June 20th, 2022

Operation Mincemeat: Winston Churchill said “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” This movie from 2021, stars Colin Firth, Matthew MacFadyen (Succession) and Kelly Macdonald. It details the amazing story set in Britain in 1941 when the Nazis were winning the War, but the Allies were working on their counter offensive. The Man Who Never Was is the story of deception as the British try to deceive Hitler on where the invasion would be. The British were battling and winning in North Africa, and could look to enter southern Europe in Greece, Sicily or France. The Germans had assumed Sicily. The British wanted to avoid a difficult invasion landing, and to convince the Nazis that they would land in Greece. They decided to try an improbable situation where a British “soldier” would wash up on shore with papers identifying “top secret” directives from a general that the invasion would be Greece. An added unknown wrinkle was that apparently there were factions within the Nazi party who felt that the Hitler leadership was not in their best interests and so they might assist in a deception. In 1941 I would find that hard to believe given that the war had been going so well in sweeping into France and beyond. But how do you find a body, and what do you place on him to make it look authentic? There is the story.

The human side of the story is that Colin Firth has a strained relationship with his wife. She and the kids get shipped off to the US to be safe. Both he and his more awkward colleague MacFadyen are looking at the female team member. She rebuffs MacFadyen, but shows some apparent interest in Firth, which causes a tension. There are other elements at play with family members which cause a little more drama. I knew about the deception run by the British for the Normandy invasion. I was less aware of this. One must remember too that the activities of Blechley Park were ongoing with decoding the Enigma machine, as well as all the drama surrounding Churchill himself and his new leadership. It is a fascinating time, and this is just another story from those times that changed the course of the war. This movie can be found on Netflix.

Lightyear: Pixar and Disney have combined to release the new animiated film which tells the backstory of Buzz Lightyear. Back in Toy Story, Andy sees a movie about Buzz Lightyear and gets the toy for his birthday. This is the movie that he watched according to Disney to get him all excited. Being a Pixar film, I had pretty high expectations for this movie. That, often can be the kiss of death. Overall, the early adventure starts as Buzz is part of the Space Rangers, a galctic force for good. The images in space are very reminiscient of Star Wars, and some borrowed from Alien. Buzz winds up on a planet investigating a signal, and they end up through his actions being stuck there. He feels guilty and wants to correct the problem and get back to his place in the galaxy. He struggles. All the while other members of his team that are very diverse look to improve their here and now. As an aside, it is very interesting given the current political climate in Florida and the actions of the Governor Desantis against Disney that the movie goes where it does. I was in a theatre on opening night that had a birthday party of kids likely no older than 10. I expect that in scenes that I won’t describe further some questions could be asked that the adults didn’t expect from a Disney movie. Is this a bad thing? No. I think movies can reflect society and community norms or they can be at the forefront. It is a bold step by Disney on this front. I do think that the story gets off the rails about when the character Zurg shows up. From my memory and this clip helps that story is told over time.

To say that this story doesn’t really reflect these segments is a bit of an understatement. But I will leave it at that. This movie was okay. It didn’t meet expectations. I think that Pixar can do better. I suppose even though Disney now owns all the Star Wars properties that it needed to do more with the backstory. Truth is, Buzz was for mid 1990s the toy for kids which resembles some Star Wars, but also some Six Million Dollar Man and others. I will remain hopeful that more backstories for Toy Story characters don’t emerge. The obvious candidate would be Woody. I will note that Tim Allen’s voice is nowhere to be found and Buzz is voiced by Chris Evans. They have added a cuddly robot character that is comic relief at times, but also helps push the story along. If you have small kids, they may enjoy. This doesn’t have to be a big screen movie for you or them. But you may want to prepare yourself for a couple questions…..

June 13, 2022

Baby God: I did a review back on May 30th, that spoke about a fertility doctor in Indianapolis who had knowingly inseminated many women with his own sperm as opposed to their husbands or other random donors. I had heard news items, vaguely, about this story. It was noted that this doctor was not disciplined. One wondered how many others might be out there. Turns out Crave answers the question quickly with Baby God. This is yet another doctor, this time from Las Vegas who has done exactly the same thing. Dr Quincy Fortier was a well known and lauded doctor in his smaller town and in the greater Las Vegas area. He died in 2006 at the age of 94, and never was charged criminally, never had his license suspended and basically seemed to have paid off in secret settlements those who have accused him. So those who are his accusers have strict confidentiality clauses against them. It is a different approach then that taken from Dr. Cline who pleaded for the offspring and news people to just leave him alone. An added wrinkle to this story versus Dr Cline is an allegation about abuse.

I struggle with this type of documentary with those who are involved. I beleive that the doctors in both cases have acted unethically, irresponsibily and with a secrecy that would seem to suggest assault. If they were providing a service that they are proud to provide, then why all the secrecy? Why not just offer it up to yuor clientele who so desperately want to have a child. The child would certainly have the DNA for intelligence. It wouldn’t be a random stranger, and you would know the medical history for this offspring. Most importantly, you would get the child! Part of my struggle is that nature vs nurture balance. The doctor may have supplied the sperm, and a genetic code, but they are raised by the mother and her spouse. Their values are instilled into this child. It is very interesting to see the physical appearances of the male offsrping especially. There is little doubt in many cases that the doctor was the donor. Glasses, receding hair, many had beards etc. But for the now adult child to talk about violence or improper assault, the possible consequence and high probability is that they don’t exist! Is that better or worse? So in both the stories some of the offspring can seem to be creating quite a buzz over whether they should even be on Earth!

