October 7th, 2019

M. Night Shyamalan has had a spotty career with the films he has been involved with over the years.   The Indian director made a big splash and had the town buzzing with Sixth Sense (“I see dead people”) in 1999 and followed up a year later with Unbreakable.    Then a string of other films came which were ranging from modestly successful (like Signs with Mel Gibson) to outright horrible with The Village or Lady in the Lake or The Visit.   He also likes to insert himself into these films as an actor but it doesn’t work as well like it did for Alfred Hitchcock, where it was more a Finding Waldo like joke to Woody Allen, who was an actor in his own right.   Honestly he has to do something with that 80s haircut, which I suspect covers ears that resemble Dumbo, but it’s just a guess.   Last year, M Night came out with Split which stars James McAvoy as a young man who has multiple personality disorder.   McAvoy was brilliant in the role, and he continues with that extraordinary performance in the new film Glass.   Glass is on Crave and is more compelling and watchable than I thought it was going to be.   The story involves the coming together of three separate films, with Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Split.  The stars for each carry on previous roles with Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson and James McAvoy.    They are all different in their own way, and brought together by a doctor looking to “cure” them.   The doctor works with people who have a superhero complex and she is looking to bring them all back to reality.   Jackson is mostly silent throughout the film and Willis is looking to use his perceived powers for good as a vigilante.    Willis wants to help find some teenage cheerleaders who were kidnapped by McAvoy’s character.   Then other things happen which I won’t go into here.  Related characters to the main ones are introduced, and they are looking to help their troubled friends and loved ones.   In the end, I liked this and it was worth my time seeing.

Recently with all the 50 years acknowledgements of the moon landings, there have been more and more showings of space and space race related movies.   Yet again a little while ago The Right Stuff was played.  I own this film on DVD.   I re-watch it periodically.   When Apollo 13 (also re-shown last week) and then last year First Man came out, I watch them all.   I noted in Apollo 13 when the spacecraft was in trouble and Jim Lovell’s Mom was watching the TV, they have Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins sitting with her from Apollo 11.   She asks “are you two in the space program?”   But anyway, The Right Stuff focuses on the Gemini program and getting Americans into space as the Russians were seemingly ahead and the US Administration didn’t want to “sleep under a red sky”.   So they rushed to create a spacecraft, and find people to man them.   Test pilots were the ultimate choice, and those who were well known, like Chuck Yeager and others were skeptical of being “spam in a can” and doing the job that a chimpanzee could do.   Yeager was the fastest man alive for a time with planes he was flying.   The astronauts selected came from all branches of the military and had good acting with Scott Glenn, Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid in the roles.   Wives are not excluded from the drama either as we see how their lives are impacted by the chosen profession of their husbands.   Barbara Hershey, Pamela Reed are memorable as well as Veronica Cartwright who after her husband Gus Grissom has a mishap with a hatch, doesn’t get to meet Jackie Kennedy and she is crushed by that defeat of no visit to the White House.    There are tremendous technical scenes and visuals with the rockets, the planes and re-living these times.   I enjoy the humour and good fun that the guys can try to have some laughs even while being put through testing that no human had ever endured before.  It is a job where from one day to the next you don’t know whether you are going to come home or not.   Scary.   Brave.  If you have interest in history and space history, this is well worth your time to understand the times.   I would like to think that we all worked better together, even though the Vietnam war and the race riots were all part of a very tumultuous time in the world.   Maybe it was just one thing that we could seem to agree on when all others failed.   And even then getting funding for Apollo was not an easy thing to get, nor keep.

 

October 1st, 2019

Coming soon – a new Trailer for me that was shared by a friend (who also happened to find They Shall Never Grow Old).   Here is a WWI film that I will seek out.   I have to admit that I am not generally a Sam Mendes fan, but this looks good.   I also think that the “one shot” concept is a bit of a gimmick – and truly it is a series of one shots clearly – otherwise there is no need to wait for clouds.    But still ….

