August 8th, 2022

Becoming Elizabeth: STARZ has released this new series about the young UK monarch Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII as a young girl. It is an 8-part series, and has no known stars to me. Alicia Von Rittburg has the starring role. Set in the mid-1500s, the story deals with the time post King Henry’s death and the succession of the throne to his 9 1/2 year old son Edward. To me, it is funny that in North America, that in that time we didn’t even exist as a country. We were filled with nature and indigenous peoples. While in Europe, there are castles and battles and intrigue playing their real life version of the Game of Thrones. Make no mistake that this was a complicated time, with a dead King who has heirs from many women, he proclaims himself the head of a new church, the Church of England, and dismisses the Catholic faith. For young Elizabeth at 13yo, her Dad has passed away, her 9 1/2 yo brother takes the throne with adults, his Uncle, to guide him, an older sister Mary and plenty of those around them all seeking favour.

I am no English historian, what I know of this time, I know from the numerous depictions that have come from film and TV. The stories have everything that can intrigue with love, duty, drama, sex, scandal, betrayal, villians and heroes. From Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett, to Lady Jane with Helena Bonham Carter, to The Other Boleyn Girl with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansen they each have this time period in mind. The Tutors TV series also addressed more of the intrigue surrounding Henry as opposed to the daughters. Mary is treated very differently in this series than for example in Elizabeth, where she was a sickly, unattractive and half-mad woman on the throne in a loveless marriage with no children. This is a very different portrayal of a woman who has to deal with the men around her making decisions, as well as the decisions on whether to marry and how to remain safe. All the while her younger sister, Elizabeth seems to be acting inappropriately.

The production value for this series is high with the settings and the costuming. I find that the series starts off slowly but gains momentum as the stakes get higher. The early scenes deal with young Elizabeth who is brought into the home of her Uncle Thomas Seymour, who is character portrayed as charming, ambitious, seeking favour to gain in his station by any means possible. His brother Edward is position himself as the young King’s Lord Protector, effectively running the country and the Council. He was older brother to Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. The brother’s have their own battles between themselves while trying to deal with a battle in Scotland and other international issues like Spain. The acting is good. The story progresses in dealings with Thomas and also between the siblings when Edward Seymour falls out of favour. There is of course the appropriate cliff hanger in the end as they are expecting this series to continue on. It couldnt have been easy to be a woman in this time, and add to that the drama of the Crown and who is next in line with the throne. Like Succession, the TV series, the siblings have to deal with one another while being impacted by those advising them. Elizabeth being third in line, with a younger brother on the throne, would have expected to live a life outside the royal limelight, in the same way that Prince Edward or other QE II offspring must have felt. I imagine that she never expected that she would ever be the Queen of England. But the 1500s were not easy times, certainly from a medical perspective or technology or dietary or hygiene. Things happen, and they shaped history after that. Worth a viewing if this type of thing is to your tastes.

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan: With the passing this week of Lt Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, at the age of 89, I decided that I should write about this storied franchise. In 1982, this sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out. The first Star Trek was for me an exercise in boredom. It took forever to finally reach the Enterprise, and they were so enamoured with the ability to show the size of the ship that they focused on doing mostly that. The onboard interaction with the well known crew from TV series was fine. This was greatly improved in this installment as they brought back a villain, Khan, from the TV series to actually have something for the Enterprise to do! The emotional stakes are much higher as well with the crew on the Enterprise having casualties from attacks on it. All the familiar faces are here with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan as Scotty. Young Kirstie Alley plays a young Vulcan trainee. Ricardo Montalban returns as an older buff Khan.

Kirk and his crew

Kirk is getting older and was promoted to Admiral, which is more of a desk job. He wants to be in the field, exploring space, instead of watching over new recruits. A ship, with Chechov on board, has mistakenly stumbled upon Khan and the remainder of his people on a desert planet. He tortures them and captures their ship. They head towards a space station where they are working on a new technology, called Genesis, which is meant to be a molecule accelerator which in effect can create life for nothing. It would be sent to a desolate planet through a rocket and then transform that planet into something akin to earth with life. Khan wants that technology and views it as a weapon, in the same way as Bones does on the Enterprise. It seems Kirk’s ex-flame works on the project, and she seeks him out when the manipulated Chechov requests all the details about Genesis. There are some good battles with older CGI, but they are effective. The two captains manoever around trying to defeat their enemy. This is satisfying and one of the better Star Trek movies. This movie plants the seeds for the next movie in the series, which I won’t divulge for those who may not have watched. Worth checking out, wherever it may be.

