January 30th, 2023

Oscar nominations were just announced this past week on Tuesday. We learned that there are ten nominees for Best Picture. I, after this week, have seen all the nominees except for Women Talking. There were some notable stubs, as there always are for these awards. James Cameron was not nominated for Best Director. Cameron’s films use cutting edge technology and Avatar in particular was visually stunning. His ability to get these images on screen is quite remarkable. Tom Cruise was not nominated for Top Gun Maverick. Viola Davis was not nominated for Best Actress in Woman King. Everything Everywhere All At Once was nominated for the most awards with 11, and is reviewed by me below. The awards will be on March 12th!

Troll: This was released last year on Netflix. It is a Norwegian/European King Kong really if I had to do a comparison. It was actually decently done and I didn’t hate it. I watched in the original Norwegian with English subtitles. At it’s core, it is a father and daughter story with the surrounding issue of fairy tales and dealing with the unknown. It begins with a father and a young daughter, named Nora, looking at a mountain in Norway. The father implores the daughter that she “must believe” before she can see the images of the trolls in the mountain face. Nora grows and becomes a paleantologist searching for dinosaurs in the Norwegian swamp land, low country. There has been an incident at a nearby mine where they want to put a train, and they need some expert help with what has occurred. The Prime Minister requests someone with Nora’s skills.

Nora is no nonsense and provides straightforward, if unbelievable insight into the situation unfolding. Played by Ine Marie Wilmann she is effective. Part of the research into dealing with the phenomenon is for Nora to go back to her father, who is regarded as mentally challenged with his obsession with fantasy and fairy tales. They are estranged. But he explains more and they venture off together with the military and PM’s office to better understand what is taking place. Each of the actors is effective and believable in their roles. None are mainstream Hollywood, at least North American. Ultimately we see this massive troll, who is a mix between a Lord of the Rings Ent, covered in moss and rock and King Kong with a tail or Godzilla if you will. The troll seems to just get angrier at conventional weapons and the team looks then to the fairy tales about the trolls. The troll seems to be moving towards Oslo, the Capital, and the humans need to figure out what to do. The plot continues. Is this believable? Of course not. But it is escapism with a message. I enjoyed this and if you are wondering what you can watch that isn’t overly violent, and won’t tax your mental capacity too much, you can do worse than looking into this.

Everything Everywhere All At Once: If you want to tax yourself with looking to unravel a movie and its plot, look no further than this Michelle Yeoh, most Oscar nominated film of the year. Where to start? Yeoh plays a married middle aged woman, with a teenage daughter and an older father running a laundromat which is being audited by the IRS. It’s not going so well with the wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis (almost unrecognizable) playing the IRS agent.

What starts as a pretty standard story with the family and its struggles amongst its members, turns into more of an adventure on different existential plains quickly. Not too unsurprisingly, we learn that frumpy, sad, downtrodden Yeoh, is leading a variety of different lives in these different plains that she gets to morph into from time to time. She wears a headset which seems to allow her this power to flip from one to the other, while still continuing in her drab current existence. She is married to Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan, which older viewers will be interested to hear was the annoying young Asian boy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Yea, THAT guy!!

Without going too much further into the plot, because to explain it is to suggest that I fully understand it, it contines to tell the story of Yeoh’s character and how she is going to address her situation. I don’t fully understand all of it, and the sets that were brought forward to the viewer. What I will say that it is a very complex way of showing that this woman has issues with her family; all of them. From daughter, to husband, to father, to her IRS auditor, she has challenges with each of them. Some are funny. Some are fun. Some are more touching and others just strange (like a world consisting of people with fingers that are long floppy weiners! (Yea, I KNOW!). What layers get added on to the otherwise bland existence in the present plain include martial arts for which Yeoh has always been known and excellent, but also strange and bizarre. It all adds up to a visually stunning piece with different sets/ plains which are a wonder to someone’s imagination. I think that the acting nominations given here to all principal members of this cast are completely deserved. They each need to embody someone very different than their main character, while still remaining recognizable. They do it believably and with all the campy fun attached to it. Is this the Best Picture? Not sure. It is escapism with a message, certainly a different message than Troll above. I do think that the average movie goer, or my Mom trying to watch at home, wouldn’t have the patience for it. It demands quite a bit from the audience, and many simply don’t want to work that hard for it. We will see, as the Academy can like films like this with examples like Birdman, or The Artist.

