March 1, 2021

Norma Rae: Back in late 1970s, Sally Field had been the Flying Nun (1967-1970) and then in the popular Smokey & the Bandit but nothing really of substance. Then the 32yo actress played Norma Rae in which a small town single Mom, from North Carolina, deals with her life and those of her community in a textile town. The textile mill is about the only industry, and the company has good control over the citizens. Norma’s Mom and Dad both work at the mill. Into this town arrives Reuben (played by Ron Leibman) who is a union organizer who has been tasked with recruiting new businesses in the southern US. It seems that the industry isn’t very well organized, under labour laws, and the northern union bosses would like to expand representation. Reuben a Jewish man from NYC, is entirely unfamiliar with the Southern way of life. He sticks out like a sore thumb. He manages to have casual conversations with Norma and he piques her interest. The union activities begin. For me, it is the union organizer and his performance that were crucial to allow Field to shine. She won her first Best Actress Oscar as a result. But he enables her, and without getting into romantic territory, these two build a bond over time. The territory of a cut throat company, exploiting their workers has been covered before, but this one is memorable in the people. You care about them. Norma gets married quickly to Beau Bridges character and has an instantly larger family. She puts in long days trying to not only work and be a Mom, but also organize her friends and neighbours. Together these two work towards a common goal, and despite the significant challenges are able to make a difference. In a time with limited new releases, for me it is good to re-visit these movies that show really good performances.

Phil Spector: Al Pacino and Helen Mirren play the principal roles in this 2013 TV based drama which addresses a fictionalized version of events leading up to the Phil Spector’s trial for murder. Mirren plays a high priced attorney asked to defend Spector on the murder charges. Seems at his house late one night a 40yo aspiring B-actress was playing with one of many handguns has it go off and she is killed. He leaves his house mumbling something like “…I think I just killed someone…” which his Mexican driver overhears. He is charged with murder. Phil Spector is a musician and producer who was involved with some of the biggest acts in music. His “wall of sound” was used by John Lennon, The Beatles, George Harrison, The Rondettes, The Righteous Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner. The case of murder largely hinges on the testimony of the driver. The rest of the evidence doesn’t really support the accusation; like the proximity of Spector to the victim, and the condition of his shirt. There were plenty of other aspects which are suspicious. Spector was an eccentric, no question about it. He was awkward and weird and if Pacino’s portrayal is even anywhere close then he would have been someone to see. I wouldn’t want to have shared dinner with him, but maybe really creative people are just outside societal norms. In the end it doesn’t give much away to say that he was convicted. But the journey to get him there was an interesting one where sometimes pre-conceived ideas of who somebody is colours the facts as they are presented. What Spector actually said with his defense counsel is known by these people and maybe just a couple others. This movie tries to fill in some of the blanks. Ironically Phil Spector died in prison in January 2021 from Covid. He becomes one of the few celebrity faces of this terrible pandemic.

My So Called Life: Claire Danes, Jared Leto star in this ABC series from 1994. Danes plays a 15yo high school girl who is in love with the Leto character. She has a Mom and Dad and younger sister. She is trying to fit in and be cool. High school is filled with people for whom she feels differently. I have always heard good things about this series, and I do think that Danes is very good (generally and in other roles that she has played like in Homeland, or Starlight or Temple Grandin). Leto almost looks unrecognizable from his long straight haired persona now. This is available through Disney + and their new Star streaming system. They are now charging $11.99 a month now with more programming.

On question answered this week which was why would any A-list actor get involved in a project like Wanda Vision. I watched two episodes and couldn’t finish the second. Not one but two A-actors (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) were roped in. But seeing this article below where the Olsen character will be in a sequel to Doctor Strange.

