April 27th, 2020

I am a fan of the body of work that Willem Dafoe has put together over his career.  I think he shows a great deal of flexibility in the roles that he portrays.  He is another in a long line of actors who embodies the people he is portraying (living or fictional).   I recently saw him in The Lighthouse, which I reviewed just last week.  He has been around a long time, and at the age of 65yo, he is showing no signs of stopping.   He has played Jesus of Nazareth in the controversial (at the time) Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ.   He also played the unfortunate Sgt. Elias in Platoon.   He has been nominated four times for an Oscar including in the performance of the film At Eternity’s Gate that I have been meaning to see.   I actually ended up renting this from the Cineplex website.   It was a deal.   All that preamble about Willem Dafoe was to say that his performance in this is excellent.  This time he plays Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch born painter who’s fame and recognition only came to pass after he passed away.   Van Gogh died at his own hand (which was the prevailing thought) when he was 38yo.  Young.  Too young.  Dafoe plays the tortured soul well.  But he is far too old to portray the artist.  I would have thought that a younger actor could be found.  Despite the age, it is still a well told and performed story.  This movie has an alternate idea on how Vincent met his untimely end.   It also brings forth the idea of a ledger which was given to Vincent and was later returned to the person filled with his sketches.   This ledger was only discovered in 2016.   Remarkable and not without controversy.   The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam denies its authenticity.  The film focuses on the time Van Gogh spent in Arles France after deciding to leave Paris, along with fellow artist Paul Gaugin (played by Oscar Isaac, who is also very good).    You see the loneliness of Van Gigh and his desire for love, friendship and acceptance.  He and Gaugin were friends but as they have a falling out, he suffers as Gaugin leaves.  Later Van Gogh readily acknowledges that despite his art not being well accepted, this is how he sees the world.   He is looking to have people see the world through his eyes.  He loves nature, and he paints nature because for him it is perfect.   This film is filmed interestingly too.  Plenty of tight facial shots and filters (like a yellow hue) which reflects Vincent’s focus on sunlight.   It reminds me a little of Terrence Malick, but I hesitate to mention this director in the same breath as Malick.   It was just an impression.   I am glad that I sought this out, and it brought forward some new ideas about the life of Vincent Van Gogh.   Sadly his younger brother Theo didn’t live much longer than Vincent did, and was dead within a year.   The brothers were so very close.   For a man who the people of Arles France didn’t want in their town near the end, he has left a more memorable lasting worldwide impact than any of them likely.

Article on the Van Gogh ledger:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/nov/15/newly-discovered-van-gogh-drawings-labelled-imitations-museum

Friday night I noted that the Spanish film Pain and Glory was on Crave.  Starring the Academy nominated Antonio Banderas as an aging director looking back upon his life.   The film is at the beginning focused on the director, who has been unable to work as a director because of constant ailments (primarily back pain).   He is asked about attending the reissuance in theatres of a film made many years before.   He is asked too about bringing the principal actor who he has spoken to in 32 years, because he didn’t take direct well and his vision.   They meet.   They begin to chat more and interact.  All the while the past of this director is shown with his mother (played by Penelope Cruz) and his father and their struggles.  He was a precocious boy, who sang beautifully, and wrote and read well.   Mom always wanted the best for him.   Layers of his life come to light and you as viewer see more and more.  It takes some unexpected turns, as life can do.   Much like Vincent who feels that he can only be a painter and was meant to be a painter, this man was meant to be a director.  When he isn’t, then he is lost with no purpose.   As he reconnects, and better understands his life, he learns about himself.    This is a satisfying story well told and well acted.   It was nominated for Best Foreign Film.    Justifiably so.   As the director for Parasite Boon Joon Ho would say (I paraphrase) “some of the best films have subtitles”.

I finished Season 2 of Westworld.  This is a series where one has to pay attention.  The story jumps around a lot, between the situations and the characters.   It has some heavy hitters with Ed Harris, and Sir Anthony Hopkins.  Evan Rachel Wood plays Dolores Abernathy as a robot character in a scripted story who seeks freedom.   Thandie Newton plays another robot character, looking to find a protect a daughter in her story that she swore to save.   I do think that the most interesting character is Bernard, played by Jeffrey Wright, who is a go-between with the human outside world and the robots.   Roles flip back and forth.  Hunter becomes hunted.  Slave is made master, or at the least in a position to better control their destiny.  The series underscores the dangers of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and playing God.   It is a significant investment in time.   I am hearing that season 3 is better than season 2.   Not sure that I recommend to readers to spend that time, but maybe I can view Season 3 and see whether this is in fact the case.

And finally, from the serious and sublime to the mindless and stupid.  If you liked twenty-something relationship train wreck Love is Blind, then NetFlix’s Too Hot to Handle may be right up your alley.   In it, we have model-like twenty-somethings who are uber-sexual, and think to a person they are “at that and a bag of chips”.  They enter to a month long stay at a tropical paradise, and then find out that the $100,000 prize has money deducted for kissing, sexual touching or masturbation.   This from a group who collectively measure themselves with suntan lotion bottles and brag of having sex every day with different people (the days of AIDS have long since left and are forgotten).   Some readily admit to “not being that bright” while others just plainly show it (“I don’t even know where Australia is” from a Florida blonde).   Vancouver model Francesca shows herself not only to be vindictive, but also so confident in herself and her ability to get and keep anybody, that she just screams out to have a lesson in humility.   There is a vague interest in teaching some valuable relationship lessons to these young people, but they fall in most cases on deaf ears.    There is plenty of eye candy for male and female viewers with bikinis and body builder bodies in various forms of undress.   This is mind candy in the truest sense of the word where you can shut off your mind and picture the beaches in Mexico.   In this last week of April, thoughts of a beach, any beach is a welcome escape.

