March 7th, 2022

The Batman: This was a long awaited film, in the can much earlier in a pandemic that was delayed to get more of an audience. It was just released in Canada this past weekend. I went to see it in IMAX on Saturday night. It stars Robert Pattinson, from Twilight and Harry Potter fame from many years ago. This is a stand alone version of the Batman tale with no association to either Tim Burton’s from the 80s nor Christopher Nolan’s later on. For context, I didn’t like the Burton version of Batman with Michael Keaton, but I really enjoyed the Nolan trilogy with Christian Bale.

Robert Pattinson plays The Batman

As advertised this is a very long movie, at almost 3 hours. It can feel that way in a number of places. Without any fanfare or back story to Bruce Wayne this story dives right into the crux of the tale; corruption in Gotham City at its highest levels. Batman is already out in the streets and we are introduced to some familiar names, like Jim Gordon and Alfred (Andy Serkis). That’s one of the challenges and benefits to the material in my mind. A challenge because although the audience is familiar with many of the names and places that are re-introduced, they arrive with pre-conceived ideas on who they are, what role that they play and the basis structure. In many ways the roboot is resetting the chessboard with known pieces and movement, but with a new set of players directing the pieces. The pieces can move in all sorts of different ways. The director and script writer tells a darker tale, with darker scenes and a lot of rain. It feels like you are back in LA for the first Blade Runner with bustling streets and almost constant rain and darkness. On the streets of Gotham, there is guy who is killing high ranking officials and also leaving a greeting card addressed to The Batman. We learn that this is The Riddler and he is looking to uncover the ugly underbelly within Gotham. This has some ties into Bruce Wayne and the Wayne family. We learn this over time as the evidence is undercovered and The Batman is assisting the police along the way. The unravels slowly. Too slowly for my liking.

There are things that happen, like in many superhero movies, that are incredulous. Riduculous. But one goes with it. There are some cool toys, like a Bond movie, with the Bat mobile and the motorcycles etc. These are cool. There are some good stunts, production design, make up and costumes. Time and care was taken. Pattinson was committed and convincing. For Batman fans, they of course will see it. For non-Batman fans, is this a movie they need to see, in the same way that The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger as the Joker is a movie that everyone should see? I don’t think so. There likely will be more, as there is money to be made. Batman as we have seen is a big money franchise, the biggest in the DC comic world. More to come.

The new Bat Mobile

Movie Etiquette: Attending the movies at the theatre with an almost full theatre is a new experience for most in two years. The pandemic has made most of us turn inwards and watch from the comfort of our living rooms. We can talk, pause, eat loudly, head to the bathroom and move around freely while at home. We can watch On Demand, when and how we want. In the theatre, the movie has a start time. We thankfully have an assigned seat. This is a blessing in that we KNOW that we have a seat and we don’t have to be in line for hours ahead of time with a new release and popular movie. The downside is that with this assigned seat, you treat that ability cavalierly; you show up late, you make sure that even while being late you insist on getting your snacks. You decide to congregate in the entrance way and then light up your phone to try and see where your seat is, and then disturb other viewers. Those who were on time, and in their seats are compromised. They might miss something early in the film because you have to move into your seat. It’s annoying. Some of the blame should be on the theatres. There is something to be said for the owner closing the doors after the trailers are done. They know how much time that is to the minute. Respect your on time patrons by turning away those who are really late until the next show. My showtime was 6:45PM. There were people arriving at past 7:00PM. Not acceptable on any front. Being late is just as annoying as being Tommy Texter or talking or eating loudly. When you are part of a movie watching community, then respect those community members and recognize that others are just as importsnt as you are.

West Side Story: Steven Spielberg has taken on directing the iconic 1961 musical. Rita Moreno is an Executive Producer. Moreno won the Oscar for Supporting Actress from her role as the brother’s girlfriend. In truth I have not seen the original, remarkably really when I think about it. I know a number of the songs like “America”, “I Feel Pretty” and “Tonight”. This is the first time in a very long time with Speilberg hasn’t worked with John WIlliams. The songs, the dancing, choreoegraphy for him would have been something new. Spielberg dedicated this movie to his Dad. In short, this story is a modern day telling of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, as someone who knows the Shakespeare play pretty well, I noted that there are scenes that mirror the original very closely. Ansel Elgort places Tony, and he is best known for Baby Driver and The Fault in Our Stars. Rachel Zegler, unknown to me, plays Maria as his Puerto Rican love interest. She was one of over 30,000 women to audition. She has a great voice, and is of Colombian, Polish, Italian & German descent. She is a foot shorter than Elgort. Moreno plays an older woman who owns a local drug store and she has taken Tony in to help him after a stint in prison. The basic premise is that two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, are fighting over territory that is being torn down by the City in NY. Lincoln Center will replace it, and displace a lot of Puerto Rican residents and local whites. They don’t get along. There is a rumble developing to end all hostilities. The story continues. Tony meets Maria unexpectedly at a party and they have instant chemistry. There are underlying themes about violence and vengeance. The sad realities which mean that property and people are divided along racial lines, and people are viewed and judged by the colour of their skin and their country of origin. Hatred runs deep. The relevant question is whether this version of the story is watchable and entertaining? It is. This makes me want to see the original and compare. I have heard without confirmation that there are differences. For me, I think that the ending was abrupt. Different than the original material in a way that I can’t entirely agree with. More to the point, I don’t think that it goes far enough in looking to show a different attitude of all those involved. Elgort sings himself, and owns the role. Many of the supporting performances are strong, including the brother’s girlfriend Ariana DeBose nominated in the Moreno role again. It is nominated for Best Picture and I don’t see it as a remake. Still, it is a good story, well told. I am glad that I watched it and can recommend.