February 22, 2021

30 Coins: I finished watching the series on Crave through HBO Europe. It is in Spanish with subtitles. It has 8 episodes. It is a psychological thriller, with a religious base. In short, when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, these are the coins that were his payment from the Romans. Later, of course, Judas kills himself and these coins scatter to the winds. As you start the series a number of very strange and inexplicable incidents happen in this very small Spanish town. The local Mayor is a handsome married man, who co-owns a local hotel as well as slaughterhouse business with his wife. There is a new priest in town, for whom we learn some history and then a pretty Vet. I won’t detail the strangeness of the first couple episodes, but it is a precursor to more strange things. The focus later becomes what is happening in Vatican City, and those who are close to the Pope. The local priest gets more engaged as he has some history with some of these characters. Darkness abounds with powerful forces at work. You learn that these coins are in many ways like the Ark of the Covenant – where any army with them, is regarded as invincible. Apparently both Napoleon and Hitler had interest in these coins. I have to admit that I was hoping for more in the finale. That last episode was a bit disappointing in what was expected to be a bog blow out in this small town. A strange fog has enveloped the town and the bad guys are gathering. I won’t share further except to say that the episode was a little more bloody and gory than I felt was necessary. The townspeople generally are simplistic and caricatures, with the gossipy women and injured young cripple. This had its moments. Those who are queasy in any way won’t enjoy. Those who like to have a religiously based thriller can do worse than checking this out.

Network: This mid-70s film, was nominated for a Best Picture, but Oscars for Best Actor (Peter Finch) and Best Actress (Faye Dunaway). Others include Best Supporting Actress and Writing. It is surprisingly very relevant for today’s audiences, holding up very well as a tale about the perils of TV, with turning news into entertainment. Funnily enough, much of what was spoken about firmly tongue-in-cheek in this movie has actually taken place and speaks to current issues of the day. It has a great cast also adding Robert Duvall in the over-the-top, cut throat TV bean counter wanting to generate money rather than worry about the quality of the broadcasting. Also included is older William Holden as the veteran News executive, and good friend to the lead anchor (played by Finch). Each is very good with a drama which moves along well. Most movie fans would know the scene of Finch as the trenchcoated newsman yelling for people to go to their windows and shout “I’m MAD as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!!!” Truer words haven’t been spoken for a people collectively, then and especially now. That anchor after being told his ratings are slipping and he is being replaced before this goes on air and announces rather matter-of-factly that he will commit suicide on air in a week’s time. A network with falling ratings decides to keep him on the air as his numbers jump markedly upon making the announcement. The philosophical argument is that a new generation who doesn’t read books nor read newspapers gets all their information from the TV. The TV lies to them (sound familiar??!). The Finch character as the anchor who has become unhinged shows the danger of giving such a person an airwave with an audience. He becomes popular. His news show has become entertainment with a soothsayer and him leading the way. I had only previously seen snippets from this movie, without seeing it from beginning to end. I am glad that I watched it, and think that anyone involved in TV or interested in the dynamic of news as a business should see how this was viewed back almost 50 years ago. Much of what they discuss has become reality in a world of CNN and Fox News with opinion rather than news. Facebook and other social media have taken it to the next level where people don’t even get the same streams within their newsfeed. But those are other movies for other times, and previously reviewed. If you don’t know Network, then I would recommend it. As an aside, the wardrobe worn by Dunaway in a work environment was a bit surprisingly with plunging necklines and no bra. I would expect that in today’s work environment this would be frowned upon, at a minimum and HR worthy with a corrective plan at its height. Suffice it to say that times have changed from that perspective.

February 15th, 2021(Family Day)

The Big Sick: This romantic comedy starring Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani (you will recognize him if you watch any stand up specials). It tells the story of his romantic life and how he met his wife. He was doing a stand up routine in Chicago and there was a young pretty blond woman cheering him on rather loudly. She caught his eye, and after the set they struck up a conversation. His traditional Pakistani family, especially his Mom, wanted him to marry another Pakistani girl. They believe in arranged marriages and Mom was intent on introducing him to various potential suitors while at the same time trying to get him to go to law school (rather than be a comedian). His challenge is in balancing this life with a girl he seems to get along with really well, and being the dutiful son to his parents, who have no trouble reminding him that he owes them everything. It can’t be easy being a young person trying to get through life and overlaying cultural pressures that place boundaries on just where one’s life can go. Isn’t the point in moving to North America allowing your children to have freedoms that you didn’t have growing up? The story is more emotionally impactful than I thought that it would be. Without giving too much away, Emily (the young lady) ends up in hospital and Kumail meets her parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, with a story that has them being more than just one dimensional. It is refreshing and adds to the story. Life is full of choices and he learns to make some on his own, despite outside pressures. I can recommend this and encourage the reader to seek it out on Crave or wherever such movies are streaming. In Alison’s words “it didn’t suck” and I would echo that sentiment and be a little more positive about it.