September 30th, 2019

No theatre visits this week, but instead some catch up on Crave and Netflix.  It started with Untouchable, which is the disturbing documentary about the rise and fall of Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein.   What more can be said about the Weinstein story.   He has gone from a mogul to pariah, where everyone would take his call, to no one wanting to be associated with him.   It’s interesting to note just how early his transgressions began.   There was an internal memo at Miramax early on by a female employee that later became a smoking gun.   His own brother certainly knew about what was happening and this team of people became enablers for him.  He had to privy to writing the cheques to silence the accusers.   And there were many accusers over the years, they just became more and more well-known.  Also well known too is the lack of whistleblowers.   No one wanted speak up for fear of the wrath of Harvey, his litigation team and losing out on plum job opportunities.   Powerful people have the ability to abuse power.  It becomes a question of character.  Not everyone who make it to high positions of power have that character, and certainly don’t always possess the human niceties (see Steve Jobs example).  You thought I was going to mention the current President.   In the end, the good news is that this awakened a movement (#MeToo) which impacts the industry and life in general.

Welcome to Marwen, is a film that from the trailers didn’t show very well.  It was an odd concept, with GI Joe like characters in a make believe world that was the imagination of a talented photographer.  It stars Steve Carrell, and directed by Robert Zemekis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Contact and Cast Away).   A loner gets beaten up in a bar by some thugs, and then has to deal with the aftermath.   He has some friends, but he for most of the time lives in his own world.   This world is shown with Barbie like characters and fuzzy storytelling.   His biggest feat is whether he can attend the trial and sentencing for the thugs who beat him up.   In the end, this isn’t a very strong effort and it fared poorly in the box office.

Finally the documentary Clive Davis: Soundtrack of Our Lives speaks to the life a music executive icon, who didn’t seem to have a problem with keeping aspiring artists from massaging him in his hotel room.  His parents died early in his young life, and he ended up putting himself through university and then Harvard Law School.   He was never musically inclined, but was offered the position of Legal Counsel at Columbia Records.   His role changed after a time there and he became the person to identify and sign new talent.   One of many genius moves was to focus on rock n roll rather than the more traditional easy listening music.   One of his first signings was Janis Joplin.   Others followed like Aretha Franklin, Carlos Santana, Patti Smith, and then Bruce Springsteen and Simon & Garfunkel.   Later he managed Whitney Houston.   Yes, he also managed Barry Manilow and Kenny G, but these were multi-million dollar acts.   He was removed from the record company that he started (Arista) but then was later re-instated as his acts supported him.  He continues to this day to listen to top hit music and keep abreast of trends in music.   At 87 years old, he is expected to keep doing his job for the foreseeable future.   It’s worth a watch.

September 23, 2019

I connected with my eldest son this past weekend and I talked with him about whether he had any interest in seeing Ad Astra, the new space Brad Pitt vehicle.  He responded that he was tired of these space movies and it seemed that there was a new one each year and they were all basically the same.   In many ways I agree with him.  Some space movies are more realistic   Others more fantastical.   In this case the story and the scenes increase the level of disbelief to levels that for me just make me laugh.   It is Princess Leia flying dead in space level of laughter for me.   There are practicalities that even in a futuristic world (extensive underground bases in places like the moon and Mars) leave me scratching my head.   If you choose to watch this, then you will know what I mean.   The story structure has aspects of Apocalypse Now, with a person who was in a position of power who has seemingly gone off the grid.  There is also a father and son dynamic which plays out.   There are bits of Gravity, and Interstellar and others   In the end, there is an “ending impossible”.   To sum up, I hope I have saved you each a couple hours of your life.   And you can feel free to ignore the positive review from Roger Ebert.com.   You can thank me later.

