, to the school teacher’s filled desk drawer, to car adventures. I have to admit that I have absolutely never heard about dealing with a radiator with a raw egg. Not ever. Ralphie is struggling to make this celebration perfect just his Dad did when he was a child. One of the things I loved about the original is how to Dad ended up being the hero! He seems so preoccupied with his work, the neighbour’s dogs and everything else that he didn’t seem to have much time for his kids. It all ends so predictably, and but for seeing the aged Ralphie, no one else really is a welcome face to see once again. I will venture to say that this HBO Max effort won’t become a holiday classic like the original. I won’t see the need to watch this again myself to be sure.

Tar: There has been a lot of buzz about Cate Blanchett’s turn as a well known modern day conductor as well as a composer, Lydia Tar. At the beginning of the film during an interview with a real life interviewer. The listing is impressive with various awards and her being the current conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic. In a male dominated profession, she is at the top of her game. She also happens to be a lesbian, which not material in itself, likely would make that achievement even more impressive.

Blanchett plays her as very opinionated, with someone very attuned to the music. She sees her role in conducting as playing with time. She starts the whole process of playing the tune and beginning the journey for the audience. She also decides where to lengthen notes, add pauses while interpreting the music of the composer. Add to this her teaching at Julliard, where she has young students where she can shape them and their own attitudes.

Control is a big theme for Lydia, and while is a source of success as the conductor, it is a bit more troubling with her personal life and in dealing with artists and contemporaries away from the spotlight on stage. She has a partner who also happens to be in the Berlin Orchestra, who we learn assisted in bringing Lydia in coming to her position. Like many in these lofty positions, life becomes all about her and her needs and moves into a more predictable arc as her life progresses. We learn that Lydia can be nasty, even when dealing with children. She can be petty and vindictive. She can get defensive and double-down on positions which she would be better showing a little compromise. The Blanchett performance is admirable. She makes this film and it is better for it than it really deserves. From a predictable arc, she is able to elevate it somewhat before it settles down. Mark Strong plays a small supporting role. Noemie Merlant from Portrait of a Woman on Fire, is also an understudy looking to establish herself in this challenging musical world. Their talents are not fully explored, leaving the stage for Blanchett. She may get a nomination out of this role. As a movie it was more M’eh for me.

The question remains, and I googled it after viewing, “is Lydia Tar real?” The answer is No. She is completely fictional. Blanchett put flesh and bone onto this character, but part of it seems almost too contrived. One wonders just how far a real person could fall from grace. There are many instances of it. Is this showing realistic? Unknown.

FIFA Uncovered: This four part Netflix documentary explores how a world class event, the World Cup of Football/Soccer, can be awarded to a country that has a population of 2.9M people and a land mass that can fit into the boot of Italy. The event started yesterday. Oh, and the hosts lost 2-0 to Ecuador to become the first ever host to lose the opening game 16-0-6 in the history of the World Cup and the first ever host not to score! But this isn’t a story about football/soccer at all. It is a story about money, power and how absolute power can corrupt absolutely. The leaders of FIFA have shown themselves to be extremely imaginative in how they wield their power and allow their precious votes for hosting the tournament that happens every four years to be purchased. And make no mistake, they are purchased. How else does one explain how small Arab country Qatar hosts and beats out a country like the US? One way is to have each country, no matter how the size to have an equal vote in the decision. All 203 members. So football superpowers like Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Italy would have the same voting power as Iceland, Aruba, Belize and Montenegro. Go figure. Of course they aren’t offering their OWN money, but rather this “non-profit” organization with billions of dollars in reserves spends the money of the sponsors. What I hadn’t realized is that the real business of the World Cup has taken place in my lifetime. With broadcasting rights, sponsorship, advertising, all these marketing rights were initially managed by a new company set up by the head of Adidas. He had the vision to see where this sport was going. Then men like Sepp Blatter took over.

Last Week Tonight dealt with FIFA brilliantly back eight years ago. This was brilliant in their review of Brazil hosting back in 2014. The people of Brazil were protesting, violently upset about how money was being spent to host these games.