A notable exception in the Baby God scenario was a women who was not sexually active, and yet wound up pregnant. This is offside on so many levels. When the parents of the women find out, they send her off to an Unmarried Women’s Shelter in another State to deliver the child and put it up for adoption. Her life is changed forever, without any input whatsoever.

But for those who desired children, it seems less aggregious. The end result was still the same. One could take the position that these doctors were not physically what these women were seeking. Fair enough. But then again, were their husband’s Mr Universe already? Do you have a right to improve upon the physical appearance of your spouse? Does the spouse think that this is a good idea? And what of the doctor’s themselves? What are their motivations? Dr Cline seems to have had a sexual need to masturbate in a room next to the patients and then deliver his “load” so to speak. But is there a Boys From Brazil type scenario where they believe that the world is a better place with more of them in it? Do they think this is some form of extending their life and passing on “good genes”? We’ll never know from Dr Fortier. There are statements from family exploring the situation about giving blood and assisting his patients in “any way that he could”. But this really is more sinister than that. No one would deny or hide giving blood to save a life. Impregnating random women is quite different. At the end of this documentary it is noted that there are at the time of film release in 2020, twelve doctors being investigated for this activity. As an aside, there was also a question posed to another doctor where routinely at medical schools way back in the day they obtained semen samples. This particular doctor gets notices from time to time about new offspring for him through DNA services. Makes one wonder what exactly these medical schools were doing.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore: I liked the first installment of this franchise, the spin off from Happy Potter, back in 2016 (my post Nov 21, 2016). It focused on the creatures and Eddie Redmayne who was their awkward, quirky handler. He meets up with Katherine Waterston at the Ministry of Magic and her sister, Queenie who befriends an amusing muggle baker. Episode two introduced the Johnny Depp character named Grindelwald and his crimes. Think of him as the precursor to Voldemort, and the desire to purify the magician’s state. It was alright, but I certainly didn’t run out to seek it. Rather I waited for TV when I wouldn’t have to spend real money on it. I actually saw episode one in the theatre. But I digress. This latest installment has Mads Mikkelsen admirably replacing Johnny Depp, who was busy dealing with his soon to be Ex-wife in Court, and Jude Law coming in as a younger Dumbledore. Katherine Waterston plays a much lesser role, virtually nothing. So the characters have moved on but the story struggles for me. In short, the crimes of Grindlewald are being ignored with little to no punishment, all the while he is lurking behind the scenes to rig an election for himself to put him in a position of power. I think that this series has lost some of the momentum. There is a ridiculous scene with Redmayne looking to keep some scorpion-like creatures at bay, and his solution just seems laughable. The box office would suggest the audience needs more, and while I still like the Queenie story, she isn’t in this enough. There is one secret of Dumbledore that I had to admit raised my eyebrow. If you choose to see this you can decide which one you think it is for me. If you are a Harry Potter super-fan, you may feel compelled to see this. Otherwise it could wait.

June 6, 2022 (D-Day)

Ambulance: Michael Bay started doing music videos when he was younger. He moved into more action adventure films with the Transformers series, The Rock, Pearl Harbor and Armageddon. He seems to like his action with a side of story. This latest effort focuses on two young men who were raised by a notorious, ruthhless bank robber. One played by Jake Gyllenhaal and the other Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (an actor unknown to me). Yahya was in the military and we see him looking for assistance for medical treatment for his wife who is having cancer treatment. He wants to break away from the family business. His brother on the other hand is a well known bank robber and he is looking for a sizeable score, and needs another man to assist. He brings his brother on board to the trepidation of the rest of the crew. There is a downtown LA bank that has a $32M score. One more score and then retire! Famous last words. Things don’t go as planned, which then involves an ambulance crew of two, one of whom is pretty but detached Eiza Gonzalez. Their lives all converge. I have to admit early on I wasn’t so sure that the more intense, and better provisioned police (like SWAT on steroids) were a counter criminal group using police-labeled vehicles to steal this score. They are a led by a hard ass who does very little to gain our sympathy. The plot unfolds.

The action sequences are well done. So many bullets, so few people hit. Cars crash. Bedlam in downtown LA, where on some level you would expect that the eddict would be that high speed chases where innocent civilians can be hurt would be discouraged. But where is the fun in that?! Certainly not for Michael Mann. It was also interesting to see what can be done from a moving ambulance. You can vary the speed to allow for certain procedures and not have an issue apparently. So the audience needs to suspend disbelief at some point. There is a real effort to have the audience cheer for the bad guys. Jake is guy in this role who pivots well but is a survivor, at all costs. It was okay. It entertained for a while. I am glad that I didn’t pay for this one. The budget for cars, ambulances and other vehicles was very high. If this is your genre you won’t be overly disappointed, as it is serviceable.

Dear Evan Hansen: A few years back I was in NYC when this was playing in Broadway. I didn’t know anything about it, but just noted the billboards were of a young man with a cast on his left arm. It is a musical. This movie brings the story to the big screen with Julianne Moore, Amy Adams and newcomer to me Ben Platt. It’s a high school drama, think Booksmart including the actress Kaitlyn Dever who was in that film too. Evan is a loner, quiet, odd, an outcast who lives with his Mom who is a divorced nurse from his Dad, whom has begun a new life elsewhere. Mom struggles to keep things together financially and otherwise. Evan isn’t very forthcoming with what is happening with his life, and some of his darker thoughts. He is given an assignment by his psychologist to write himself a letter for his upcoming day; trying to instill some positivity into the day ahead. It doesn’t go as planned and he revises the letter to reflect another day of failure. Enter another outcast, who takes his printed note to himself from Evan and walks away. Things happen. Evan has choices to make, and he errs on the side of trying to manipulate a situation and the facts which he makes up to assist himself. But lies are never away to build a positive life going forward. He is found out and the world again crashed.

