October 17, 2022

House of the Dragon: Episode 9 of this 10 episode first season was released last night for this series. I am struggling with the pace of it, and how dark it has all been. If I had wanted to watch a retelling of the Henry VIII story with Elizabeth and all those characters and scheming then I could watch that series. In fact I have watched that series, Becoming Elizabeth, not that long ago. Or one can watch Elizabeth and its sequels, with marvelous Cate Blanchett. Instead, we have many years, and a surprising number of actor replacements in this first season. It trudges along slowly as the dithering King ambles through life while trying to “just get along” with everyone. Meanwhile he fires and rehires inexplicably a Hand who has obvious ideas on how to manipulate him. Why there isn’t someone, anyone, better and more loyal to the King leaves one scratching their hand. Mercifully, and not to spoil it too badly, the King who looks more and more like a White Walker with each episode passes away. But before he does so, he does something with his dying breath with leaves his wife, the Queen with thoughts about succession. Let the scheming begin.

The battle for the Crown begins

For me, the principal difference in this series versus Game of Thrones continues to be that we are focusing on one family really, as opposed to a number of powerful families with competing interests, along with The Wall (manned by The Black), the White Walkers and the dragons. In this instance, of course we have dragons, but none of the others. The happenings over these last eight episodes could have been covered in half an hour, rather than over eight! I was also thinking last night that it is likely coincidence that the troublesome family in Harry Potter, the Malfoys, and the Targaryens both have long flowing white hair and pale skin. It difficult to cheer for any of them, as opposed to GOT where there were clear lines of those to cheer for like the Starks, Jon Snow, and Danny. Each of them had obstacles to overcome, and there were supporting secondary characters who each had their place with compelling stories like Brianne of Tarth or Jaqen H’ghar of the Faceless Men of Braavos or even The Hound. None of that is happening here in this series. Instead there is the well known story of succession and plotting to take the crown, with a plot device which seems forced at best. With all the hype, anticipation and money spent on this venture, I think that HBO must feel a little cheated with the promises of continued glory in Westeros. Sure there are more dragons, although we aren’t really seeing them, but story isn’t as vibrant, with nowhere near the same turnover in characters that the audience begins to like before they are eliminated with prejudice! There is one more episode to go, and Season 2 has already been green lit, but one hopes that this setting the table for more compelling TV to come can occur. So far, it all has been very much of a letdown.

Speed: One the interesting aspects of posting weekly is the need to actually watch more content each and every week. I need to remind myself at times when Alison and I started working together and writing the reviews down. Because before that time, there won’t have been such a review. I saw on Crave this past weekend that Speed from 1994 (!!) was on with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It quite simply is a lot of fun! This is what movies can be, with a heart pumping exhilaration ride through the streets of LA. Written by Canadian Graham Yost, whose father was Elwy Yost who was the host of public TV’s Saturday Night at the Movies, this movie grabs one by the lapels from the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the very end. Much like Indiana Jones, one goes from one tense scene to another, with very little space in between to take a breather. The story is about a bomber seeking money as his due for his years of public service through ransom demands in scenarios. Played brilliantly by Dennis Hopper, he begins in an elevator in a high rise building threatening passengers in an elevator unless they give him $3M. Enter LAPD officer Jack Traven, played by Reeves who’s replaying Johnny Utah basically from Point Break and his partner Harry, played by Jeff Daniels. They have other ideas on how to foil the plans of the Mad Man. Without spoiling too much, the crux of the story has Jack dealing with a crosstown City Bus that has a bomb which gets armed when the bus hits 50 mph, and it will explode if thereafter the bus goes below that 50mph threshold. In LA traffic, how does one actually do that?

Jack and Annie driving through LA traffic

The plot continues with various attempts to deal creatively with the issue. On the bus, there is Annie, played by Sandra Bullock in her breakout role, as a passenger who had too many speeding tickets and caught this daily commute bus for her at the last second. Of course there are sensational things that happen where one has to suspend disbelief, but it is fun to just go with it. You care about the characters. You are intrigued to see how they possibly can extricate themselves from the predicament. The Bomber is “crazy, not stupid” and seems to always be one step ahead of the police. This movie was made for $30M at the time and made over $350M. It is still compelling today. There isn’t a lot of CGI, if any, and one is engaged from beginning to end. Reeves at this, or any for that matter, isn’t all that versatile as an actor however he is very good at playing this action role. As the young, cocky, ambitious police officer who is just doing his duty to stop the bad guys, and “not get dead” he has plenty of ideas on how to address a problem, often thinking outside the box. Daniels’ Harry is a good partner for him, as he can be more of the brains while Jack acts out the stunts. This is definitely worth your time if you can find it somewhere. If it was in a theatre it would be even better!