Needless to say, much of what was highlighted by Oliver then, is recapped now. The follow on was that the US Authorities, having been bypassed for Qatar back 12 years ago, fought back and made arrests for many of the FIFA executives, except notably Blatter. Sadly for football fans, this award for these games takes away from some of the enjoyment. Just the idea of watching football in November, because in the summer in Europe it is 45C in Qatar and unplayable, is foreign. But they have issues with the workers rights, women’s rights and dealing with a small country that no one would say is a football mecca. But with this award, like awarding the Olympics in 1936 to Hitler and Berlin looked to legitimize their method of government and FIFA also awarding to Argentina for 1978, and Russia just 4 years ago with dictators in charge that FIFA becomes very political. Most shrug their shoulders when they see this. True fans care about the sport and the competition, rather than those in behind the scenes but maybe that is part of the problem. Sponsors who see that people don’t care, will keep paying the organizers. Obviously even without Blatter (suspended until 2028), there still needs to be a re-evaluation of the leaders of the sport and who hosts the coming World Cups.

November 14, 2022

The Crown: Season 5 was just released on Netflix with an all new older cast as Queen Elizabeth ages. Now we have Imelda Stauton as the Queen. I have to admit that Clare Foy, seen in the first seen of episode 1 when she attends the ceremonial launch and naming of the Brittania, her official ship for touring, is my Queen Elizabeth. I think that she did such a masterful portrayal, and I can’t seem to get Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix out of my head when I see Stauton now. Dolores was such a nasty character and you wished for bad things to happen to her.

I feel much the same about the casting of Jonathan Pryce as Phillip, and for the new Charles played by Dominic West, known by me as the guy in The Affair. How appropriate! I do think that in bringing in Elizabeth Debicki as Diana was brilliant casting. She towers over West, and in truth is a woman at 6 feet 3 inches tall, but she has nailed the mannerisms and speech of the former Princess. She was excellent in Widows and Tenet. Having only watched the first episode, I can say that she is portraying the ill fated Princess admirably. I can see why King Charles, now that the Queen in real life has passed away, would not be anxious to have this released so near his coronation. Episode 1 is entitled Queen Victoria Syndrome, shows Charles to just be a dick. From engaging with Prime Minister John Major separately to discuss having the Queen give up her crown early to allow the next generation to take power, to his treatment of Diana as he dismisses his bride who only seems to want his attention and love. He is incapable of doing so. The reference to Queen Victoria Syndrome is with any longstanding monarch that the people grow to feel has become out of touch with her people.

Apparently the meeting with Major never took place, according to Major himself, and others have weighed in to speak about the inaccuracies to reality. Netflix is quick to point out that this is “entertainment” and they don’t profess this to be historically accurate. Still. Charles comes off again as being less sympathetic and whining that he is so progressive and deserves his chance to show what he can do. Given the love for the Queen, and despite the polls back in the 90s that felt she was “out of touch”, certainly when it came to Diana, there is little doubt that no one would support Charles on the throne sooner than he got it this year. Helen Mirren in The Queen, showed this magnificently and the struggles that the Queen had in dealing with the death of someone who was no longer part of the Royal family. In this episode, the not-so-subtle suggestion that the Brittania and the Queen herself were in need of a modernization/refurbishment is played out. Diana is the loving Mom to the two boys, and they adore her. As Major points out to his wife on a visit to the Royals, he seems them as not an example for the people to admire and emulate but as the entitled, isolated, whiny, dysfunctional group that they have become.

I look forward to more in this excellent series.

Love Is Blind: Season 3 came to a close and it had its fair share of surprises, and also predictable banter. From a surprise factor, those couple that decided to actually get married in the final two episodes were surprising to be sure. I had pegged a couple of those differently. Can I understand why they made their own very personal choices? Absolutely. Who ever wants to get married in a matter of weeks to someone who was a complete stranger?

