April 25, 2022

The Northman: What can one say about a movie when the best thing about it was the popcorn in the theatre? For context, I don’t usually eat or drink anything at the movies. But I was given a movie night out coupon which included two drinks and a popcorn. Butter on that popcorn was extra, which strikes me as rude, but worth the splurge! But back to the movie. Alison had sent to me a featurette on youtube describing the Making of the Northman, with the cast, director and others. It seemed that they painstakenly tried to reproduce the Nordic times around 840 AD. There is a decent cast with Alexander Skarsguard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman. I am NOT a Nicole Kidman fan, which I will state at the outset. From that little featurette they sum up the story as Hamlet in these times, which isn’t necessarily a good thing either because of all the Shakespearean plays that I have seen and studied in my youth, Hamlet was one of my least favourites. For me, the inaction of Hamlet in exacting his revenge on his Uncle just frustrates me. For those who haven’t studied Hamlet, then just think of the story as The Lion King. Same thing. I will add that there are aspects of Macbeth in this storyline too. In short, a young man seeks to avenge the death of his father at the hand of his Uncle. Although the film states it is set in Iceland, it was actually filmed in Northern Ireland, where much of Game of Thrones was filmed. The scenery can be beautiful with the cliffs and the water and the green mountains.

The movie itself is dark, like many movies these days. It is also slow, like Hamlet. It plods along. It is never a good sign when one checks their watch a few times during the film to see how much time is left in the over 2 hours runtime. There is a great deal of time spent showing the spiritual aspects of Viking/Nordic life. They channel animals a great deal while others can be regarded at the time as Christian. But most of all there is fighting and a ridiculously violent game of field hockey. Overall, this was much ado about nothing. Despite the claims that this was “a Gladiator for the 2020s” I cannot agree. Gladiator was a story of vengeance, much in the same way, and they share some wonky CGI between them which is disconcerting, but that is where the comparisons end. Gladiator won a Best Picture, among its five Oscars and Best Actor for Russell Crowe. It also had outstanding music by Hans Zimmer where this movie has strange and unusual music that was more of a distraction than an enhancement. I haven’t watched The Last Kingdom on Netflix which deals with Vikings, but there may be some similarities there. The realistic part of me wonders without any modern medicine how these people could survive the elements and the injuries that they encounter. I do know that I wouldn’t want to live in such a brutal time. I certainly wouldn’t want to live with Nicole Kidman as my mother figure!

Radioactive: On Crave I watched this movie about Marie Curie, released in 2019. It stars Rosamund Pike. Set in the late 1800s, the Polish born Marie was at the Paris based Sorbonne University but getting little respect from her colleagues and the powers that be. They had little time for dealing with a woman in those male dominated times. This woman was demanding, and looking for equal footing in her studies. She meets up with another scientist, Pierre Curie who had a lab of his own and a small team. He recognized her talents, and built upon them. Marie was studying uranium, and its properties and she proposed that there were more elements at work as she looked at the uranium. Ultimately she found two new elements in the periodic table, radium and polonium. Later the older Curie has her daughter, played by Anya Taylor-Joy explain that French soldiers on the front were having their limbs amputated for sprains and minor injuries that a mobile x-ray machine would help to fix. She was a very determined and stubborn woman, as I expect that she needed to be. She was in an all male profession, and she became the first ever women professor at the Sorbonne. Her family, daughter and her husband were together responsible for four Nobel Prizes. The most of any family. In the women, I found it a bit disjointed to be bringing forward images of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, Chernobyl and also more modern x-ray/radiation machines that looked to address cancer. Curie was instrumental in finding and better understanding radiation and its uses. She is not, of course, responsible for how it was used, and how it has negatively impacted the world. Hers is an interesting story, but as a movie it was just okay. I think that Pike is good for roles like this and she challenges herself with them. I think that she is very talented and has grown way beyond the roles from James Bond or others where her looks were more important. This was interesting and made me look a little further into the life of Marie Curie.

After Life: I finished the third and final season of Ricky Gervais’ series. Sadly he decided to remove two of the actors from the first two seasons. He also in the final act had to rush through addressing the resolutions to the ongoing plots to the supporting characters. It felt a bit rushed and more than a little forced. I note that he decided to go for more of the sentimentality side of things and turn one way versus another for his own character. It was a bit disappointing to be honest. This was a series that dealt with serious issues, and had elements of sadness and laughter. It was profane. There is language that will make some viwers uncomfortable. But there is an underlying message, that usually are delivered by the supporting cast about life in the here and now. Tony has suffered a great loss, with his wife passing on from cancer at far too young an age. He in many ways, which he acknowledges, puts his own loss and feelings ahead of those around him selfishly. That is a valuable lesson. There is further a discussion about elements of the hereafter, as the title suggests which are thought provoking. There was one addition in season 3 that wasn’t referred to in the other seasons which became an easy out for resolving some issues. It was a bit of a cop out. I saw some resemblance to The Office and the banter there. This small fictional town in England with the local free newspaper was a pleasant place to spend some time. Well worth watching, although you may be wishing that the main character Tony would be able to live more looking into the future rather than torturing himself with the past. Life is about choices.