October 10th, 2022 (Canadian Thanksgiving)

Aftershock: Everest and Nepal Earthquake: In 2015 a 7.8 earthquake rocked Kathmandu and surrounding area including Everest surprising all both tourists and locals alike. As you can imagine, there are increasing numbers of people around the world who have Everest as a bucket list destination for them. These days they talk about the unceasing tourism as unsustainable with crowds and crowds of people seeking the ultimate high.

the crowded summit

But in 2015, toursists and locals alike were subject to an event that put millions homeless and cost 9000 people their lives. Strangely, like the story in 13 Lives with the young soccer team trapped under a mountain, I did not remember this event and all the devastation. This documentary addresses those on Everest, others in Kathmandu and the small local town within Langtang Valley. None of these places had construction standards that would be able to withstand any earthquake like this. Imagine being the young woman who had started up Everest from the base camp (a town of tents with various guides, tourists and sherpas) to the first stop in the journey skyward. They left around 3AM. The earthquake hit just before noon.

Typical base camp

What transpires in the aftermath are tales of courage, cowardice, conflict and resilience. It is quite remarkable to see how the people come together, or in some cases fight one another as the locals and tourists clash. Remarkably there is a tale of one tourist who professes to have spent $40,000 who was still looking to climb higher after the earthquake. People can be quite amazing. At a time when money means nothing, they still value this more than their safety or the lives of those around them. In the end, one better understands the power of nature. Scientists predict that more earthquakes are inevitable. For me, I cannot imagine risking my life on a metal step ladder to cross a crevase that is waiting to swallow me whole. No thanks. Adventure is one thing. Life is too valuable to me for such risks, for a reward that seemingly is pride (or a selfie on a mountaintop).

Respect: Apparently Aretha Franklin herself had selected Jennifer Hudson to play her in a movie about her life. This movie from 2021, based on the book of the same name was released on Crave recently. Hudson along with a quality cast including Forrest Whitaker playing her father the preacher, and Mary J Blige shows the early days of the young singer. Even at the age of ten she was being woken up at family parties to sing before the guests. Her father was a well known preacher in Detroit and travelled in circles that included celebrities and political figures like Martin Luther King. King knew the Franklin’s well. This seems to be a glossed over PG version of the life of Aretha. This is a young girl who was pregnant at the age of 12. She had another child soon after. Her parents divorced due to her father’s infidelity (along other challenges).

Aretha is heard by a number of record executives, through the assistance of her father. Her father has specific music that he wishes for her to sing and she is signed up. Everyone can recognize the talent. She has a relationship with a man who her father detests, and they split from her Dad. He has his own musical aspirations and wants his own music sung. After releasing a few records, none of which had any hits, there were conflicts as to what she should be singing. Aretha wanted hits. But she wanted to sing her own brand of music. She was spreading her wings, using her own knowledge of her talents to find the content of her songs.

Naturally her most well known song, is a song that was written by Sam Cooke. Respect was his song, and he had already released it in 1967. It was written for a male singer, and Aretha spent her time making it her own using her own backup singers. Her husband/producer didn’t think that she should work on it. But she was determined and she released it. It became her signature song but an anthem for all women. She followed up with (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Then Think and Chain of Fools. This was a smash year for her. Just a year later, Martin Luther King is assassinated and this shakes Aretha and her family. Her relationship fell apart. There was abuse. She found alcohol to address her issues. Her performances suffered. Then she looked to release a gospel album, for which the studio was not impressed. They felt that the public wasn’t ready to listen to, and pay for, gospel music.

Say what we will about Jennifer Hudson and her talent, she is no Aretha Franklin. In truth no one can come close to her voice. The Queen of Soul was incomparable. This movie was okay, but not compelling. I learned a few things about her and her life, even in this glossed over version. The music will last forever. I remember her playing the in The Blues Brothers movie, where she sang Think.

The end of this movie shows her singing A Natural Woman, and you realize just how talented she was. Check out if you want to listen to her songs, but as a movie and biopic it is not as strong.

September 26, 2022

Don’t Worry Darling: on Monday I went to see a pre-screening of the new Olivia Wilde film starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles and Chris Pine. I had been sent an invitation to this IMAX event a few weeks back not fully realizing what it was. I expected a showing. What I got was more like a TIFF-like opening with a live simulcast from NYC with Olivia Wilde and much of the cast giving interviews.

Then the screening took place in each of these IMAX theatres across North America. I won’t be providing any spoilers which means that I can only provide a high level overview of the plot. We are set into what seems to be a period piece in and around the 40s or 50s. By the cars, it is likely the 50s with the men heading off to work each morning, and the wives in their perfect cul-de-sac houses doing laundry, scrugging tubs and going to ballet lessons. The men are working on a secret project, run by the leader played by Pine. Florence Pugh as the dutiful wife is approached by another wife and told that everything isn’t what it seems. She has suspicions, and then things move along from there.