Khan takes his revenge

August 1st, 2022

Severance: This 9-episode Apple TV series that Alison accurately described to me as “brilliant – a slow churn but worth it” asks some intriguing questions. Things like, if you could live two separate lives (your personal life and your business life) would you? Why would you? What would possess someone to want to do this? You would have no memory at all of your life outside the office, and it would seem as though time away from office flies by and your existence (for that part of you anyway) would be constantly in that office environment. The series opens with a women laying on the top of an office meeting conference table. She is groggy and a voice asks her “who are you?” repeatedly. Failing to engage her, the voice asks a questionnaire. “Five questions”. Turns out she is one of a small team in a department of this company in what appears to be a dystopian society, or at least corporate environment (Lumon Industries).

The series stars Adam Scott, with Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Christopher Walken and the memorable Britt Lower. Lower was the character who just arrived. As she get acclimated to her new limited environment she rebels, not fully understanding what she is doing, and what exactly this company does. In her world, she gathers numbers on a computer screen and virtually puts them in a virtual box. This seemingly meaningless task occupies each of the four people on that team. There are aspects of The Office in their inactions, with an undercurrent of foreboding. One of the former members of this team, just up and disappeared one day. No explanation, just gone. The slow churn is that this series takes its time to get you familiar with what you are shown. But then reveals a little at a time. You get to know more about each of these characters and the tensions between them. You learn about how severance takes place, and that outside of Lumon there is a political debate on whether this technology should be more widely adopted. I won’t get any further into the plot except to say that it is satisfying. It is isn’t all rainbows and light for each of these characters, and with those that they interact. Arquette is The Boss, or at least the manager of this group, who periodically reports to The Board. There are good jabs at the corporate world with targets, and attempts to reward and ackowledge the workers with small tokens like a lunch, fruit platter or a limited time of frivolity. But then it is “get back to work” and occupy yourself in a Big Brother type of world, without the oversight that you expect.

Overall, well worth the time to watch it.

The Most Hated Man on the Internet: Netflix has been very successful with documentaries revolving current issues of the day like Tinder Dating (Tinder Swindler) and Infertility (Our Father). I started this series of the guy who, more or less, founded revenge porn with his website (isanyoneup.com). The basic idea, starting it anyway was to put up titilating content, mostly nude or topless women and drive users to talk about the pics. The added feature was a link to that person’s social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. The site grew. The source of pics is debatable. The man is named Hunter Moore. He makes money of course from the posts with advertisers and subscriptions. He gains a loyal following over time that looks upon him as some kind of leader, in the most generous of words. He is obnoxious, flaunting his money and power with no conscience, so long as he is generating money. In his world, all publicity, good or bad is good to drive people to his site. We have the story of a young woman who’s topless pics end up on the site. Kayla Laws, according to her, decided in the privacy of her own room to take pics of herself, and she decided because of limited storage space to send them to her cloud account (like gmail). She has “no idea” how they ended up on the site. Do I believe it? Not really. It isn’t important, although the fact the Mom and her lawyer husband did far more to salvage the reputation of this young aspiring actress is a bit surprising. Kayla is “devastated” but Mom takes action in a time when it was no illegal to faciliate the putting of images on a site. Strangely the law provided no recourse for those who requested the pics to be taken down, even when the website said that it would. Moore was also a master manipulator and encouraged people like Butthole Girl, aka Destiny Benedict to upload increasingly graphic videos of herself. She thought it would lead to fame and fortune, or at least have Moore take down Facebook pics of her daughter. She never received a penny from him. It seemed that there was nothing that could encourage Moore to do the right thing.

Do I need to watch an entire series of this? Nope. The underlying message about the dangers of taking and sending any naked pics rings true for one and all. The Internet can be forever, and being forgotten can be a real undertaking, even if you never consented to having your images put up. Since this case, there are Revenge Porn laws in place which address this in many US states, although not all. In short, be careful. Tell your kids to be careful. This is a good reminder of this undeniable fact.