April 20th, 2020

More alone time.   More social distancing.   More voluntary self isolating (for the most part except once a week for groceries, a walk here and there) and doing more things in the condo.   Life is about balance, and being alone for me means not just watching TV, but rather puzzles, reading, music, and watching live safaris from South Africa.

If you are interested, check it out:  https://www.facebook.com/WildEarthLIVE/?__tn__=%2CdkC-R&eid=ARCZfDKlpj0AA6TJnDnIxDM7BEyRng305QBHolELUhH9c7WDCHskHJBHu7iL4Me8nUxx_OkIUgPrigia&hc_ref=ARRVOmgrqB3hXKyLUYcNlp5rFYrMYwMC0rH9JkCse3kq3A0Ya3JXbZG_hNbaIi2d91k

Now on to the movies and reviews.

The first movie was The Invisible Man, with Elizabeth Moss.   Now the Invisible Man story has been told before, more recently to my memory was with Kevin Bacon in Hollow Man.   This new addition is basically a re-telling of another similar story Sleeping With the Enemy with Julia Roberts.   It has a bit of a technological update but the basic structure remains.  A young woman, married to a narcissistic, controlling and abusive husband, seeks freedom away from him.   If you stop and think early on, the entire enterprise would be for not if she just avoids the family house pet, Zeus, but never mind.   There are bigger questions that will arise and leave the viewer pondering those instead.  But I won’t look to spoil them, but happy to discuss once viewers have seen this (if they choose to).   So the initial plan, doesn’t go as expected, and new measures need to take place.   Moss plays the fleeing wife, and choose to live with a male friend who is a cop, and his daughter.   She remains frightened.   There are little bits of other movies like The Entity and Terminator in this.  The story moves on and she must keep her sanity all the while trying to figure out the things that keep happening to her, and those she cares about.   Much like a Terminator, it is hard to explain that someone has become invisible and is a real threat, even when they begin to get mowed down like Sarah Connor’s keepers in her asylum.   By the end, it is just a mess.  There were a couple of jumps of surprise.  But I didn’t buy it, I saw where it was leading and I didn’t particularly care.   I wondered, if I had created this capability, would I be using it to try and be with a person who didn’t want to be with me?   Unlikely.   Money.  Power.  Everything likely would be possible.   But there it is.   I wouldn’t want to spend more time in this.

I followed that Moss mess with the black and white The Lighthouse with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, who has long since moved away from his role in Twilight.   Set in the US in a remote island where there is a lighthouse, surprise, surprise and these two men are relieving the previous workers.   They have a few weeks there before they are relieved.   The older Dafoe character looks and sounds like Captain Highliner.   He tells stories and bosses the younger lad around.   They eventually become closer over time as they learn about each other.  There are some surprising elements that impact the two players.   In truth this could be a play rather than a movie.   It is really a story of two men pushed to their mental and physical limits.   The real reason to watch this would be the cinematography and feel of it.  It is beautiful to look at, with realistic water, lighthouse, storms and seas.   Both actors are very good.  The story?   Meh.   It takes a long time to tell and really isn’t all that satisfying.

I finally finished the second season of Succession.   The first season was okay, as the primary thread was the health issue of the patriarch of the family (a media magnet worth billions and his children, and spouse, exes, and extended family).   Season 2 was better for me.   It had the intrigued of a corporate acquisition, as well as a government investigation.   It is remarkable to watch how dysfunctional this family is.   Each member has their own challenges.  Seeing how they interact with the father and each other is fun.   There will be a Season 3 and I will look forward to it.   The cast is good and plays their parts well.   Kieran Culkin is particularly seedy.   I wouldn’t want to have dinner with them, but I wouldn’t mind sharing the yacht and location from the last episode.

Bombshell outlines another in a line of ugly men in powerful positions, who abuse their power to extract sexual favours from female employees, typically who are ambitious and wish to get ahead or have an opportunity.  It’s not Harvey Weinstein at Miramax and film this time.  This time it is at Fox News, and there are real time anchors like Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, played by Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman.  Roger Ailes is the real life TV news mogul who is played by John Lithgow.   Between this role and playing Winston Churchill in The Crown, Lithgow must be used to wearing fat suits.  The Ailes story has also been put on TV with Russell Crowe playing the unsavoury Ailes.  He won a Golden Globe for the performance (The Loudest Voice).   In short, Ailes is the news director for the successful Fox News where the environment is one where they are garnering viewership by putting anchors in short tight skirts behind glass tables.   The news room makes a billion dollars a year for owner Rupert Murdoch.   Incidentally, this is not a new formula and women have been objectified here and elsewhere (Entertainment Tonight famously with Mary Hart, TSN, ESPN, CITY and countless other channels).   What separates out Fox with Ailes is his looking for “loyal” team members, read ones who won’t talk about his sexual advances.  His saying “if you want to get ahead, you have to give head” tells the story really.   Ailes was able to isolate his victims, ensuring their silence but also had them move ahead.  WHat he could give, he could also take away.   A young employee played by Margot Robbie becomes the target of his affections.   She later is approached by star anchor, Kelly and they have an interesting exchange.   There is a sea of quiet in these situations and many are to blame.   The enablers, assistants, people who know year after year who don’t want to know what is happening.   They could be whistle blowers.   The women/victim themselves, even after the Kidman character (Carlson) makes the lawsuit known, were avoiding her and outright aggressive against her (the wearing of pro-Roger tee-shirts in the office was telling).   Of course it goes without saying that the men involved must know better.  The other anchors who also participated (say Bill O’Reilly) require greater character.  They all have mothers and many should have daughters.   And what about Ailes’ wife?   Roger Ailes was dismissed from his position in July 2016 at 76 years old.   He died May 2017, less than a year later.   Sadly he never had any jail time, and the settlement given ($20M to Carlson alone) was covered by Fox and not him personally.   This was a good movie and interesting with good performances.   It gets wrapped up in political bashing, but this is to be expected with the Kelly and Donald Trump feud.    But it is worth checking out.