I like where this movie goes and how thought-provoking that it was. We are in different times. This movie is mostly, I think, a woman based story, told through the eyes of Pugh. The audience needs to pay attention. Things happen which can change one’s perspective fairly quickly, and you need to stay with it. It is rewarding, as we head into the final act. For me, as much as 2022 seems to be modern, certainly in the US there is this idea that we are regressing with the treatment and rights of women, minorities and others. The music plays a very important role, first in looking to provide some sense of time, but also at other times as things unravel a little. In many ways it is surprising to see the same writer and director who brought the funny, teenage angst movie Booksmart to the screen, and bring in this piece which is so very different from it. Consider the respective roles of the characters involved. Ask yourself later why they make the choices that they have, and see if it mirrors what you yourself might do. There have been mixed reviews of this, and I can see that the audience has to be a little older. Seventeen year old boys aren’t going to want to see this. A younger audience generally won’t understand the references to the older times. I appreciated the pre-screening and the format usilizing the IMAX format fully. In my mind, money well spent doing this instead of the TIFF opening.

3000 Years of Longing: This movie stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Alba in a modern telling of the genie-in-a-bottle tale. Swinton through happenstance comes upon a glass container, and manages through a mistake to allow the genie to escape. The traditional genie story ensues where the holder of the lamp has three wishes. Usually as Swinton astutely points out, there is an unanticipated lesson to be learned for the person receiving the wishes. She starts probing the genie to tell his story as to how he got into this present position. He begins to tell the tale of his relationship with the actual Queen of Sheeba. For various reasons and circumstance, he ends up having three substantial relationships with people choosing various wishes. None of the prior relationships managed to grant him his freedom. So the story continues to a final story which I have to admit surprised me. I hadn’t expected the result, which was likely the aim. There is a message, and a conclusion that is fine. I had texted Alison and she said that she was done by the third story. There is some repetition. But overall I didn’t hate it, and liked it more than expected.

Moonage Daydream: David Bowie died back in January 2016, a really surprising six years ago! Since that time, there was a forgettable movie about Bowie called Stardust. This documentary was released at TIFF, but showed up in the theatres just a week later. So on a rainy Sunday, this was a perfect was to spend the afternoon.

This movie has no real structure. There are various images that are used, both still photographs and moving. It somewhat follows chronologically the events of Bowie’s life starting around the Ziggy Stardust days around the early 70s. Bowie narrates most of the film, and there are some interviews used from the past, with Dick Cavett and others. It is a slow burn in revealing a little at a time what made Bowie tick. He was a man of the world, living a nomad lifestyle in place to place. He talked about early days in England, but then onto LA and then Berlin, in West Germany. He uses these places and interactions with people to inspire him for songs, paintings and sculptures. He does it all. I had no idea about the painting. He was offered various showings but he later declined. But in seeing his art, he showed a remarkable ability to move from genre to genre. He speaks about using his various personnas from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke to others as his body as a canvas. This way he doesn’t need to reveal anything about himself. One wonders and he is asked about whether the Bowie being interviewed is just another persona. Another painting of himself. A good question. He observes that he isn’t overly religious, and is a believer in life. I like that answer. He lived that life fully. From actor, singer, songwriter, artist he covered the spectrum of artistic endeavours. I thoroughly enjoyed spending a couple of hours with David Bowie today. He is missed. He was a one of a kind person, who left this world a whole lot better because of his unique abilities and eccentricities. We are all better for having been able to share in his art. I wonder whether anyone like him will come around again. This was something that I heard some positive reviews, which makes me think that these reviewers are very open minded. It is different. But I think that Bowie would like this movie a great deal better than the earlier effort. One certainly gets a much better idea into the life of Bowie after watching this. If you are a fan, definitely try to catch this. If not, maybe you can learn about what a legendary artist can do with their time on this Earth.

September 19th, 2022

My Octopus Teacher: The documentary from 2020 in many ways is very much like the TIFF movie Patrick and the Whale, just reviewed last week. This won the Best Documentary Oscar back in 2021. Craig Foster grew up in South Africa by the Cape of Storms but as an adult starting doing other things in film making.

Struggling in life with a wife and son, he decided to get back to basics and started free diving around his old haunts. The water gets down to 8C at his home, and he dives with no wet suit. That is REALLY cold water, and he talks about getting his body used to it. As to the lack of wet suit, he wants to touch, feel and be immersed in the water. He comes upon a female octopus and decides to visit her each day, every day for the year. The common octopus only lives a year, and so he decides to document his interactions with her. The rest of the film undercovers what he finds with the octopus, documenting her life and how they have a connection. There are unexpected turns as the undersea world shows itself to be a hunt or be hunted environment. She is skilled at both. There are life lessons to be learned for him as well. The filming when you realize that much of it is done by Foster himself free diving is quite something. Like Patrick and the Whale you see things underwater that are amazing. Images, scenes, unexpected drama are all created and followed. Well worth viewing. It can be found on Netflix.