It seems silly to expect that the little experiment would ever work, with so many challenges facing a young couple. The initial connection is within pods where they cannot see one another; one is expected to fall in love with the person and connect without added complexities of looks. Then they meet once they have proposed. Of course those who are motivated to be on TV and get their 15 minutes of fame are tempted to get hitched. Then the real world somewhat sets in as they meet other people from the pods and other couples. In this season, a couple of the young men show their immaturity and voice their thoughts about some of the other candidates of the opposite sex to their betrothed! What a mistake! For me this is mind candy, seeing how relationships unfold and either connect or fall apart. In some ways it is almost miraculous that couple decide to go through with it. The producers do find a way to keep picking at scabs for the couples as they revisit awkwards moments and places where people were not acting on their best behaviour. Of course, we as an audience only see what they show us, and all those many hours outside this show that were never ever brought forward. Families play a big part, and some decide that they will not support their own child in this endeavor. This is quite a surprise to me, as any family who would boycott a wedding for their child just surprises me. At the same time, there is evidence as to why they exactly that as part of the show. If you like this sort of thing, this delivers as expected. You will enjoy. If you don’t, then you’ll want to stay away.

November 7, 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin: This movie had quite a bit of buzz surrounding at TIFF in September, and I tried unsuccessully to get tickets for it. I liked the idea of a travel log for Ireland, since I was there pre-pandemic in May 2019 and I always like seeing the coast. So I was looking forward to seeing this, even though I knew very little of the details of the plot. I knew I liked both Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell when they starred together in In Bruges back in 2008 (another travel log for me since I have been to Bruges twice). They were re-united with the director as well. So let the movie roll.

Set in 1923, which you don’t see for quite some time, this is a story with a simple premise of a small community on this remote Irish island. Colin Farrell plays Padraic, who lives with his sister on a small farm with a variety of farm animals. Padraic goes to his friend’s house, Colm, played by Gleeson looking to gather him up to head to the pub. This is their routine. Colm doesn’t acknowledge Padraic’s presence, and ignores his question to head towards the pub. In short order, Colm announces that he doesn’t want to be friends with Padraic anymore. He finds him dim and dull, as he grows older he wants more out of his life than inane conversation about nothing. Colm wants to leave something behind, like Mozart or Monet with music or art. Padraic is puzzled and this change in his mundane routine preoccupies his every waking thought. Things escalate from there and build into moments of dark comedy coupled with drama.

So what is the underlying message in all of this? In a small community where everybody knows everybody’s business and there are limited opportunities to expand one’s horizons how can someone change the direction of their life? Some would argue watching this movie that education is the ticket for change. Others may say that there is a pre-destined fate that awaits us, and it’s hard to change that. Other themes can include one’s ability to tolerate those among us who are less mentally capable can impact our own health. Not just mentally. If I am making this sound like a very deep movie, I am likely giving it more credit than is due. Overall, I don’t think I can recommend in good conscience. I did not expect what I saw, and it was overall quite slow. That seems to be an going complaint for me these days. Alison was lamenting the really good movies and her thirst for quality content. Sadly this initial promising offering doesn’t assist her for that quality movie going experience. I did like the scenes of the Irish coast and farms. I recognized the similar small minds of locals more intent on other’s people’s business like what happened to Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, and ultimately drove her away from her small Irish town herself. In the end I was glad that I hadn’t pay TIFF prices for a movie that I see a few weeks later and it disappoints. I did laugh out loud on a number of occasions, but the uneven tone made some of those laughs a little hollow. Maybe exaggerating to make a point makes sense in the movie, but to follow through with it is a little disconcerting.

October 31st Halloween 2022

The Good Nurse: This movie was recently released at TIFF. Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain were in town for the premiere. This was released on Netflix just Wednesday. It is based on a true story from a few years ago. Chastain plays a single Mom of two, who is a temporary nurse at a New Jersey hospital with some heart troubles. She needs an operation, but ironically, doesn’t have health coverage. As a Canadian I note that these stories, and others like Breaking Bad, wouldn’t happen in Canada because people have socialized health coverage. The same is true in other Westernized countries. In short, Chastain’s character Anna would have health coverage and would be able to get the operation that she needs. The early part of this story establishes this sad fact. She has a new co-worker, Redmayne, join her and he offers to help her out for the four months before she can become full time and have the covered and necessary insurance.