July 25th, 2022

The Gray Man: Netflix has released the new Ryan Gosling film, with an impressive cast which apparently cost $200M to produce. The impressive cast includes Rege-Jean Page (Bridgerton Season 1), Billy Bob Thornton, Anna de Armas (who Gosling worked with in Blade Runner), Chris Evans, Alfre Woodard and others. The premise is a simple one; Billy Bob works for the CIA, and he approached people in prison (no idea if it was all men or not) and offered to get them out, so long as they become operatives for the CIA for an unknown length of time. Gosling, not surprisingly, takes the deal. Fast forward a few years and location to Bangkok, and there is a bad guy who needs to be taken out. Turns out, Gosling the operative is told very little about the marks that he is expected to take down. And so the story unfolds with De Armas seeing things happen and taking sides of her own. There is a great deal of Jason Bourne in this plot, with some additional James Bond aspects. There really isn’t anything new of substance. Gosling is pitted against the “private” agent (Evans, who chose this role over the Gosling role) as well as the new bosses for his unit. Billy Bob was replaced by a new regime. There is a subplot involving a niece for Billy Bob, which moves the story along. As far as the movie and production goes, there are some amazing locations, I was most impressed by Prague, but there were clearly CGI aspects of fights that took place. Some of that CGI isn’t as impressive as it should be for the budget. Like any other movie in this genre there are many moments where one must suspend their disbelief for the number of bullets that are fired, and punches taken (including head butts) that don’t leave the perpetrators concussions or bruised or dead. It is to be expected. This is a popcorn fluff movie that is watched for escapism; little more or less. Gosling is effective in the role, and certainly shows that his character can take some hits while unflinchingly carrying on. At some point, one thinks his previous injuries must open up. Why is it, though, that such agents always seem to break into veterinarian offices to deal with their injuries? There is a hint of looking to make this a series. Evans plays the over-confident guy who will do whatever it takes when legal means are not available to do what is necessary. His job is to obtain an asset, and he will do anything that he and that cheesey smile and mustache will conjure up in his twisted head. Both Gosling and Evans took in apparently $20M each for this production, and I am sure that they would like to carry on. But we will see. For a Netflix movie, that seemed to be almost simultaneously released in the theatres, this fulfills the Netflix payment for the month. It didn’t suck, but it also wasn’t amazingly entertaining or breaking new ground. Ana De Armas through this and the last Bond has shown herself capable of doing these roles as the principal actor rather than a supporting cast member. She is once again a scene stealer in the movie.

Solaris: This is a George Clooney movie from back in 2002 (twenty years ago already!!) with Viola Davis and Natascha McElhone which is a space psychedelic movie. I re-watched this in the past week. The movie still is meant to confuse, and is successful in that. A space craft is near a planet, Solaris, and then strange things happen aboard. The people on board are either extremely terrified, like Viola Davis, or they are just chill, like Jeremy Davies. McElhone was the wife of the Clooney character and she adds complexity to the story with him. In some ways I can see some elements of the later Inception where Leo’s character needed to address the past relationship with wife, played by Marion Cotillard. The ending will have you thinking that you likely should be watching it once again. Perhaps it is even better on second or third viewing because initially one watches with a plot focus just to pay attention. For me, it is still a head scratcher, which is okay. I am not sure that I can recommend it.

Better Call Saul: It was recommended to me that Better Call Saul, the spin off from Breaking Bad was worth my time. I had thought that the Saul character was excellent in Breaking Bad as a supporting character. Bob Odenkirk is brilliant as the lawyer on the edges with the really good one liners. I wasn’t sure that the character though could be a watchable principal. I have been assured that despite a fairly slow start, that it gets much better. Some notable characters from Breaking Bad make appearances as well like Mike, and some of the drug crowd. There is good writing throughout and once again it is set in New Mexico. I will continue to watch and see where it takes me. It does make me laugh with the things that he gets himself into.

July 18th, 2022

Old Henry: This is on Netflix, and stars Tim Blake Nelson as Henry. He plays a lone farmer who lives with his teenage son. His wife has passed away earlier. The story addresses this loner who is looking to have a very simple life with no complications. Into his life, he has a man who was hurt badly and a bagfull of money. Henry is very adept at dealing with injuries and nurses this injured stranger back to health. His son wants to explore and think about a life of adventure, far away from the quiet little farm. Dad’s past is a mystery for the audience. A local sherriff is intent on tracking this man, along with his group. He arrives at Henry’s door, and then things take place.