You Don’t Know Jack: Crave is showing a 2010 movie based on the life of Dr Jack Kevorkian, also known as Doctor Death. He was a Michigan based doctor, who became known for assisted suicide for his terminally ill patients. This defied the law, somewhat raising perplexing ethical and legal issues. Movies have dealt with this subject matter before like in 1981 with Richard Dreyfuss in Whose Life Is It Anyway, and then the TIFF film for me in 2017 Euphoria starring Eva Green and Alicia Vikander as sisters. A quality cast lead by Al Pacino as the Doctor also has Susan Sarandon and John Goodman.

The movie is well done, and shows the legal trials, determination and arguments of both sides. The doctor was very intelligent, legally astute and clear on his goals in what he was doing. He recognized the oddity of a patient who was unconscious can have their life ended, however if the patient was conscious that the person assisting could be charged with murder, or injecting a lethal substance. Michigan legislatively decided to ban the practice of assisted suicide and the doctor chose to defy the law on the TV news show 60 Minutes. Millions of people saw him provide assistance to someone who has decided to end their life. The issue gets distorted when the general public are made aware of it. The religious people see the Doctor as playing God. They protest him, with banners and signs disrupting his practice. The State is involved in following him, seizing his files without a warrant or justification. All these things against his individual rights. When does the State have the ability to take away the individual’s right to choose their own destiny, or the way by which they wish to leave this Earth? There are very nasty diseases and physical ailments, but what about mental health? Where does one draw the line? Should we be drawing a line at all? All of it raises the issues that are thought-provoking and should be discussed. A movie worth watching if you can find it. Not light entertainment by any means, but movies can also be educational.

The Last Tourist: This 2021 documentary explores trends is tourism, with more people taking cheaper flights to get to more of the same destinations. There are more of us on this planet than ever before, with many travelling to places near and far. But the same places. Machu Pichu, Paris, Italy, South Africa, the Taj Mahal etc. As one of the people who identifies himself as an avid traveller who wants to see the world, I was intrigued to see the perspective of this film. I was aware about how animals in certain cultures are captured and used for tourism, like dolphins harvested in The Cove and used in Caribbean resorts, or the elephants who are in shows and ridden in India, tiger cubs etc. I make a point of not partaking, because the lives of these animals is filled with abuse, starvation, and in effect breaking them to perform. But I had not thought about the area of North American youths volunteering in a foreign country, like at an orphange as being a source of increased child abandonment. People in the country are making money from the volunteers, but pay other natives to give up their children. The number of orphanages has skyrocketed, and many of the children have at least one parent who is still living. Then with sheer numbers places are being overwhelmed with the tourist location needing to limit the number of tourists allowed. But there are also challenges with locals in that area, especially with cruise ships who don’t benefit at all from the tourists. Cruise participants are encouraged only to shop with identified stores, who provide kick backs to the cruise line, rather than individual local vendors. So the money stays withinn limited hands not helping the locals and the local economy. The film speaks to this as modern day colonialism. It also is thought provoking, making one re-think the next trip and how to spend your tourist dollars.

September 12th, 2022

Where The Crawdads Sing: Talk about disappointment! I had seen a trailer for this by chance and it looked intriguing, so I was hopeful when I saw that it was out and available. Where to start? Set in the 1950s in small town North Carolina, a young man is found dead in the swamp. The place of death is below a steel park tower overlooking the swamp, and close to the home of a local young woman who has raised herself. She is played by Daisy Edgar-Jones. We learn this background after she is arrested on suspicion of murder and jailed. A local retired lawyer decides to help her out with her defence. The young Marsh Girl, as the town calls Kya, had an abusive father who drove away her Mom, and then all brother’s and sisters. She ends up at a young age taking care of herself. Inexplicably she has perfect teeth, cleaned clothes and looks no worse for wear. She is able to harvest mussels and sell them to the local general store/marina who take pity on her and wish to help her all that they can. She doesn’t go to school, but teaches herself. Later a young man , Tate Walker, teaches her how to read and write. Then after a romance heads off to school. Things happen.

Kya is approached by another local boy, Chase Andrews. He is the young man who ended up dead. The plot continues in a rather formulaic way, with few surprises. Chase is a bit of a cad, and makes Kya’s life very difficult. Kya also has a talent for nature and drawing it. She was encouraged by Tate to find a publisher for her nature drawings but she doesn’t think on it much until much later. The courtroom drama ensues. Lawyers go back and forth and the case is made for the jury to decide. This was disappointing because I expected more. A couple of observations: the young men are caracatures instead of fully written characters; it seems all women need to do is makes themselves reclusive and men will just fall from the sky into their laps; cooking, cleaning and hygene skills must be easy to address given how nicely Kya cleans up; I want to purchase an outboard motor like she has because it’s very good on gas, and never needs any repair of any kind! I cannot recommend this.

