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.