February 27, 2023

The Last of Us: First and foremost, I am NOT a zombie movie person. I will avoid a zombie movie like the plague! I had heard some positive buzz about this HBO series, based upon the video game (!!) and starring Pedro Pascal and Game of Thrones Bella Ramsey (in GOT she was fiesty Lyanna Mormont). I had asked Alison about this series and although she conceded that there was a zombie aspect to it, that there was much more to it. I would agree with that assessment.

Episode one made me more than a little skeptical about that claim. As it moved forward there were scenes that couldn’t be more typical zombie with the odd walking gait for the zombies, and their aggressive feasting on those who weren’t zombies. I shrugged and decided to carry on into episode 2. One of the things that drew me forward was the introduction of Tess, played by Anna Torv who was the professor in the excellent series Mindhunter. As an aside, I dearly wish that they would do more Mindhunter. Pedro Pascal has a very good resume, from his role in Game of Thrones himself, to The Mandalorian, and the excellent Narcos about Pablo Escobar. I have never played the video game, and never even knew it existed. It is apparently excellent on the PS4 gaming system. I can say that one doesn’t need to know the game to appreciate the series. I will say that there are some surprises that take place along the way. Further the depth of the series, especially in episode 4 with Nick Offerman is just excellent. It tells a story unto itself, but that also contributes to the story of the main characters in a way that was unexpected. How refreshing! For a guy that doesn’t like zombies I am not being inundated like in the movie World War Z with Brad Pitt. I see similarities to The Quiet Place, also with The Mandalorian too. Is Pascal playing the same character as the Mandalorian just without the helmet, armour and space ship? There is a goal, and a quest and then challenges that are put before the primary characters to challenge them. With surprises along the way, you are interested in the main characters as they reveal themselves slow bits at a time. Early on we see what happened with Pascal’s character as what was explained in the first 10 minutes of this series could happen back in 1968 is slowly materializing. I will keep watching. John Oliver in the tenth season of Last Week Tonight reflected that his show with ratings just happens to come after successful shows like Game of Thrones and then this one. I think he is right. I have binged the first five episodes and I will continue to watch what happens with Melanie Lynskey, who first came to my attention with a young Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures.

Almost Famous: I realized once again as I rewatched this past week this movie with some time off just how good this 2000 movie really is. Remarkable that it is 23 years old. An early effort by writer and director Cameron Crowe, this is more or less autobiographical with the young Crowe, named William Miller, as a 15yo teenager, following a band, fictionally named Stillwater. I hadn’r known that Crowe himself had been married to Nancy Wilson from Heart from 1986-2010. This has an impressive cast with the 21yo Kate Hudson stealing the show, and garnering an Oscar nomination as a result as Supporting Actress. Other members of the cast include Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand (as William’s mom and conscience of the film), Zoey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jimmy Fallon among others. See if you can find a very young Jay Baruchel in this cast!

William lives at home with his opinionated Mom, played by McDormand, and his older sister who is clashing with Mom’s controlling ways. She ventures forth and leaves as soon as she is legally able to be a flight attendant. William likes music that his sister introduces him to, and is a good writer. He meets Hoffman who teaches him about being a music writer, for his magazing and then later giving tips on working for Rolling Stone. William is given an assignment by Rolling Stone to follow this up and coming band Stillwater, with lead singer Jason Lee and lead guitarist Crudup, who is recognized as the stellar talent in the band. What starts off as a road trip movie, with excellent music (including Elton John’s Tiny Dancer in a memorable bus scene), becomes more as the band, the manager, the groupies, fans of the band and others interact. Hudson plays a fan, who is in love with Crudup. For him, she is one of the ancillary benefits of being in a band and on the road.

For me this is a story about learning and redemption. Making mistakes and growing from them. Maturing and getting older. This happens to William and his immediate family, with his Mom and his sister. It happens with the members of the band Stillwater. William learns this through his work, Rolling Stone but also the members of the band and the entourage. It feels good to see these people learn from one another and grow. You care about them and hope that it goes well. I think that the ending is just excellent. If you have an opportunity, seek it out and enjoy again for the first time!

Blackberry: Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have both posted reviews of this movie. It is scheduled for release in Canada in April according to IMDB. On October 17th, I saw a pre-screening of this movie at the local theatre in Toronto. It stars the aforementioned Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton as the Blackberry principals Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. It explores the rise and fall of the Waterloo based IT company Research in Motion. RIM’s primary product was the Blackberry phone. RIM was a Canadian success story with mobile devices/mobile phone before the days of Apple IPhones and Android devices. Called Crack-berries by some for how addictive that they were. The University of Waterloo campus size exploded with new buildings from RIM as they expanded. RIM owned the market with the Blackberry, including being used by the President of the United States (Obama) when he was first elected at its height of popularity. Much like the Apple launch for their computers, as seen in the 2015 film Steve Jobs, you saw the early days of the nerdy engineers working diligently on a device to improve upon pagers in a “fake it until you make it” kind of way. With Lazaridis as the tech-genius who slapped together the device with pieces and parts that he scrounged, he was able to sell a US phone company to purchase the devices. Lazaridis was not a business genius, nor a marketing genius and that was where Balsillie came in.

There are some good funny moments that you would expect from a Baruchel film, but also some insight into the fatal moments and the downfall. Jim had great ambitions, and these lay not just with Blackberry which we heard about in Canada as he looked to bring another NHL hockey team to the Greater Toronto area in Hamilton. Jim also had some very interesting recruiting practices to entice new talent to join the Blackberry team from Silicone Valley. But it doesn’t all fall back on Jim, because from a technology perspective Mike was married to his idea of the touch keypad. Mike and his best friend Doug (pictured above in the orange headband) was a relationship that suffered as the desire for global dominance took precedence over friendship and loyalty. When the talk was that Apple was looking to release a new device, with a virtual keyboard it was dismissed as a “toy”. Mike felt customers wanted to keys to punch and had no interest with the lack of encryption offered by the Apple product. He was satisfied with putting a track ball in the latest phones. What we take for granted now with the IPhone and annual releases, was something new for Blackberry. This is what phones USED to look like!

I enjoyed this movie when I saw it. I have a good friend who worked for Blackberry in sales back in the day and he confirmed a number of things about Jim and his personality. It isn’t really all that surprising. He was profane, business type who cared only about financial numbers, stock price and making money. Integrity took a back seat. Once again, as is often the case, the principals get drunk of their own success, in this case overnight success, and lose the ability to listen to others, see where the market is going and then adjusting. It would be a very good business school case study, as I am sure that it gets discussed frequently. I think that the actors did a good job. I hope that it can have some success but it isn’t a movie that really needs to be seen in a theatre, like the new movie 65 which deals with dinosaurs with Adam Driver coming out soon.