Bardo False Chronicle and A Handful of Truths: This was another Best Picture nominee that I noted was already on Netflix. It certainly did not get a lot of fanfare in being listed there. After seeing this and Everything Everywhere, I am now down to only one movie for Best Picture that I haven’t seen which is Women Talking.

Speaking about Birdman, this movie is also from the same Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Set in Mexico, the Mexican director has a story that delves more deeply into the history of Mexico and its people, it’s relationship to the US, all through the story of this well-known filmmaker and his family. Daniel Gimenez Cacho, unknown to me, plays Silverio Gacho. He is a Mexican national, who makes films and lives in both Mexico and LA in the US. He has a wife and kids. He is about to get an award for his more recent film. Through all of the cast members we see and explore his experiences with being a Mexican man, who desired to leave Mexico, and who creates some satire/scathing commentary about his homeland. Some of his friends resent him for it. His family finds him focused too much on his work and not with the people who should matter most to him.

I have to admit that much like Everything Everywhere, I didn’t completely follow this plotline. It manages to jump all over the place. It is visually stunning. Some of the set design and production design is just incredible. The time and effort that would have gone in to set up these shots would have been remarkable as seen below.

What I do know is that I don’t know a lot of Mexican history. There is a sequence with a discussion with the explorer Cortez which is remarkable. Remarkable because it speaks to a country that seems to shun the person who “discovered” it, unlike Columbus in the US. Overall this is about this man’s life but deals with dreams and death and being displaced along with who can really claim to be a “native” of anywhere? What is a National? There are some confusing scenes, which seem out of place. There are dream sequences that are dropped in with different effectiveness for me. The final act was quite surprising and amazing to me. I liked this, and I say that hesitantly because I am not sure that I fully understood it. It’s hard to recommend and like what you don’t fully understand. But movies are there to entertain, but also to inform and shed light on things that the audience may not be aware. I think that this movie can do all of those things. Once again, like Everything Everywhere it demands much on its audience. It is more serious and less campy fun, but that doesn’t take away from it. Well worth watching and seeing how it can do for the Oscars.

January 23, 2023

One Pale Blue Eye: Netflix just dropped this movie in the past week or so, starring Christian Bale, who I quite like from a number of his past roles. As an aside about Bale, he seems to be getting the Marbles-in-the-Mouth affliction that has also infected Jeff Bridges long ago. Seems that their tongues are too big for their mouths. Bale has had this growing for a number of years. It can be distracting. But I digress. This movie also has an almost unrecognizable Robert Duvall and the quality of Gillian Anderson.

Set in early 1800s in the American colonies it focuses on a military academy for boys. The Academy’s second-in-command Colonel has ridden out to meet up with the Bale character, a widowed detective living alone after his daughter has left recently. He is enlisted to investigate a cadet who was found hanged on the nearby grounds. This invitation wasn’t an option, but a command. Upon arrival Bale learns that the hanged cadet also had his heart removed in a surgical manner. The plot thickens. It seems to be more of a ritualistic killing. Bale and the Colonel conduct examinations for the young deceased cadet. Enlisted to help is a young, penguin-like looking cadet named Edgar Allan Poe (picture above). Together he and Bale start putting together the clues and arrive at a motive. Then another killing takes place. Things continue at a slow pace, and ultimately there is a conclusion for which I was neither surprised nor interested.