The End of Sex: This is a Canadian comedy filmed in Hamilton back in January. It has Canadian stars, unseen by me before, and was my Saturday night TIFF film to begin my festival. This was better than expected. Set in Montreal, there is a couple married ten years who have two daughters who are heading off for a week at Winter Camp. For a Torontonian, I have never heard of Winter Camp but according to the Director and cast after the viewing, it is a thing in Alberta, Quebec and other parts of the country. The kids head away and the parents look at one another wondering what they can possibly do. After an unsuccessful meet in the bedroom, they openly wonder what they can do to spice things up for their sex life.

TIFF 2022
Cast and Director of The End of Sex
Our couple looks to spice up their sex life

A number of scenes follow which shows over their kid-free work what they are looking to do to add some spice. None of the thoughts help. I laughed a few times. There was some clever writing (Jonas Chernick the male star) with a good supporting cast. The movie outlines issues that aren’t usually spoken about in modern marriages, when being married with children. It also reflects that relationships change from early dating and marriage to when children do arrive and you grow and mature. You aren’t the same people you were when you started the journey together.

One of the greatest aspects of TIFF is that you have the cast and some crew (like director and producer) there to talk about the movie and the process of making it. The director, Sean Garrity, spoke about how this movie was originally called Menage A Trois, but then was shelved for other projects. Then it was ressurected with the cast coming on board. The two lead actors had worked together ten years earlier. So there is a full movie theatre, and the insight into the film, all of which adds to the movie experience. TIFF can be hit and miss at times, but this was a hit for me. I didn’t expect a lot from a Canadian production. Funny we have excellent actors who are Hollywood superstars, like Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling or Rachel MacAdams, but it seems that there is a aura at times of CBC all over these productions. I didn’t feel that. I am so happy to be back to crowds, line ups, chats in the lines about movies, full theatres and conversations with star. TIFF has such a buzz in the city with an energy downtown that is palpable. Just walking around King Street and Roy Thompson Hall area is terrific! More movies to come.

Untold: Flagrant Foul: Similar to the Bad Sport series, Netflix has this series addressing other sports-related issues. Flagrant Foul involves an NBA referee who was providing his insight into the winners of upcoming NBA games to his betting friends. He had insider information about who the referees were and how they interacted with the two teams, and he was pretty good in his picks. He even worked some of the games in which he was providing his suggestions. He claims he never directly bet himself. He was paid a sum of money for each correct pick. The bettors have different than the referee himself in recollecting events. No surprise. The real question is whether he was an isolated rogue element, or whether the NBA itself had any input into the results of the matches, especially when dealing with the playoffs. The league would provide areas to focus on for the referees and this referee claims he just “did what he was told”. He maintains the NBA was interested in these results too – more games in playoffs mean more TV and gate revenue. All this to say, those fans at home who think on occasion that the refs have it in for them, well sometimes in the past, they certainly did!!!

Patrick and the Whale: Patrick Dykstra is a corporate lawyer, who manages to travel the world looking for whales about 300 days a year. A childhood fascination for the blue whale lead him on his initial searches as an adult, but he has become far more interested in sperm whales. For Patrick, they are more social, as well as being far more vocal. This remarkable documentary brings his story of connection to the big screen in ways that are just astounding.

A short clip

For most of us, I think our experience with a sperm whale is limited to the 1851 novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The white whale is a fierce and dangerous animal that Ahab wishes to kill. The thought of someone free diving amongst a pod of such whales would be completely foreign. Patrick manages to swim amongst many of these massive mammals, who have the largest brain in the world, with ease and with little fear but a healthy respect for their size and strength. We see that there is an intelligence at work, and the two species are able to communicate with one another through actions. Patrick feels the emotion and building relationship with a couple of different whales over his years working with them. He is mindful of the individual whale, trying not to view her (in both cases) as the subject of a science experiment. She manages to communicate back in no uncertain terms.

The movie has no CGI. It is filmed mostly with Patrick’s hand held camera and that of the other diver taking his shots. The film generated over 100 hours of footage (around 138 terrabytes of data) which the directed had to review and edit into the 72 minutes of the film. There are drone shots, underwater shots, in studio shots with Patrick voicing what his experiences were. This is deeply personal for Patrick, and he sees a basic lack of understanding of the sperm whale world as an impediment to moving forward with protecting them and their environments. The whales spend two-thirds of their lives at ocean depths that we humans just can’t view them to understand their behaviour. The sperm whale population is shrinking, mostly due to human interference. While not being preachy about it, Patrick and the filmmakers have delivered their message to the audience about preservation. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and saw things that were just amazing. Seeing so many whales coming together, and acting in ways so expressive and connected was unexpected and enlightening at the same time. I hope that this can find distribution or streaming beyond TIFF and other film festivals so more people can view it. If you can find it, catch it!! This shows at TIFF once again on Friday September 16th at 12:05PM.

