July 29, 2019

I like Emily Blunt.   Plain and simple.  I think she has grown tremendously as an actor and shows a great deal more range than just the romantic interest.   She has shown herself to be multi-talented with acting, then singing in a movie like Into the Woods, and also dancing, where she played a dancer in Adjustment Bureau.  Dramatically I think that she took a huge leap forward with Sicario, where she played an FBI agent amongst manly men and held her own.   In a world where Disney has taken upon itself to re-invent and re-release their content in endless forms to show that they have no shame, along comes Mary Poppins Returns.  I must admit to my predisposition to not wanting to catch this film, but it kept creeping me and daring me to watch.    Now it is on Netflix, and I watched it.   I think for many viewers one cannot think Mary Poppins without thinking the Julie Andrews Oscar winning performance.    However talented I think Emily Blunt is, I still do not put her in the same category as Oscar winner Andrews.   Joining Blunt in this cast is Hamilton creator himself Lin-Manuel Miranda as a chimney sweep, Julie Walters, Colin Firth and Meryl Streep.   Quite an ensemble and expense for Disney to make.   The results are okay.   Just okay.   Whereas the original had numerous sing along tunes for young and old alike, this one really doesn’t.   Perhaps spend some more on musical talent than the acting.   None of the songs approaches classics that we all sang to like “A Spoonful of Sugar”, or “Supercalifragalis-expialidocious” or “Chim Chim Cheree”.   Poppins 2 comes closest with “The Place Where Lost Things Go”.  But the magic isn’t the same.   Maybe it’s a product of expectations again, and expecting something remarkable to move you in the theatre but I am not certain.    More than one person reached out to me to encourage me to see this movie.   They felt Blunt channeled Andrews very well and she mimicked her voice and mannerisms very well.    They saw Mary Poppins in front of them.   I didn’t feel the same way.   And in saying that I will give kudos where they are due with songs performed by Miranda.  I think he was excellent and brought his considerable Broadway talents to this project.   Is he Dick Van Dyk?   Well no, but he stands on his own because he can.   He isn’t the Van Dyk character, but someone else, while Blunt had the unfortunate high jump hurdle to overcome.   So can I recommend this film?   Yes.   I find it a little too long, about 25 mins too long with a couple too many songs that didn’t ignite resonate with me.   I found the story with the foreclosure aspect a tad overblown and less believable.   Convince Londoners that someone who had owned that property in that location for that long, that they would have money troubles and you would be laughed out of the theatre.   But take a movie as a piece of entertainment and an escape for a couple of hours and there are worse places that you can spend your time.   And maybe still introduce youngsters to the talent of Julie Andrews from 50+ years ago when she was at the height of her super stardom.   Andrews was nominated an additional two times for the Oscar.   Remarkable.   To be asked to fill those shoes and float on that umbrella is an honour, and the job Blunt does here deserves some praise.

I cannot think an another US Supreme Court Justice who has had a major motion pics about her released, along with a full biography of her life as Ruth Bader Ginsberg.   Maybe it is because she is a left-leaning, liberal judge who CNN and others want to trumpet against the Trump Republicans who seemingly want to turn the clock back to 1955, and treat women (and others) as second class citizens.   In her 80s now, and still sitting on the bench, even after two cancer scares, she is a formidable woman.   She knows her place in history, as well as in the present.   The movie starred Felicity Jones in On The Basis of Sex (previously reviewed here).   The documentary was from CNN and is on Crave.   Both are worth checking out.  I enjoyed them equally.   It’s funny watching Justice Ginsberg watch herself be played on SNL.   She gets a good laugh out of it.

In the end, without delving too deeply into the politics, this is a documentary which informs and explains the stepping stones in the changes in laws (and in reflecting our changed morals) to the world around us in the Western Hemisphere.   However much we feel that this is the “right way” to think about the world and how it should be, note that many other countries and leaders don’t share in these views.   RBG has been a champion for the woman’s rights movement ever since becoming a lawyer in the 50s.   Her personal story reflects the world as it was at the time, by not being able to secure a job out of Harvard and Yale law, despite being on the Law Review and being recommended by some of the most astute legal minds.   She endured, and flourished and moved forward with cases that mattered.   If nothing else, her tenacity and impact can hopefully encourage more people to turn out and vote at the next US Presidential election.   Maybe more people that she has fought for, like women, minorities, LGBT community etc will step forward and rally to find a leader who will carry on her crusade.   Check this out if you can.   See what a difference one person can make.

I finished watching Stranger Things 3, and can report that I enjoyed this season better than Season 2.   I like the additions of the new characters, notably Ethan Hawk’s daughter Maya as Robin, and Priah Ferguson as Lucas Sinclair’s little ice cream eating sister.   They add some welcome new spice and energy into the cast who is separated for most of this series heading down and sorting through different storylines recounting the same ultimate conclusion.   Russians are involved, and a new method of utilizing people as an army.   In the end the kids and adults need to work together to identify, triage and solve the problem in their small town.   It is  more emotional than Season 2 was.   I found it much more engaging, even though there are times where the level of disbelief gets dangerously high.   I still prefer the original overall, but this was a worthy sequel.    I am not sure I will hear need to hear the theme song from The Neverending Story ever again, but that is a sideline.    Millie Bobby Brown I think keeps growing as an actor and makes this more watchable.   The other kids each have their own gifts and it’s a good ensemble cast that works well.   Do I need to see a Season 4, not really.   I certainly don’t need to see more of Winona Ryder.   I also felt as though one of the surprise moments leaned a little too far out towards 2019 rather than 1983.   You’ll likely spot what I mean, and if you don’t, then don’t worry about it too much.  Maybe it’s just me…..