The trouble with this is that there is a terrible waste of talent. It is a very good cast. But the story that they have to work with is weak, and has been done before. Why, for example, does the experienced detective always saddled with a vice (here drink) that is mentioned but is later ignored throughout. Why is Edgar Allan Poe involved in this at all? Why him, instead of any other random cadet? Do we get any insight into this awkward young man, who is an outcast but still a talent with words, notably poetry. In some way it takes away some of the slow building tension that the real Poe lived to be 40 years old. Finally do they manage to get the worst performance of Gillian Anderson’s professional life? I really like Anderson, and have felt that she was the real talent in X-Files. She has gone on to to do some really great work. Notably last season of the Crown she played Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher brilliant, finding sympathy for a complex woman with a hard exterior. Here, oh what a mess with her tyrade at the dinner table which adds little to her character. Add this movie to yet another made during COVID that doesn’t intrigue nor really entertain.

Nope: Jordan Peele’s Nope is a difficult film to pin down. I came into it from just seeing the movie poster and marketing that this was an alien invasion movie. From the perspective it shares some similarities with 2002’s Signs, with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix (“swing away Merrill”), it definitely is! But it’s also quite different. On a secluded California horse farm is OJ and and his sister Emerald, who recently lost their father in a bizarre accident while he was tending to a horse. The family rents the horses to Hollywood productions. A series of strange events occur which are also reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with power going in and out, including battery operated cellphones. Lights flash, things get dark and quiet and there is a presence felt. In the distance at times they think they see a ship of some sort. Looking to investigate further, they go to the local Fry’s Electronic Store (Canadians think Best Buy) to set up some cameras to try and film these strange events. They see this as a key to fame and fortune to finally accurately document the existence of UFOs and extra-terrestrials. The young cashier is interested in their story and gets more involved than you might expect.

Together these three try to explore this strange phenomenon. There are some predictable attempts to try and shock while creating tension. It isn’t a scary movie. Nor is it a gross out, which many of these movies can be these days. It has some genuinely funny momentsin which principally OJ voices what everyone in the audience is thinking. At the same time he also acts in ways that I can’t imagine that anyone would where in a barn he takes out his phone for picture rather than run like crazy. Sister played by Keke Palmer is so very annoying in virtually every scene. Maybe that was the point, but her constant distraction takes away from the overall enjoyment. I will say that I think that there are some stunning visuals involved. One which takes place in the neighbouring amusement park provides a fascinating perspective. It informs and shocks at the same time. There are some practical realities which I won’t delve into further because it would be more of a spoiler than is merited. But it’s something that when I pondered it after viewing, it didn’t make a whole helluva sense in dealing with the vastness and vacuum of space. Of all the Jordan Peele movies, I have to admit to liking Black Klansman the most. His Get Out, also starring Daniel Kaluuya, I just didn’t quite understand all the hype that was sent its way. Kaluuya is a presence and has done some very good roles. It had some moments, but it wasn’t what I was expecting and the sci fi aspects were average overall.

George and Tammy: This series on Showtime stars the compelling Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon as the country music icons. It is six episodes long and details the turbulent relationship between the main characters, two people who fate brought together but they just couldn’t overcome the challenges that their careers and their vices brought to them. Jones was a living tornado who reeked trouble everywhere he went. His battles with drugs and alcohol were legendary along with his violent temper. He was an angry drunk. He lashed out, and the narcissist that he was, thought that everything revolved around him. It seemed that the press and those around him, even when he tried to get sober, wanted to see that drunk George and see just what he would do. How much more outrageous he could be! Sad that there weren’t some friends or handlers who could try and steer him away from those temptations. He suffered as a result.

I tried to like this. At every turn it seemed the main characters were making poor choices. George especially was just such an unlikeable man, who despite his obvious love for Tammy Wynette, he just couldn’t imagine doing something for her, or treating her as she deserved. He would profess his love, but then the demons of addiction would settle in and possess him.

This is yet another tale of how fame and fortune cannot make up for the hurt and loss from a person’s life. It can mask it, and one from the outside can think the person “has everything” but in truth they are missing peace and peace of mind. It seems here, like with many of these performers, that the stage was their refuge with everyday life being the daunting challenge. I think that both Chastain and Shannon sang their own songs here, but they aren’t George Jones nor Tammy Wynette. However much they tried. So I cannot recommend this, but certainly if you are fan of country music and wanted to see a little bit about these two interacted, I did learn a few things. Watching this and then something like the Shania Twain documentary, you see how the modern country scene is very different than it was then.