April 18th, 2022

Return to Space: So while recovering from Covid, I was flipping through some online news items last week and hadn’t remembered seeing anything about this at all:

April 8th, the Axiom crew of four launched and meets up with ISS

I had watched closely the launch a year ago with Bob and Doug the astronauts on the Falcon rocket meeting up with the ISS for their 60+ day mission. It was exciting to see a US launched space craft with human passengers off into the heavens to re-start American efforts in space. The Netflix documentary covers Elon Musk and his desire through the privately owned Spacex to have humans be interplanetary. Such a bold vision for a guy who had begun as a Dot Com billionaire with the sale of Pay Pal. From there he begins this thought, along with a little start up company called Tesla! If you think that you have a busy life, imagine what Elon’s life is like everyday! This enterprise, well detailed in the documentary shows that not everyone was on board with the Obama Administration plan to have a public-private partnership in sharing the expense of space travel. At congressional hearings, there was Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan stating that this program was doomed to fail. Hurtful comments to the young Musk who idolized these men as a young man, as they were the inspiration to return to space from their voyages to the moon in the late 60s and early 70s. Sadly after the space shuttle, the US efforts stalled and there wasn’t much done towards the moon or mars. Musk wanted to change that. I admire Musk and him utilizing his brains, business acumen and vast wealth to seek goals that aren’t about him, but rather moving human kind forward. Unlike say a Bill Gates, who spends money on parks which is valuable but a less lofty goal, Musk sees this enterprise as vital to advancing the species. He states that technology isn’t a given and we cannot expect the window of opportunity to head to other worlds to last forever. The Egyptians made the pyramids and then stopped, and lost the ability. The Romans built aquaducts and lost the ability to do so. The US was on the moon and 50 years later hadn’t been back. This is exciting, like the technology used to recover the first stage booster rockets and re-use them. It is heart warming as a Musk is seen to truly care about the responsibility to returning to astronauts who are also Dads safely back to earth. It shows vision and determination, and an international cooperation (like working side by side with Russians) to achieve something memorable. I hope that we are not becoming so casual about these achievements that a launch ten days ago does not become common place and taken for granted. Great things are happening at SpaceX. Let’s hope the moon base and then Mars come next.

Gaming Wall Street: This is a two episode documentary that shows what mankind can do, especially financially driven people, when money is at the top of what motivates them. In the wake of The Big Short, where the bankers and investors packaged up useless high risk mortgages and passed them off as safe investments, there is this tale of the “meme stocks” which have been made popular by a group or ordinary discount investors who band together to drive up the prices. All this to combat against the short sellers. The main stock in question is GameStop, the retailer of video game systems and games at local malls everywhere. Sadly their business model has fallen on bad times (like Blockbuster with renting DVDs) because of online downloading of games from manufacturers. The stock was failing. But these investors decide not to see and drive up the price. This goes against what Wall Street pundits were betting on, as they had bet on the stock to fail and go down, otherwise known as shorting the stock. But by driving up the price, these average investors were forcing those Shorts to cover their bet and lose millions of dollars. The tale unfolds. What you discover is that nothing was learned from 2008 and the approached collapse of the financial system. No one was arrested from that situation, despite the obvious illegal activity. The same players find another game to play, in this instance called Naked Shorts, where if they cannot secure the actual stocks that they are betting against, they create them out of thin air. These people create nothing, make nothing and profit from pure gambling. The simple solution may be to just outlaw short selling of stocks, but where is the fun in that? The ultimate message that as an ordinary investor that the big players really manage the game and make the rules. One can only hope to ride a wave and not get crushed. Watch with some knowledge that you may not always like what you hear. I wouldn’t be looking to have most of my retirement money, like one of the ordinary investors, in GameStop stock long term.

Julia: I have finished the first four episodes of this series, with four more to come. I continue to enjoy the series and think that the lead actress has done an admirable job channeling Julia. In many ways this is a woman power story, with the men dithering around and not seeing the vision of TV nor of viewers being interessted in watching a woman demonstrate French cooking. The women around Julia are the ones who see her excellence, her presence and passion. She is ideally suited to the task and they are commited to making her a success. There are glimmers of hope as the station manager supports her from early days. His wife likes the program, and he likes what she is serving for dinner as a result. There is a real buzz around the show, and the other enterprising female producer has taken it upon herself to syndicate the show and sell it to other local public broadcasting stations. A first. For those of us used to The Food Network, the early days of public television are fun to see. I remember Graham Kerr, the Gallopping Gourmet and his endless cups of wine and cooking in clarified butter. He wouldn’t have been on TV without Julia and her program’s success.

After Life: I have completed two short seasons of this three season series starring Ricky Gervais, both writing and directing. It centres around his character Tony, who has had his 20+ year marriage end with the death of his wife to cancer. They were connected. They were happy. He works at a small local free newspaper, with a cast of characters, not unlike The Office. Tony is struggling, and has suicidal thoughts. He sees his lack of caring about those around him as allowing his grumpy old man to come out. He has an adorable dog. If it all sounds depressing, it isn’t. Rather it can be very funny while also having moments of warmth. He has a very cutting sense of humour, and can be very brutal. He is vulger. I laugh. Not everybody may. His interactions with others in the town, like the postman, a lady who lost her husband and sit by his graveside each day or the nurse who helps with his Dad who is a bit scattered in a home are good. Two of the characters from Seasons 1 and 2 don’t show up for the final Season 3. It was a bit of a surprise. But I still enjoy and wonder where they will take this series for the conclusion.