Tony and Maria in a new retelling of West Side Story

February 28th, 2022

First of all, I would like to congratulate Jessica Chastain for winning the SAG Award last night for Best Actress, for her role of Tammy Faye Bakker. I have been a long time fan, and although I don’t think of this as the strongest year for nominees (far from it), it is still recognition and acknowledgement. The Eyes of Tammy Faye, that I reviewed and didn’t love, was a project that she had worked on for 10 years. Getting that together, assembling the cast and getting the financing cannot be easy. Sadly the pandemic is hitting all the revenues from the film industry. So kudos to her in bringing it home. I will suggest that Andrew Garfield was robbed in the Best Actor category. For a guy who professed that he couldn’t sing, he was amazing in his role in Tick Tick Boom. I was very pleased to see that Jean Smart for Hacks won which was a great performance! If you haven’t seen it, check out that series.

Nightmare Alley: Another movie where the impressive cast is simply let down by a story that was boring. I was not engaged in this long winded story in the least. Set in the 1940s, in a carnival setting that roams from town to town there is the talents of people like Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, and director/writer Guillermo Del Toro. This is a remake of a movie from 1947. It falls flat. Cooper is the focus as a guy who does something nasty in the first few frames and then “runs away to the circus”. He meets up with a cast of characters who perform shows and fool the public for money. He learns some tricks of the trade and is introduced to the skill of clairvoyance. Generally it is the ability to be extra perceptive, and make choices about people generally, like young men will have issues with their father and women their mothers. People care about health, wealth and love. He meets Rooney Mara. Things happen. Later we see Cooper flying higher in society and looking to impress and be paid by a wealthy man. He is believing in his own “abilities” and selling others on it. The ultimate conclusion comes full circle, but it isn’t really satisfying. I note that even with this star studded cast, that no Oscar nominations came from it. None were justified. It seemed forced, with no real ability to draw the audience into the suspense. I had not realized until after watching that this was a remake. It makes sense, because the look and feel is very much what one might expect from the 40s. Updating the cast is window dressing for a story that is well entrenched in its time. The running time was 2:20 which is too long. I think the opening scenes with the carnival could be shorter. The point could have been made there sooner. In the end, this isn’t Best Picture nor is it worth spending this amount of time on. Sadly. I had such high hopes going into it with this cast.

Love is Blind: I watched Season 2 on Netflix. This is a guilty pleasure really. Such cheese in the evening to watch so many people enter into this “experiment” for which they are all so quick to refer. The premise is simple. Put 15 young men and women in a place for 10 days where they cannot see one another, but can only talk. Only upon being engaged can you actually meet this person, and try to cement the relationship. After a trip to Cancun and some time together back in the home city, in this case Chicago, do you have to ultimately decide whether to actually get married. That decision is left to the bitter end with friends and family in attendance at a full on ceremony. Every one who enters this show knows what they are getting into at this point. There are no surprises there. The editting of course makes a huge difference and I wouldn’t ever place a bet on who would remain together because much isn’t shown to us. If off-camera the couple had a blazing, three alarm argument about something that we didn’t see, we have no context in which to know where the participants head is at. They ALL want to be married. They ALL are in love with the concept of love. But are they finding the right person for them using this format. Of course the show wants to create drama to keep viewers engaged. This was a good season, I felt, because there were couples at different stages. Some more connected than others. Some where one party was more connected. Others still had issues with family and loved ones. The ultimate reveal was a good culmination of events. Obviously I won’t reveal who stayed with whom. But if you like this sort of thing, this is mind candy that although a little longer than it needs to be, can still be fun on a winter day.

February 21, 2022

Licorice Pizza: Sometimes you see a new movie with young stars and they are immediately engaging. In the case of this movie, both leads played by Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in this new release from the summer are so engaging. I had not realized the young Cooper Hoffman until after seeing his name is the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman was an extremely engaging actor. The movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson has two notable Oscar winner Sean Penn and six time nominee in the last nine years Bradley Cooper. Neither are particularly memorable in truth. The setting in the early 70s and a young confident high school student (Hoffman) meets an assistant for the photographer doing annual portraits in the gym. She is a little older and they have a clever banter. Much like Almost Famous where two young people meet and connect, you wait and see what awaits these two. It seems that are supportive of one another in whatever ventures come forward. From a roadtrip to NYC, where he is making an acting appearance but needs a chaparone, to her working for various ventures from the 70s like waterbeds and pinball machines. Isn’t love really about being there for the other person, when they are up but more importantly when they are down or in trouble (or perceived trouble). The story is a little disjointed, and situations aren’t always realistic. I am not always sure that the dynamic mid-teen would be setting up a storefont and making sales for various products. I wouldn’t be buying from such an enterprising youngster. There are good set designs with plenty of 70s era cars, clothing, hairstyles etc. Our heroine is put into some challenging situations, and one gets a sense of how it may be to be a young woman in those days (and any day for that matter) when especially she is around creepy men, and creepy older men. It just makes the hair on my arms stand on end, especially with a young woman as a daughter. Alana’s real life sisters play her sisters in this movie. Another thing I noted during the credits. Anderson is married to Maya Rudolph, I didn’t know that either. He has directed films like Phantom Thread and There Will Be Blood. Also Magnolia and The Master, with Cooper Hoffman’s Dad. I expected this to be better from a plot perspective, and I can’t pinpoint how and why. At the same time, I feel like I was introduced to a couple new people that we all likely will see again.