Now, in the sucking department, on Netflix there is a documentary four part series on a young Canadian woman’s disappearance at a seedy hotel in Los Angeles. Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is four hours of your life that you won’t get back if you choose to watch it. When you see uber-producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer associated with it, you may think it will actually hold your attention. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a rather simple story of a mystery surrounding a 21yo woman disappearing in a very sketchy hotel in LA. She wanted to spread her wings from Vancouver after UBC grad and see some of the world. She disappears after a short stay in San Diego and then arriving in LA. A few learnings for me is that “web sleuths” are people with way too much time on their hands. The conspiracy theorists can virtually find anything that supports their interpretation of events, despite facts to the contrary. I also think that hotels that advertise themselves as “budget” aren’t always being truthful in their location, in this case right on the edge of LA’s Skidrow. That wasn’t advertised to young people from around the world, looking for a clean bed with running water. To say that these guests got more than what they bargained for is an understatement. There is also a clip from a security camera where the young woman is shown and you see it time and time again. In short, this series could have been a 20 minute segment on 60 Minutes or similar. So much time is wasted pursuing red herrings and listening to people’s opinion who just simply don’t matter. One also learns that those who sling their opinions around without much proof can harm those who are innocent. Sad really that defamation and libel laws which are just as valid in an online world, aren’t always a remedy that can help the targeted party. Cyber-bulling and shaming are serious business in this world. Avoid this if you can, much like the Cecil Hotel!!

February 8th, 2021

Mank:  The Golden Globe nominations came out last week for the Film and TV Dramas and Comedies.  On that listing came the Netflix film,Mank with an impressive cast including lead Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins (Phil’s daughter), and Tom Burke as Orson Welles.   Oldman plays Herman Mankiewicz, who was a writer in Old Hollywood.   For a lowly writer he seems to be very well connected with powerful friends, including Leo B Mayer and William Randolph Hearst among them.   He is a drunk but a well respected writer.    He is tasked with writing Welles’ Citizen Kane, which Welles at 24yo was brought in to resurrect RKO Pictures’ fortunes.   It is a black and white period piece set in the early 1940s with flashbacks.    Actually the flashbacks can be somewhat of a distraction, taking away from the direction that the story seems to be focused on.   It isn’t clear to me how the gubernatorial election in California from 1934 impacted the Kane storyline, despite having some nice tie-ins to more recent Presidential elections, and that is a criticism for me.   It’s all very fuzzy.   I would be much more interested in the making of the classic film.   The other major distraction for me is how a 62yo Gary Oldman, plays the 33yo Mank from 1940.   Why?   Add to this the backstory of his Oscar winning role of Winston Churchill and him claiming that he must have a fat suit, because he refused to add the weight that he said would be difficult to ever get back off after filming.   Well, he seems to have added the weight on himself, perhaps he swallowed the Best Actor Award?  One cannot say.    In the end, I cannot recommend this film.   It was long and slow.   It had brilliant production design for places like Hearst Castle, which in many ways one should know a little of that story (Hearst and Marion Davies) to put into context what transpires.   It looks beautiful.   The plot is a headscratcher from which Hollywood types will vote for it (like Birdman a couple years ago).  

The Flight Attendant: This Kaley Cuoco TV series is named as a Best Drama (Musical or Comedy)??, and her as a Best Actress.  Ummmm, no.   To me, the lines of Comedy get blurred when there is a murder to be investigated.   The series is all about that.   So it’s no Schitt’s Creek.   The eight episode storyline leans heavily on the pretty and drunkard young blond flight attendant and her life.    In many ways it channels the character of Amy Schumer in Trainwreck from 2016.   Schumer is funnier.  But here there are these surreal flashbacks when our constantly drinking protagonist messed up in a situation that clearly is way over her head that push this intoAmerican Werewolf in London territory.  Strange and yet an important plotline that they continue to perpetuate.    She is after all just someone who is a “party girl” and hooking up on a layover (literally and figuratively) with a handsome guy in first class.   Much of what happens is a drunken haze for her, but it comes back to her in snippets.    It all becomes a little too nice and tidy in the final episode.   You KNOW that they will be working on a sequel (season 2) so that many of the characters have to continue on.   I won’t be rushing out to see this character enter more shady situations.   I don’t think one wins awards for being pretty and acting drunk.    There is more than that. 