Chastain works her shifts and there are a number of deaths on her ward which are quite unusual. Unusual in that the patient seemed to be doing relatively well, and then they take a sudden turn. It surprises the families involved and in one instance the police are asked to investigate. The detectives ask some questions and get nowhere with the hospital’s administration.

One thing that I can say is annoying, is how Chastain is grabbing at her chest and looking distressed. But is that really how a heart issue shows itself? I doubt it. I also suspect that going into a dark room near work would be the solution. You ARE in a hospital. I would think that there would be a doctor who may be able to provide some insight, without it costing the nurse her job.

The hospital administrators in this whole thing are shown to be a real part of the problem. Avoiding liability and obviously putting their collective heads in the sand as things unfold. They don’t want to know. They drag their feet, they don’t share basic file information with the police. It borders on obstruction of justice.

Meanwhile I have to admit that I was pleased that as things unfolded, that they didn’t succumb to the temptatation to add some chase scene, with a looming bad guy with the person looking to put then pieces together; think Pelican Brief or something like that. Real life just doesn’t work that way. The ultimate resolution still leaves the audience with pressing questions.

I think that Redmayne was able to create tension in just being subtle. No grand exhibitions of emotion. There is one moment that was unexpected but that made it more impactful when it actually happened. I think that the ultimate message is that this is a system that causes, and perpetuates in some cases these types of extreme cases. The producers and writers did an admirable job at introducing a topic that I was unfamiliar. I commend the nurse who Chastain plays for doing all of the things that she did. I question whether it would have fully resulted in what occurred. Well worth catching. It is odd to hear Redmayne without an English accent!! I am so used to his other roles, and note that he just turned 40, and yet he still has such a baby face.

October 24th, 2022

Blonde: This Netflix movie with Ana De Armas as the iconic Marilyn Monroe. It is 2:45 long! This was released at TIFF, and there was a buzz in it that it was rated NC-17. The idea was that it was revealing the hidden life of Marilyn and her relationships along the way. Initially I thought to myself that De Armas doesn’t have the classic Marilyn physique, as she is more slight. She also being Cuban facially would be different. I will say that in mannerisms and facially that she had expert make up and hair. At times, like the performing “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend” that she was a remarkable resemblance.

Ana De Armas remarkably looking like the classic Marilyn

Starting with the childhood with a young Norma Jean and her troubled Mom, the fatherless girl struggles with a family life that is challenging at the best of times. You can see her being forced to grow up sooner than most her age. The relationship with Mom remained strained throughout her life.

Part of controversy in this latest film on Marilyn has been her earlier relationships. Like the suggested threesome that she had with the sons of Edward G Robinson and Charlie Chaplin. The suggestion is that not only was she having this threesome, but she ended up pregnant and decided to end the pregnancy. This factually is up for debate, and it isn’t confirmed. Both of the young men died very young.

Norma Jean with her two BFs (sons of famous Hollywood actors)

Later we see her married to Joe DiMaggio and he is shown as an abusive husband, looking to curtail her career and avoid this sexpot image that had made her famous (and would have been a major attraction no doubt for him to her). But once he has her, he wants to keep the focus on him. Later she marries playwright Arthur Miller, played by Adrian Brody. That was short lived and then near the end of her life is a short snippet with her interacting with JFK, the President as he is on the phone he forces her to do something that she is uncomfortable.

All in all, we have a lengthy film reaffirming the known story of Marilyn as a tragic figure. She was a woman who was a product of her time, but also was a trail blazer. I think that she was shown as being more emotional, crying often and struggling mentally despite her work and career. I watched feeling that the Elton John song “Candle in the Wind” was a really good representation of her life. I think that De Armas did an admirable job. Without her performance the story and film simple fall. She is good enough to watch, but it is too long. I think she is much better than Michelle Williams who played Marilyn with My Week With Marilyn from 2011 with Eddie Redmayne. What we don’t see is the smarter Marilyn who was busy saavy and was active in producing. She was much more than the ditzy, buxom blonde. It was interesting that she referred to a couple of her husbands as “Daddy” which for me is a little troubling. It just seems odd. Perhaps on top of wanting to know who her Dad was, she maybe have looked for a father-figure, but sadly in the end she chose poorly with the men in her life. on top of that I found that the film tried really hard in showing De Armas on film in one of the many well known poses of Marilyn from posters and magazines. The clothing matches, with the black sweater and black and white checkered pants. The bathing suit and the pose with Arthur Miller in the rural setting. All match these pictures in trying to bring them to life.

