July 13th, 2020

Let’s start this week’s review chronologically as I watched them.  I have to say that the week started off very slowly.

It was only recently that I managed to watch The Big Lebowski.   I am glad that I saw it, as it had some funny moments with irreverent humour.   Marble-mouthed Jeff Bridges was pretty understandable as Dude.  John Turturro played a fairly minor role as Jesus Quintana, a tough talking bowler.   Turturro decided to write and then direct a sequel (well, a loose sequel) called Jesus Rolls.   In a word: terrible.   I am still unsure what the premise is here.   Jesus just gets out of jail and is picked by his friend.  They apparently do everything together, share everything together.  That is everything.   Jesus apparently is comfortable with both men and women.   A good cast joined into this project including Susan Sarandon, Audrey Tautou (from Amelie), Jonn Hamm and Christopher Walken.   How they were convinced to join in this mess I am at a loss.   I won’t delve into it further, since I am trying to forget it quickly.   So I would suggest avoiding.

Next I watched Slumdog Millionaire (2008) which was a worthy Best Picture back in the day.   The story was well done and well told, with quality acting.   This is one of the older films I saw before my reviews seemingly got into full swing.  In short this is worth your time.   It tells the story of an Indian street rat, who ends up the game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, and is being questioned as to how he can possibly know the answers to random questions given his station.   The story moves from giving answers in the show to the backstory.   It all makes sense.  Dev Patel plays the young boy.  He manages to stay alive in his slums with his brother and this other young girl, who then grow and find new places in life.   The young actors are very good.   It all ties very well together and is a feel good story.   If you actually do the conversion, 20 million rupees is $360,000 CDN.    This isn’t retirement for a teenager (at least not in this country) but is obviously more than this young man would have ever seen.    If you haven’t watched before, there are worse places to spend your time, if only to see the living conditions in these cities far away from here.

Next, despite my own hesitation I decided to venture to Disney + and watch Captain Marvel.   Brie Larson stars, as an Oscar Award winning actress from Room.   There aren’t many superhero movies that capture my attention.   The Nolan Batman trilogies do, because they were really good movies on their own merit.   Wonder Woman was well done.   Even Man of Steel had its moments (like its soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, who also did Batman).  But Iron Man, the various Spider Mans etc are all just Meh for me.   Eventually I may see them, on an airplane or streaming, but not in the theatre.   I like Larson.   I don’t understand why she signs up for this, other than the financial security that comes with being a character in the Marvel universe who will then become an Avenger (I think).   It guarantees money, but won’t push her acting ability, like it hasn’t for Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johannson or Jessica Chastain.   Annette Bening, Jude Law and other quality actors join in here too.   There is the “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra from Spiderman.   But it is a disjointed as the Marvel figures out, like Jason Bourne who she is, and where and what time she came from.   The green shape-shifting orc characters are very futuristic, and from a time that I can’t fully place.   But then there is a flashback to what seems to be the 80s with F-15 fighter jets, nothing like the space craft and suits, with Samuel L Jackson trying very hard to look and act younger.   In short she seems to be a Steve Austin-like pilot put back together for a reason with some powers.   Okay.   She needs to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad ones.   The cat in this film is just silly.   Full stop.   So add this superhero movie the pile of other predecessors who didn’t capture my attention.   I won’t out to see any Avengers movie.   Can we see any vulnerability in this character at all?   With Superman he at least had Kryptonite.   Not sure how Brie gets hurt.   But in the words of Arnold in Predator “if it bleeds, then it can be killed”.  So maybe.   I just don’t care enough to find out.

Finally I stayed with Disney + to catch the “live action”, extended version of The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau who had much success re-imagining The Jungle Book.  Extended because they took a 90 minute original animated film and made it 2 hours.   I will admit that the added time doesn’t really add anything to the enjoyment of this version.   There is a new song from Beyonce (ugh!! Have I mentioned that I don’t like Beyonce and her screaching.  Well I don’t).   The others are filler.  They brought back some of the original voices, like James Earl Jones, which is a really good thing, but failed to bring back a voice like Jeremy Irons for Scar.  Which was too bad.   I also didn’t like that they changed the turning point scene with Simba in the watering hole with Rafiki where he sees his reflection and his dead father then appears.  For me, it is crucial that he says in the original “Simba you have forgotten me”, to which the son denies it.   The Lion King really is a re-telling of Hamlet, and Simba is that frustrating young person unable to take proper revenge for the death of his father.    Nathan Lane and his voice was missed.   Seth Rogan cannot sing.  It sounds like a bunch of negatives, in a movie that has some remarkable, lifelike images of animals in Africa.   For me, the live, real life safaris that I watch from Wild Earth in South Africa colour my viewing of this.  Yes I see the realistic movement.   I also know that hyenas are nowhere like they are portrayed and I miss a real lion roar (Disney decided to use a Tiger roar instead).  I mean, really??!!   The lion roar isn’t intimidating enough?   Was this entire enterprise necessary?   Not really.   It very much mirrors the original, which is the attraction but also a distraction.   In the back of my mind I was replaying the original, noticing the differences and realizing that I still preferred the original.    So Disney puts out more retelling of classic stories and stays away from new and original content.