Tom Segura –(Netflix) I have seen now three separate comedy specials by this guy, and I like him.   I like his point of view and the stories that he tells.   It is light entertainment that is welcome in these times.   Much like Jim Jefferies he has a cutting humour, doesn’t really care about political correctness and makes interesting human observations.   Smile and enjoy!

February 1st, 2021

In and Of Itself: I have to give credit where credit is due; Alison had brought this to my attention. It is a film of a play that had 554 performances in NYC. Frank Oz directs. Stephen Colbert and his wife are Executive Producers. It is a one man show starring Derek DelGaudio who is a very unassuming guy. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it has stuck with me for days afterwards. For those Canadians of my generation, you likely will remember The Amazing Kreskin on CityTv during the early 70s. Kreskin was a self-labelled mentalist, who was also a magician. DelGaudio is a storyteller, who while imparting stories of his life, his also introduces a little bit of magic on his own. The film is structured in six rough sections. In each he matter-of-factly describes the story. Each story gets a little more and more fantastic, so stay with it if the first story makes you pause a little. You will be rewarded. By the end, without giving too much away, I was quite simply amazed at what I was watching. The section involving letters and the section regarding the labelling cards were jaw dropping for me. There are some life lessons, and one that sticks out to me is that you never can really tell just by looking at someone the depth of their experiences and character. From the perspective from someone who can enjoy playing cards from time to time, I think I have plenty to learn (or at the very least reason to be cautious!!) I rented from, but it is also available on Rogers On Demand and Hulu in the US. Definitely worth your time. I have recommended to those around me and the office.

Pieces of a Woman: Vanessa Kirby is getting plenty of work these days. From her introduction a couple years back in her role as the young Princess Margaret in The Crown, Seasons 1 and 2, she has been in Mission Impossible as well as two more MI movies in the next while. In this drama she plays a young woman who is very pregnant. Her partner, unmarried is the blue collar Shia LaBeouf, and Mom (poorly cast in my opinion) as 88 yo Ellen Burstyn. Kirby is 32yo, and Burstyn looks every year of her 88 years (hell she was a Mom in The Exorcist back in the early 1970s). Kirby and LaBeouf are anxious about being parents and have chosen to have a home birth, with the assistance of midwife. The trailer shows Kirby in a court room setting, so on some level you know that this will go wrong somewhere along the way. It does. It reminds me more of a film like Revolutionary Road, where you see the poor choices, lack of communication, and escalating tension between a couple. Burstyn as the Mom interferes more than she comfortably should. There are some cringe-worthy exchanges between the primary actors. In the end, it was not very satisfying. It was too long. In some ways, choices made were surprising and others were outright unreal. Perhaps they were possible but not for me. Not worthy of your time. As an aside, there was a very uncomfortable encounter between the couple, which I later found out LaBeouf was accused by an ex-GF of mental and physical abuse. It put this in a different light.

Tony Parker: The Final Shot: I have to admit that not being a huge basketball fan and I haven’t paid much attention to NBA champions that didn’t have the name LeBron James associated with them (not because I am a fan, far from it) but just that he gets so much attention. So when I saw that there was a documentary on Tony Parker, a guy who I only knew as the former spouse of Eva Longoria, all of the background and his story was new to me. This young man who was born in Belgium, and grew up in Normandy France area. He was a highly skilled but undersized point guy (6’2″). This documentary was French and thus has subtitles. I had no idea that Parker was a major part in 4 NBA Championships with San Antonio as well as being Playoff MVP one year. Tim Duncan and David Robinson were also part of these teams. He had a remarkable career and seemed to be one the first European players brought over to play in the NBA. San Antonio seemed to be a team that was able to identify and recruit young talent in Europe. Others soon followed after their success. All I came away from after the show was a sense of arrogance about the man, maybe it is just the French accent. But in the way that Tiger Woods in his documentary tried to downplay his talent, fame and money and all that came with it, Tony Parker has no issue with having the theme park like waterslide in his Texas residence. Maybe this is just in how it is shown (heaven knows Tiger Woods has the yachts, houses and private jets too). But in my mind, Tiger Woods is on a different level, and earnings on a different scale. So I would say that for the avid basketball fan, this would be worthwhile. For the more casual view, like me, I didn’t take as much away from it.

