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.

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.

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/stanley-tucci-searching-for-italy-restaurants/index.html