October 22nd,2018 – Birthday edition

Hard to believe that my youngest is 14 years old today, how time flies – and how old am I ?!?!   This past weekend was checking out an oldie, a goodie and an interesting character sketch.  All of these were on Netflix.   We were tempted to go see Sharkwater Extinction, but he decided to stay inside instead.

The goodie was the recent release on Netflix for The Kindergarten Teacher with Maggie G.  We saw her at TIFF on the red carpet along with the young man who played the prodigy in the film.   This was a remake of an Israeli film of the same name a few years back.  An experienced kindergarten teacher with a husband and family of her own (older son and daughter) recognizes innocently that one of her students, played by Parker Sevak,  is periodically spontaneously spouting poetry out of the blue.   She begins to write it down, and she recognizes how deep the words are immediately.  They are well beyond the average student at this age.   Given the swirl of the life around her, she decides that she should try and cultivate and nurture this gift.   She sees him as a young Mozart of the art of poetry.  She is affirmed in her discovery by a university course she is taking herself in English and poetry.  After some less-than-stellar feedback on her own work, she reads out the young man’s work, as her own, and is applauded and encouraged by her fellow students and professor.   She feels somewhat thwarted by the father and caregiver of this boy who don’t seem that interested in his ability.  They want him to carry on a more “normal life”.   The story carries on and you can see our teacher with the best of intentions looking to find ways to develop this young man.   Mozart was fed sweets by Kings and Queens, and was allowed to develop his talents, rather than become bogged down in social media and the mundane everyday life.  I enjoyed this film and the performance.   This is Maggie’s movie and she carries it well.  She is believable, and you can sympathize with her recognizing the talent in her midst.  You wonder at times whether she is seeking out the development and growth of the boy, or whether it is becoming more about her.   Like Salieri in Amadeus, she wants to be a part of the gift rather than having just enough talent to recognize the incarnation.  She wants this talent to rub off on her and bring her glory too.   There is a social commentary too about modern society and the lack of cultural pursuits.   Her own children get good grades and are normal kids, but they don’t work on developing any talents and she resents the lack of creativity in her own house.   I was thinking about seeking this out literally last week at TIFF Lightbox, and was surprised to see it so quickly on Netflix.  So my monthly $9.99 subscription just saved me $13.99 at the theatre.   Works for me.  In the end, well worth the time spent.   Alison will be miffed about the desire for Maggie to remove her clothes, but that seems to be the situation that she has created, and one that doesn’t seem to bother the star in the least.
The “oldie” from this weekend was the Stephen King movie with Christopher Walken called The Dead Zone.  This 1983 film was filmed by director David Cronenberg and was based on the 1979 novel from King.   It was filmed in and around Toronto and Niagara Falls.  Walken plays a school teacher Johnny Smith who has a girlfriend (Brooke Adams), whom he loves and one night driving home has an accident that puts him in a coma for a number of years.    He wakes up to find his life has changed, his girlfriend has moved on, and he has these episodes where he has visions of other times.   Martin Sheen plays an enthusiastic and bombastic Senatorial candidate who is in the midst of election time.  There are interesting parallels between Sheen and current figures in politics.  Ultimately Johnny comes to realize that his visions when he touches certain people are premonitions of what it is to come, but his “dead zone” is his ability to impact those visions and change them.   I leave the rest of the plot for the viewer.  This is one of my favourite King stories brought to the screen.   My top story of course is The Shawshank Redemption.  Others would include The Green Mile, and Misery among others.   I enjoyed this long ago, and I think it holds up well.  Walken is very good and believable and you sympathize with his plight.  It is unclear how I would view such an ability, and whether it is a gift or a curse.   However you may feel you can see how this story takes that ability for a good thrill ride.   Funny how both movies have a teacher as the main focal point.
After seeing A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, I had mentioned to a friend that I wasn’t much of a Lady Gaga fan.   I was encouraged to watch the documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two.  This is another Netlflix film and it was released in 2017.   Lady Gaga was preparing for her Superbowl appearance (Patriots vs Falcons game) and she also just had found out about doing the role in A Star is Born.   As I watched this ball of energy I could how she was looking to develop and grow and move away from her earlier “glam diva” role.   She was toning down the fashion and all the make up and trying to be more whatever mainstream normal is.  It was a conscious choice.   What I also saw was in behind the performances, where once again she shows off her remarkable and strong voice and writing talents that she is suffering from constant pain from a hip problem.   I am reminded of Prince and Amy Winehouse, and notably Amy from her documentary where you see her struggle with alcoholism and people around her who enable her continued abuse of her body and talent.   Gaga looks a lot like Amy too when she has the eye makeup with the ends turned up (like Egyptian eyes – I am a guy and have no idea how to describe it).  I hope I am wrong and that Lady Gaga can get this under control.   She is seen having injections, and numerous physio manipulations and taking some pills.   I wonder about that whole star persona and handlers/managers/record labels pushing them to keep creating.   Maybe there is something inherently in the personality of one so talented for injury (internal and external) I am not sure.  The movie does not show the Superbowl performance but I was able to youtube it.   I missed it live since I was on an airplane back from Nashville when it was on.   She’s good.  She’s very good.  I think the backstory to her album Joanne was interesting with that family connection.  She is obviously very close to her family and this grounds her.  Did I go out an order her songs on Itunes after watching this?  No.  But I gained a greater insight into her life, and I am hopeful that she can keep her head about her and continue to share her talents with the world.