April 14th, 2020 – Supplement

The 1800s must have been a challenging time.  It goes without saying that many times before perceived male and female equality (which we are still battling to this day with equal pay etc, and would likely be the perspective of men rather than women but that is an essay in itself) were challenging times.   A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, tells the tale of women generally through the eyes of three principal women specifically.  One a painter, hired to paint a portrait of another young woman who was about to be married to a man in Milan, and the third a servant who works in the household where they are on an island off the French Normandy coastline.   The movie is in French with English subtitles.  It was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film but not the Oscar.   So in the story the mother of the woman to be married wants a portrait painted of her.   The subject refuses to sit for said portrait and the previous attempts have failed.   Mom has decided to bring in a young female painter to befriend the young betrothed woman, and then paint her from memory.   The painter should keep her painting activities secret.   She has six days to complete the task.   The physical beauty of the surroundings adds to the story as the two walk the beach, see the cliffs and talk about life generally.    It starts slowly and builds as it would with strangers over time.   There is a really good scene after the painting is finished where the painter requests from the mother permission to tell her subject what she has done and show her, so as to have her hear it from the painter herself.    The Mother agrees.   The discussion as they view her work is interesting about perspective, and art and attitude.   This leads for other things to happen and the story moves forward from there.    I give nothing away to state that the women have a relationship.  One that will impact them both.   The journey in getting there is a good one.   There is a subplot with the maid in the house.  But for a brief moment in the beginning and at the end there are no men in this movie.  The movie also effectively shows the creative process and the layers of colour that the painter uses to paint the woman, and the dress that she is wearing.  There are elements of The Danish Girl, and The Girl with the Pearl Earring.   On the larger scale this movie shows the time where women were placed, and on the personal side you can see how it directly impacts those living under these conventions and accepted rules.   Choices are made, consequences are felt.   The performances were all well done.   There is a range of emotion that is revealed by one character in the end which was quite stunning to observe.  I enjoyed seeing this and can recommend it.

April 13th, 2020

Another week, another week working from home and living in a fairly small world.  All in the name of social distancing and trying to “flatten the curve”.  It’s amazing how our days can be committed to a mathematical concept.   The number of cases of this dreaded disease are rising around the globe, and we here in Canada are bracing and trying to do our part.   In truth, what we are doing is helping ourselves and making sure that our health care system can not be overwhelmed.    For those who think I have drunk the Governmental Kool-Aid, I have.  I have seen the devastation in Italy and Spain and think the actions of other countries (like Germany) are those we should emulate.  Check out the German number of deaths.   Much smaller percentage than other similarly sized countries.   Anyway, John Oliver has spoken at length about it on HBO’s Last Week Tonight.  This show runs weekly, on Sunday night’s on Crave and I think it is just so funny.   He was in really good form last night (April 12th episode).   It is quality commentary as well as a few good laughs.

For movies, on Crave I watched We Were Brothers which is a documentary on the (mostly) Canadian musical group The Band.   It talks about their history mostly through the eyes of Robbie Robertson, from Toronto, who wrote most of the songs.   He didn’t, however, principally sing these songs and left that to his bandmates.  Robertson had early on performed with Ronnie Hawkins and later these other members of the band, who toured with Bob Dylan in a wildly panned tour for Dylan.   He was leaving his folksy roots, and began using more electric guitar much to his audiences chagrin and disgust.   Afterwards, the guys holed up in a shack in Woodstock NY and wrote music together.   They were different, talented and had a sound all their own.   This was an interesting watch and showed some of the creative process which I find fascinating.   Robertson was writing songs when he was 15yo for Hawkins for a record.   I like The Band, certainly their more known and popular tunes and this was a story which showed the contribution of Robertson.  More than I had expected.   Worth a viewing with the beginning, middle and end of the band as they came apart at the seams at the end.

I also watched a HBO documentary on the life of writer and director Nora Ephron.  Everything Is Copy: Nora Ephron Scripted and Unscripted, shows her life in films with family, stories and writing.   She penned some of the most iconic relationship movies like When Harry Met Sally, and directed Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.  You will note Meg Ryan in each of these.   She is present for the documentary as she talks about Nora.   So are Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep (who worked on Julie and Julia) and others.   The documentary was created by her son, Jacob Bernstein, and yes her second husband was Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post who worked with Bob Woodward to bring down President Nixon in Watergate.  That story is chronicled by book and movie All the Presidents Men.  Dustin Hoffman plays him in the movie.   She was then married to Nick Pileggi who wrote Good Fellas.  So she was well connected.   The story talks of her move from books and articles and screenplays to then directing.  Not everything she touched was gold.   Movies like Lucky Numbers, Mixed Nuts and Michael were forgettable.   Still she was a woman who worked right up until her very private death from complications from leukemia.   Hers is an interesting life.  The story alone with Rob Reiner about making When Harry Met Sally is good story telling which you can see in the extras from that DVD.   I enjoyed.

