May 23rd, 2022

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

1980 The Final Countdown with US Navy participation

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

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

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

Memorable opening sequence music

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


May 16th, 2022

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

2021 Pixar Film Luca

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

May 9th, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

May 2nd, 2022

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

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

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

April 25, 2022

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

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

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

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

April 18th, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 11 2022

First of all, a shout out to my brother who won the Oscars Pool that I created. I am thinking that he should be betting with his record. To put it into perspective, he was able to get 38 points, 4 more than my eldest son. He only missed ONE question for Best Cinematography out of 23 categories. Damn impressive. Alison was third with 27 points. I sadly in a tie for fourth with 16 points.

Death On The Nile: Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and she was a prolofic mystery, who-dun-it mystery writer. She wrote Murder on the Orient Express, among many others. Her writings have been put into TV series, like Agatha Christie Mysteries and others in BBC and elsewhere. Kenneth Branagh has brought Orient Express to the big screen back in 2017. I have not see it. Given this result, I likely won’t seek it out. This story is brought with another star studded cast. Among the stars include Wonder Woman Gal Gadot. Ridley Scott is involved for executive producing, while Branagh directs. The focal point is the French detective Hercule Poirot. Gal Gadot is the main star with a supporting cast that includes Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, and Tom Bateman. In this story Poirot is shown early as a young soldier at the front in 1918. He makes an observation which is game changing for his platoon during an offensive push. It basically gives the message that he is a smart and observant guy. Time moves forward and he observes a couple on the dancefloor being very connected (Hammer and Emma McKay) and she is a friend of Gadot who arrives with much fanfare and paparazzi at this club. Jazz music is playing as the couple danced provacatively. As an aside, the band was playing electric guitars in a time noted as 1937. I do believe that this is early for the use of the electric guitar and I would have expected to hear more big band music. Incidentally, it was in 1936 when was first used by jazz musician Charlie Christian. Anyway, the story went forward as the young Emma McKay encourages her fiance to dance with the dazzling Gadot character. It ends up resulting in the fiance dumping his paramour and opted instead to marry the Gadot character. They decide to have a honeymoon on the Nile in a grandiose side-wheel boat. All of this, of course, in CGI that makes this look more like a TV movie than ready for the big screen. The underlying theme in this episode is people will do a lot for love. People start to get knocked off in mysterious circumstances. Now the survivors turn to Poirot to provide some insight into the murders. Was I entertained? Somewhat. It wasn’t overly convincing. I will confess to having some ideas on the true murderer. The end wasn’t a surprise. Can I recommend this? Not really.

Spiderman: No Way Home: I will confess that I am not a superhero guy, which is no surprise to those who know me and read these blog entries. Further, I am not a spiderman guy at all. I feel as though it has been overdone. Before we allow one set of movies to sink in, then another reboot occured. From Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst, to the Andrew Garfield iteration and now Tom Holland. Tom Holland brought Spiderman into the Iron Man, and the Avengers universe. Adding in a character like Doctor Strange, adds in another dimension, with multiple timelines. And by timelines we have the villians from previous Spiderman films who don’t recognize the Tom Holland character who need to be put back into their own times. Doc Oct is there, along with Wilem Dafoe as The Green Goblin, and Sand Man etc. It was confusing. Returning a villain to his version of the Spiderman world is just odd. I won’t delve into more of the plot, but this was THE movie in the theatres last year. It grossed insane amounts of money and that confuses me. Not every movie needs to be an Oscar contender. Hell movies like the recently reviewed Fast & Furious are prime examples of movies that are just meant to entertain. This isn’t for me. Sure Tom Holland has personality, and he is engaging as a Spiderman. There are new gadgets that Spiderman can be equipped with, which was entirely new. I don’t know the comics. I don’t know the backstory and therefore I feel that it is difficult to comment further. Will there be more of these? Let’s not kid ourslves, there will be plenty of these movies to come. I know that I don’t need to pay to see these in the theatre, but if they are on a free streaming service then I can check them out.