October 8th, 2018 – Canadian Thanksgiving

A Star is Born:  First off I have to admit that I am not a Lady Gaga fan.   And I think mostly that it had to do with the whole persona, with the clothes and the over-the-top wackiness of her.  She just seemed so made up and created with no one very real underneath.   So I came into this film, that was given good reviews from TIFF with some reservations, and few expectations.   I also wasn’t sure that this re-make of another re-make (1976) of yet another film (1954) needed to be made.  And some impressive talent have played the Ally character before, namely Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand!!  Pretty hard to get more talented than that!  Yes Bradley Cooper being the Director was likely enticing, and making this a more modern film adaption might make some sense but still.   The theatre on Sunday was packed for a 9:15PM showing, which surprised me actually.   But all of that is background.

The film is good, and I think the best part about it is Gaga herself.   She is fresh, and wholesome – her “normal” hair and look in the beginning of the film along with her street-wise attitude make for a compelling protagonist.   She talks at length early on about the music business and being told that her nose is “too big” although she can sing.  Well, let me emphasize this with underlines, that SHE CAN SING.   The film includes all original songs and they are very good.  Gaga simply nails it.  In many ways this is a concert film, because there are many songs performed in full.    But from a singing stand point, Cooper was a revelation.  I didn’t expect it.  He plays the guitar and performs live (even alone and in a bar after it is closed) he sings really well.    The biggest distraction for me was the Cooper speaking voice.   He’s channeling co-star Sam Elliott who plays his brother and has his gravelly voice and drawl.  I think also he is adding some elements of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart.  In truth I think there is much of Crazy Heart tone, and look and the feel of Cooper’s character.    But this voice I guess is to make you see this character and not Bradley Cooper but every time he’s talking I think that it’s not him.    It seems put on, and it’s not really necessary.   When he’s engaging with Sam Elliott then it shows this mirroring and they are really good together.  Anyway, from a strong movie and performance, it likely didn’t need to go there.

The film stands on the music, but it breathes through the love story.  You have to believe that Cooper and Gaga fall for one another.   They have humble beginnings in a drag bar, where she sings once a week (the “girls” allow this as she is was a server and they just love to hear her sing), and it grows as he takes her under his wing and gives her a stage for her talent.   Other talents come in too in supporting roles, like Dave Chappelle as a buddy who is a guy who cleaned up his act to Cooper’s mess.   And also the performance of Ally’s father, and a surprise performance that added depth and feeling.  I’ll leave it at that because it took me a couple minutes to place the actor.
I will also say about the music that I liked a great deal more the early songs and the ones from the Cooper character rather than the more pop songs that Ally became.   She has such a great voice, and writes such good lyrics that it seems a shame to make them into dance numbers.    The scene with her at SNL could have been removed, as this film is way over 2 hours, but it moved along well with a good pace.   Certainly the audience I saw it with didn’t get restless.
So the buzz is real.  The performances are really good.  I have found a new appreciation for Lady Gaga, even though she has gone back to her platinum blond hair for the interviews about this project.  Sad really, and I wished I saw more early Ally and a little less Gaga in the promotion junkets.
On Netflix I watched the newly released film Operation Finale about the finding and extraction of Nazi Final Solution architect Adolph Eichmann, played by Ben Kingsley.   I did not know this story but it is a fascinating one of identifying and then trying to get a known Nazi (the highest ranking Nazi at the time who had fled after WWII) from Argentina.   As with the Nuremberg trials there are some interesting legal arguments about things like where the venue should be for the war crimes against humanity.   Does one really think that the Nazi would get a “fair trial” in Israel?   Of course it is but a formality, and justifiably so from all the evidence that would be brought forward.   This story focuses on the people who struggled to do the extraction, and struggled with keeping their deep emotions in check.   The main crux of the story is obtaining Eichmann first, but once you have him, obtaining his signature to prove that he is who you say he is.   Torturing a signature out of him likely doesn’t help your cause, but that flies in the face of those who feeling treating someone humanely who was so clearly inhuman was something they couldn’t bear.  Oscar Isaac plays one of the main operatives, although he has a spotty past with wrongfully executing a Nazi before.   There is that cat and mouse game with the lucid and intelligent Eichmann, who professes to be protecting his country that he loves, and following the orders of a dictator.    He explains that trial of one man for the actions of an entire nation, and the killing of 6 million is too heavy a burden.   The extraction itself by disguising and drugging Eichmann has a little more Hollywood to it than I expect happened in real life, but it made for an interesting climax to the time in Argentina.   I find it interesting that outside the film, in real life the Argentinians were irate that their sovereignty was challenged and they felt violated and wronged.   Harbouring Nazis and sympathizers to flip the bird to Israel and all her supporters wasn’t enough I suppose.   In the end this was worth watching, although I would have liked to see some more of the trial itself, which was broadcast live at the time.   The same issues from 27 July and giving a terrorist a voice arise as well.  So something to check out at home.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!!!