September 5th, 2022 (Labour Day)

Stranger Things 4: Stranger Things is one of the most popular series that Netflix has every produced. When first introduced it was a nostaligic, retro roll back to the 80s (with 80s stars like Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine) along with a scary tale filled with sci fi elements and decent effects. Set in a small town, there is a local high school who’s students are the stars of the show who have grown before our eyes. In a Stand By Me kind of way, these close friends, who are also not the popular kids, more leaning towards the geeky and nerdy deal with unusual situations in their town. Adding to the intrigue, are experiments being undertaken with young children by a doctor and his team to explore their telepathic powers. In some ways this is reminiscent of the treatment of pre-cogs in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report. Add in a police force that deals on the facts, and some 80s era Russian paranoia and there is the makings of the series.

One of the things that this series seems to do well, written by the Duffer Brothers (great name!), is that they are building on the seasons, even though I am sure that they didin’t initially think that it would go further than season 1. This season four splits up the cast into groups: the police and Winona are dealing with the Russian angle and saving the police officer, Eleven is looking to regain her powers and delve more deeply into her earlier days with other younger children with the gift and then the group of high school friends is looking to investigate some horrific murders and dealing with popular kids. I found that the Russian aspect of this equation was the weakest. I wasn’t fully engaged, while struggling with how Winona and team would be able to assist the kids back in the town to any extent. Meanwhile, the kids were interacting with their own relationships all the while looking to find out the source of these murders. It seems to be someone very powerful who is terrorizing the town once again. The town can’t seem to get a break. Eleven decides that the best way for her to help is to get back her abilities and obtaining them through the doctor who hasn’t always had her best interests at heart. The story continues. This isn’t as good as Season 1 where everything was fresh and new. We learned about the upside down, and parallel plain of existence. It was through one of the boys initially, Winona’s youngest son that this was examined. As these younger kids grow, the complexity of the relationships between them is inevitably. They are young adults. So there is a romantic element explored more fully. We also have early days of being gay for a time when this was not out in the open. All in all, I enjoyed this, it is a substantial commitment in time, with the last episode itself over 2 hours. Much of it could be skipped, since it takes longer than it needs to for us to be ready for the conclusion. If you are a fan, it’s okay. If not, I would suggest at least seeing the first season to better understand the cast and the situation. Jumping in at this point could be confusing. I do really enjoy the fact that a result of this show has been a resurgence in the music of Kate Bush. Her Running Up That Hill/Deal With God plays an important role and young people are making it a chart topping hit again. Good for her. Introducing this generation to good music can only help us all and what we hear on the radio!

LA Confidential: This 1997 film, scarily 25 years ago, has an impressive cast and is a quality crime police caper. Set in the 1950s in LA, the focus is on the police department of the burgeoning city. The police include Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell and the introduction of Russell Crowe. Add in Danny DeVito as a reporter, David Strathairn, and the Academy Award performance of Kim Basinger and this story has a cast worthy of the story. Crowe’s partner has been disgraced and then ends up dead in what appears to be a robbery gone bad at a diner. The alleged black perpetrators are tracked down and interrogated. The police meanwhile have their own issues with Pearce playing the son of a well known detective who is looking to be clean in a sea of dirty. He is making some career headway, but is discouraged by Cromwell his boss to being a detective. Seems Cromwell believes that his detectives should be able to manipulate evidence, set scenes and ensure what they believe are the “bad people” can be put away. That is justice to him. Pearce wants the truth to be seen through the facts. This dichotomy of philosophies is most directly seen with Crowe’s officer who has no difficulty with extracting confessions or evidence within a situation. He has a certain affinity for protecting battered women. Things happen. Suscpicions are raised. Deeper investigations take place which makes the black and white diner robbery appear to be something else entirely. The writing is excellent, the story flows well and makes sense. All the while adding intrigue, making those in power uncomfortable.

I honestly don’t see the award for Basinger, but perhaps it was a body of work nomination. She plays a high priced call girl who is put into a very difficult situation that only grows worse for her. But it fits. It adds to the story and she plays it well. I finished this and truly enjoyed revisiting it. I had seen back in the day, but the details were fuzzy. Twenty five years later Spacey is personna non grata in Hollywood, Pearce has had some quality roles, and Crowe being a superstar has ballooned into a mammoth guy who shouldn’t ever sing again like in Les Miserable. This is on Netflix.

TIFF 2022: TIFF starts this week, back to in person viewing after a couple of years of hiatus from COVID. I presently have two movies I will be seeing. The comedy The End of Sex, and then Patrick and the Whale, which is a documentary. I am looking forward to experiencing the energy and the buzz of having stars back in the city with the streets downtown along King Street filled with moviegoers. The experience of lining up and chatting about movies before a screening has been missed. The chance to see a star before their film debuts is fun. I amy try for more tickets but for now that is where I will be. The fun begins on Thursday until the following Sunday September 18th! For those who attend, enjoy the movie going experience in some of Toronto’s best places to see films.