Julia: This is a new series from HBO Max. For me, my limited knowledge of Julia Child was Meryl Streep as Julia in Julie & Julia with Amy Adams. I own the book Mastering The Art of French Cooking. After watching that movie I was moved to make Boeuf Bourginon.

Sarah Lancashire embodies Julia Child. I have watched the first two episodes and I think that she is excellent. Julia Child was passionate about her husband, France, and her food. These shows are all about the food really. This show focuses on the time after the cook book was released, her husband Paul has retired from the diplomatic service and she is looking to establish herself as a TV personality. In episode one, we see David Hyde Pierce playing Paul not really being overly supportive of Julia’s idea of starting a new career into TV. We take TV for granted. Back in her day, however, she didn’t own a TV, and there was skepticism over whether TV would last. This is shocking to my generation and later. But also this was the early days of “Public Television”. Those who grovel for money shamelessly in the Membership drives. Julia had the ambition to think that she could diversify the way that Amercian housewives are going to cook in the household. Back in the day of Swanson frozen dinners, this was revolutionary, along with the thoughts of using real herbs. Julia was passionate about having recipes that had everyday ingredients in the average grocery store. To say that she was a main contributor in the way that we eat today wouldn’t be overstating it. I have finished two episodes and look forward to more. David Hype Pierce isn’t as supportive to Julia as the Stanley Tucci version of Paul in Julie & Julia. I like the idea of understanding in putting together a 30 minute show on making a lengthy dish like Coq au Vin. It looks delicious. Julia Child was a visionary, and a trail blazer in which today’s networks like Food Network and all its stars all can thank her. Remember that her times were more all about the men, and the women were supporting cast members only. Well worth the view.

The Ultimatum: this new Netflix series comes from the same team, Nick Lachey and his wife, who brought forth Love is Blind. Love is Blind was the where singles never laid eyes on the other person, and had to propose to them before laying eyes on them. They spoke to each other in dates through an opaque glass. It was preposterous and mind candy really. In this series there are six Austin Texas based couples where one of the parties wants to force the other party to marry them. They have come to this show to have a marry up or walk away discussion. The kicker in this is that you do this in front of the other person that you want to marry. In this show, they then choose another of those people in the couples to live with for three weeks! Oh and they all live in the same building and then have conversations with the other members of their sex on (Girls Night Out and Boys Night). It is remarkable and scary at the same time. These 20s age people are dealing with their own relationships and thinking that they to get married straight away and have kids. It is a train wreck. But it is crazy fun to watch. After three weeks with the “New Accelerated Marriage” then they are to return to their original partner. Oh what fun! If these shows aren’t your thing, stay away. If you want tears and drama, this is for you.

April 4th, 2022

Wishful Drinking: Carrie Fisher has done a number of one person shows. In 2010, at 54yo, and 6 years before her untimely death, she wrote and starred in this play/documentary. It was more of a documentary and she walked through her life history and that of her parents. Being born to famous people, and for her this was the pinnacle of fame with Debbie Reynolds, one of the biggest Hollywood stars and Eddie Fisher, a smooth singer and actor in his own right, the spotlight was firmly on them. Especially shortly after Debbie gave birth to their son, that Eddie became closer and closer to good friend, Elizabeth Taylor. After her husband’s, Mike Todd’s early death at the age of 50 in a plane crash. Taylor married eight times, later dumps Eddie for the charismatic Richard Burton, who she later divorced and re-married (and then divorced)! It is complicated chart or relationships that Carrie tries to explain with some humour. Carrie Fisher owns her faults, and readily admits to the drug and alcohol abuse. She knows everyone it seems in Hollywood, and in the New York scene. Not only from her parents but also her own career with Star Wars and all those people (George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill etc). Heck, Meryl Streep played her in Postcards From The Edge, her story. This is entertaining and sheds some light, although filtered, into the life of a young person thrown so early into the spotlight. Mom, Debbie Reynolds, had Carrie on stage and performing with her when she was very young. It shows in a way that isn’t surprising to anyone, that money and fame don’t buy happiness. Carrie had her demons and they took over her life a number of times. She was a good writer, and had a sarcastic wit. This is presently on Crave, and it is surprising to realize that she has already been gone for 5 years. Time when Covid has been around has simply stood still. When one thinks back, you almost have to add two years to any estimation when something happened.