January 16th, 2023

This week’s post was delayed since I was on a plan returning from BC. So worth it!

Willow: I had noted through commercials that Disney+ was streaming a new series called Willow.   A sequel to the original film from Lucas Film back in 1988, directed by Ron Howard. 

It followed Return of the Jedi but preceded Lord of the Rings (not a Lucas project but rather Peter Jackson) which for me is the closest that it resembles.   Why?  It involves a journey with the leader who is vertically challenged.  I am hard pressed to think of another movie in which so many little people are used.   Lucas himself used many as Ewoks in Star Wars.   The Wizard of Oz way back in the day with the Munchkins.  But the story also borrows from the New Testament with Herod and Jesus.  There is a female baby born that was foretold in ancient stories to replace the existing Queen.   The Queen orders all newborn female children to be killed.  A determined servant escapes the city and sets the child upon a river to the unknown.   Hearing the news of the escape, the Queen sends her daughter to fulfill her wishes, she is played Joanne Whaley.
Our hero Willow (played both times by Warwick Davis) is the father of two young children himself with wife in the story, and his children find the babe in the river and then he takes a reluctant liking to the infant and is put in charge by a town council with returning her to safety. 

He is joined by a small band of his fellow villagers.   Along the way they run into a man encased in a cage hung from a tree.  Played by Val Kilmer, he is a scoundrel seemingly a sword for hire.  Of note this is the movie that Kilmer meets Joanne Whaley and they later marry in real life.   

My memories of this movie were better than the second viewing.  Once again it seems that George Lucas is challenged with writing any type of believable romantic aspect in a story.  It was Lucas’ story, but he didn’t write the screenplay. It is evident on any viewing where that the story falls down on this front.  Elsewhere Lucas and Howard have more success for the love of the town which is very similar to the Shire.   A couple of the challenges for me include: the Queen who is the picture of evil, and yet takes so long to complete her ultimate task that she should be a Bond villain.   Or at least Dr Evil in shockingly allowing a small band to try and infiltrate what would seem to be an impregnable castle.   Also, the trolls are silly with a crude early use of CGI that was not effective.  Then the monster in castle near the end also does not hold up well to today’s technology unlike Return of the Jedi with the Rancor in Jabba’s palace which was very similar in use of technology.   
George Lucas did look to branch out in new ways post Star Wars with this and movies like Labryinth but the money of Star Wars just was too tempting it would seem and thus began the prequels totally financed by Lucas.  Of course he was involved with a little project too called Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark that had some modest success itself!!  Having seen this once again I don’t feel the need to watch the series.  I think Disney+ has shown itself to have less than a stellar record in creating series based upon earlier material.   

January 9th, 2023

The Menu: As I thought about watching this, I was thinking that this could be a good companion piece to Glass Onion as a who-dunnit, murder mystery. I knew very little about, but had seen a couple of the commercials so it was not much to go on. The premise is simple enough, a world reknowned chef, played by Ralph Fiennes, invites an exclusive number of guest to his remote island restuarant that is extremely expensive. Once at the restaurant, he and his staff prepare, serve and provide commentary on the course that the guests are about to eat. Much like Glass Onion, you don’t know the make up and background of those that were invited. We are initially introduced to Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult and his date Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. She, much like Emma Stone, has an odd face where it appears as though her eyes are far too far apart.

We learn as they rush to get to the boat and then check in, that Margot was not an invited guest. She was a reaplcement guest for Tyler. Tyler is enamoured with Chef Slovik, being at the pinnacle of the culinary game which he reveres. He has watched all the shows about cooking like Chef’s Table and knows all the insider lingo. The story progresses and introduces us to more of the guests, including a celebrity with his date, three Wall Street-like dudes and an older couple. Seems husband might actually know Margot. The plot thickens.