For me, this story reminds me a great deal of the Clint Eastwood mysterious stranger movies where he just arrives in town, with no backstory and no idea whether he is good or bad. The sherriff very early on is shown as a man not to be triffled with. He is determined and very much a guy focused on the end justifying the means. The first half is a bit slow but sets the scene. The second half is much more interesting and fun. Henry is being put into an untenable position where he needs to either roll over or reveal his skills to the audience and to his son. I found this more interesting than I expected. My thoughts were more that this would be like The Power of the Dog that put me to sleep from boredom. But it steadily built up to a point where you actively cheer for Henry and his son.

Good Luck to You Leo Grande: Emma Thompson stars in what could easily be just a two person play. Daryl McCormack plays Leo, the much younger Irish male character for this story. Emma is playing Nancy Stokes, who is a retired teacher. She married her high school boyfriend and has lived by all accounts a very straight laced life. Her husband has passed away. She has hired Leo as a male escort. Yes a gigilo. The movie then addresses their encounters. From the first meeting to the last, you can see the dynamics between them shift. She initially extremely shy, worried about the morality of her situation and Leo’s. What does his family think about what he does? Does he have ambitions for other careers etc? His answers surprise her a little bit. He on the other hand, tries to make her feel less self conscious, about her body, her attitude and allowing her the chance to feel that she should focus on her own happiness now. Emma Thompson is really good in these roles, because there no artificiality in her. What you see is what you get. She accepts herself as an actress it seems at the age in which she currently is. NO surgeries. No massive body transformations. But she is eloquent, showing her struggles at her current life. But both of these people have growing to do. The relationship that they undertake helps them both grow and improve going foward. They were lucky to meet one another. This was slow moving, and fairly predictable, but it becomes about the performances and how believeable that they are. Not every story needs guns and CGI, spaceships and good guys and bad guys. It can be about a human experience; the everyday.

Dirty Dancing: Yes, the 1987 film with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. I saw this back in the day in the theatre. I had also seen Grey and Swayze in Red Dawn. Grey after this movie was an It Girl, at the top of her game. From Ferris Bueller and this. She plays Baby Houseman, going to a family retreat for the summer, with both her parents and her older sister. Dad is a doctor. Mom seems to be stay-at-home. The time is the 1950s. Before the pill, and women’s liberation and all that entailed. Baby is a guest, and is told not to engage with the staff. The Staff however are told to do what is necessary to keep the guests happy. Dance with the girls, keep the lessons coming. Swayze is the local entertainment director, along with his good friend Penny Johnson who is also a dancer. Seems Penny has some trouble, and that Baby can assist, or takes it upon herself to assist. She likes Swayze’s character, and wants to impress him.

I was surprised on the re-watch how much this movie was about the relationship between Baby and her father. Baby was the apple of Dad’s eye, but then things happen where Baby has to rely on her Dad’s positive feelings about her, and she disappoints him. Dad makes some assumptions, and they both do some things that neither is proud of. There is a heartfelt discussion between father and daughter that, for me, shows a generational difference in parenting. I couldn’t imagine sitting as stoically as Dad does here while his daughter tells him her feelings. This is an iconic film for both. Jennifer Grey famously had plastic surgery, mostly on her nose and it changed her film career fortunes. Apparently there is a sequel that she is working on where she will act as a Mom figure. This still holds up well, with the good music, the dancing itself and the family relationships with dynamics that are ever-present. If your kids haven’t seen this, this may be something that they will enjoy.

July 11, 2022

Elvis: This movie will be a success almost solely based on the lead actor. Playing the iconic Elvis, with his legion of fans, is an undertaking that requires not only the good distinct looks for the King of Rock ‘n Roll, but the voice, mannerisms, the whole package. Add to that, the aging process through the decades when you have young energetic Elvis, versus the more overweight, out of shape Elvis. From this standpoint, I think that Austin Butler is a home run. For the younger Elvis, and I am not that old to remember younger Elvis from the 1950s, I think that the voice, look and mannerisms are all done very well. As he ages, he is more challenged but there weren’t many scenes with a more overweight Elvis for this 30yo, who looks 18yo, to do that justice. For me, he is a thumbs up, as the young man who has an overbearing Mom and meek father. They are protective of their boy, who very early on shows a unique talent. He is a white southern boy from Tennessee singing black gospel and rhythm and blues music.