January 25th, 2021

Tiger: On Crave HBO Sports has released a two episode documentary on Tiger Woods. It is three hours of interviews of people who have known him, like family friends, ex-girlfriends, ex caddie Steve Williams and others. It is informative, from the early days with young 2yo Tiger being showcased on the Michael Douglas Show, with Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart, to him winning three times the US Amateur Championship. From the highs of winning the Tiger-slam in the early 90s (by holding all the major golf championships at the same time – Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA) to the down times of being arrested for DUI in Jupiter FL and the SUV accident in front of his house as his marriage to Elin falls apart. The viewer realizes pretty early on that one of Tiger’s most magnificent gifts was his ability to compartmentalize his life and emotions. His father, Earl, in many ways was like Leopold Mozart, who pushed his young son into greatness, but the son eclipses the father from talent, determination and hard work. Earl had a Messiah-like belief in his son which would have been difficult to live up to as a young man. It was. Still, despite the challenges, this is a remarkable life, and even though he likely won’t overtake Jack Nicklaus with his 19th Major victory (he is currently at 15, with the 2019 Masters remarkably captured) but it in no way diminishes his impact on the game of golf. It is also a cautionary tale of what persona you put before the public which you aim to meet. Time well spent, especially for those who enjoy golf.

I Am Burt: Crave also had the documentary about Burt Reynolds. Burt the Hollywood actor, had led an interesting life. He early on was a football player of note in Florida and went to Florida State. A knee injury in those early 60s was a fatal career diagnosis. He needed to pivot and choose another way to keep himself occupied. He by chance got into drama. He was good and became an extra with bit roles in Hollywood, mostly in TV cowboy series. Much like Clint Eastwood, his career became stalled and he decided to go to Italy to perform in some spaghetti Westerns. Clint’s career took off as a result of his, but Burt didn’t do himself any favours (Navajo Joe). His big break occurred in 1972 with Deliverance. From there a string of successes with The Longest Yard, Smokey & The Bandit, and others. He was noted later in life for a messy financial situation which was a result of him being gullible and generous to a fault it would seem. There never seemed to be a thought toward “another day”. It seems that the attitude was that the money would always be there. If Tiger was a tale of a being careful of a hard-to-emulate squeaky clean image, this is a tale of fame and money being taken for granted. It is interesting to note that Burt was viewed as a bigger star than today’s Brad Pitt or Leo Dicaprio and others. In fact, the stuntman Pitt character in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood was based upon Reynolds, who himself was a stunt man at one time. This is also worth viewing.

Soul: Pixar recently released this animated full-length animated feature on Disney +. Pixar is well known for quality pictures that have a heart, good stories and relatable characters. Known for classics like Finding Nemo, Up, Cars and Toy Story, they more recently have done pictures like Coco. Back in 2015, they released Inside Out that spoke to the inner workings of a teenage girl’s emotions. It was clever and cute. They have followed up with Soul. Focusing on an aspiring jazz pianist who has only secured a job as a part-time teacher in a high school – this young, single black man looks to have his big break. Just as he does, he meets with an accident and his multi-coloured “soul” is on its way to heaven/The Great Beyond. Instead he fights back hard to complete this mission to make his way in music. The film goes more into Inside Out territory as it explores the plains beyond what we perceive. It once again is clever with some colourful imagery. Little pre-souls are meant to gather their personalities and then find a “spark” that allows them to head to Earth and occupy a human. The details aren’t as important that there is a story with a message. I enjoyed this more than I thought that I would. Although not on the level as the classics from Pixar, it is an exploration of a subject matter that is best suited in animation. Wirth checking out for some lighter entertainment. Can’t we all use a little lighter entertainment.