The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman: Netflix is showing these documentaries about various conman. First earlier in the month was Tinder Swindler. Here is another instance of a guy who has been able to avoid the law while swindling young women and their inheritances, credit or fortunes. He started in university where his con was to convince the woman that he was an MI-6 British intelligence officer. He was being stalked by the IRA, and his life was in danger. He stayed mobile. He convinced a woman’s family to part with her inheritance early. The authorities get involved. The story early on focuses on young adult children who are searching for their Mom. She has been under this man’s spell and hasn’t been in touch with them at all. So the story continues and it is another cautionary tale for which daters should be mindful. There are some telltale signs, so take notes. This case is a little more extreme, by that I mean one wonders how people can be in this situation, but still it remains remarkable what people can do to one another. Not everyone has the best of intentions. Far from it.

February 14th, 2022 (Valentine’s Day)

Happy Valentine’s Day. One would think that I would be doing a themed review for this pandemic Valentine’s Day. Nope. Sorry to disappoint. Now, I do have the somewhat romantic The House of Gucci to review, but that is as close as it comes. Another review is more a cautionary tale about love and relationships from Netflix with Tinder Swindler. It starts will romance and then ends up in tears and deceit. Finally I can review Shang-Chi (“Sean”) and the Legend of the Ten Rings. So let’s get started.

The House of Gucci: This star-studded cast includes Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto and Jeremy Irons. Such an impressive pedigree of talent with the direction of Ridley Scott. So what goes wrong? This is a mess. The story is based upon the real life tale of what occurred in the Gucci family in the early 70s and into the mid 1990s, which was unknown to me. The Gucci family of course has been known for years of selling the high end, au couture hand bags and clothing. Two brothers, played by Irons (Rodolfo) and Pacino (Aldo) each have ownership and each has a son. Pacino’s son Paulo, played by Leto is eccentric and not very business savvy, to put it mildly. Irons’ son is a budding lawyer Maurizio, played by Adam Driver, who is awkward socially but smart. Early on he meets at a party the young, pretty, outgoing and socially upwardly mobile Patrizia played by Lady Gaga. They have a whirlwind romance, and he announces that he will marry her. Irons hates the idea and disowns his only son. Pacino steps in to assist with the only remaining Gucci family member with any business sense at all. He is brought back into the family business, much to Patrizia’s delight. For me, this movie is too long. It takes too long to get going and buckles under its own weight. Patrizia has some elements of Lady Macbeth as she urges on her husband to be more tactical with the fellow members of the family. It is coordinated, calculating and ruthless. She inexplicably gets involved with a phone fortune teller/soothsayer, played by Salma Hayak. Jared Leto, who was unrecognizable to me in the role until more than halfway through it, with his over-the-top performance almost single handedly ruins the movie. I don’t believe him. I don’t believe that anyone could be so unaware of how he acts and is perceived. Leto seems to play a recurring role of an eccentric or a crackpot. Despite the Dallas Buyer’s Club Oscar, he needs to get fewer roles. Across the board the Italian accents are cringe-worthy. I cannot recommend this. It seems a shame with the cast that they put together to get this odd result. It can be a case study into family businesses, like Succession for example, a transitioning the controlling interest in a company from one generation to the next. As the saying goes about wealth in business: “The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it, and the third generation blows it.”

Tinder Swindler: This is a Netflix documentary that puts on film a story that began in Norway with a young woman in her mid 20s that had been on the social dating site Tinder for over nine years. Like many, she is looking for her match, although her match, and what catches her attention seems to be at a level most don’t see online. She meets a guy named Simon who has an impressive profile, including pics of him with fancy cars, him piloting a plane and exotic places that he has visited. He includes his Instagram profile in Tinder which shows him to be the son of a famous billionaire diamond magnate. She is immediately intrigued and falls early and hard as he whisks her away on private jet to another city on their first date. He is a “busy guy” jetsetting around the world on business, leaving her behind but being sure to WhatsApp her his love messages each day. He talks about the dangers in this business and his need for a body guard/entourage. Then late one night he sends her a set of pics showing his body guard bloodied from an apparent attack. His funds have been frozen and he needs her to get some credit cards in her name for him to use. She does. He asks for cash money from her as well which she delivers dutifully, thinking that she is protecting her boyfriend from harm. It goes downhill from there, as they unravel the deception. More women are uncovered. Ultimately there is a resolution but the viewer is left unsatisfied. Truly for me that was the case, as my legal sensibilities are engaged. This is well done and worth watching especially for any people who are dating or know people who are, including kids. One can look as close as CBC.CA to see that there are many similar stories happening in Ontario. Stories about people in Waterloo losing $250,000-$1M, to others losing life savings. It can be a dangerous world out there, and there are plenty of people looking to take advantage of those lonely hearts looking just to be loved in these strange times. Police will say that these are classic scams that have been used for years. Online dating just allows it to be more prevalent, with people from various countries.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: I have said it before, but it is worth repeating that movies can be about expectations. Even this week, I had higher expectations when about to view The House of Gucci. It disappointed. Two things worked against this movie to start; the first was the fact that it appeared to be another in Marvel’s superhero quiver of films. Ugh. I am generally NOT a superhero guy. Then of course was the title, which was reminiscent of duds like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Instead what I saw was refreshingly watchable. To set the stage I was on an airplane and watching on the small screen of my IPhone. So it was not surrounding me. But the story was intriguing as the young “Sean” who is parking cars Awkwafina at a hotel, hears about some trouble with his family. His mother had long ago passed away, and he is in hiding from his Dad. Dad is in possession of the Ten Rings, which in no way reflect the powers of the one ring from Lord of the Rings. They are worn around the wrists and grant the holder many varied abilities which include making weapons, jumping and basically being indestructible. Sean is played well by Canadian Simu Lin. He has a lot on his plate and we learn about the details over time. It’s complex. Mystical forces are at play, and we learn that a secondary world, not unlike Black Panther or Wonder Woman is in danger from his Dad. His Mom came from there. I won’t try and explain the story further since it likely will muddy the viewer’s mind. Instead, see it, and watch many of the impressive visuals. This was better than expected, and I enjoyed seeing. This movie also reinforces for me that there are many stories from around the world that are worthy to see on screen. Not all the best stories come from Hollywood. So if this is around, check it out.

