November 21st, 2022

A Christmas Story Christmas: Back in 1983, the original A Christmas Story was released to modest fanfare. But over time, it has gained a cult following including me that regards this as of of my favourite Christmas movies and I watch it each holiday season. Starring Darren McGavin as the Father, Melinda Dillon as the Mom and Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker in his quest to get the Red Rider BB Gun.

Ralphie is foiled at every turn by his Mom is his quest for the precious gun, while ultimately seeking out Santa Claus above to by-pass Mom’s blocks. The story is fun, and cute involving Ralphie, his picky-eating little brother Randy, and his two closest friends Flick and Schwartz. Darren McGavin as Dad is priceless with his battle with the furnace, to his Prize, negotiating with the Tree Salesman, and changing tires like he is at the Indy 500!

Flash forward to 2022, and we have a sequel with Peter Billingsley come back as Ralphie as an adult. Despite the good will built up over many years in the original, this can’t do anything but suck really, right? There is a fine line between paying homage to the original and pandering to it, trying to milk every nostalgic moment out of it, until all those fond memories are tossed aside. Darren McGavin passed away in 2006. Melinda Dillon sadly is replaced with Airplane’s Julie Haggerty.

It is now the 1970s, and Ralphie is married with two kids of his own. He is an aspiring writer and has taken a year off to write a novel. He isn’t meeting with much success for his 2000+ science fiction opus. He gets news from his Mom and and returns home. Interestingly this is filmed in Bulgaria of all places. Not Cleveland where I have seen the actual original house. Ralphie’s friends Flick, Schwartz who were cute kids back in the early 80s, are back in more minor roles. Even Scott Farkus, the town bully for Ralphie makes an appearance. But it all seems so forced, in doing what it can to replay memories from the original. From the daydream sequences, to the school teacher’s filled desk drawer, to car adventures. I have to admit that I have absolutely never heard about dealing with a radiator with a raw egg. Not ever. Ralphie is struggling to make this celebration perfect just his Dad did when he was a child. One of the things I loved about the original is how to Dad ended up being the hero! He seems so preoccupied with his work, the neighbour’s dogs and everything else that he didn’t seem to have much time for his kids. It all ends so predictably, and but for seeing the aged Ralphie, no one else really is a welcome face to see once again. I will venture to say that this HBO Max effort won’t become a holiday classic like the original. I won’t see the need to watch this again myself to be sure.

Tar: There has been a lot of buzz about Cate Blanchett’s turn as a well known modern day conductor as well as a composer, Lydia Tar. At the beginning of the film during an interview with a real life interviewer. The listing is impressive with various awards and her being the current conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic. In a male dominated profession, she is at the top of her game. She also happens to be a lesbian, which not material in itself, likely would make that achievement even more impressive.

Blanchett plays her as very opinionated, with someone very attuned to the music. She sees her role in conducting as playing with time. She starts the whole process of playing the tune and beginning the journey for the audience. She also decides where to lengthen notes, add pauses while interpreting the music of the composer. Add to this her teaching at Julliard, where she has young students where she can shape them and their own attitudes.

Control is a big theme for Lydia, and while is a source of success as the conductor, it is a bit more troubling with her personal life and in dealing with artists and contemporaries away from the spotlight on stage. She has a partner who also happens to be in the Berlin Orchestra, who we learn assisted in bringing Lydia in coming to her position. Like many in these lofty positions, life becomes all about her and her needs and moves into a more predictable arc as her life progresses. We learn that Lydia can be nasty, even when dealing with children. She can be petty and vindictive. She can get defensive and double-down on positions which she would be better showing a little compromise. The Blanchett performance is admirable. She makes this film and it is better for it than it really deserves. From a predictable arc, she is able to elevate it somewhat before it settles down. Mark Strong plays a small supporting role. Noemie Merlant from Portrait of a Woman on Fire, is also an understudy looking to establish herself in this challenging musical world. Their talents are not fully explored, leaving the stage for Blanchett. She may get a nomination out of this role. As a movie it was more M’eh for me.

The question remains, and I googled it after viewing, “is Lydia Tar real?” The answer is No. She is completely fictional. Blanchett put flesh and bone onto this character, but part of it seems almost too contrived. One wonders just how far a real person could fall from grace. There are many instances of it. Is this showing realistic? Unknown.

FIFA Uncovered: This four part Netflix documentary explores how a world class event, the World Cup of Football/Soccer, can be awarded to a country that has a population of 2.9M people and a land mass that can fit into the boot of Italy. The event started yesterday. Oh, and the hosts lost 2-0 to Ecuador to become the first ever host to lose the opening game 16-0-6 in the history of the World Cup and the first ever host not to score! But this isn’t a story about football/soccer at all. It is a story about money, power and how absolute power can corrupt absolutely. The leaders of FIFA have shown themselves to be extremely imaginative in how they wield their power and allow their precious votes for hosting the tournament that happens every four years to be purchased. And make no mistake, they are purchased. How else does one explain how small Arab country Qatar hosts and beats out a country like the US? One way is to have each country, no matter how the size to have an equal vote in the decision. All 203 members. So football superpowers like Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Italy would have the same voting power as Iceland, Aruba, Belize and Montenegro. Go figure. Of course they aren’t offering their OWN money, but rather this “non-profit” organization with billions of dollars in reserves spends the money of the sponsors. What I hadn’t realized is that the real business of the World Cup has taken place in my lifetime. With broadcasting rights, sponsorship, advertising, all these marketing rights were initially managed by a new company set up by the head of Adidas. He had the vision to see where this sport was going. Then men like Sepp Blatter took over.

Last Week Tonight dealt with FIFA brilliantly back eight years ago. This was brilliant in their review of Brazil hosting back in 2014. The people of Brazil were protesting, violently upset about how money was being spent to host these games.

Needless to say, much of what was highlighted by Oliver then, is recapped now. The follow on was that the US Authorities, having been bypassed for Qatar back 12 years ago, fought back and made arrests for many of the FIFA executives, except notably Blatter. Sadly for football fans, this award for these games takes away from some of the enjoyment. Just the idea of watching football in November, because in the summer in Europe it is 45C in Qatar and unplayable, is foreign. But they have issues with the workers rights, women’s rights and dealing with a small country that no one would say is a football mecca. But with this award, like awarding the Olympics in 1936 to Hitler and Berlin looked to legitimize their method of government and FIFA also awarding to Argentina for 1978, and Russia just 4 years ago with dictators in charge that FIFA becomes very political. Most shrug their shoulders when they see this. True fans care about the sport and the competition, rather than those in behind the scenes but maybe that is part of the problem. Sponsors who see that people don’t care, will keep paying the organizers. Obviously even without Blatter (suspended until 2028), there still needs to be a re-evaluation of the leaders of the sport and who hosts the coming World Cups.