Also at the theatre this week, just a couple of days after it showed at TIFF, I went and saw Hustlers with Jennifer Lopez.  It tells the true story of a group of strippers at Scores Club in NYC.   They had a decent lifestyle and business with the Wall Street types until the financial meltdown in 2009.   As a result the club suffered and they were collateral damage.   Lopez was a well known and popular dancer who took a new young dancer under her wing (played by Crazy Rich Asians Christine Wu).  When the crisis hits they reconnect and decide to alter their business model somewhat along with a few new friends and recruits.   I have to admit that the story surprised me a little.  I went in expecting another telling of a Widows like story (which I quite enjoyed) and it turned out to be very different.   Lopez in particular is very good and she shows an edge and street smarts that she hasn’t shown in some time.   She is a clever business person and ruthless.   She is able to justify in her own mind (and those around her) the actions that she is taking.   It was entertaining.   I cared about the characters.   Sure there is an aspect with strippers parading around but you don’t see any nudity on Lopez or Wu.   Lopez has worn less in Awards dresses than what she wears here.   Still as a 50yo she holds up very well in the physical aspects of this role.   Do you need to see this on a big screen?   Not really.   Still worth checking out as it was for me on a Cheap Tuesday.   

September 16, 2019

I didn’t get to TIFF.  Sad to say, and I tried but I just didn’t get there.  In the end there were a couple of days that worked, but the expense just couldn’t be justified.  Seeing a Gala at Roy Thompson or others were going to run $45-85 a ticket.   I couldn’t justify for films that would be in wide release within weeks.   So I was on the sidelines, and not willing at this age to take my time and chances on a Rush ticket (going to the window and hoping that there would be a seat for $25 cash).

Not sure if I have said it before, but it is worth repeating that I don’t like Jesse Eisenberg.   I didn’t like him in The Social Network, nor Now You See Me and others.   He seems to play himself, or he has been very well typecasted as the small-statured,  smarmy, arrogant, know-it-all who after a while you just feel like punching in the face.  He plays the same character in The Hummingbird Effect.  Conversely the typical casting of Alexander Skarsgard has been one of the hunk, good-looking, menacing hero type (see The Legend of Tarzan or True Blood).  In this film, he is a balding, geeky, introverted brother to the marketing guy Eisenberg.  Salma Hayek rounds out the stars in this film, which on first take you might believe is based on a true story.   It is not.  The story focuses around a pipeline to be tunnelled from Kansas City through to NYC.   It looks like a fibre optic line from what I can tell, and it requires extraordinary efforts to have 10ths of nanoseconds in order for traders to gain an edge and make money.   Jesse is getting funding to pay for this tunnel.   All the while his boss, and company owner, Hayek, does her best to thwart the efforts of her now former employees.    It seems as it is much ado about nothing.   Only in America are these efforts made in order to temporarily save fractions of secs before the next technology makes it extinct.   Then there exists the hard line under the Appalachian mountains.   Who cares?   I am not in any way engaged with this film, and do not care about the characters.   Skarsgard towers over Eisenberg and it is funny to see them together.   They don’t look like brothers and don’t act like it either.    In the end, I shrug my shoulders and don’t really care about it.

I re-watched Sophia Coppala’s Marie Antoinette, and my initial assessment from when I first saw this back in 2006 was re-affirmed.   I cannot say that I like the retro soundtrack that was put into this film.   Bow Wow Wow “I Want Candy” and other songs have been added which try to make this seem more contemporary, but just don’t seem right.   The music of the day would seem to be more fitting.   Where has Kirsten Dunst gone, now 13 year ago?   She was Mary Jane in Spiderman.   She landed this role and many others.   You will spot others too like Jamie Dornan, and Tom Hardy in this cast.   Jason Schwartzman gives a memorable Louis XVI performance but not one in which the doomed King would have liked.   He is quiet, not interested in relations nor a relationship with his young wife, and has trouble (most of the film) in consummating the marriage.   The scenes of Versailles itself are amazing and a great reminder of all this place is, both then and now.   What a symbol of French opulence!!   But you can see how the royalty was completely removed from every day life, a theme that I heard matter-of-factly in The King’s Speech where Colin Firth speaks of not having friends and not knowing how the common man (his subjects) actually live.   I would like to think that the trial and beheading of Marie Antoinette would get more attention, as it got none here.   She started out as an entitled young Austrian girl, who grew up in the Austrian palace of Schonbrunn in Vienna (also a worthy pace to visit) and married at age 14.   But she became a symbol of a monarchy who had lost touch and didn’t care for her people.   The consequences of that were fatal, but were more implied than shown here.