Finally, the creators of Fleabag, read Phoebe Waller-Bridge created Run which had a first episode streamed yesterday.   It stars Merrit Wever (from Unbelievable) and Domhnall Gleeson (of Star Wars, Ex Machina and many others) in the first episode anyway, as two people who have seemingly full separate lives and then they end of meeting up at a rather random spot together.   The details haven’t been fully disclosed and the viewer is expected to seemingly go with it.   I am not sure what to make of it yet, but given my enjoyment of Fleabag I will stick with it.

I have also re-watched documentaries on Top Gun (Danger Zone) as well as Disney nature documentaries on Blue Whales, Big Cats, and Dolphin Reef.   The Disney Nature stuff is amazingly shot.  I can only imagine how many hours were required to find and film a cheetah attack for example.   Or to catch up with blue whales off the coast of Costa Rica.   One can learn and watch at the same time.

Happy viewing.  Stay safe.  Stay healthy.   Keep your distance.   Stay home.

April 6th, 2020 – Partial freedom

So Week 2 of self quarantine finished on Saturday.   I didn’t actually leave my condo for 15 days, and yesterday it was only for a quick drive to start the car, but also see what the situation is with local grocery stores.   In short, it seemed the larger grocery store must have had the “social distancing” line inside since there was none outside.  The liquor store had a line 14 deep and the other grocery store close to 30 deep.  I didn’t venture inside but stayed in the car and headed home.   These are unique and challenging days.   It’s unusual to be spending so much time at home but it’s critical to do so.   The statistics bear it out that any medical system (socialized or not) is incapable of managing this many patients in need of beds and respirators.  The system was already at or near full capacity before this.   Now it overflows and goes tilt.   The lack of personal protection equipment for those heroes in the front lines (doctors, nurses, support) is a real threat for keeping those institutions open.   Every day watching the news becomes an exercise of staying informed while closing your eyes and cringing at what the devastation will be.   Global numbers become staggering, especially when you realize that these aren’t statistics – they are people.   Who have families, and children and grandchildren and co-workers and neighbors.  They are falling.   The CNN story of the wife in New York who lost her healthy 42yo husband was emotionally crushing, and had anchor Erin Burnett in tears (for which she should never apologize).    Then there was Canadian Rick Mercer who has many rants to his name and he put forth this really informative effort; the message is “This is not the time to look for loop holes – stay home”.

So true.  CNN’s Chris Cuomo has been documenting his positive virus story.  The Prime Minister in UK Boris Johnson goes to hospital with it.   The Queen herself speaks to her people.   Strange times indeed.

Here is how I have kept myself busy, after reading and doing online workouts, doing a large puzzle and otherwise trying to find a balance of TV and screen time with other pursuits including putting in full workdays.

I watched the Netflix series Tiger King, which was given positive reviews by rogerebert.com.   I had hoped for more tigers and fewer rednecks truth be told.  There are around 4,000 tigers in the wild.   The native lands are Asia, India, Africa.  The US can’t say for sure how many tigers it has scarily enough but the number is around 10,000.   Most are outside the management of zoos and aquariums.   Enter this motley crew of former inmates, rednecks, criminals and other shady characters who make up the cast in this series.   They are all flawed, with many issues including a lack of character and compassion for these remarkable animals.   From Carole Baskin who runs Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue, she who quite possibly had her rich first husband killed when he was seeking a divorce from her.  He just disappeared one day.   He and his money ended up with Carole.   She also has this army of volunteers who work for her, and they take years to wear different coloured shirts in working with the animals.   All the while, she runs her park, runs her website and keeps the donations and entrance fees flowing in.   Then there is Joe Exotic himself who is introduced early as being in jail.   In truth, they all should be in jail.   It seems you need to be a polygamist to run a zoo with tigers.   Joe is gay and has his husbands.  One of whom later has a little twist of fate which is not particularly shocking given his introduction, but the other has a more surprising twist.   He has run for President (deciding a young man who sells guns and ammo at Walmart would be a great campaign manager) and then later Governor for Oklahoma.   John Oliver from This Week Tonight actually mentioned him in one of his episodes.    In short, it is a train wreck.   Every episode you feel that you need to wash off the muck, and it’s not the smell of tiger or zoos.   I held my nose and watched it.   Finished it, because I try to finish what I start – but I was not satisfied.   Everyone involved disappointed.  The real sympathy is the plight of these tigers.   Not one has ever been returned to the wild.  And for those thinking, “well they can’t be returned”, Carole Baskin bred bobcats and lynx before and didn’t return one of them to the wild either, and they native to the US and Florida!   Watch at your own risk.