August 29th, 2022

House of the Dragon: I managed to watch the first episode of this highly anticipated prequel to Game of Thrones. I had made a point of not watching the trailers, and ignoring the reviews because I wanted to see this with fresh eyes, not tainted or with impressions. Let this prequel stand on its own, especially given that I had just recently finished reading Book 5 of Game of Thrones Dances with Dragons. This is set 172 years before the time of Danearys Targaryen and Jon Snow. The focus is the Targaryen family and the succession from one King to another, and then later. This is a time when the Targaryen’s have up to 11 dragons, and rule with an iron fist. The aging and ailing King doesn’t have a male heir, and there is a Council meeting to bring people together and select the successor. Rather than the eldest daughter, he chooses a brother Vicerys I, and the aim is to avoid internal family conflict for the throne. Vicerys I, nine years later, also wants to ensure his line and name by having a male heir. He has a daughter, Raneyra and a wife who is pregnant once again. The new King believes with all his being that this pregnancy is a male child. All of this speaks to English history with real rulers like Henry VIII and others. The quest for power and formalize succession are important. The new King also has a brother, Daemon played ruthlessly by Matt Smith, who you will remember from playing younger Prince Phillip in The Crown and a well-known Doctor Who. He is presently heir to the current throne with no male child occuring to date. The Queen has had very difficult pregnancies. Meanwhile, much like Elizabeth, the new King’s Raneyra is feeling a little bit left out and unloved. The King has appointed his brother Daemon to various posts and is having difficulty keeping control over the actions of him. For his part, Daemon feels that his brother is weak, and not ruling adequately the kingdom, allowing far too much lawlessness in times in which war hasn’t been an issue, but it seems that the people have become more aggressive towards each other. Daemon sees his role as fixing that. The brother’s butt heads and the King’s advisors wish to make sure that he is aware of what Daemon is doing. Things happen. Some of it is gruesome in a Game of Thrones way.

Vicerys I seated left and brother Daemon on right clash

My first impression is how much there is borrowed from the real life tales of the British Monarchy. Good material to be sure. Plenty of intrigue, lots of drama, positioning for the crown. Game of Thrones had an energy. Much of it early on came from the various houses with families and people with their own motives and perspectives. It was less a good versus evil, although the impression left was that the audience should be cheering on Family Stark, the Wards of the North. Having just finished Becoming Elizabeth, this feels in some ways like that. There can be a little bit of Succession in here too, with the squabbling siblings. Much has been spent on the production design, the sets, costumes all of it. HBO is not being cheap with a flagship series. It shows. I did watch recently too a show about the making of Game of Thrones, and the ending season and the same care is going into it. Am I fully engaged yet? Not sure. Like many things it will take time to connect with the characters. It is obvious that Daemon is set up as an ambitious trouble-maker, taking sides against his own brother, who has many issues in which to deal. The issues grow. I also don’t have a feeling for Raneyra who’s dramatic entrance of riding a dragon was exciting. The dragons are always cool. There has to be a foundation laid, and this is a start. I of course will see more, and look forward to catching upon Episode 2 in short order. It is fair at this point, but not outstanding. I am going to remain hopeful for more. Stay tuned.

August 22, 2022

Thirteen Lives: This Ron Howard movie was released on Amazon Prime recently and it details the 2018 true life story of 12 young soccer players and their coach in Thailand who went into a cave that was flooded by early monsoon rains one fateful night. It stars Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton. This story was all over the newspapers, and was something I can’t honestly recall, so I went into it not knowing the outcome. This is a good thing. Disney + apparently has a documentary on this same incident which I have not watched. I think that this is a story that is best seen without any knowledge of it as the suspense of what is happening onscreen keeps building and building.

The boys are missing from a birthday party and the families hear that they went into this cave. They can’t find them so the local police and later military divers get involved. Politics ensues to complicate and already tense situation. Things unfold.

Imagine the limited visibility for the long dive in this cave
Filming this would have been challenging

What I can say is that I have limited scuba diving experience, but with that I do know that I would not want to be in a cave for 6 hours even once. They were navigating trecherous tight tunnels with wicked currents from water pouring in from outside. They also have air tanks to take with them. Farrell and Mortensen are two British divers regarded as some of the best in the world for this work. They arrive to assist. Note that they are not “professional divers” so to speak. They had other jobs and did this diving as a sidelight. Mortensen’s character was a fireman. So there is an inherent need for these two to help others. What I can say is that here are two men who should be knighted in their country. Not celebrities. They act without thinking about the harm that they put themselves into, and yet still do it time and again. It is remarkable. A tension-filled of a situation that was more complicated than one would initially think. Under the direction of Howard he brings the audience right into the caves with the divers. This doesn’t even mention the task of getting these shots on film. They are believable and would have had the actors in the water for long periods of time. Not an easy task. But it comes together which is compelling and shows, yet again, an example of what people can together, when they are motivated with a single goal. Things happened here that have never been done before. Definitely worth seeing.