I re-watched First Man on Crave the other night.   As we approached and passed the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by Neil Armstrong, and the crew of Apollo 11, it is a good reminder to remember those who worked (and some died) to bring this effort to pass.   From JFK laying down the commitment to reach the moon in a fixed time frame (“end of the decade”) to the remarkable engineers, companies, pilots, wives and families who contributed.   Here’s a simple Thanks, and acknowledging your commitment, your cooperation and sacrifice to do what no human has ever done before.   Maybe the flames of passion for this can be re-ignited to take on Mars.  Maybe not.   Maybe the symbol of world superiority will be taken over by another power as we look to the stars.   Maybe.   Neil Armstrong was a remarkable man.   I hope that he actually did what was suggested at the end of this movie.   I really do, because it would reveal a humanity in him, and be a symbol for all those who have to put a brave face on before very dangerous undertakings.   I am saddened that this didn’t get as much Oscar buzz, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy it any less.

I finished Season 2 of Handmaid’s Tale.   Damn this is depressing.  So many tears, so much crying.   Women who could have benefited from the wisdom and efforts of RBG reside in an unholy land, however much they like to trumpet their faith.   It is filmed in and around Toronto and Cambridge.   Plenty of Canadian references.   Still it isn’t an enjoyable place to visit.   I will leave it at that.

October 15th, 2018

First Man:  Everything I have ever heard about Neil Armstrong was that he was a very private and somewhat reclusive man.   He happened to be a world icon as the first human being to ever set foot on the moon.   But he was a reluctant hero and felt that it was pure happenstance that he became this iconic figure, as Apollo 11 just happened to be the flight where all the other precursor projects were completed.   After the Apollo program he left NASA and became a professor, but still kept some interests with the NASA activities.

Along comes First Man, which is based on Armstrong’s authorized biography, first published in 2005.  Armstrong died in 2012.   The movie starts with some backstory and a test flight of the X-15 aircraft which broke speed records and left the earth’s atmosphere.  Armstrong, played by Canadian Ryan Gosling effectively,  was a test pilot before being an astronaut and showed time and again his ability to stay focused and calm when things around him were going awry.   This is an important quality in any pilot.   Whatever the situation, he can provide an outward appearance of calm and professionalism.   The film goes on to show that it may not necessarily be the best quality for a husband.  We see him and his Wife, Janet, played very well by The Crown’s Claire Foy, doing an admirable American accent.   As an aside it is interesting in recent film history that US icons get played by non-Americans.   Here the All-American husband and wife are played by a Canadian and a Brit.  Abraham Lincoln played by Irishman Daniel Day Lewis.  Just funny.   Then again Queen Elizabeth I seems to only be played by Aussies (Cate Blanchett and upcoming Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots).   But I digress.
In short this movie is visually stunning, and is well worth seeing.  I saw in IMAX and was glad that I did with big sound, and big screen.  It was NOT in 3-D – thank heavens!!  There is a great deal of POV where you feel like you are Armstrong yourself, strapped into a machine that incinerated your friends not many months before, or ejecting from a lunar test flying machine that almost gets you killed.   I give nothing away in saying he survives each high risk and high stress activity.   The beauty about the film is that tension and real stress involved is created when you know what the ending is.   It is the HOW he survived and what he did, that was more important than just the fact that he did.   Armstrong himself shows this implacability after the lunar flying machine almost kills him and his reaction was “but it didn’t”.  Some might even take the rest of the day off of go and hug your wife, but not him.
This too was a far more emotional film than I was expecting, and writing about this aspect of it brings those feelings back to the surface.  I won’t divulge this but to say that there are things about him that I did not know.   These impacted greatly a man famous for keeping his emotions in check, as they would anyone, anywhere.   This emotional thread is carried throughout the film and anchors it well.   I felt that both Gosling and Foy were excellent along with a quality supporting cast.   Gosling has that quiet stillness, and he can come across as cold.   If Casey Affleck can win an Oscar in Misery by the Water, as a man who says very little but you can tell feels deeply, then Gosling can at the very least get a nomination for this.  I expect it.   I also expect Foy, who is having a busy year with her upcoming take on Lisbeth Salander (Girl in the Spider’s Web) as a supporting role Oscar nominee.  She has a couple scenes as they interact about the dangers he is taking on (and make no mistake that this was a dangerous enterprise), and how he needed to bring these forward to his children, and he explain what he was doing and what might occur.   I think Armstrong just blocked those things out and kept to the task at hand.   He also did it all with excellence despite some earlier thoughts that he was not as strong a pilot than he was an engineer.   I also note that not disclosed in the film is that he and his wife divorced in 1994.  I can see why.
I wholeheartedly recommend this, and it is one of the better films of the year.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.   This is the original 2009 European version of the film with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander as mentioned above.  Rapace was the good doctor in Prometheus and she is really effective here.  The three European films are on Netflix now.   In 2011, Hollywood got a hold of this and re-made it with Daniel Craig.    That was a decent film, but this version to me is better.   If you know the storyline, this is the same.   The plot is a news reporter (disgraced and successfully sued for libel and slander) asked to solve a family mystery of a girl’s death from 40 years before.  The character of Salander is the most interesting in the film.   She is odd, quirky goth with tattoos and piercings everywhere.  She is brilliant with the computer and has had a difficult life.   Bits and pieces of this are shared, but she also has a tremendous sense of justice and retribution.    She hits back hard, and she follows through.  Rapace shows all the same elements that Rooney Mara played in the re-make (I had seen the Mara version before in the theatre and not this one).   As much as I like Mara there, I like this better.  This is a good thriller with enough edge and adult content.   Well worth checking out and seeing the film genesis for these characters who have two more films after that.