A series that I can wholeheartedly support is the Disney + series called Imagineering.  The series traces the history of those creative people who helped construct the dreams of Walt Disney and later the dreams of the corporation.   From the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland in Anaheim, to Disney World parks in Florida, to parks in Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai (which I honestly never knew existed) to more recent efforts with themes of Avatar and Star Wars.  These people at what was once WED Enterprises (for Walter Elias Disney) and has become a source of inspiration for how to create, design, construct theme parks that delight the senses and imagination.   Seeing how rides are put together from concept into reality is an amazing thing.   Real life considerations like budgets and deadlines enter into it as well.   The Disney company itself has had its share of ups and downs, with some years more lean.  Cost-cutting and a business drive to do more with less is shown at times to not be effective when trying to dazzle and amaze.   I found the early episodes with Walt himself and putting together Abraham Lincoln, or the haunted house fascinating, as well as the later epsiodes about Disney Shanghai and others remarkable.   11 million people went to Shanghai in the first year alone, with cost to build of $5.5 billion dollars!    If you have any interest in Disney, and the backstory to some of your favourite rides, then this is a series for you.

Having watched the Imagineering series, I realized that I hadn’t watched Avatar in quite some time.    Incredibly James Cameron’s Avatar was released 11 years ago in 2009.   Wow how time flies.   Upon re-watching, many of the scenes hold up well to today’s technology.   The 3-D for its time was excellent.   It gave the film depth and was immersive.   It didn’t darken the picture’s vibrancy as much as others do.   They story, which has been criticized, is very much a Dances With Wolves type story.   But you don’t watch this movie for the story, but rather the visuals.  There are some stunning visuals.   The creation alone of Pandora is a feast for the eyes and senses.   The creatures in Pandora are creative and fascinating, from bugs to cats to rhinos and horses.   The banshees (flying dragon-like creatures) eclipse them all, and the scenes of soaring upon banshees among the floating mountains are some of the most amazing images on film.   Seen on a large screen in a theatre with big sound it encompasses why movies are made, and why theatres with the moviegoing experience are still important.   Sam Worthington is a member of a strong central cast as he plays Jake Sully.   Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver add depth, with Saldana being a strong supporting actress.   Others like Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Lang and Michelle Rodriguez are all good.   If you have never seen this movie, then see it.  At the very least it will prepare you for the long since announced sequels.   Originally Avatar 2 was to be set for release in 2014.  Then there were four additional films being made.   The release date for the first was pushed to 2020.  Now it is December 2021.   The updated release dates for the films are “Avatar 2” on December 17, 2021; “Avatar 3” on December 22, 2023; “Avatar 4” on December 19, 2025; “Avatar 5” on December 17, 2027.

Also on Disney + was the latest animated movie release from Pixar entitled Onward.  It has the voice talents of Chris Pratt as well as Tom Holland (of Spider-Man fame now – but then again who in Hollywood hasn’t played Spider-Man these days?!)  It has always puzzled me why known actors are used in animation.   The voices of very famous animated characters like Snow White, or Belle from Beauty and the Beast, were not well known actors.   Pratt and Holland make no real contribution to this tale.   As Pixar goes, this is a weaker effort.   Some of the most recent and best animation comes from Pixar (Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monsters Inc etc.) are all excellent for young and old alike.   John Lasseter being disgraced and later resignation has hurt Pixar I think from a creativity point of view.   The storyline here revolves around a mythical time when there was more magic.   An elf community has been learning about modern conveniences (like electricity) and turning away from magic.   A family has a father who has passed, with two brothers, Mom and police officer step-father.   On the younger brother’s 16th birthday, the boys are offered a gift from their long departed father.   The rest of the story deals with the boys trying to reconnect literally and figuratively with the father.  Again, it’s okay.

Finally, Showtime network was playing The Dark Knight Rises, and Alison had mentioned revisiting the trilogy recently.   As she mentioned, this is LOUD.   The surround sound gets a good workout, and especially the sub-woofer.   This is another example of a film that benefits from the big screen.    The emotional core is Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred.   Wayne becomes a recluse for 8 years, thus the deterioration in his body and is depressed about the loss of Rachel Dawes.   He needs to find a way to get back to living and contributing.   Alfred pushes him to this.  Lucius Fox also tries to help.   Adding Anne Hathaway as the Catwoman was a master stroke and she has great lines and is an interesting character.   Add to fine performances by other Oscar winners like Gary Oldman and Marion Cotillard and you have the finale to Christopher Nolan’s masterful treatment of this superhero.  It is always worth seeing more than once.   Christian Bale is my Batman, in the same way that Sean Connery is my Bond, although Daniel Craig is getting up there.

So enjoy the viewing.  Stay safe.  Stay healthy.   Stay home.

March 30th, 2020 – COVID-19 spreads

Week One of self-quarantine is complete.  I feel fine.  No symptoms of any kind (knock wood) but this is the right thing to do.  There is so much information and misinformation out there.  We have world leaders being indecisive and others doing what they can.   I think that we should all be learning from what is happening in places which are ahead of North America (like Italy, Spain, Germany).  This staying at home and not interacting will mean no cinema visits for a while, and lots of movies at home.   Even Hollywood blockbusters like the new James Bond are being impacted.  More scary will be how new movies won’t be made at all for the foreseeable future.   So there will be a delayed effect as films go on hiatus.  Could make the 2021 Oscars an interesting show since 2020 movies will, for the most part, already be filmed and in post production.