For me, at the conclusion I thought to myself, “is this it?” As a satire/dark comedy it is over the top, as I suppose that it needs to be. The social commentary about today, with the general fixation on these chefs, like Gordon Ramsey or Guy Fieri, who have turned their work into celebrity and restaurants is interesting. Also is the idea that every one of us can become reviewers of their craft, their art, which requires more than just the ability to amass a number of well known ingrediants. In many ways, what I do here is the same thing; I can’t make a movie, but I have eyes and I can make commentary on the craft of a director and the team that put images on celluloid and show it to the public. My take on food is that I don’t need to eat art. I would prefer to feel satisfied and enjoy what I taste. I want to leave a restaurant feeling satisfied, and not needing to fill myself up with a burger when it’s done. Not everyone shares in my attitude clearly. Many of those types, including the food critic, is explored in more detail. Each course gets to be a little more over the top. Of course it becomes ridiculous like satire can become. This is where it departs too from Glass Onion. A statement is made about the evening and how it will unfold which surprises the guests, as it rightfully should. In many ways it reminds me of my reaction in Banshees of Inisherin with Colm’s response in dealing with Padraic’s actions. Banshees is also set on an island, just like Glass Onion. In the end, I thought that it was ridiculous. Fiennes plays creepy, reserved with an inner turmoil/anger very well. He has his own agenda, but the end result isn’t satisfying for me.

Triangle of Sadness: For most viewers, the only recognizable star in this movie is Woody Harrelson. This is an interesting character study of a relationship, and particularly the man in the relationship (Carl, played by Harris Dickinson) along with a more general exploration about the nature of mankind. Separated into chapters, in the same way as The Menu is, there are two young pretty people, we should say that as they are both models, and there is an in depth discussion about the picking up of the cheque from a restaurant. Carl’s girlfriend is named Yaya apparently makes more money than Carl does but simply says a distracted “thanks” as she ignores the fact that the bill arrives to the table. In the conclusion of the chat, Carl says that he wants to avoid becoming stereotypical roles in a relationship and wants to be “partners and best friends”.

Carl and Yaya head onto a Yacht, with numerous other passengers. They are “influencers” and were offered this cruise for free in return for social media exposure. They interact with other passengers. They are part of a privileged group on board, much in the same way as the guests in The Menu. There are guests and there are staff who are meant to “do whatever the guests” would like them to do. The staff of course are looking for tips in exchange for their devoted services. Class is definitely an aspect of the cruise. The Captain is played by Woody Harrelson, and he isn’t exactly the typical Captain. He is generally drunk, and is difficult to raise from his room by the staff. There is a Captain’s dinner, although it is delayed because one of the passengers has decided that the staff each deserve to have a swim in the ocean. And what the passengers want, the staff complies, no matter the disruption to the scheduled events for everyone.

There are some genuinely funny moments in this movie. Some might be unintentional, but I laughed anyway. Likely my warped sense of humour but suffice it to say that the cruise ends in a fashion that is quite unexpected. The Captain has drunkenly debated socialist/communist dogma contrary to capitalism. The Captain is a socialist, believing that the rich should pay their fair share of taxes while the passenger is a rich man who has built himself up from literally selling shit/manure. The third act sees the dynamic of the group turned upside down. The existing class structure is changed based upon the skills that each individual brings to the group. No longer is wealth the measuring stick for power and decision making. This circles back to the earlier discussion with Carl and Yaya who are now adjusting to the updated hierarchy in the group. The role reversal is fun to see as it plays itself out. Carl and Yaya don’t exactly support one another in the equal partnership that Carl was earlier on contemplating. Carl’s actions belie his views and he speaks out of two sides of his face.

I liked this movie. I laughed, it made me think, and there were some situations that were unexpected. Unlike The Menu which didn’t resonate with me as well, I was able to be entertained with the observations of mankind, but also about gender roles. How in a group where skills dictate your worth, the person who has those skills can take advantage of those that are beneficiaries of the services. When that updated hierarchy is challenged in some way, people act in ways that you as the viewer, can sadly anticipate. Needless to say, however much even those who profess to be looking out for the interests of all collectively, they can still be quite selfish in protecting their own particular station in the class system. Even though there are similarities between these two movies this week, and I do think that they are good companion pieces, I would recommend Triangle of Sadness before The Menu.