As he prepares for a radio studio live performance he meets with Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks with a fat suit, and odd European-like accent. In comparison with the real Tom Parker, I don’t really hear it (see below). The Colonel is the other parallel aspect of this story, as the early manager of Elvis and promoter. The Colonel had plenty of influence on Elvis, his choices, and his engagements. Debate continues about whether the Colonel stopped Elvis from performing internationally (he never did perform outside the US despite his desire) and he also didn’t do TV interviews on places like Johnny Carson and others. Many of the choices made were right. From a financial standpoint one can certainly debate whether the fee structure and how the Colonel was paid can be reviewed in detail.

The story in some ways I think glosses over some of the aspects of this superstar’s epic life. The women, drugs, and well known over-eating are for the most part glossed over. I can’t help but think that much the film First Man, which was a story of Neil Armstrong but told with input from his Ex-wife, that certain facts are ignored or put to the side. Priscilla comes out looking innocent and always in love with Elvis, despite all the women, the pills and the extended time in Vegas. Despite her divorcing him. The movie is 2:40 which feels too long. Early on there is an extended sequence about whether Elvis should be allowed to gyrate on stage when he sang. The camera focuses on his crotch area, which obviously many of the women in the audience did as well. But are we adding much to the story of a well known artists where we know that he carries on and isn’t jailed? I think that those scenes could be shortened. At this stage, Colonel Tom is looking to put Elvis is a tuxedo and make him more clean cut for the audiences. Sending him off to the Army was to do the exact same thing. While much time is spent with the early days, his on screen film personna isn’t given as much time. We didn’t see any real details about why Elvis wasn’t given the chance to be another “James Dean” serious actor. Instead he did the musical beach blanket films instead. Finally the final chapter sees Elvis headlining in Vegas, for many years when his intention was for a quick stint before going global. Seems Colonel Tom had his own ideas, and his own motiviations for working a deal with Elvis continuing with his residence. Even in times where Elvis was breaking records for his payment, it seems pretty obvious that there was more money on the table that should have gone to him. Colonel Tom always seemed to find a way to line his own pockets, while taking 50% of the fees before his Vegas longer term deal. It’s sad to see someone be taken advantage of, to the detriment of his craft and his wishes. On the other hand, Colonel Tom with his eye for “making it snow” was on point with merchandising and finding anything/everything to put Elvis’ face on. Elvis genuinely loved to play, and perform, and he put his heart and soul into his music, at least the music he grew up with. You can see this love in the film.

I liked this movie and would recommend. Some of the directing is choppy, and the use of split screen is reminiscent of Tom Hanks 1996 vehicle That Thing You Do. Definitely worth seeing, and if you are an Elvis fan it will bring back memories, and for those not familiar since Elvis passed away in 1977 at age 42yo, that you will be introduced to a man who changed music forever.

Dear Rider: A 2021 HBO documentary about snowboarding. More properly it is a story about Jake Burton Carpenter, and his drive to make snowboarding a sport. Today we take for granted that we share the ski slopes with snowboarders and on any given hill, you may get an equal split of riders. But in the 1980s and 1990s, this East coast guy moved to Vermont to begin his dream of making snowboarding popular. He was a manufacturer. Like surf boards and skateboards, he researched what others had done and looked to create something new. The shape and materials evolved over time, initially wood, with a hole drilled in the front tip to accommodate a thin rope to keep the tip up. Then he made changes. All the while, trying to sell the boards he made, he wanted to allow the boarders to get onto the hills. In many hills they were forbidden. There was a culture surrounding boarding, where they were more free and partied harder. Jake Burton was their champion. In time rivals come around and make innovations. Burton has to deal with these competitors in terms of finding and keeping talent to use the boards, and become part of the marketing of the boards. In Bromley and Stratton mountains in Vermont, they began Snowboarding Championships annually. Jake becomes more established, he meets his wife and they get this company off the ground and succeeding. This is a story that isn’t just about a sport, and a company, it is a very human story about the man, his drive and the company. In many ways the company was the man, and reflected his values and his life. I really enjoyed this and would recommend.

Check it out. The Who’s Who of snowboarding is in this, including Canadian Olympic Medal winner Mark McMorris.

Incidentally it turns out that personally my Mom and step-father have good friends who live in Manchester Center Vermont, where we have visited and skied at Bromley and Stratton back in the 80s. Turns out that the husband Dick was the accountant for the early Burton company, and they remember expenses coming in a shoebox full of receipts in those early days before they moved to Burlington to be closer to the airport. Pretty cool!