February 7th, 2022

So last week I was away in NYC and enjoyed some time there and didn’t post. I did however see live the musical Moulin Rouge which I had avoided earlier when it was released in 2001 with Nicole Kidman starring with Ewan McGregor. What struck about this updated musical was how a relatively simple story was addressed. Updated because the music used in the 2001 film was updated with artists like Adele, and Lorde etc. I enjoyed this more than I had expected. The performances were solid and the singing was very good. The leader of the Moulin Rouge was very charismatic, and both the leads were solid in their roles. Worth checking out if you are in NYC and looking to attend the theatre. Incidentally, the theatre and throughout NYC they were very diligent about Covid protocols, and mask wearing. As a Canadian I appreciated the focus on this everywhere that I went.

Reminiscence: I do like Rebecca Ferguson. She came to my attention through Mission Impossible, and kudos to Tom Cruise on selecting her in that growing role. I then watched her in The White Princess, and thought that she added to that role. Then I have seen her in The Kid Who Would Be King, and The Showman (also with Hugh Jackman) and I have been more underwhelmed. She was a quality selection in Dune playing Jessica, Paul’s Mother. I had higher hopes for this film once again pairing her again with Hugh Jackman. It is a hodge podge plot which borrows from other movies, notably Altered States where a water-filled pod is used with some drugs to assist with digging into the past of the user. Also add in Minority Report to some extent, where glimpses of the past are revealed over various sessions. In this instance, a mysterious woman (Ferguson) enters the dream-escape business run by Jackman and his colleague played by Thandie Newton.

Rebecca Ferguson web on Twitter: ""Costume designer for Reminiscence  Jennifer Starzyk created roughly 20 different looks for Mae by using  luminous fabrics to portray her seductive role as a club performer in
Rebecca Ferguson showing one main reason why she was hired

She asks to look for her keys, but there is more to it. Despite the attitude of Newton’s character, Jackman and Ferguson begin a relationship. Then she disappears. Jackman then tries to figure out, using his own machine what has happened. It gets messy. It also gets more confusing, as bits and pieces of their time together are revealed. There is some discussion about fate, love, destiny and connection. But it is more convoluted than that, and not very satisfying. I cannot recommend it, and when I texted Alison she mentioned that she couldn’t finish it. I didn’t feel that negative about it, but nor would I go out of my way to suggest that this should be sought out. Ferguson I am hopeful can do more Mission Impossible movies and Dune while less of these others. We will see.

Jungle Cruise: Like Rebecca Ferguson, I do like Emily Blunt and feel that she has more range in her catalog of work than Ferguson, so far anyway. There is part of me that thinks Blunt has signed a multi-picture deal with Disney. She was in Mary Poppins Returns earlier, and now she has joined with The Rock in another Disney theme park ride. The Disney powers that be want to have the same successful tie-in to the fairly lame ride as Johnny Depp’s successful Pirates of the Caribbean ride and multi-film franchise. For me, this story much like above was a mish mash of other movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Tomb Raider as well as The Mummy with Rachel Weisz (and not Tom Cruise). Set in early 1900s, where women are not permitted equal status, there is Blunt in London seeking to get access to a piece of antiquity which is supposed to help in her quest. She seeks to find a fabled tree blossom that is able to heal all diseases found in a remote area of the Amazon River in Brazil. She then channels Indiana Jones and Lara Croft to obtain this piece heading down to South America. In South America she unexpectedly meets The Rock who is a river swindler, always in and out of troubling situations. He proves time and again to Blunt to be unreliable, manipulative and dishonest. She is there with her upper class, annoying brother (like the brother in The Mummy) and together they inexplicably unravel the mess that becomes the backstory to The Rock. By the end, the story has become such a mess that I have lost any interest in its conclusion. Do we really need to have Blunt go from capable, independent, successful adventurer to being more dependent, looking towards a man? I am not convinced that it is needed. This movie didn’t do well in the theatres (Covid or not) and when I saw the trailer I wasn’t interested. I am relieved that I saw this on a plane, not costing me anything, than in the theatre. Emily Blunt has more challenging roles in her future, like Sicario earlier in her career. Hopefully this one can be ignored and fairly quickly forgotten. Next!