 

September 9th, 2019 (TIFF begins)

It is always an exciting time to be living in Toronto when the film festival comes to town.   These days they are closing down King Street (a main east-west throughfare) to allow for walking and booths and food trucks for the TIFF opening.   The Festival started on Thursday and runs through to next Sunday.  There is a buzz in the city, and there are many celebrities at the bars, restaurants and around at the films they are promoting.   I brought youngest son down with me on Saturday to just get a sense of how it is like again.   Last year we went and saw Julia Roberts from afar.   This year we went and just happened upon a gathering spot across the street and west from TIFF Lightbox theatres.   There we saw a commotion and people clamouring for pics.   We arrived to see the following (we missed Willem Dafoe by a few minutes sadly).   We caught Antonio Banderas entering in a hurry.   Then had a picture shared of Rosario Dawson (a favourite of mine) as she entered.   So cool.

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Antonio Banderas at TIFF 2019, in a hurry
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Rosario Dawson at TIFF 2019

I am hoping to get out to see a film or two, but I have nothing scheduled.   Normally I would have poured over the listings and made my choices of films to see.  Not this year.  It will be hit and miss, and rush something that piques my interest, and I am okay with that.

On Crave (I have had my home subscription renewed) so now I have more options going forward.   I watched the Clint Eastwood film, The Mule.  Based upon the true story Leo Sharp in a NY Times article.   The facts are an elderly man, more or less estranged from his family as he was a work-a-holic, or at the very least chose to be away from him, is roped into running drugs as a driver into Chicago.   He has a clean record, a good driver, and never had a ticket.    He ended up being one of the most trusted mules for the Mexican drug cartel.   The cast is good with Eastwood playing Earl Stone, who is a horticulturalist, and creates amazing flowers and plants for which he gets rewards.  With him Dianne Wiest, as his ex-wife, real life daughter Alison Eastwood, playing his daughter, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia and Michael Pena.   The film was more emotionally impactful than I thought it would be.   Primarily I think because Eastwood is reflecting back on himself and his own life, especially with daughter Alison.   The story itself works and you feel for those involved.   Things happen as you would (generally) expect – although not all when it comes to Clint – you’ll know it when you see it.   In the end there is a message and thoughts on life as you look in the rear view mirror.  Somehow I suspect that Clint wouldn’t have made fewer movies.   Something about him makes me think he likes the awards and the body of work and him being regarded as a living legend in film.   Still as he acts with his daughter, there must be pangs of doubt every now and then of the choices made.   Only he would know.

I started watching the series Euphoria on Crave and I immediately reached out to Alison to get her take on it.   The first episode was so raw, and disturbing as you watch these high school aged kids living the life in California.   I wasn’t sure if I could continue at that pace but I am glad that I stuck with it.   The story follows mostly unknown actors to me in high school with the focal point being a young black woman name Rue (played by Zendaya) who is sharp, and funny and engaging, along with being a drug addict who lies and manipulates her way through life.   She has many fellow students around here, who read off like the characterizations in The Breakfast Club.   There is Sports/Athlete guy, and Crazy, and wallflower and others in this group trying to keep up.   The adults are about as mixed up as the kids, maybe more in cases.   They swirl around in a drama that takes new turns and directions.   It culminates in a final episode for Season 1 where, I think, they have pulled together so many of the storylines that it was excellent writing.   It may seem hollow at first, but it stayed with me.   Stories are left hanging and others seem resolved.  But clearly there will be more to come.   This is not easy to watch at times, especially for a parent myself.   I am not naive enough to think that this doesn’t happen around here.   In fact, I would think the opposite is that it likely is all around.   The young tattooed boy (hard to call him a man) who sells the pretzels at the fair, is one enterprising and street smart little dude.   He is scary.   Others too.   I have said many a time that I have no interest in re-starting life and going back to high school.   This series makes that statement all the more true.   Worth catching if you have the stomach for it.