So is this worth watching? For De Armas, yes. If you set aside that not everything is necessarily factual, then it becomes whether it is entertaining. It was a bit slow for me. It is long and you feel the time. The end showing the end of her life certainly makes some claims that are thought-provoking. Her relationship with Bobby Kennedy was ignored. Having watched Blonde shortly after seeing Respect, two iconic women are shown as figures with troubled childhoods that were quite extreme.

House of the Dragon: Season 1 completed with episode 10 entitled The Black Queen on Sunday. Ten episodes to basically establish that Rhaenyra Targaryen is pissed. She wasn’t REALLY pissed before, but now she is. She was showing signs of maintaining the peace in the way her weak father did, but she has been turning. Sadly this season is muddled and not that compelling. Crave re-showed tthe first episode of Season 1 of Game of Thrones right after this conclusion. The difference is that introduction and this season is dramatic. Morew houses are introduced, competiting interests with Starks, Lannister, White Walkers, Danny etc all in the first episode. This spin off spent ten episodes showing why there was going to be trouble. But it could have been condensed without losing the substance, unlike Season 7 and 8 of Game of Thrones that condensed so quickly that the transformation of Danny from benevolent Queen who was fair but firm to the Mad Queen intent on revenge and destruction was striking and shocking sending fans everywhere to lament the u-turn!

Rhaenyra is pissed

So here we are with a war to get started with various houses, finally addressed by their name, seeking support in a battle to come for the crowd. I don’t feel like cheering for any side really. Rhaenyra’s Uncle played by Matt Smith is a hothead, intent on destruction himself and doesn’t bring about sympathetic feelings. We are missing the Jon, Breanne or Sam or Arya who were more of less likeable characters that one could cheer. Of course it has some of the most unlikeable characters ever, like Joffrey or Ramsey Bolton but they were so nasty that they fun to watch. In the end this was not a great first series nor opening to a new story to tell within Westeros. The bar was raised to probably and admittedly to a standard that no series could ever match (much like Better Call Saul after Breaking Bad). This will have an audience and maintain but for me it will have to show that it is worth the time as they enter into the wartime phase of this Targaryen story. If there are viewers who ask whether they need to have watched all of Game of Thrones in other to watch this, the answer is no. In fact they may benefit to not have all these points of comparison. I guess I can remain hopeful that this can be better.

Love is Blind 3: As a guilty pleasure, one that I take no pride in watching, this season performs as you would expect. People in their 20s and early 30s who want a kick start on love (and exposure to the world on a grand scale) put themself in a show where they meet people but from behind a screen. They learn about the person/personality and not relying on looks so much. Traits like honesty, being well spoken, funny, intelligent and well rounded shine on through. But like the similar show Married at First Sight, then the business of being together and a couple takes over. Of course it is a train wreck, and of course there is a history of failure in these shows. Still people sign up for it.

While having her male suitor pour his heart out to her, Raven decides to work out

I found this season with Raven and her actions particularly troubling. Being behind a blind means that the person on the other side doesn’t see you. Of course they later WILL see you when the series is played. Raven the pilates instructor, decides during the latter stages of really hearing about someone’s character to work out while half-listening to the guy ramble on. How rude! This is your potentail mate, and fiance, and you decide that hearing about him isn’t as important as doing some crunches or stretches? But the show gets all types. Sadly they focus in pretty quickly on those that will be moving to the next stages and you don’t really see the other potential companions and what they talked about. Raven decides to participate further despite her lack of focus. Others include people who propose in what seems way too soon! They are professing love with someone that they barely know, and without seeing them. Quite a leap to take, as the cameras roll. But they get to hang out in California in a nice mansion. I will continue watching to see what transpires and then await the after-show where we find that none of them have stuck together. Sometimes you just have to check out and entertain with mind candy. Hallowe’en is coming after all!