January 18, 2021

Ammonite: Set in the early 1800s, this period piece stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. For that reason abut forgotten lone I wanted to check out this TIFF film from September. This movie follows a now more familiar pattern; it is a repressed time for women who are told that they must live their life in the service of a husband and for his benefit. She is meant to have children and be valued less. She has no ability to be herself and follow her own dreams, even in the eyes of her own father and family. I am reminded how even 140 years later, Queen Elizabeth isn’t given a proper education by her parents because she just doesn’t need one. She disagrees. Winslet here plays Mary, an accomplished but forgotten (mostly) archaeologist who studies fossils found along the shores of her English home. Single, aging, and living only with her elderly mother. She early on in her life found a fossil that is in the British Museum and which paid for life for her sizeable family. Ronan plays a deeply depressed married woman who has recently lost a child. Her husband has an avid interest in fossils, but also yearns for his wife of earlier days. He leaves for a lengthy business trip but pays Winslet to look in on his wife. Winslet gets more than bargained for as she begrudgingly accepts the task, but Ronan falls ill. Much goes unsaid. Much is assumed. Wrongly or rightly. The viewer tries to piece together what has happened to both of these women. How have they been wronged? What has lead to the rather lonely existence of Winslet and her hardness? Ronan appears to be more of an “indoor girl” to borrow the words of Jack Dawson when speaking of Rose in Titanic. Mary alternatively is more sturdy and rugged. She is more outdoorsy, with dirty nails and no appetite for traditional women’s interests. She takes good care of her Mom and the sick Ronan. Mary is though rather awkward and uncomfortable around people. Things happen. Some more surprising than others. Portrait of A Lady On Fire was a very similar story. I think that it was told better. The difference being the star power of the main characters. This film has two top A-list stars who are showing more in many ways than expected. In the end I think we can better appreciate how difficult that these times could have been. Many would have lived, loved and fit directly into society. But quite a few would have had a great deal of difficulty and feeling as though they were likely living in the wrong time. I expect in a lean year that Oscar nominations will likely be forthcoming for one or both.

Downhill: A few years back at TIFF the Swedish foreign film Force Majeure was released and it was a dark film showing the tensions in a marriage when a husband and father at a ski resort betrayed his wife and family in an unexpected way and suffers the consequences. In truth I don’t remember the comedy elements. I just remember that there were uncomfortable situations and tension. Then, presumably Wil Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfus saw this as a movie to remake as more of a comedy. It doesn’t work. It’s not funny, but more contrived. I didn’t laugh. I marvelled at the mountain ski resort in Austria. The views and skiing makes me wish for a year ago at Whistler. But otherwise, this dysfunctional family is not where I would want to spend time. Like many Hollywood remakes of European films, this was not a good idea.

Wanda Vision: This new series on Disney + has been advertised hard in the past few weeks. It stars Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen (the best actress in the Olsen clan). Both accomplished actors. After seeing the first episode and 10 mins in the second episode, I have to ask myself “what the hell were they thinking?!” This is bad in a way that I haven’t seen in quite some time. Episode one is a black and white Bewitched remake feel, with the robot “Vision” as Darren and Olsen playing Wanda (a woman with magical powers). I don’t know the point. I don’t the background. I don’t know the Marvel “superheroes”. Frankly, I don’t give damn.

Bridgerton: Saw the end of this. Enjoyed Season 1. I think that the ultimate resolution was satisfying if not altogether predictable. It was a good story. The characters were engaging. It was well written and well acted. Check it out.