Finally the TIFF films from 2018 Climax was on.   This is a French film that was more racey.  It really though is a study in chaos.   And to that end it fails.   I can’t say that I understood the point.    It seems to be random and strange interactions of people working through an abandoned building.   In truth I didn’t catch this from the very beginning, but I don’t need to.   The only notable I saw was Sofia Boutella of The Mummy and Atomic Blonde.   I can’t say that yelling and screaming and rolling around on the floor elevated her status for me at all.   Consider yourself warned and know that I saved you an hour and a half of your life, to go watch something far more interesting.

September 2, 2019 – Bonus Alison reviews

Alison:  The timing seems right to talk about Midsommar.  I read a “best movies of 2019” list today which included Midsommar but I immediately discounted it for having Detective Pikachu so I can only take it half seriously.  Four stars on RogerEbert.com and 83% fresh on the tomato page.  My second surprise was a packed theatre which landed Rob and I in the front row for our viewing.  This movie was promised to be a horror flick of sorts and for me it was a fail in that regard.  The premise is that a couple of university students travel to the home of a friend in Sweden to visit the commune (read cult) he grew up in.  There’s the couple that should have broken up on their third date, the two guys that can’t stand their buddy’s girlfriend and of course cult guy.  Everything about this film is awkward.  None of these people seem to really like each other.  Conversations are at an unnatural pentameter and despite appearance there is an underlying anger and uneasiness that starts to take hold.  The cult folks are odd but welcoming and things get underway with the festival.  Without giving too much away, people start dying (one scene quite shocking), friends go missing and the reactions of the remaining friends are not what you’d expect.  Its not scary…its just weird.  Midsommar is from the guy who made Hereditary which I loved.  I suspect this is the movie he wrote first that got picked up after the success of Hereditary.  Do you need to see it???  If you’re curious, go ahead and then I’ll wait for the “wtf email” you will be certain to send me afterwards.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is the latest offering from Mr. Tarantino that came with much anticipation and accolade.  Four stars on Roger, 85% on rotten and attention at Cannes.  And yet of the thirty or so people in the theatre, three got up and walked out around the half way mark in what felt like a painfully long 2.5 hour film.  If I had to describe this film in one word i might use “unnecessary” or “self-absorbed”.  Don’t get me wrong, this was beautifully shot film and Brad and Leo gave great performances (and Brad looked especially good doing it) but I kept waiting for it to start or get to the point.  And when it finally did, it was anticlimactic.  I suspect much of the accolades for this film are from those in the industry as this was a directors film.  For the rest of us it was time spent looking at something really well made that just wasn’t that entertaining.
Cold War was nominated for an Oscar and Bafta award last year.  It’s filmed in black and white and is simply gorgeous to look at.  This is a love story that takes place in communist Poland between a musician and the young farm girl he discovers.  Together they are part of a troupe putting on cultural shows until the evil Kaczmarek used the troupe to gain good fortune with the communist party.  He, the musician and she the singer devise to defect to France and when he crossed she got cold feet.  He meets with success in France and she finally decides to join and the love affair resumes.  The characters are engaging but more as a curiosity as everyone plays their cards close to their chest and seemingly there is always an angle.  Love has its ups and downs and this couple is no different but theirs is a never happy kinda love, neither together or apart and always a yearning for a thing you don’t have until having it doesn’t feel that great either.  Don’t expect to walk away feeling your heart has grown as big as the Grinch’s on xmas day and as Jason would say “well, that wasn’t horrible”.