This young man can sing. This isn’t a musical where you will be humming the music after it is over. The musical numbers are mostly ways to convey next steps without just saying them. There was funny moment for me when Evan is looking to better understand a classmate and looks up his recent reading list. One of them was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. That was a play I saw back in NYC when I went to attend the Tony Awards. Part of me was thinking as I was watching that young Evan should know that lying isn’t a positive way forward with his Mom, his classmates and the other principal family involved in the story. Guess it may take longer in some to recognize something many regard as table stakes. This isn’t CODA, not at all.

May 30th, 2022

Top Gun: Maverick: I rewatched Top Gun last week in preparation for this weekend’s premier of Top Gun Maverick. I had made a conscious effort to not watch the trailers, knowing very well that this was ready for release in the summer of 2020. Then Covid-19 had other ideas. So this has been in the can for two years waiting for the week before US Memorial Day. My thought process before going was “I hope that this doesn’t suck”. At the same time, any movie which has modern military jet aircraft (F-18s, F-22s etc) and blowing up things “real good” is a movie that will be potentially a lot of fun.

The lights dim, and after the previews finish (notably Tom has been busy and the latest Mission Impossible is coming in July 2023), I am ready. On becomes the music of Harold Faltemeyer once again with the opening paragraphs about the Navy beginning which started the original Top Gun, and seeing some aircraft moving around the deck of an aircraft carrier and being launched and then Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”. I am engaged. My foot starts tapping to the music as the images flash across the screen.

Cutting to the chase, this movie is fun! It is energizing, the visuals are stunning and the story is compelling. We care about the people involved. This is a movie to be seen in the biggest theatre that you can find. For me, it was IMAX. There are ties to the original film, both with characters, but also in carrying on the plot. Some of these are expected and others are not. This is a good thing.

In short, Maverick is still a Captain. Those in power (the generals and admirals) tell him quite plainly that he should be at their level by now. They don’t understand what motivates him, but they recognize his talent as an aviator. It seems that there is a very dangerous mission in which the Navy needs the best of the best pilots from Top Gun to train. Maverick is asked to step in and work to teach these young pilots. There is an additional wrinkle with one of these pilots. This becomes one of the main plot lines. Then there is the mission and the aftermath. Things happen. Are they all believable? Ah, hell no! But the audience needs to set this aside. But that’s the point. Will the ending come as a surprise to anyone? I doubt it. There were moments when I thought I knew where the plot was going, and I wasn’t always right. The writing was good and takes into account some of the challenges that the original film encountered. They wisely stayed away from a competition amongst the Top Gun class for a fictional trophy. They also kept the focus on the mission as opposed to who was romantically connected to another member of the team. The visuals in many cases are unreal. I like that you can see pilots in the seats and hear their breathing as they try to keep from passing out through pulling too many G forces. Being a pilot in a jet that fast with those manoevers requires incredible body control and athleticism. You can see the pilots being moved roughly around that cockpit. It is intense, and provides a glimpse into the stresses in the marvels of technology.

In case you haven’t heard the song yet.

This is the first movie of the year that has grossed $100M in its opening weekend. The word of mouth has been generally positive, even amongst those who weren’t even born when the first movie was released. And thank goodness we have a big screen movie that has nothing to do with superheroes! Add my name to those who are recommending this film.

Even though the movie started with the same musical opening sequence, the music thereafter wasn’t very noticeable. Even though Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer are involved it wasn’t noticeable nor would I rush out and expect to purchase the soundtrack (unlike Top Gun that was very popular). It is not an extended rock video with oiled up, shirtless male bodies.

I will comment on my theatre experience. This was a Friday night at 7:40PM. It was almost completely full. And beyond the standard people showing up late, munching their popcorn far too loudly, crinkling their candy plastic bags and interrupting those who managed to get to the theatre on time, which is in an of itself are rude and ridiculous, but we also had someone have the brainstorm that a group of 10 or 11 year old boys should be brought on opening night. These are kids who have been cooped up with home schooling and being quarantined for the better part of their conscious life. Here in a dark theatre, they talk amongst themselves, eat loudly, get up and endlessly go to the bathroom in small sub-groups as if sitting in their own basement. All this before the adult who came up with the splendid idea for an outing of these brats. It was outrageous. If you can’t control your kid and their friends, then perhaps consider a matinee with other young monsters with A-D-D. And in case you are thinking “they have every right to be going to a theatre and pay the same ticket fees as I do”, I can simply state that my viewing doesn’t disturb another audience member. They are disturbing people ten rows away, both before and behind them.