January 11th, 2021

Bridgerton: As period pieces go, this series is a good dramatic undertaking with a very good cast, quality writing and plenty of intrigue and scandal to keep everyone wondering what will happen next. At the very least, they might wonder when the next time they will see the lead black actor (Rege-Jean Page) baring his bottom in another episode. Note, as an aside, the charismatic Page is apparently being considered as a new James Bond candidate. This Netflix series is new and part of the latest releases from Shonda Rhimes, the TV wunder-executive, who seems everything she touches turns to gold. This series set in early 1800s England, begins like Hamilton, with people of many races represented, most notably at first a black Queen. Later in the series it is explained that the current King fell in love with his Queen and that this elevated everyone around her. There are multiple houses at play, in addition to the Bridgerton household, along with the Royal House, and those of other surrounding houses. Think Downton Abbey, along with a healthy dose of Upstairs, Downstairs. Pregnancies, marriages, vying for a Prince or a Duke’s affections are all part of the series. The voiceover done by Julie Andrews, is from a local Social Society newspaper that adds to the intrigue because no one seems to know who the well informed writer seems to be. It keeps one’s attention, and I have quite enjoyed it. More than I expected to be honest. But it has been a fun ride as Season 1 closes out and more seasons are to come it seems. Worth your time to see it.

The History of Swear Words. Nicolas Cage, of all people, is hosting this series of short 6-part comedy vignettes about various swear words and their use, origin and trending status. An initial thought was “how the mighty have fallen” from A-list star to Netflix documentarian. But I digress. From innocuous words like “Damn” and “Dick”, we get to more and more intense words, although starting at the top of the food chain in the series with the F%#& word. This is a comedy with supporting cast like Jim Jeffries (who’s own claim to fame C-word is NOT discussed) Sarah Silverman, Nick Offerman and other various comedians. I think that the commentary from Nikki Glaser, or Zainab Johnson are as funny as any of them. It’s fun. I laughed out loud in a couple of the episodes, mostly because I think I was caught off guard (like the “Dick” episode). The viewer may learn a thing or two, but generally it is meant to be like toilet humour for men (you laugh just because people are using words that not-too-long-ago were considered off limits: see George Carlin and The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television). For the record, of George’s seven words, only two were discussed in the 6 episodes. I think that they missed out on a couple more colouful than Damn. Just sayin’. But it is also fun escapist time away from the news and Covid. If we needed a good laugh, today is the best time I can think of. This one is also worth your time.

Finally I am reminded back to the review of Queen’s Gambit and today in the local paper, there was an article about my step-father, the Chess Master and former champion in his youth. Chess has once again become more main stream, and this shows him during the same time when the Queen’s Gambit was taking place. For the record, he felt that the series did a very good job of showing chess, with real moves and the feeling of playing competitive chess.

January 4th, 2021

The Midnight Sky: George Clooney has taken on this project recently released by Netflix. He stars in, directs and produces it. He has put together a very good cast with David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones, and others. Sadly the story isn’t that compelling for me. It is a mash up of the Gravity story, adding in a few bits from Interstellar and then an apocalyptic event with some human drama. A younger Clooney character believes that there is a liveable planet out there, in a Carl Sagan way, but proposes it is on a newly found moon near Jupiter. Fast forward a few years (2049) and there has been an Event. George is up near the Arctic Circle. Alone seemingly. Then add in a exploratory spacecraft coming back from Jupiter with a crew reminiscent of The Martian. Things happen in space with the craft much like as in Gravity, and it has much the same look and feel for it. I have to admit that I don’t fully understand what the Earth “event” was, but there is obviously a political undertone to the whole thing. In the end it didn’t really add up to much, and added very little to the movies that have already addressed the theme. I can’t recommend it. It may have given George the excuse and opportunity to grow a Duck Dynasty beard for his home life.

I have watched and re-watched a number of things over the Christmas holidays. I was unable to watch Kate Winslet Ammonite through the TIFF platform since they have security issues with every browser that isn’t Edge. It is frustrating, and rather than refunding me, they just talked to me slower in the hopes that I was the problem. I am not. It remains on the list of films to be seen.

I also re-watched The Big Short which remains interesting on the perils of Wall Street, self-regulation and those in power making money with complete disregard to the general public. Scarily there was never anyone sent to jail of note for the fraud and corruption perpetrated on the public. Because of this, there is every likelihood that it could be repeated. One doesn’t need to look much further than the current stock market (DOW over 30,000) to wonder how those lofty heights are supported during a pandemic. Other interesting documentaries include The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma which focus on the fact that if you aren’t paying for a product or service, that you ARE the product or service as with Facebook and other social media platforms. The point in both is how AI and tracking of your every movement in your online existence means that you are sent targeted ads to keep you engaged. These targeted ads, as well as news, shapes your thinking and attitudes, which led to results in elections around the globe, including the US 2016 Presidential election and Brexit. More to the point, it suggests that it isn’t even all people on the web, but rather those who are viewed as changeable. They are called Persuadable. I did review it on October 26, 2020, but it was a good thing to refresh. I also re-watched Coco from Pixar the other night and it was a story very well done. Good music, a well told story and a really good story with family and meeting idols.