As for movies, I am realizing as I am writing and reviewing Frozen II, that I don’t appear to have ever reviewed the original Frozen.  I can remedy that now.   So back in 2013, Disney released a princess-based traditional story about Nordic royal family.   I give away nothing in saying that, like most Disney movies, there is parental death.   The two sisters (princesses) in the story need to make due.   They are close.   The elder sister has a magical gift, which if used improperly could be harmful.  This is shown early on as the younger sister almost has an accident.   Things happen.   There are a couple memorable songs like “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” and the mega-hit “Let It Go”.   Idina Menzel belts out the hit and it is the inspiring anthem for that character.  What worked best for me with Frozen was how it veered into non-traditional territory, in dealing with the “damsel in distress”.   Anna and Elsa aren’t Snow White, or Ariel or Belle awaiting their Prince Charming.   The story unfolds in a way that was satisfying and appropriate for today’s audiences.

Frozen II was the inevitable sequel, given the tremendous success of the original.   It took six years to finally get there, but the main characters all return.  As in any time a successful original is followed up, you run the risk of trying to repeat success while bringing something new for the characters.   Disney has shown that they are more than capable of doing this with the Toy Story franchise.   I can’t say that this was as successful.  The songs weren’t as memorable.  The story provides more backstory to the royal family and its earlier days when the father of the princesses was a young man.    It involves an enchanted forest and relations amongst peoples of different cultures.   It is believable in the grand scheme of things.   In the end it was decent.  If you haven’t seen the first, see it first.  Feel free to stop there, as you will be missing out on not very much.   If you like the characters and want to see more of them, then feel free to watch the sequel.

On Netflix I was told about at-home viewing parties for people (mostly women) with the series (11 episodes including a reunion at the end) for Love Is Blind.   In many ways it mirrors, and uses the success of The Bachelor series to its advantage.   The premise is one of putting together 12 men and women together who are both ready to settle down and get married.   The twist is that these groups are segregated apart and cannot see one another as they get to know one another.   They talk in pods, where in this small room is a couch and carpet and they can talk with the other person.   They can talk as often as they wish, after what appears to be a speed-dating introduction where you meet everyone going from pod to pod.   The idea is that one party needs to propose marriage to the other.  The social experiment is to see whether love is truly blind.   It was a three-week event.   Remarkably six couples actually propose to one another in the pods.   They are obviously the focus.   Once they propose they get to actually lay eyes on the other person.   The big reveal.   Once the couples pair off, they are whisked away to Cancun Mexico and see if their relationship can become more physical.   Physical becomes an operative word between some of the couples.   They spend time there, and then head back to Atlanta and live in a condo building all together.   They are given their phones back and have introductions to friends and families as they prepare their weddings.   Let the drama begin throughout.   For those looking for some mindless escapism, this could be the vehicle.   You don’t have to see rising COVID-19 cases.   You don’t hear about ventilator shortages and no mask wearing.   It is a train wreck to be sure, with a flawed premise.  I don’t think many would believe that love is blind.  We all recognize that there are economic, physical, family, race, religion, geographic, career aspects of who we are that impact on our potential partner.   Sometimes love can overcome.  So watch.   In the end, as in most of these series, you are only privy to what you see.   Editing is a marvelous thing for putting forth the characters involved in the light that the producers want to achieve to make you continue to watch.   For what it is, I watched it to the end.   It delivered on what it is.

Finally I re-watched Bugsy, the 1991 film starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, where the two met and feel in love for real.  This is the movie about Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, the NY mobster who also was a flamboyant ladies man, and loved living the life of a gangster.   It was nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, and Best Actor, and Supporting Actor.   Amazingly to me, Annette Bening was not nominated here.  She has been nominated four times before and has never won.  Playing Virginia Hill, she shows spunk and attitude which turns Ben Siegel for a loop.   I had showed this movie to my youngest as he has been to Vegas, and this shows the initial inspiration for Vegas.   Vegas in the 1940s was a small insignificant town in the desert.  With the completion the Hoover Dam, though, it would have all the electricity that it would need and water.   Siegel saw this inspiration, and convinced his good friend Meyer Lansky to invest the mobs money.   Siegel had a temper and Beatty shows the volatility of the man, and just how quickly he could turn around and bring himself back.   As the Lanksy character says early on, Siegel’s flaw was that “he doesn’t respect money”.   He was an idea man, and wanted to leave something behind;  make a lasting impression.    There are quality performances all around from Ben Kingsley (Lansky) to Harvey Keitel (Mickey Cohen) and others.   Beatty and Bening steal the show and the chemistry between them is undeniable.   Silence of the Lambs won the Best Picture that year, justifiably, but this was a very good film and worth your time if you are looking for something to watch at home.

Stay safe all.  Stay healthy.  Stay home.

 

March 23, 2020 – Corona Strikes with Vengeance

I am in Corona/COVID-19 based 14-day self quarantine, having visited the US for March Break over the last week.   The world has been turned upside down.  The epicentre of this virus is now in Italy, with Spain quickly following.  France and Germany are next.   The US is only now realizing how ill prepared they were for all of this.  On Netflix, the movie Contagion seems to be the most popular.  Why people choose to want to watch a movie about what they are living in real time surprises me.  This is unprecedented.  On Saturday I flew through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.   It was a ghost town as I walked from one gate to another.   Like being in one of those zombie movies which I don’t care to watch.

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I have been to O’Hare on a number of occasions, and it has never been like this.