Our Father: This Netflix documentary discusses the news story of an Indianapolis fertility doctor who for many years had decided, unilaterally, to use his own sperm to inseminate his female patients, rather than that of their spouses or third party donors that were selected by the parents. Remarkably, this isn’t illegal in a criminal sense. The patients did actually consent to have a procedure performed on them to try and produce a child. In many cases, this was successful. Many of these half-siblings are finding out about this deception through online sites like 23 and Me and Ancestry.com. They are shocked to find that rather than a handful of connections, that they have thousands. The doctor was tracked down and the number of half-siblings rose. The doctor initially denied any use of his own sample, he later called it “sparingly” but the show reveals 55+ half-siblings. It’s sick and surprising. You learn about the history of this doctor and his contention that this doesn’t need to be broadcast. He fears for his marriage, his church and his profession. With good reason. It is interesting and creepy. I think that a number of the complainants make more of the issue than is necessary. It is possible that had this not been done that they wouldn’t exist. I also belive that there is much to be said for nature vs nurture and that your parents are who raise you, not who donated a sample of sperm. I wouldn’t pretend to impart my sensibilities on others, as I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. Still, I don’t believe this is the worst thing that has ever happened to these people. Worth seeing for a story that shows that knowing your doctor and their reputation may be something to be keenly aware.

May 23rd, 2022

Top Gun (1986): This upcoming Memorial Day weekend in the US brings about the long awaited release of the Top Gun sequel, Top Gun Maverick. I thought that this would be a good time to have a reminder of what the Top Gun craze was all about. I was in early university days when this movie came out. I was always a kid who was interested in airplanes and especially fighter jets. I made models, had posters, attended Air Shows marveling at the speed and loudness of these machines. I wanted to be a pilot from my first flight to Florida on a 727 on Eastern Airlines. Before this release, movies like The Final Countdown with Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas with the Nimitz aircraft carrier and F-14 Tomcats was amazing on the big screen.

1980 The Final Countdown with US Navy participation

There is a Making of Top Gun from just a few years back where the producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson had read an article about the Navy’s Aviator Fighter Squadron near San Diego California and decided to buy the rights to the story. It is a very interesting documentary because you see how movies get made, and how they can get shelved. The story was pretty loosely written. The producers needed to convince the Navy to be involved since their experience with The Final Countdown was not a positive one. They needed a Director, and decided to ask short film and advertising director Tony Scott, well known Director Ridley Scott’s brother to get involved. He had only previously done The Hunger with David Bowie and Susan Sarandon. A movie I really like. The studios were less than enthralled with its box office. Then it was how to convince Tom Cruise to be involved. He was a well known star then, and the only real consideration for the role of Maverick. The producers decided to invite Cruise for a ride in a tomcat. As soon as he flew, he wanted to do the movie. As the documentary tells it, they explained how the shots were done, and how they brought on a former Navy pilot to assist with the authenticity. Much of what was done at the Naval Academy was not as it is in real life, like the competition for best team which they say is unrealistic since a group of pilots like that with a prize would be very dangerous. Lives would be lost, for no reason with very expensive planes. They also didn’t fly as low as in the movie. After the primary shoot, they didn’t really have a story, but a bunch of scenes. It was up to the editors to bring a story together.

Maverick is a young aviator with a Dad who was an aviator before him. Killed in the Viet Nam war flighting his F-4 fighter. Maverick is the pilot and Goose (Anthony Edwards) is his rear seated partner. They get an opportunity to go to Top Gun and learn to dog fight, improving their skills in aerial combat maneuvers. Among his fellow classmates is Ice Man, played by Val Kilmer and other guys who would look good on the beach volleyball court. Maverick has an incident which shakes his confidence and makes him question what he was doing. The rest of the film looks to resolve how he manages to get back that confidence required for an elite aviator.

This is a movie to experience on a big screen with loud speakers. The energy from the jets filmed to show their speed is remarkable. The antics can make you laugh. The music then seals the deal with tunes like Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” and Harold Faltermayer’s opening sequence. Brilliant.

Memorable opening sequence music

Do we care as an audience whether this ACTUALLY happens? No. Do we care that the “Russian” planes are F-5s? No. For this upcoming sequel, will we care whether Maverick at his age wouldn’t be going near an F-18 at Top Gun? Probably not. Top Gun ended up being a smash hit, because it was escapism at its best, and a two hour recruiting tool for the Navy. The planes screamed across the screen. You cheered for the men involved. Afterwards you were so pumped up that it was very lucky that the police didn’t set up speed traps outside the theatre streets. This movie today would be made very differently from a CGI standpoint. We will see just how different with the release of Maverick. Back in 1986, it was real jet footage and the destruction was done with large models dropped from a crane high above the San Diego landscape. I have made a conscious effort not to watch the trailers although it is hard with how often then are on during sporting events this weekend. They know their target audience. This movie has been in the can waiting for two years during Covid. The studio is expecting this movie to bring us back to theatres. I will see in IMAX if I can and on the largest screen I can find. I am cautiously optimistic and just hope that they don’t screw it up.