July 4th, 2022 (Happy Independence Day)

For all my American friends and readers, happy Independence Day from the UK! Politically speaking you are in troubling times with the Supreme Court going against long settled precedent of Roe v Wade and moving abortion rights to the purview of each individual State. Clarence Thomas, the pillar of women’s rights, says that he would like to revisit decisions about same sex marriage and gay rights. At the same time, they decide to restrict NY laws meant to regulate firearms. At least they are being consistent with the Republican agenda. Sadly one would think that the Court should be neutral. Not so. Anyway, people don’t come here to read about politics. If you want political commentary may I suggest that you watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He has spoken at length about gun control as well as the Roe v Wade decision.

And then here when the decision was rendered:

The Last Duel: I like Ridley Scott’s films generally and I will seek them out. I have mentioned this on a number of occasions before. He does historical fiction, like Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven as well as anyone, almost as much a space movies like Alien. He teamed up Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who wrote and acted principally in this movie set in the late 1300s in France. A blond headed and gouteed Affleck isn’t a nobleman in a Province within France near Normandy. He isn’t the King, but seemingly a man who who rules over disputes in his territory. Add in combatants Matt Damon and Adam Driver. They are mainly fighting over an allegation of an injustice with Damon’s character’s Wife, played by Jodie Comer. Curiously the story is told in three versions, none of which is overly compelling. The versions address the same timeline as seen through the three people (Driver as a trusted advisor to Affleck, Damon who is at odds with the Affleck character and then Comer the Wife. Of the three boring stories, Comer is the most interesting. Of course we aren’t surprised how women were treated in the 1300s. They are property valued for their dowry and their ability to create heirs. They have no standing in a Court, and are subserviant to their husbands, warts and all. Thus the extreme remedy in this instance for a duel to take place to decide on the truth of allegations for which only God can decide based on who wins. It is a very strange time.

The Last Duel in the last sequence of the film

As for the movie it was surprisingly dull. You can see where different versions in subtle and not-so-subtle ways show the individual’s perspective of the same event. Men and different view things differently, and those who are protecting themselves and their reputation are more likely to see things in their own terms. Damon is just horribly miscast in my mind. For a movie set in France, there is very little by anyone to try and speak French. Quite the opposite there are more English accents. Damon never even tries to sound French, but remains full on American, Boston born. Affleck equally looks out of place. They just aren’t period piece guys. Driver and Comer are more cameleons and can seem at the right time almost anywhere. Comer says a lot with her looks and her face. You can see her struggles in her station well. The conviction that she has, despite the risks for her and her husband are not lost on her. Driver is the guy who seems to have had his brush with power give him an air of entitlement, where he can do whetever he wants without consequence since he is good friends with a nobleman. His conviction to this is unfaultering. So in summary, I cannot recommend this movie. It is on Crave. There are other better Scott movies to seek out.

I will further note that Scott, in his 80s now, is working on a movie about the early days of Napoleon Bonaparte, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Comer was scheduled to play Josephine but had to bow out. Vanessa Kirby will join in. It is called Kitbag. Vanessa Kirby is a good replacement. Known for her roles in Mission Impossible and The Crown.

Jodie Comer Replaced In Upcoming Joaquin Phoenix Movie

The 355: Jessica Chastain is a committed proponent to equal pay for women in roles and finding more roles for women as leads. She is so committed to this that her production company Freckles Productions, have put together a spy thriller in the same vein as James Bond and Mission Impossible. I have always been a fan. She chooses interesting projects, and she recently brought home the Oscar for her portrayal of Tammy Taye Bakker. In this project she has brought together herself, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o and Bingbing Fan. No one will ever accuse of not addressing diversity. These women, save Cruz, play spies from various spy agencies who are tasked with looking for a thumb drive (for lack of a better word) that has the capability to cause chaos. Cruz plays a psychiatrist brought into the plot. The chaos can be infiltrating any system one wants to obtain information or even circumvent airplane systems and bring the planes down. The drive was created by a Columbian drug lords son, and was looking to sell it to the highest bidder. Things happen and these disparate female spies eventually learn that they need to work together. Inexplicably the drive passes through various hands, but it is important to track down since it can “end the world as we know it”. As a viewer, I am thinking, if I ever got my hands as an officer of a peace loving nation, that my first instinct would be to simply destroy it. But then again there wouldn’t be much of a movie if that happened.