January 24th, 2022

Fanny: The Right to Rock: Crave has this documentary that was recently released. It starts with three mostly grey-haired women in a convertible 60s era car and singing as they drive. We learn that these women were part of an all-woman rock band in the 60s. They were eventually called Fanny, with a drummer, two guitarists and a keyboard player. They were good players, notably with the bass and guitar player who were the front people for the band. They were on TV and released six albums. But fame and success was elusive.

Or this:

Hey Bulldog

The headwinds for this group was that they were ahead of their time. They had lesbians playing in the group. They were full on feminists at a time when Women Power was just emerging. The times were very different in the late 60s and early 70s. Despite having well known celebrities like David Bowie endorse them (and also date one of them), it was just not enough. Tours basically paid their expenses and lifestyle. But they didn’t get rich, even if some felt that they were the female Beatles. That was an overstatement according to history, but they didn’t have any hot pop songs. It’s one of the things about the music business that you don’t hear about very often. This band saw a glimpse of success, but it was fleeting and things just petered out. Now as these women enter their sixties, they are looking to recapture the magic, and gain back some notoriety. History has been more kind to them, and they want to see about ‘getting the band back together’. Things happen. It was a warm story and showed another side of the creative process. They wrote plenty of music. It can be catchy. I enjoyed this, and I was cheering for these women, despite the challenges that they faced previously and face today. Well worth your time.

Judy: A year later, I have finally taken the time to watch this movie about Judy Garland and some of her later performances. I am not a Renee Zellwegger fan. I have mentioned it before, and she won the Oscar for Best Actress for this performance. Other nominees included:

  • Cynthia Erivo. Harriet.
  • Scarlett Johansson. Marriage Story.
  • Saoirse Ronan. Little Women.
  • Charlize Theron. Bombshell.

Is this deserved? Not in my opinion. Cynthia Erivo was robbed really. But standing on its own, the performance is the best aspect of this tiring movie. It is slow. It treads along familiar ground with the aging child star, who is an addict, had a number of failed marriages and doesn’t really take care of her kids. Then it points the finger at Hollywood itself, and how they treated talent, but especially young female talent in the late 1930s. One wonders where the parents for young Judy would have been. A film exec/producer berates young Judy on the set of Wizard of Oz. The implication is that they are all to blame for how she has turned out. Part of this may be true, but where does individual responsibility come into play? I think of Judy Garland as “older” when she passed away, but in truth she died at the age of 47. That’s young. We are shown that she could be difficult, late, unreliable and unable to curtail her drinking even for a show. Very sad for a young darling of the silver screen. I can appreciate a performance even though I don’t necessarily like the actor. I am also on the side of believing that doing a biopic in many ways is easier than creating a character out of thin air and a script. There was footage of Judy Garland. One can mimic the way she spoke. Make up and dress can be the same. So much of the heavy lifting can be done. I cannot recommend.

The Crown: I re-watched The Crown recently and marveled at a number of things upon second viewing. I think universally the acting, sets and writing are excellent. Absolutely first rate. Clare Foy initially and Olivia Colman are both excellent portrayals of Queen Elizabeth herself. Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies playing Prince Phillip were excellent too. I feel that Season 3 showed much sympathy for Prince Charles. Played incredibly by Josh O’Connor. You see the young Prince as someone who has very little say in his life. Much of his goodwill however is lost in his relationship with Lady Diana Spencer. Diana was far younger than the Prince, and as Ann explains to the Queen in the show, Diana was more immature than her years and Charles was far beyond his biological age. Charles is a spoiled, self-centred young man, who feels slighted and bemoans his station because the powers that be deemed that Camilla was not worthy of being his wife. So they arranged for her to be married off. Add some political intrigue as Margaret Thatcher enters office as PM, played brilliantly by Gillian Anderson. In her performance we see who the real talent in the X-Files really was. But I digress. Events happen like the Falklands War with Argentina. And the avalanche in which Charles was caught in Switzerland. Not everything is entirely accurate, and it doesn’t pretend to be historically accurate. It is entertainment and it is very entertaining. I think we gain insight into the Royals, whether you like them or not. But they are well crafted stories and certainly are worthy of watching, even more than once.

January 17, 2022

The Worst Person in the World: This 2021 Norwegian film is a character study for a young woman searching for her direction. Played by Renate Reinsve, she is a refreshing, likeable, engaging young woman who in the role is a brilliant student who can’t seem to finish anything. She shows tremendous promise but then finds ways to justify taking an exit ramp. From looking to initially become a doctor, her thoughts and desires change. So too in her relationships. She meets an older young man, played effectively by Anders Danielsen Lie. They begin a relationship. They move in together and they start their lives, he as a comic book writer of an edgy counter culture character. But it is starting to get traction. She is working in a book store as a salesperson, nowhere reaching her potential. The story is set into twelve chapters, showing aspects of her life over a four year period. Things happen for her that given what she is shown in her character so far are not altogether unexpected. So why the title? There are moments in her where you can see from where the title comes. Not only does she act in her own self interest, she can be quite callous. I like both of the lead characters. It turns from a more light review of a young woman’s life to something much more serious than I expected. It meets this challenge head on and with quality performances, especially by Danielsen Lie.