May 16th, 2022

Luca: Pixar has created some of the most enduring animated films since its creation back in the late 1980s and the release of the beloved Toy Story in 1995. What has transpired since has included Oscar winners across the board with films like Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, Monster’s Inc, Wall-E, and Coco. Their films are known to be enjoyed by a wide audience with visuals that appeal to kids while the stories can be touching for adults. For me, my favourite remains Finding Nemo, where not only do we have the Dad as the hero, we have the attitude of “the world is not safe” being deconstructed as it unfolds. Not all Pixar films are universally loved, and certainly not the short films either. For me the short film Bao which I saw in the theatre just creeped me out. Not just because I don’t like dumplings, but because of the smothering ways of the Mother character involved. Luca was released in 2021, and is currently on Disney +. It falls somewhere in the middle on the Pixar success scale in my mind. The story in many ways mirrors the Little Mermaid tale, with Ariel yearning to be human so that she can enjoy all the human things, not the least of all was her Prince Charming Eric who would whisk her away to a world of castle bliss. Ariel defies her father, King Triton and transforms herself into a human young lady with the help of the Sea Witch Ursulla. The story unfolds with terrific songs like “Kiss the Girl” and “Under the Sea”. In Luca, he is a young sea monster, their label and not mine, who works on the family farm tending to sea sheep (I am not joking). He has been forbidden to go to the surface as humans are regarded as murderers. Fairly from the fish point of view really. Luca however comes across some “human stuff” dropped from a fisherman’s boat above, and runs into what he thinks is a human in deep sea diving gear. Turns out, this is another fellow young sea monster who lives on the surface in his secluded castle. He has his collection of human stuff. The two boys, after chatting and becoming friends, marvel at a poster of a Vespa and wish one day to have one. The story unfolds as the boys head into town, not too far away. A small Italian fishing village, which among other things runs an annual triathalon-like race. Instead of swimming, running and biking, they have swimming, eating pasta, and biking. Go figure. Of course there will be the locals who have been taught to fear the sea monsters and the villain who finds a way to win the annual race while making fun of the young lady just trying to run her own race. There is no musical numbers performed by the characters. Unlike Coco, where the music is very much part of the engaging story, there isn’t any here to be played. So the story as expected resolves itself in a way that is fairly predictable. From a visual perspective, the sea creatures are borrowed well from the Finding Nemo world. The young girl reminds me of the heroine in Brave and the village theme with the Italians seemed like Coco. In other words, it was a borrowing of many other films, which were generally better. I did very much like the transition from sea monster to young boy that takes place. There were a couple of decent laughs. Overall, it was a decent effort, just not up to the lofty expectations that one can have with Pixar given their history. Incidentally the Disney animated film Encanto won the Oscar this year for Best Animated Film. Luca was nominated.

2021 Pixar Film Luca

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy: Season 2 of this series has begun. I sadly have missed the first two episodes with Venice and then Piedmont. I will be taping this from CNN using the PVR. Stanley’s first season was really good as you the viewer were introduced to some amazing local dishes, and encouraged to make them at home, but also experience some history within the area and see them make things like fresh mozzarella cheese. I am hopeful that there is a balance brought forth again to acquaint the viewers with the scenes and tastes within Italy. If you watch and don’t feel the desire to head to Italy and enjoy for yourself, then I don’t know what you may need to ever want to go anywhere.


May 9th, 2022

The Survivor: Ben Foster stars in this newly released film. It is the story of Auschwitz survivor Harry Haft, who boxed his way while in the concentration camp to stay alive. He later after the war was a boxer professionally with modest success, but he did fight the great, undefeated Rocky Marciano. 43 of Marciano’s 49 fights were won by Knock Out. Harry was not that good. But this really isn’t a boxing movie. It is a movie about Harry surviving, through any means necessary. Then dealing with the aftermath in his life, and during, of the choices that he has made. Early in the film, quite by chance a German officer notes Harry fighting abilties and then decides that he can protect him, and make money off of him with betting on fights against other Jewish inmates. These bare fisted matches lasted until one pugilist went down and couldn’t continue. Harry wins, in fights where the loser is shot on this spot. Terrifying and incredible. Harry has to deal with this pressure, but also the scorn of his own people. They resent the fact that he fought and defeated men who were then executed. He became the executioner of sorts to these people. Little are they thinking that he is simply trying to survive in horrendous circumstances. Meanwhile, in his personal life, he was separated from his girlfriend during the war and he had no idea if she was living or dead. Memories of her, and getting back to her, were a driving force in his will to survive. Later after the war, he meets up with a woman while looking for any work possible. But his memories and thoughts of this girlfriend still linger. He suffers from PTSD, with vivid images of atrocities in which he saw first hand. But he seems to move on with his life, a marriage with kids and a boxing match that made a name for himself. Stories like these are fascinating to watch, because they are a glimpse into a horrific past. Tremendous empathy is created for a man who had impossible choices to make, with guilt that would shatter lesser men. He has a loving wife, played by Vicky Krieps (also in Phantom Thread) who loves and supports him but sees the pain that he has endured. She also suffers. This isn’t a feel good movie, but it one to experience. No Holocaust-related movie will be uplifting and joyful since the subject matter and timing is so terrifying. However, survivors and their stories should be told. In this tale, people around Harry would tell him NOT to speak of his history, bacause “no one is interested in that”. Perhaps they felt that it would bring shame to Harry or make people look upon him as that executioner. I am glad that he decided to share with a local newspaper man. Because of this he was able to bring his life around full circle addressing some of the hurt that he experienced. Ben Foster does an excellent job of bringing this bloody tale to light. His eyes say so much as Harry struggles, but there is a fierceness too. A rage that he can channel which allows him to carry out what needs to be done. Well worth watching.

Gaslit: I watched a couple more episodes of Gaslit last night. The Julia Roberts character was locked into her hotel room, and not allowed out for a period of time against her will. The Watergate perpetrators are shown to be the ragtag, poorly organized lot that many suspected that they were. John Dean continues to take hits as this somewhat dazed and confused young lawyer who despite seeing the challenges in what he is asked to do, seems to set out to do them anyway. Yet fate can step in for this series and keep his hands relatively clean for a guy who comes across as more than a little scattered. It is not a look which matches my previous ideas of the eventual Legal Counsel to the President. It is interesting theatre. More to come.