The cast heading to a party where a buy will take place.

Chastain in particular plays a women who is a loner with no loved ones. There is a romantic aspect, in the same way that James Bond has romantic interests. I was also thinking that the difference between Daniel Craig or Tom Cruise and Jessica Chastain in this role is that she is performing these stunts and fights with heels on, reminiscent of Ginger Rogers doing all of Fred Astaire dances only in reverse and with heels on! The plot moves along. Much of the same buddy movie, partners of different origins are explored without adding much to the overall commentary to it. We see that women can play these roles, which we have seen in movies like SALT , Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible that they are more than capable. For me, I think that the Kruger role was the most interesting. She has her own family issues to address. All the while she has tremendous pressure to obtain the drive. She has tension with the other women, as well as her boss. Will this movie fill the movie theatre seats? It didn’t. Obviously COVID has something to do with that, so it is hard to imagine how it would do now competing against Top Gun or Elvis. I found this silly. The solution to the recurring problem would be to destroy it, or blast it upon sight. This is better than Ava where Jessica was taking on the Spy role earlier. But it isn’t in the same category of the other named film staples.

June 27, 2022

Gaslit:  To be “gaslit” is to have those around you question your sanity and your knowledge of the truth as you see it through psychological manipulation.   This series with an excellent cast, revolved around the 1972 break in at Watergate.  The characters are familiar to anyone who has followed the fall of President Nixon.  It is a study in a man who believed in the absolute power in his office.   Although it seems in hindsight to have admitted a mistake and then sought forgiveness, Nixon doubled down in his efforts to hide the deception and underlying scheme to discredit the bumbling Democrats.  Julia Roberts as John Mitchell’s socialite wife, is the target of being gaslit.   She hears, she pays attention and knows something off was happening for that break in.  Yet in the following weeks and months she is isolated and made to feel less than assured.  Her motives, her family background, steady drinking all conspire to paint her as the “crazy woman”. 

John Dean comes across more favourably in the end, as history will attest, with the determination of his new wife Maureen.  She keeps his together with a vision of how he can be seen as more than just another pawn doing the President’s bidding. 

G Gordon Liddy is a person with an intense, undying loyalty that paints absolutely everything that he does.  He is a guy who views the world in absolutes; good and bad, loyalty and betrayal, faith and rudderless.  His time in prison shows a great deal about his character. 

I enjoyed this series and can recommend.  With a more divided political climate over the past 50 years it can speak to Trump politics and the division that continues to split the United States.  Roe v Wade is overturned this past week and the States will divide even further. 

The River Runner:  this documentary tells the story of a young American kayaker, Scott Lindgren.  He didn’t start that way, growing up in a divorced household in a tough neighborhood outside LA. He and his brother by chance learned how to paddle and guide tours.  The ultimate was to get into the kayaks which were fast and nimble.   Much like the individual sport of surfing, the key in kayaking isn’t just doing amazing things in your boat but being able to film the acts and share them.  Buddy and brother buy a camera and start filming the kayaking that they are doing on more and more intense rivers.   Rapids are classified in a 6-level scale with the highest being a 6. These two routinely are attacking more and more dangerous rapids.  A close friend dies while on one of these rivers.  It sends a shock to the brothers. 
The goal becomes to run the four rivers that run from a peak in the Himalayas called Mount Kailash.  The story unfolds from there with a twist that was unexpected.   Lessons are learned and the brothers grow in unexpected ways.   It is interesting having finished a white water rafting trip to see just how more intense these rapids are than those I had just ridden.   It is humbling to see the power of nature in the elements that these kayakers deal with – like
with extreme water temperatures.  I paddled in 5c.  It is cold on the hands even with a wet suit on.   These guys pioneered the extreme rapids and filming like the 100 foot wave did.  Well worth the viewing on Netflix. 

Jimmy Carr:  I have watched a couple comedy specials with British comic Jimmy Carr.  He is funny. He has some fun play on words.  He is crude. Politically incorrect at times in the same way that other comics like Ricky Gervais would say they are not professing certain attitudes but they are saying as a joke.  Nothing more.  They can offend absolutely.  But they seem to be equal opportunity offenders.   No one seems safe.  But for a lighter piece of entertainment he is fun and brings a smile to my face anyway. 

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.