Everyone brings different things to their viewing experience. For me, there are traits in me and that others have seen in me that are reflected in this young woman. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed this movie more than many I have seen in the past year. There aren’t many memorable films for this year, but I enjoyed this one. The Europeans I think make relationship movies that are more real. The characters aren’t caricatures looking for a simple laugh, and a predictable end game. Rather, they are more real with possible situations and exploring real feelings and emotion. I won’t get into the ending, but it wasn’t in any way what I was expecting. So if you can find this, it is worth checking out.

The Worst Person in the World - Clip 1 [ov st fr] - Cineuropa
The primary characters in the engaging Worst Person in the World

Stay Close: I finished watching this series. After finishing it I realized that I had also watched Safe, which was another Harlan Coben story. This was a who dunnit with its own twists and turns. The characters are colourful and somewhat predictable. Coben follows a fairly predictable path but it has some surprises. Although it took longer than it should in this series to reach the end, the last couple of episodes picked up speed. The ending made sense. There are moments where the main Irish detective has things happen that are laughably fortuitous. Things happen that you just have to accept. Is this memorable TV? Not really. But it was alright, and there were some good scenes.

Dune: I re-watched this movie, and as expected without having the focus on who was who and the underlying plot, I enjoyed it more. I think that the performances are very good. There are excellent scenes with remarkable visuals with these amazing spaceships. It is an epic film with bold vision. Director French Canadian Denis Villeneuve has put together a much better representation than done earlier by David Lynch. It reflects the source material well and is a great launching point for the rest of the story. This is truly a theatre film because of the visuals are so stunning. On the small screen it is effective but not to the same extent. I look forward to the Second installment and how he will show us some of the scenes that I am expecting as the worms become more important and Paul transforms into the leader of the Fremen people. This, much like Arrival which I have seen a few times since my in-theatre viewing, and Blade Runner 2049, are films that can reveal more upon multiple viewings which make it richer and deeper. So it is one that I was glad to spend some more time with.

Dune movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert

January 10th, 2022

Get Back: I finished Peter Jackson’s three episode multi-hour documentary of the Beatles working for the month of January 1969 in preparation for a new album, and potentially a movie or TV special. The structure is footage from each day as they strike off the days in the calendar towards a performance. There is music to be created. For me, the fascinating part is seeing how musical geniuses work. McCartney early on is the driving force and wants to get to work. He is working on most of the memorable tunes of what becomes the Let It Be album. John is working on I’ve Got A Feeling. I was amazed to see Paul at the piano and bringing forward Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road. John seemed fixated on Yoko earlier and lounged in whenever he pleased. George in the first episode quit quite suddenly, as he was feeling left out. He is a third wheel often with John and Paul crafting the songs they are working. But at the same time, he is considerable talent in his own right. In the third episode, we see Ringo working on very rudimentary Octopus’ Garden, and George adds tremendously with his suggestions on the structure. It seems the Beatles generally are music first and then the lyrics come after. As a viewer, we know these songs well, and seeing the alternate language and suggestions are fun to see. Songs are efforts over time and change from day to day. George can speak of struggling with a particular song for months. After three episodes some general observations: I think that the boys in the band do enjoy themselves, they have fun. John not only is able to break the ice with some good quips and jokes, he also later on focuses on valuing George and his songs and contribution. There was, at times, and underlying tension between Paul and George as George resents being told what to do. Paul is a perfectionist for his songs and he has much of it formed in his head. But he works hard and wants to be productive. The lack of focus with these guys is interesting. They don’t have a set agenda each day and often times are just jamming with various tunes (theirs or others). The introduction about the midpoint of keyboard player Billy Preston adds an energy to the rest of them, and some creative juices flow as a result. I am in awe of people who can just play. Sit down with an instrument and just play. The end of episode three has the famous outdoor concert on the rooftop of Apple Studios. I hadn’t realized that they only played about 5 or 6 tunes. A few like Get Back multiple times. So while the crowds gather for the lunchtime performance, there are bobbys who are gathering to shut it down due to complaints about the noise. Little did they realize they were interrupting the last performance in front of an audience that the Beatles will ever do. Perhaps had they known that, it wouldn’t have been so disruptive requiring a phone call to the police. The London police are polite, but they have no sense of the moment or history. This is must viewing for Beatles fans, and for casual fans of music and creative process.

Harry Potter Reunion Show: For those who are Harry Potter fans, you, you may be surprised to learn that the first instalment of this series was released twenty years ago! Feel old yet!? Young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were unknowns and were given lottery tickets for this series. It was a tremendous success. Along the way, the acted along side some of the Who’s Who of British theatre and film. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson and Ralph Fiennes among others. They learned, developed and grew before our eyes. This reunion brings them face to face with these actors, the directors and the sets. There are some fun stories. You learn that Emma Watson had some consideration about whether she wanted to carry on with it. The young actors obtain fame and wealth as the multi-billion dollar franchise. We learn that Tom Fenton (Draco Malfoy) and Emma Watson (Hermione) have a connection. And there are other little tidbits. This is on Crave. Funnily enough Emma Watson played Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but otherwise none of these primary young actors are doing what lesser lights like Robert Pattinson or Alfred Enoch have had done in other projects. Radcliffe has played some quirkier small roles but isn’t a box office draw it seems.