The Martian: I re-watched this Ridley Scott film starring Matt Damon this past week, and once enjoyed thoroughly enjoyed it. This was released in 2015, but as noted above it doesn’t feel that long ago. I remember I liked the movie so much that I went out and bought and read the book. It also has the same humour in it as the films, and goes into more detail into a few other things for the character left on Mars by mistake. It is a worthwhile read. This is a very good cast, in an interesting story, with plenty of space and science for those not looking for Star Wars or Aliens. Rather it explores a scenario which could occur one day as humans explore other worlds and moons more regularly. There is a message of global cooperation which is sorely needed in times of war and conflict/sanctions. I really like the humour and how it is not all seriousness and problem solving. I think it also ingenious to show the thought process of how one works the problem to then move on to the next rather than being overcome with the gravity of a situation in its entirety (being on a planet with no communications, limited food and equipment). It would be easy to give up. Character and the human condition shows how we don’t go down without a fight.

CODA: I also re-watched the 2022 Best Picture CODA, and the Best Supporting Actor winner. I had texted Alison about doing so and she reflected that she thinks that this movie can be one like The Green Mile, Or Shawshank or Ferris Bueller that no matter how many times you have seen it, you will pause when you see it on a channel listing. I would agree with that. I liked this again on second viewing. I liked better seeing the subtitles from the beginning, as I hadn’t had them on my first viewing until some minutes into it. I like the growth of the family as a unit and individually. Each of them has to stretch and address their place in the family and how they can interact with each other and the community. Parents learn that children are not clones of themselves, and have their own wishes and aspirations and dreams. These dreams don’t always coincide with the parents had thought. We learn that a young woman, finishing up high school who thought she was destined on the career of fisherman on her Dad’s boat, had a new world opened to her because she had a skill than no one else in her family had. This skill was encouraged by the memorable teacher Berrrrrr-nardo but also because of her interest in a young man in her class, who joined the Choir.

Dad is a hard man, who has isolated himself and doesn’t like people generally. Not his fellow fisherman, and not the town. He loves his wife and his family deeply. The emotional hook for the film for me can be seen with his relationship with his daughter. I also liked how the tie in between the early question from the music teacher of “how does singing make you feel?” is answered then and later not through words, but sign.

If you haven’t seen this yet, seek it out. Maybe bring a tissue along too. Also as the Grammy’s last night celebrated Canadian singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell, you can feel the emotion of her song “Both Sides Now”. Our young actress has an excellent voice, and she is very good in this role. You care about her, and her family.

March 28 2022

Oscars 2022: So the Oscars were last night and no one who watched from the beginning can complain that it was a boring affair. For those of you who didn’t watch, there was an altercation between Best Actor Will Smith and comedien Chris Rock on stage during the performance. Chris Rock was making a joke about GI Jane and Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith about her shaved head, and Will Smith laughed at first and then reversed and took exception going onstage, slapping with an open hand Rock and then telling Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his act.

Will Smith initially laughs and then slaps Chris Rock

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether this was put on or whether it was real. And for those who stayed to watch the rambling tearful acceptance speech from Smith himself when he won for Best Actor, you can decide. For an Award show that has lost viewership in droves, and has been called irrelevant, this type of stunt would not be beyond Hollywood! A couple of questions though: would Smith have done the same thing if one of the MCs like Amy Schumer or Wanda Sykes had done the same thing? What message about violence in our society are we giving when two men have to resort to physical violence to look to resolve their differences. For a comedian himself, Smith doesn’t have much of a sense of humour. It has been well publicized his marital issues at home. This seems to be much ado about nothing. From the still shot above, it would appear that Rock still had a smile on his face after it was slapped.