Julia: Continues to be fun as Julia becomes more famous and her shows are helping to support the entire PBS enterprise in Boston. Sarah Lancashire channel Julia Child well verbally, but she is prettier than the Julia who was on TV. I can’t help but seeing a little bit of John Lithgow from The World According to Garp in her.

John Lithgow in The World According to Garp
Sarah Lancashire as Julia Child

What amazes me about Julia is her energy, and all the projects that she has going on at once. She isn’t a spring chicken when her fame took off. She was writing cook books, doing her show and managing her own house. This series is a good insight into her life as the TV personna began to take off.

May 2nd, 2022

The Book of Boba Fett: I finally finished watching this series with the hopes that it would be getting better. From the first episode where we see the resurrection from the dead for the lead character, Boba Fett it was straining the levels of possibility. Boba Fett really was a minor character in the original Star Wars world and he died in one of the silliest ways, his engine packed being knocked by Han Salo (who can’t see well) and he jets off the side of Jabba’s Sail Barge and drops into the sarlacc pit. Weak. But we see how, incredibly, he emerges from this unpleasant death and is saved by the tuskan raiders. By the final couple episodes, this series, or ahem “book” converges with the Mandalorian to have he reintroduced. The Mandalorian announces that he needs to go somewhere and he jets off to another planet to track down Baby Yoda (aka Grogu). On this planet a very young looking Luke, all CGI, is meditating with the young Grogu. Grogu is cute and all, but it would be helpful if he could speak. I pause here to point out that in Luke setting up this Jedi School where he would be the teacher, he is revealing that being a Jedi is a learned skill. Contrary to the entire films surrounding Rey, where she had an inate ability with the Force, Grogu is learning the skills that he will require. The Mandalorian comes to visit to drop off a gift. A choice is provided to Grogu. What did this all mean in the grand scheme of things? Very little. It was an unnecessary side story trying really hard to find a thread of this nonsense and how it fits into the original series, since it is set almost immediately after Return of the Jedi. Ah, but then it has elements of spaghetti westerns with outlaws and gunfights with the local sherriff and a bad guy, as well as Dune, with some spice trade on planet (strange as it was never brought forward as an issue before while Luke was there) and Godzilla vs Kong with incredibly a Rancor. Go figure! So in short, it didn’t get any better. When I had heard that a young Luke was going to make an appearance, I wondered where they would take it. Now I know, and I wish I hadn’t. I never bought into Boba Fett as a gangster figure, vying to take over Jabba the Hutt’s territory. That was a central part to this. In the end, this isn’t must see Star Wars material. It reminds me of the cartoon Clone Wars that you can take or leave. Coming later this month is Ewan Mcgregor returning as Obi Wan Kenobi and the return of Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader. I cannot recemmend this mess, and in fact I would actively avoid it if you are able.

Gaslit: Julia Roberts and an unrecognizeable Sean Penn star as the Watergate era couple John and Martha Mitchell in this new series on Crave. It surrounds the events around the 1972 Watergate break in, a turning point in American politics where the then-President Nixon resigned as a result of this botched attempt to break into the Democratic National Party offices to find dirt on the party for the upcoming re-election of Nixon Administration. John Mitchell was the Attorney General at the time of the break in. His wife Martha was a known socialite. My knowledge of Watergate largely comes from reading and writing on Blind Ambition by John Dean, and All The President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It is familiar territory in terms of the players, but this is showing in a different light. This is on Sunday nights and after watching the first episode I was googling these figures of the Mitchells to get some more background. It seems that Martha was an interesting figure who was a little unpredictable. The powers that be, like Pat Nixon kept her at arm’s length. But she liked attention and sought it out, and was uncomfortable when her husband was being secretive. The entire series hasn’t been released, and I have only seen two episodes but it is interesting to watch. I had always had a higher opinion of John Dean. Dan Stevens plays him here as a bit more of a kiss ass, bumbling wanna-be insider who was willing to do whatever was necessary for the President. He worked for Mitchell who pulled the strings. Meanwhile he meets up with flight attendant Maureen who is another of the intriguing characters who is politically opposed to Nixon and his administration, but likes the idea of being close to power. Dean pursues her with determination. She is played by Betty Gilpin of GLOW fame. I will continue to watch.

The Dropout: Amanda Seyfriend stars playing disgraced Silicon Valley fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos. I have only watched the first episode of this eight episode series. On the face of it, I am not sure that I can invest almost eight hours into this story. She went to Stanford briefly, her Dad back in Texas was part of Enron, and she wanted “to become a billionaire”. It seemed along the way that she wanted to skip the steps required to attain the end goal. But there were smarts, and unbridled ambition. She wanted to make something of herself. At the age of 19, she was looking to enter into graduate level programs while still an undergrad. This series will live and die on whether you believe the work of Seyfriend, and she is good. Kate McKinnon was originally slated to play the lead role but bowed out without any explanation. You can see the beginnings of her start with this first episode. She meets up with Sunny Balwali played by Naveen Andrews when she is learning Chinese in China, and he a much older successful business man who had sold his software company and wanted to learn Mandarin. I will continue to watch a couple more episodes to see if this can hold my attention. I would feel better about this if it was fewer episodes, but then again it may surprise. With the real life Elizabeth Holmes on trial at the same time this can provide some background into some of the details of this ongoing saga. The lessons to be learned obviously are that people and companies are not always what they seem, ironically she came from a family involved in Enron, but other companies like Bre-Ex, the gold fraudsters also come to mind. Caveat emptor when buying stock and investing money!!