Stay Close: This is a new series from the UK on Netflix. I am halfway through the ten episodes for Stay Close. It is a murder mystery with characters living in a seaside town on the British coast. It seems to be a relatively quiet, uninhabited place. There is a strip bar (Vipers) which is the focal point. A woman is trying to restart her life, getting away from the stripper life after a creepy guy was stalking her. All the while men seem to be disappearing annually. The local detective is a colourful Irishman who was formerly married to his present police detective partner, and seems to have various other people he is involved with. Among them are the older female barkeep at Vipers. The story is from the book Harlan Coben, who is well known writer, unknown by me but familiar in the genre. The plots twists and turns back onto itself. There are of course inconsistencies and stupidity as characters do things that don’t make any sense. But if you ignore it, then it can be entertaining. If this is the type of story you like, then the British can do this pretty well.

January 3, 2022 (Happy New Year)

Happy New Year to one and all. As we here in Toronto head back into more restrictions from Covid and the ever-rapid spread of Omicron, it feels as though the optimism for early 2022 is dissipating from what we had in the Fall of 2021. The silver lining in a cloud of ugliness is that there seems to be less extreme symptoms and fewer hospitalizations. At least for those who have been vaccinated. The requirement for booster shots I can foresee coming in the very near future. But we can all hold our collective breaths and hope for the best.

Don’t Look Up: Recently released on Netflix, a viewer may wonder how so many mega-stars are part of this project. With the likes of Oscar winners Leo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and many others the impressive cast takes on the story directed by Adam McKay, who was involved in The Big Short. The story is really a tongue in cheek ridiculous commentary of life in 2021, about the end of the world. Scientists have observed a 9 km wide comet that is going to make a direct hit on Earth. This would be an extinction level event. The scientists are DiCaprio and Lawrence who then go through traditional channels (NASA, government) to try and get the message out. They are met with skepticism, questioning and a desire to put a positive spin on the story. The same occurs when the media is approached. The obvious metaphor for all of this is Global Warming. What is a scientific fact is then considered in the public eye to be conjecture and a conspiracy theory. In the US the camps looking to do something then get impacted by political and business interference. The story goes on. It’s a sad commentary on where we are today. Politicians waffle, the public considers everything to be one side versus another politically and a personal imposition on their individual rights. The rest of the world can’t seem to get itself organized as well. It is so tragic in a “fact” that is eventually capable of being seen from the ground, thus the campaign to “not look up” to see the actual comet as it hurtles towards Earth. Is it interesting? Yes. Like The Big Short, it signifies a failing in the social media, along with leaders who are incapable of leading, and a distrust in government, science and fellow humans which leaves us paralyzes to act; even when a collective action can actually save the planet. Worth a viewing when one understands the ultimate aim.

King Richard: Will Smith stars in this film about tennis’ Williams sisters rise into fame. The focus is on the father who was committed to his daughters becoming these stars in tennis when saw a professional tennis player earn $40,000 for a weekend of work. He made $52,000 at the time. He told his wife that it was time to make two new babies to play tennis. This is an over simplification of course. He was a determined (to say the least),committed father to these girls as he taught them dedication, attitude, and a goal-based approach to life to achieve what he predicted as their destinies, in much the same way that Earl Woods felt about his prodigy Tiger. Both men were right. Richard Williams was raised in Louisiana and took his life experiences in shaping his girls. He was raising the girls in Compton outside LA. Note that for this movie, Venus is more the focus as she was 14yo at the time. Serena was 12yo. Both girls look older. There are times when I wished that the Richard character would say less and listen more. It was especially true when having the coaches around the girls. But it was also in dealing with an endorsement deal for Venus. He turns out to be right, and had very good instincts but the message as delivered is harsh. Veins of truth run in the teachings. What is hinted at by the Mom, was that Richard had a previous wife and previous children in his life. But they are not a focus at all. Some take exception to that, since he basically abandoned them. As a movie, I feel as though much of it is sugar-coated. Venus and Serena are actually producers on the project. So there has to be a ring of truth, but maybe memories as a youngster fade as your success and fame grow. Certainly the ends justified the means in this case. It is worth a watch. I don’t see any awards, but that isn’t what all movies are striving for anyway.

The Book of Boba Fett (episode 1): I was skeptical from the beginning about this new series from Disney. As I think more on it, I don’t think that anything that Disney has added to the Star Wars universe has been very good, save Rogue One. The rest spin the Star Wars characters in ways that don’t work for me. This opening episode in a new series, following the success of The Mandalorian follows the original trilogy bounty hunter Boba Fett. We are introduced to Boba Fett who is tracking down Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back. He ultimately takes away a frozen Han to return him to Jabba the Hutt. He dies (let me underscore that!), he DIES, in one of the most lame ways in Return of the Jedi, off the Jabba’s Sail Barge. In a fight that Luke initiates, a Han Solo who can barely see from poor eye sight, turns and knocks the engine pack on Boba’s back and launches him into the barge, ultimately falling into the Sarlacc. The Sarlacc belches. That was the history. I wondered whether Disney would do a retrospective, and the back story to Boba Fett. This episode shows that they are looking to continue on the Fett story after the death of Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine. My eyes glaze over with the explanation that they use for continuing on with his story. It doesn’t improve either. I can still not imagine using the same actor that we were introduced to in 2002 (twenty years ago) in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. He (Temuera Morrison) may be well preserved in a Sylvester Stallone kind of way, but let’s be real. Perhaps this may get better, it really can’t be much worse, but so far Disney’s body of work doesn’t leave for much optimism. Sure The Mandalorian was okay, but there wasn’t much added. On some level, it is a universe, so perhaps we can expand on the characters to be explored further and the worlds to be worthy of further discussion.