December 28th, 2020

This week is a tale of two reviews for the same topic; Mulan.  I had never seen the Disney animated original back in 1998.   Knowing that I was going to view the updated real life version I decided to check out the original.   Mulan (1998): The animated version is a musical and tells the story from the 15th Century with the Chinese emperor engaging a conscripted army (one male person from each household) to engage with the horrible Huns who have invaded the northern territory.   Mulan’s elderly father has two daughters and a wife.  Eldest daughter Mulan is a tomboy who isn’t interested in being “matched” by the local matchmaker.   Dad volunteers to be conscripted and fight despite a wonky leg.   Mulan decides (against the family wishes) to take his armour, sword and horse to fight in his place.   She is part of a group of new recruits.    Before she arrives, she meets up with a small dragon, voiced by Eddie Murphy who is the comic relief.    His role is very much the same as Donkey in <strong>Shrek</strong>.   Shrek was from 2001, but it also seems to channel 1992 Aladdin (which was also recently remade in real life).   In short Mulan acts as a young man, and then saves the platoon from the Hun hoard and ultimately the Emperor.   I doubt that I am giving anything away by stating this.   The songs are okay.   Eddie Murphy has a couple funny lines.   The ultimate battle sequence Mulan does something that in hindsight isn’t all that remarkable, but it took some outside of the box thinking.   The Forbidden City entanglement was more than a little unbelievable.   This is a story of a strong woman in times of great repression.   She overcomes cultural challenges and proves her worth to her father, her family and her Emperor.    I know more than a few women who look upon this in a favourable light.   For me, it was okay.

The latest Mulan released on Disney+ was from 2020 and unlike more recent re-makes from Disney is not a true translation.   In most instances the musical aspects are supplemented so that the now live version is longer than the 90 minute animated feature.    Many Disney remakes have done this like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.    In this instance the music is eliminated entirely, and I think to the peril of the overall look and feel.   There is a more serious tone as the young Mulan attends training and eventually encounters a new character, a female witch, who is assisting the Huns.   Mulan’s family speaks of women being labelled as witches and this is obviously not a good situation.   Ultimately the witch and Mulan have more encounters.   This is a significant difference to the original.   There are other scenes as well including the romantic interest who are also very different.  Adding the witch along with other changes didn’t make the story better. In fact I found it a distraction. I wasn’t expecting to do a full scale comparison between the two, but I kept being reminded how different the live version was to the original. Disney+ wanted a significant contribution to watch this when it was first released. I am glad that I didn’t spend the money for it. This is beloved story for many. Having seen it twice in the last week, I don’t feel as though it is something that has added to my Disney catalogue of movies worth watching. So I would avoid this one.

Finally, the Mandalorian Season 2 was completed with the conclusion which I have to admit was a little bit of a surprise. We had learned earlier that the Baby Yoda could potentially engage with some Jedi, although there weren’t many left by sitting atop that one mountain where he was snatched by the bad guys. I won’t reveal more than that. I will say that the technology for making actors younger isn’t really as good one would be hoping. Enough said on the subject. I did enjoy the season, however I would say that for two seasons there were more than a few episodes that felt like filler. By the last couple of episodes it was better and moved along. Was this a satisfactory ending to it? Meh, I don’t know. Was it worth watching, sure. I am more impressed frankly with the ability to have the episodes LOOK like they are filmed in Tunisia and other places in the Star Wars universe. They weren’t. They are projected screens on sound stages. You never would know it in looking at it. There is a documentary about the technology in bringing this series forward, and it was good to see. The ongoing technology is evolving so very quickly. Still. Real actors are a benefit and add to the viewer caring and being engaged.