At home, there is plenty of time to watch programs – too much time in fact, and i am limiting the screen time each day.   We are finding other things to do like puzzles and play games etc.   We will read more.   On the screen, we finished watching the new Stephen King series on HBO called The Outsider.   Finally finished I have to admit that I wasn’t as satisfied with the final few episodes.   It became all too much Stephen King-ish to borrow a phrase.   I was a King reader until I read Tommyknockers.   Then that prolonged book which accomplished nothing was a total lunchbag letdown.  Suffice it to say, as soon as aliens showed up, then I was checked out.

For The Outsider, I think that the performances were quite good all around.  The acting, the script etc was good.   It was overly long.  It didn’t need to be 10 hours.   it is more a traditional movie length which would work.   In the end, I wish this was shorter.  I also wish that the resolution wouldn’t be like the alien solution to Tommyknockers.   It seems like a cop out.   There is a moment when various characters go in to disbelief, and would echo much of how the audience is feeling.   I won’t describe it further.   But still, watch at your own risk.  You may love King and Tommyknockers.   You may feel he is at the top of his game, or you could be like me and feel that the aging King is selling out to the formats of overly long stories from streaming services desperate for content.

The other movie we saw this past weekend was the Tom Cruise classic Risky Business with Rebecca DeMornay.   My youngest had never seen this before.   I was about his age when I first saw it in the theatre.   As a high school teen, it had all that I ever wanted (action, swearing, naked girls and a Porsche).   It showed the fantasy of the teenager with parents leaving house (and Porsche) at home while he finishes up high school.   This was the star vehicle for Cruise, where he had begun in supporting roles in Taps with Timothy Hutton and then The Outsiders (ironically) with C Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze but this was him as the star.   His scene with Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll playing and Cruise dancing in his collared shirt and underwear is famous.   The overall premise is teenage dreams, as outlined, but the acting is good and the ultimate place where it lands is fun and unexpected.   Tom flashes his winning smile and shows the angst of the time about getting into College and trying to make something of your life, as well as the general feeling that the “kids of the day” only cared about making money, and not worried about doing something for their fellow man.   There is the preppy waredrobe from Tom, complete with dock siders and bright coloured sweaters.   The 928 is a cool car.   I took a picture of one from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart back in 2018.   This movie was 1983.   Cruise went on to do All the Right Moves, Legend and then Top Gun in 1986!!!IMG_4105

 

March 18th, 2020 – The Self Distancing Edition (Alison)

So I keep thinking about the movie title, Love In A Time of Cholera.  I think someone should do a sequel (you know where I’m going don’t you?), Love In a Time of Covid.  It could be about two millennials who carry on an online romance this time.  The grandparents could be played by Meg Ryan and The Hanks who could add snappy quips about how they fell in love on the AOL and flew to Seattle to almost get cat-fished (You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle).  Billy Crystal could play the other grandfather, a retired NBA referee, who could add his two cents about the time he almost shagged Meg Ryan and that ‘his boys’ could ‘play through’ any virus.  Anyone for a remake of Six Degrees of Separation?  Will Smith yelling six feet across a room at well, everyone.

In the blink of an eye life around us has changed.  We all probably have more toilet paper than we’ve ever owned before.  Stay at home, work from home, no homie hugs or fist bumps.  No fly, no sly, no live television that isn’t news.  Recession, depression, the stock market is a mess and Meagan Markel wore her last official dress.  But when something like this happens we text a little more often, the phone rings and we remember that none of us are alone in this.  And this too shall pass.  Until then, we have more time for movies!
I was watching The New Pope this week and I kept hearing Prince in my head, softly at first then gaining volume with each episode.  “Animals strike curious poses”. This has happened to me before so I raced over to IMDB to look up who the director was.  I was not surprised that it was Paolo Sorrentino because I hear that phrase in my head every time I see one of his films.  Imagine my delight with nine whole episodes!  As a director his cinematography is well choreographed with a near obsession with balance.  At times it is very much like performance art – hence the curious poses.  His scenes are always perfectly sculpted and any still from his work would look great as a piece of art in your living room.  But most of all he loves a peculiar face.  You will never find a more amusing collection of faces than in The New Pope.  I’m willing to bet that Rob couldn’t sit through an episode without mentally flicking that mole off one of the faces while I mused at the perfect math of another.    Neon nuns in nighties dancing to techno beats. And the performances are just as good.  John Malkovich was at his best while that sexy Jude Law just breathed in his speedo (he should be on the husband list).  It doesn’t matter that the show is all about the Catholic church and its mysteries and its not so secret secrets.  Its a sexy expose, a mockery and a well balance critical eye.  And it inspires hope and faith as a separate thing from religion.  You do not need to watch the Young Pope in order to understand the New Pope.  The New Pope is more playful and I will forever chuckle about the time the pope met Sharon Stone.  Two of my favourite films are also by Sorrentino – The Great Beauty and Youth where he tackles his favourite subject, life itself and all of its curious poses.

March 9th, 2020

I had forgotten that I had seen the movie, Kid Who Would Be King with youngest son two weeks ago.   We had decided just to put in on Crave.   This was in between catching The Outsider.   Now how had I missed this when it includes Rebecca Ferguson, of Mission Impossible fame and The White Queen, I just won’t know.  A silly oversight, although if you watch this movie for her you will wish for more screen time.   The story is a young man (played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis – and yes, related to Andy Serkis from LOTR, King Kong, Planet of the Apes etc).   He is good.   He is a general outcast in school.  He stumbles upon a sword which happens to be excalibur.   He manages to free the sword in modern times.  What do you do now?   The question is answered quickly as the dormant Morgana is looking to return to earth and dominate once again.  This heads down a relatively predictable path.  I have to say that I enjoyed this more than I had expected.    The age-old discussion about expectations can be inserted here.   Would I have enjoyed it less if I expected a snap bang, rousing King Arthur story?  Likely so.   Instead I got what I felt would be young teen mush, and was pleasantly surprised.   The young cast does a decent job, the effects are okay.