Nikki Glaser: Good Clean Filth: I do like stand up comedy. Some better than others. Recently I have been watching comedians like Tom Segura, Jim Jeffries, Amy Schumer and Jimmy Carr. I have laughed out loud more to Carr, Segura and Jeffries than to Glaser. She is an attractive woman, despite her apparent issues both in her youth and her present. She spends significant time talking about her own womanly body parts and also performing various sex acts. This is definitely not a comedian for the kids to be watching, unless you want them to learn as much or more than they would hear on the playground. Glaser has been on F-Boy Island where her talents are wasted. She did an interesting bit talking about how male comedians can seemingly punch well about their weight in looks certainly, while female comics not so much. I do like that Netflix is investing in stand up. I enjoy a good laugh and especially during COVID we all could use a little levity! But if you haven’t seen any of Tom Segura or Jimmy Carr I would steer you there first. Amy Schumer’s latest special for me fell flat.

August 15th, 2022

Raiders of the Lost Ark: What is a summer movie season without talking about a summer blockbuster? Top Gun Maverick is clearly the blockbuster for this year. Back in 1981, crazily 41 years ago, there was Steven Spielberg doing his almost annual blockbuster. The director who started blockbusters with Jaws back in 1975. He teams up with his good buddy George Lucas to recreate the look and feel of the movie serials that he grew up with as a kid. Each episode would end with a cliff hanger, leaving the audience wondering what would happen next week. Raiders is a masterpiece from the opening sequence which immediately captures the audience’s attention in the jungles in South America. Indiana Jones, not known to us yet, is a figure in shadows working his way through the jungle clearly seeking something. Within a nearby cave, we see Indiana and his cohort tiptoe their way through a maze of traps and creepy crawly creatures. The prize is a gold artifact. Indiana returns to his university, where he is a professor, and is told about Hitler’s new obsession with the occult and digging up antiquities. Specifically he has a massive dig near Cairo looking for the Arc of the Covenant. The Arc, from folklore, is where the Hebrews took the broken pieces of the tablets inscribed by God himself and carried them in their travels. The adventure continues. From the streets of Cairo, to the sea and then to a remote Greek island.

Of course there are bad guys, and Nazis for Spielberg is a favourite target. His one of many master stroke in casting was Ronald Lacey as the Nazi SS interogator. Brilliant. The movie holds your attention, doesn’t let go until the final credits. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and embodies the role. So much so, that even now in his 80s, he is reprising this role for the fifth installment which is due in 2023. Remarkable.

This movie holds up remarkably well, even with the special effects for which itn won Oscars. There is humour, snappy one liners, more killing than I had remembered, but it is after all around the war time. People die. Of course you temporarily have to suspend disbelief like when Indy manages to ride a U-boat submarine far longer than you would have expected. But it doesn’t matter. This is a popcorn movie at its finest with a director hitting on cylinders. If your kids haven’t seen this, then they should.

Indian Matchmaker: This is season 2 of this Netflix series as a Mumbai based matchmaker is asked by young people and their families to find a match for them. The matches are mostly in the US but not all. This is a guilty pleasure, because it is interesting to see all people struggle with modern dating. In an age of apps and swipes, profiles, they are dealing with real people attached to profiles and their families. Typically the first meeting is the family and the suitor. Then the couple can go and have their meeting. Dating is not for the feint of heart.

We also find as the audience that there is more spirituality in this process for the matchmaker. She takes the pictures of her clients to a face reader. She also uses the stars and does charting for the clients. All this along with advice on what they seek, versus what she thinks that she can deliver. For those with a laundry list of needs, she typically says “you may get 60% of that list”. This shocks her clients. But she will say, find a person with a kind heart, who is a good person and things will grow. Sprinkled in the beginning of the episodes are stories of long term marriages who only knew each other for minutes in some cases. She doesn’t provide too many choices, she feels that it takes away from the focus. Analysis paralysis in other words, the paradox of choice. Her younger clients do though look for the ever elusive chemistry, and sometimes when they think that they have it, they don’t. Oh the joys of navigating uncertain waters. Some individuals and couples from Season 1 appear and we are introduced to others. I will continue to watch.

The Ghost Writer: The cast for this 2010 spy thriller (of some sort) is impressive with Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrell. The basic storyline is that the former UK Prime Minister is looking for someone to finish writing his memoirs. The previous writer, and speech writer for him ended up washed up on the shores in Cape Cod having fallen off a ferry. McGregor has his agent convince him to finish the work for a sizeable sum. He reluctantly agrees. As he reads to catch up on the story he formulates some of his own questions to ask Brosnan who seems to keep himself very busy and away from his brooding wife. Ewan finds new items about the former PM and the web gets more and more complex. In the end, the story falls flat for me and the performances are more or less mailed in. So I cannot recommend and actually would say that you actively avoid it. I watched this so you wouldn’t have to.

You’re welcome.

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