April 25, 2022

The Northman: What can one say about a movie when the best thing about it was the popcorn in the theatre? For context, I don’t usually eat or drink anything at the movies. But I was given a movie night out coupon which included two drinks and a popcorn. Butter on that popcorn was extra, which strikes me as rude, but worth the splurge! But back to the movie. Alison had sent to me a featurette on youtube describing the Making of the Northman, with the cast, director and others. It seemed that they painstakenly tried to reproduce the Nordic times around 840 AD. There is a decent cast with Alexander Skarsguard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman. I am NOT a Nicole Kidman fan, which I will state at the outset. From that little featurette they sum up the story as Hamlet in these times, which isn’t necessarily a good thing either because of all the Shakespearean plays that I have seen and studied in my youth, Hamlet was one of my least favourites. For me, the inaction of Hamlet in exacting his revenge on his Uncle just frustrates me. For those who haven’t studied Hamlet, then just think of the story as The Lion King. Same thing. I will add that there are aspects of Macbeth in this storyline too. In short, a young man seeks to avenge the death of his father at the hand of his Uncle. Although the film states it is set in Iceland, it was actually filmed in Northern Ireland, where much of Game of Thrones was filmed. The scenery can be beautiful with the cliffs and the water and the green mountains.

The movie itself is dark, like many movies these days. It is also slow, like Hamlet. It plods along. It is never a good sign when one checks their watch a few times during the film to see how much time is left in the over 2 hours runtime. There is a great deal of time spent showing the spiritual aspects of Viking/Nordic life. They channel animals a great deal while others can be regarded at the time as Christian. But most of all there is fighting and a ridiculously violent game of field hockey. Overall, this was much ado about nothing. Despite the claims that this was “a Gladiator for the 2020s” I cannot agree. Gladiator was a story of vengeance, much in the same way, and they share some wonky CGI between them which is disconcerting, but that is where the comparisons end. Gladiator won a Best Picture, among its five Oscars and Best Actor for Russell Crowe. It also had outstanding music by Hans Zimmer where this movie has strange and unusual music that was more of a distraction than an enhancement. I haven’t watched The Last Kingdom on Netflix which deals with Vikings, but there may be some similarities there. The realistic part of me wonders without any modern medicine how these people could survive the elements and the injuries that they encounter. I do know that I wouldn’t want to live in such a brutal time. I certainly wouldn’t want to live with Nicole Kidman as my mother figure!

Radioactive: On Crave I watched this movie about Marie Curie, released in 2019. It stars Rosamund Pike. Set in the late 1800s, the Polish born Marie was at the Paris based Sorbonne University but getting little respect from her colleagues and the powers that be. They had little time for dealing with a woman in those male dominated times. This woman was demanding, and looking for equal footing in her studies. She meets up with another scientist, Pierre Curie who had a lab of his own and a small team. He recognized her talents, and built upon them. Marie was studying uranium, and its properties and she proposed that there were more elements at work as she looked at the uranium. Ultimately she found two new elements in the periodic table, radium and polonium. Later the older Curie has her daughter, played by Anya Taylor-Joy explain that French soldiers on the front were having their limbs amputated for sprains and minor injuries that a mobile x-ray machine would help to fix. She was a very determined and stubborn woman, as I expect that she needed to be. She was in an all male profession, and she became the first ever women professor at the Sorbonne. Her family, daughter and her husband were together responsible for four Nobel Prizes. The most of any family. In the women, I found it a bit disjointed to be bringing forward images of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, Chernobyl and also more modern x-ray/radiation machines that looked to address cancer. Curie was instrumental in finding and better understanding radiation and its uses. She is not, of course, responsible for how it was used, and how it has negatively impacted the world. Hers is an interesting story, but as a movie it was just okay. I think that Pike is good for roles like this and she challenges herself with them. I think that she is very talented and has grown way beyond the roles from James Bond or others where her looks were more important. This was interesting and made me look a little further into the life of Marie Curie.

After Life: I finished the third and final season of Ricky Gervais’ series. Sadly he decided to remove two of the actors from the first two seasons. He also in the final act had to rush through addressing the resolutions to the ongoing plots to the supporting characters. It felt a bit rushed and more than a little forced. I note that he decided to go for more of the sentimentality side of things and turn one way versus another for his own character. It was a bit disappointing to be honest. This was a series that dealt with serious issues, and had elements of sadness and laughter. It was profane. There is language that will make some viwers uncomfortable. But there is an underlying message, that usually are delivered by the supporting cast about life in the here and now. Tony has suffered a great loss, with his wife passing on from cancer at far too young an age. He in many ways, which he acknowledges, puts his own loss and feelings ahead of those around him selfishly. That is a valuable lesson. There is further a discussion about elements of the hereafter, as the title suggests which are thought provoking. There was one addition in season 3 that wasn’t referred to in the other seasons which became an easy out for resolving some issues. It was a bit of a cop out. I saw some resemblance to The Office and the banter there. This small fictional town in England with the local free newspaper was a pleasant place to spend some time. Well worth watching, although you may be wishing that the main character Tony would be able to live more looking into the future rather than torturing himself with the past. Life is about choices.