December 27th, 2021

The Matrix Resurrections: When I was seeing a couple of the trailers for this sequel, 20 years after the original cutting edge first installment, I thought to myself that “I hope that it doesn’t suck”. The puzzling aspect was that in the original trilogy, which progressively got worse from one sequel to the next, ended with our Christ-like Neo figure is dramatically killed and enveloped by the computer city existence. Trinity had died earlier in the crash with Neo in the craft to get him to meet with the supreme being in charge of it all. I give away nothing in this sequel to state that up front. The mystery was for me, “how are they going to deal with bringing these two central characters back to life?” For me, the answer wasn’t very compelling. I won’t explain further for fear of spoiling the plot but it is confusing. I think it makes a lot of sense to have a refresher course in the previous three episodes. There are tidbits as they talked about this system of control for humans to act as a power supply for the machines, in short humans are enslaved to becomes batteries, with their minds occupied with the alternate reality for their minds. In many ways, it is all just a computer with programs and associated firewalls. I attended in the theatre on Wednesday. The theatre was about 55-60% full. The beginning is a replaying of the first Matrix movie, with a call being traced and a woman who looks a lot like Trinity being surrounded by heavily protected and armed SWAT-like police, as opposed to the ordinary police in the original. It is those inconsistencies which troubled me. So the suggestion is that one can watch a replay of the first episode and learn more as we are introduced to Morpheus, another confusing character since Lawrence Fishbourne is nowhere to be seen, but this computer-image look alike fills in for him. A very John Wick looking Neo with a beard and longer hair is questioning his reality as he works in a software company. Further details I will save. But it takes a while for things to get going, and for Neo to finally meet Trinity once again. We learn about their connection, in a way that for me is different than what was explained in the first trilogy. In the original, Neo was The One, the singular presence who would be the saviour for all humankind. He is the second coming of a man who could manipulate the matrix, and was the recruiter for people like Morpheus before he was killed. Morpheus had been searching for The One, as predicted by the Oracle, and we later learn is a glitch in the programming that creates such a creature periodically. If much of this sounds like jumbled spaghetti logic, that’s because it really is! This movie has sections in it where they speak a gobbleygook, techno babble that goes right over my head. I don’t design and make computers. I understand the basics to make it run, much like my car, but I can’t deconstruct one and rebuild it. There were audience members who walked out of this showing. I didn’t. I did find it long, and confusing. There were moments were I checked my watch and wondered “is this going to be resolved in the next minutes left?” It does. But sadly, it shows abilities in characters that we have never seen before, much like Star Wars decided to do. That becomes part of this Neo-Trinity connection. Neil Patrick Harris (aka Doogie Howser) explains much of this as the story unfolds. I do think that there was a new tangent created by the now female director and writer Lana Wachowski, who was part of the Wachowski Brothers team before her sex change. The Matrix is no longer a male dominated world, waiting for a male Messiah. For me it was often much ado about nothing. I will say that you need to know the first three movies pretty well to understand anything that is going on. When the French character shows up, you need to recognize him and understand how he has changed from episode 2. Further, the realities and separation of the two realities, the “real world” versus the created Matrix world (and which programming is being run in what partition) become muddied. So, this was confusing and disappointing. It often made little sense. There is too much shooting of people using automatic high powered guns. Maybe that is a first person shooter game impact on it, but it is difficult to watch. One wonders why the agents, and those that become agents are such terrible shots with such powerful weapons? But nevermind. There is a part of me that thinks the pile of money for Carrie Ann Moss and Keanu Reeves had to be pretty tall to make them do this one. I am not sure whether the film makers will ever recoup this money for actors and production. See this one at your own risk. I likely need to see it again to catch some of the subtleties. I will note that Alison liked it a lot better than I did.

Bad Santa: This 2003 movie was seen as a joke this Christmas Eve. It is not really a Christmas movie. Rather Billy Bob Thornton (Santa) is a jaded safe cracker who has teamed up with a black little person (Tony Cox), who plays an elf, for malls and then steals from them during the holiday shopping season. Thornton is constantly drinking and profane, much to the chagrin of the elf side kick, who really runs the show, and in truth is the best part in the movie. By chance, Santa meets up with a local structurally-challenged kid (aka chubby kid) who gets picked on while he lives with his Grandma (Cloris Leachman) while his Dad is in jail for embezzlement. Santa meets a woman who seems to have a Santa/Daddy sexual fetish who adds to the plot. In short, the two have some funny scenes interacting with children at the mall in a totally inappropriate manner, and then fighting with the store’s security manager who is figured out what they are planning, and wants a cut on the action. It was light entertainment. I laughed a couple of times. It was successful enough to merit a sequel, but that I haven’t watched and wouldn’t need to see these guys again travelling down a similar path. Fun to spend some time during the holidays but I wouldn’t seek it out.

P.S> Note that this was John Ritter’s last movie. Also Bernie Mack who plays the Security Manager didn’t live too many years past this release either.