As for The Outsider, I will state up front that I haven’t finished Season 1 yet.   The early trailers for this season was for the Jason Bateman fans who liked Ozark.   Here he is on a baseball field as a coach and accused of murdering a young elementary aged child.    It has some twists and turns and becomes more a story about the police who are trying to figure out the killer.   There are logical steps that don’t compute, but the cast plays it straight as they must.  Ben Mendolsohn, known by me for generally being a bad guy in movies like Rogue One or Ready Player One.   He and his wife are struggling as are many of the various characters in this tale.   Things happen and there is a left turn which kind of lost me, I have to admit, but a feeling that is echoed by some of the characters.   Still, as we get to focus more on the Private Investigator, played by Cynthia Erivo, it is more compelling.  I can see a series with her in the possible future.   But we will see if that happens.   I will finish this, but for me, much like the book Tommyknockers, Stephen King can lose me when he takes these left turns (some of which you see coming at you like a car with high beams in the opposite lane on a flat backroad).   I’ll let you decide if the end is worth the journey as I watch along too.  Oh, and in looking it up, Cynthia Erivo got an Oscar nomination for Harriet this past year, and she was also in Widows.   No wonder why I am liking her.  I haven’t seen Harriet but I will need to check it out.

March 2, 2020 – Alison reviews

Coincidentally I too pulled out some old titles this last week.  I rewatched the Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s brilliant reboot of the Batman story.  I watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back to back, as it was intended by Nolan, and it was a better experience than that of the years in between each episode.  It’s Batman so I think the plots are within the scope of your imaginations.  Instead I’ll comment on some things that stood out.  (1) Christian Bale was ripped for his first donning of the bat suit.  The second movie he was notably smaller and by the third he just didn’t bother. (2) These movies are loud (my neighbours will attest to this).  I recalled travelling 6 hours to San Jose to see the Dark Knight Rises while I lived in Costa Rica.  It was so loud that it wasn’t until I exited the theatre that I realized there had been an earthquake during the showing.  (3) Nolan’s use of theme music in his films is brilliant.  In each of his films the score becomes as if another cast member not meant to simply exist in the background.  He uses Hans Zimmer who has had a long history of being attached to some of the best films in modern history, many of which if you pause for a moment the melodies will come to mind for you.  (4) Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker.  Both Joaquin Phoenix and Heath Ledger won Oscar’s for their portrayal of the Joker.  I am a huge fan of both but with immediate comparison I gotta go with Ledger as being the best.  Phoenix came at the character from a different angle than Ledger.  Ledger’s Joker was truly frightening in that his madness was so unhinged and unpredictable whereas we were drawn to feel a degree of pathos for Phoenix’s take. (5) I still maintain that Maggie Gyllenhaal was miscast as Batman’s love interest.  Just didn’t look right.  They made up for it by casting Anne Hathaway in the final chapter.  (6) Where has Joseph Gordon Levitt been?  Miss him.
This weekend I found an abandoned box of DVD’s and VHS tapes in my office and decided to wire up the old tech.  I rewatched Hero (2002).  Hero was nominated for best foreign language film but lost to Germany and to my surprise was not nominated for cinematography.  The early 2000s saw a wave of epic films coming in from China – Joy Luck Club, Crouching Tiger and Hero to name a few.  Hero still stands as one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen as the cinematography is breathtaking.  The story has Jet Li as an assassin that comes to meet the king in order to receive his reward for killing the kings enemies.  Li has three assassins to kill and with each one he is allowed to advance closer to king who has constructed a hall big enough to prevent any assassin from getting close to him.  As Li tells his story to the king each is a separate scene in the film.  While the CGI technology used in 2002 pales against today, Hero still stands up.  Each story features a different colour as the primary theme as does the scenery and use of natural elements.  The film keeps to what I call the Shaoling Kung-Fu style where people can fly, levitate and run on water.  The fight scenes are brilliant and somehow are not violent.  One detail I noticed with this viewing is that at no time in the film is there ever blood – get stabbed and someone is always there to rip their clothing and tie things off so nary a drop is seen.  Hero stands the test of time and I look forward to watching it again some day hopefully digitally remastered.
Lastly, I started rewatching The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s last foray into a television series (he wrote the West Wing).  I stand by the opening scene of this show as being one of the best written wherein the lead character, Jeff Daniels, goes on a rant about the state of America.  “America isn’t the greatest country in the world…but it can be” – words that still resonate a decade later.  The story follows, well, a newsroom at a time when the primary election process is underway and the credibility of journalism and facts start to come into question when it doesn’t suit politicians.  What is that saying…life imitates art.  No one is better at rant writing than Sorkin and his dialogues are always at a peppered pentameter.  He creates intelligent, likeable characters and stories that interlace timely facts of reality into his fictions.  The Newsroom is still fresh in today’s climate and at times predicts the reality we find ourselves reluctantly in today.
Rob, I was at that Gordon Lightfoot concert.  You may have seen me; I was the only Black person there LOL.