April 18th, 2022

Return to Space: So while recovering from Covid, I was flipping through some online news items last week and hadn’t remembered seeing anything about this at all:

April 8th, the Axiom crew of four launched and meets up with ISS

I had watched closely the launch a year ago with Bob and Doug the astronauts on the Falcon rocket meeting up with the ISS for their 60+ day mission. It was exciting to see a US launched space craft with human passengers off into the heavens to re-start American efforts in space. The Netflix documentary covers Elon Musk and his desire through the privately owned Spacex to have humans be interplanetary. Such a bold vision for a guy who had begun as a Dot Com billionaire with the sale of Pay Pal. From there he begins this thought, along with a little start up company called Tesla! If you think that you have a busy life, imagine what Elon’s life is like everyday! This enterprise, well detailed in the documentary shows that not everyone was on board with the Obama Administration plan to have a public-private partnership in sharing the expense of space travel. At congressional hearings, there was Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan stating that this program was doomed to fail. Hurtful comments to the young Musk who idolized these men as a young man, as they were the inspiration to return to space from their voyages to the moon in the late 60s and early 70s. Sadly after the space shuttle, the US efforts stalled and there wasn’t much done towards the moon or mars. Musk wanted to change that. I admire Musk and him utilizing his brains, business acumen and vast wealth to seek goals that aren’t about him, but rather moving human kind forward. Unlike say a Bill Gates, who spends money on parks which is valuable but a less lofty goal, Musk sees this enterprise as vital to advancing the species. He states that technology isn’t a given and we cannot expect the window of opportunity to head to other worlds to last forever. The Egyptians made the pyramids and then stopped, and lost the ability. The Romans built aquaducts and lost the ability to do so. The US was on the moon and 50 years later hadn’t been back. This is exciting, like the technology used to recover the first stage booster rockets and re-use them. It is heart warming as a Musk is seen to truly care about the responsibility to returning to astronauts who are also Dads safely back to earth. It shows vision and determination, and an international cooperation (like working side by side with Russians) to achieve something memorable. I hope that we are not becoming so casual about these achievements that a launch ten days ago does not become common place and taken for granted. Great things are happening at SpaceX. Let’s hope the moon base and then Mars come next.

Gaming Wall Street: This is a two episode documentary that shows what mankind can do, especially financially driven people, when money is at the top of what motivates them. In the wake of The Big Short, where the bankers and investors packaged up useless high risk mortgages and passed them off as safe investments, there is this tale of the “meme stocks” which have been made popular by a group or ordinary discount investors who band together to drive up the prices. All this to combat against the short sellers. The main stock in question is GameStop, the retailer of video game systems and games at local malls everywhere. Sadly their business model has fallen on bad times (like Blockbuster with renting DVDs) because of online downloading of games from manufacturers. The stock was failing. But these investors decide not to see and drive up the price. This goes against what Wall Street pundits were betting on, as they had bet on the stock to fail and go down, otherwise known as shorting the stock. But by driving up the price, these average investors were forcing those Shorts to cover their bet and lose millions of dollars. The tale unfolds. What you discover is that nothing was learned from 2008 and the approached collapse of the financial system. No one was arrested from that situation, despite the obvious illegal activity. The same players find another game to play, in this instance called Naked Shorts, where if they cannot secure the actual stocks that they are betting against, they create them out of thin air. These people create nothing, make nothing and profit from pure gambling. The simple solution may be to just outlaw short selling of stocks, but where is the fun in that? The ultimate message that as an ordinary investor that the big players really manage the game and make the rules. One can only hope to ride a wave and not get crushed. Watch with some knowledge that you may not always like what you hear. I wouldn’t be looking to have most of my retirement money, like one of the ordinary investors, in GameStop stock long term.

Julia: I have finished the first four episodes of this series, with four more to come. I continue to enjoy the series and think that the lead actress has done an admirable job channeling Julia. In many ways this is a woman power story, with the men dithering around and not seeing the vision of TV nor of viewers being interessted in watching a woman demonstrate French cooking. The women around Julia are the ones who see her excellence, her presence and passion. She is ideally suited to the task and they are commited to making her a success. There are glimmers of hope as the station manager supports her from early days. His wife likes the program, and he likes what she is serving for dinner as a result. There is a real buzz around the show, and the other enterprising female producer has taken it upon herself to syndicate the show and sell it to other local public broadcasting stations. A first. For those of us used to The Food Network, the early days of public television are fun to see. I remember Graham Kerr, the Gallopping Gourmet and his endless cups of wine and cooking in clarified butter. He wouldn’t have been on TV without Julia and her program’s success.

After Life: I have completed two short seasons of this three season series starring Ricky Gervais, both writing and directing. It centres around his character Tony, who has had his 20+ year marriage end with the death of his wife to cancer. They were connected. They were happy. He works at a small local free newspaper, with a cast of characters, not unlike The Office. Tony is struggling, and has suicidal thoughts. He sees his lack of caring about those around him as allowing his grumpy old man to come out. He has an adorable dog. If it all sounds depressing, it isn’t. Rather it can be very funny while also having moments of warmth. He has a very cutting sense of humour, and can be very brutal. He is vulger. I laugh. Not everybody may. His interactions with others in the town, like the postman, a lady who lost her husband and sit by his graveside each day or the nurse who helps with his Dad who is a bit scattered in a home are good. Two of the characters from Seasons 1 and 2 don’t show up for the final Season 3. It was a bit of a surprise. But I still enjoy and wonder where they will take this series for the conclusion.