As for the rest of the night it had a few surprises in the selections. Do I think that CODA was the best film of the year? In a weak year when not much of substance was released, this was a feel-good story well told, but no I don’t. I think the movie that will be remembered from this year will be Dune. Still, perhaps the voters feel that we need more movies like CODA which is fair. Will Smith wins for Best Actor, and from the fireworks earlier in the night perhaps some voters might have wanted to change their votes. For me, I think that Andrew Garfield was robbed in his triple threat role in Tick, Tick, BOOM! Talk about taking a role outside your comfort zone, Garfield claimed to never be a singer. He was amazing. Jessica Chastain wins for portraying Tammy Faye Bakker in an award that for me was for her body of work rather than this particular role. Chastain has been doing quality work on many projects for years. She is one of the actors that I will seek out in projects. The Oscar for her work and efforts, especially in obtaining gender pay equality and having more positive roles for females in films is commendable. She worked on getting Tammy Faye made for over a decade. She made it happen, and it won two Oscars (for her and makeup). Well done Jess! Dune won many of the technical awards, and it shows that the time spent by Denis Villeneuve on making his epic look amazing was well spent. I cannot agree with Best Director in Jane Campion, but then again I didn’t like her movie, even a little bit. So I think that Kenneth Branuagh deserved this award for Belfast, and it was also my selection for Best Picture. It was good to see a much thinner Francis Ford Coppola on stage with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro to celebrate 50 years since The Godfather was released. It is a masterpiece and was followed up with a sequel that rivals any sequel as the best of its kind. Also on stage we had John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Samuel L Jackson who allowed Will Smith to use up all the profanity allowed on the forecast, but came together 28 years since Pulp Fiction was released. The effort looked forced I have to admit with the dancing, and the opening of the suitcase. Here’s hoping that the coming year has more theatre-worthy films that have more quality performances and memorable stories.

Oscar Short Films: Alison was kind enough to send along this link for me to find the Oscar short films. I did see a few of them including Robin, Robin which was cute, The Queen of Basketball, which was eye opening, and sadly reaffirmed what Cheryl Miller showed us all in the lack of pro basketball options for women in Women of Troy and the USC team there. A fine documentary.

I will say I also watched Audible, which was interesting as a young deaf football player deals with the death of a close friend and closing out his high school playing days. He is from a hearing family. So he understands the isolation and loneliness that CODA speaks about. Affairs of the Art was simply weird. There are some good drawings, but the content was strikingly different. Three Songs for Benazir was only 20 mins with dubbed in English, set in Afghanistan. It shows me just how little I know about this country and that part of the world. We are so fortunate that we have a safe, stable and secure country in which to grow and have life choices. For this young man, married and with a pregnant wife with a grade 3 education, he has the choice of joining the army or working the opium fields. Nasty. Short films generally can be hit and miss, and I would like to think that the Oscars find more hits than misses. It seems the only time of the year I will find such films is for the Oscars or in September at TIFF.

Fast and the Furious 9: Amazingly and remarkably there have been nine of these movies made in this franchise. From humble beginnings on the streets of LA where Paul Walker was asked to infiltrate a group of teens street racing, this has grown into a worldwide undertaking. It seems that the stunts and stories have become almost comical, to the point that the actors themselves call it out in the movie. “We have gone on all these crazy missions, and we don’t have a scratch on us. What does it say about us?” No kidding! There are stunts with cars in this movie that are just simply too ridiculous to believe. One involves using a bridge rope to pendulum a car from one side of a cliff to another. The other involves a Fiero going someplace that a car would not and should not ever go, or try to go. But this is really the point in many ways. They have jumped, drifted, raced, crashed a car in every way possible in this series and so what can possibly be next? I cannot recommend this. It is too Ludicrous (pun intended) to be entertaining. Thank goodness that I didn’t need to pay for it.

Not a scratch!!

Oscars Pool Link 2022

As I have done in the past, I am running an Oscar pick pool. Best Picture nominees include: “Belfast”; “CODA”; “Don’t Look Up”; “Drive My Car”; “Dune”; “King Richard”; “Licorice Pizza”; “Nightmare Alley”; “The Power of the Dog”; “West Side Story.”

I have not seen only Drive My Car, which will be remedied this week.

Oscars are on Sunday

Please feel free to participate and share! Best of luck to those involved. Alison and my brother have done very well in past years.