January 2nd, 2023 (Happy New Year)

The Whale: I had seen the coverage from one of the film festivals where Brendan Fraser in attendance at the cinema was given a rousing 10+ minute standing ovation for his performance in this stage play turned into a film. I was intrigued by this film directed by Darren Aronofsky. It has a simple setting and only a few characters which explain the treatment on the live stage. This is not an uplifting film, but far more down telling the tale of this middle aged man who is slowly but surely ending his life one bite at a time. All the characters involved in some have an element of self-loathing, shame and anger at the world. They aren’t a collective group that you would want to share holiday time.

Charlie is an online university English Literature professor. He appreciates the written word and he can write and teach effective essay writing. For his students, he tells them that his computer camera isn’t working and so while he can see them, they cannot see him. He is ashamed of himself and what he has become. He lives alone. Beyond delivery people, his only visitor is a nurse with her own backstory. A young man drops in by chance for a visit from “the church”. This young man also has his own story. Things happen. It turns out that Charlie was once married and that he has a daughter. He would like to try and reconnect with her. Daughter and Mom each have their own issues to address.

For me, none of the characters are very likeable. Each has their own challenges in the way that they have dealt with their circumstances. The principal focus of course being Charlie, and he continues to be his own worst enemy. From a practical standpoint, this is yet another example of a story that would be very different if it took place in any other country than the US. You see, Charlie has no health insurance, and he cannot afford to have crippling doctor bills. Much like Breaking Bad, and many other such situations if he lived in Canada, for example, he would have universal health care. He wouldn’t have to choose between getting treatment and leaving some financial assistance behind for his family. He would simply go to the hospital, see a doctor and get treated. Our system isn’t perfect, and this isn’t the forum to talk about it at length, but the Western World (save the US) long ago realized that health care is a right.

Beyond this, Charlie is making poor choices about eating and his health, but that is the point. He is smart enough to know better. He sees what is happening to him. He has made choices in life, and has suffered the inevitable consequences that we all do. He chooses to deal with it in a manner that many likely would not. Seeing him stuff unhealthy meal after unhealthy meal into his face is disconcerting. He feels disgusting on the inside, so he wants his outside to match it. His performance is very good, and will garner acting nominations with the Oscar seemingly a given. It is a welcome comeback for the Canadian actor, who has gone from being a heartthrob leading man with The Mummy and George of the Jungle to care less about his appearance. James Cordon apparently auditioned for the part of Charlie, and I will say that Fraser is I think a better choice for the character. For all his girth, Fraser has these sympathetic blue eyes that shown his inner turmoil. In the end, the daughter Ellie who likely already needed a good deal of therapy will likely need more. If you want to be uplifted and feel better when you leave a theatre, then this movie isn’t for you. If you want to see a really good performance, with some insight into other people and the pain that they have, then this is a good choice. You don’t need to see this on the big screen.

Somebody Feed Phil: Netflix has this TV series on created by Phil Rosenthal who worked on the show Everyone Loves Raymond, which I did not watch. The premise of this show is for Phil to travel the world and eat really cool local food. Phil is a foodie and clearly enjoys eating. He also likes sharing his food with his crew. I like that. Much like Stanley Tucci, Phil is doing a travel log as well as a food recommendation episode. He doesn’t limit himself to Italy, however, and I have watched the episodes on Lisbon, Madrid, Nashville and Montreal. I think the Lisbon episode was excellent showing the city, a city that I play to see later this year and this gave me some really good ideas on where to stop.

Phil sits at a restaurant with tables on a jetty in Lisbon. Amazing!

Phil enthusiastically eats five different types of shrimp at a different eatery. The show gives one a great sense of the place while introducing the food that is known in that area. In some ways it is like Rick Steves but without the historical background, see the markets, bakeries and restaurants. I heartily recommend this for anyone interested in food and/or travel. Phil certainly will have visited somewhere that will pique your interest, and your appetite.