As an aside, I watched Disney + for an interview with the cast of Hamilton in HAMILTON: HISTORY HAS ITS EYES ON YOU where Robin Roberts interviews much of the cast in recent days.   Hamilton was filmed back in 2015, and much has changed in the world since that time.  The pandemic and more importantly the racial issue becoming highlighted.   Hamilton was a play created by a Puerto Rican man (Miranda) and a mostly person of colour cast, each of whom is excellent.  It is a good discussion about how this plays out in these times.   I think an excellent point made, as they had a Harvard History professor on, was to point out that this play wasn’t meant to be historically accurate, but it was meant to raise questions and allow the viewer to do more digging for answers by themselves.   I didn’t know the Alexander Hamilton story at all.   I am tempted to revisit some of his writings.   If I among many people do that, then this art has succeeded.   More still, if everyone who watches Hamilton on Disney + (likely more the first weekend than all those combined who saw the show on Broadway) finds a way to register and vote in November 2020, then it also will have accomplished its goal.   I can’t imagine that anyone interested in American history and the Revolution wouldn’t want to better understand the man who was by George Washington’s side.   Check it out.

July 6th, 2020

On Friday with much hype and fanfare Disney+ has released a 2016 performance from the original cast of the stage performance of HamiltonHamilton was a sensation.  Tickets were virtually impossible to get, and when they were announced for Toronto they sold out in record numbers.   Sadly the shows were all cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.   The show was nominated for 16 Tony Awards and won 11, including Best Musical.   So Disney+ offers up the Broadway cast, including creator Lin Manuel-Miranda playing the main role of American founding father during the 1700s and beyond. Alexander Hamilton, the man on the $10 US bill.   He was a right hand man to George Washington.   He was the original person responsible for setting up the federal Treasury, centralizing banking and the credit for America as a nation.

In terms of the performance, it is excellent and worthy of your time.  The cast is uniformly excellent was tremendous voices.  I can’t point to any one particular song (you don’t finish thinking that you need to buy the soundtrack) but they move the story along well.   It is a story that I don’t know, but I am glad that I had some context of the time by watching a series like John Adams (on Crave and HBO).  The founding fathers and their stories are intertwined with Washington, Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton all living during tumultuous political times as America violently rebelled from the British Empire.   Jonathan Groff, who plays the King, and is well known now for his role in Mindhunter is excellent.   He is funny, he is over the top, and he drools like a doberman as he sings.  The man who played Washington has an excellent voice.  They all have excellent voices.   Each contributes to a memorable play experience.   The mostly unknown story of Hamilton is mostly forgotten in US lore (President Obama actually was pushing to replace his image from the $10 bill – but pulled back when the play was such a colossal hit.    Miranda has done something quite remarkable in putting forth an historical musical which teaches while at the same time entertains and informs.   I am glad that I was able for the price of Disney+ to watch this play, and obtain my refund for the play in Toronto.   Do I need to see this again live?  I am not sure.   I would be glad to do so, as I think I could catch more a second time.   The music for older viewers, as I watched with Mom and step-father, was more difficult for them to follow.  The music can be more rapid style rap than they are used to.  It is not your traditional showy Broadway tunes.   They both enjoyed the second half  more than the first.

On Netflix the new popular film is the Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell comedy entitled Eurovision: Story of Fire Saga.  This is a lightweight comedy focused on a fictional musical duo from Iceland looking to win the popular Eurovision contest.  It has a number of cheesey performances and really bad Icelandic accents (notably Pierce Brosnan as the father of Will Ferrell).   In Alison’s words she said “I didn’t hate it” which I don’t take to be tremendous praise.   It is mind candy and filler for a couple of hours.   Not having been familiar with the actual contest itself, I don’t get the references to performers from the past that are as unique as they come.   From the silly to the outrageous.   Do I actually believe that Rachel McAdams did the singing?   No.   Does it really matter?  Not really.   There were a couple of laughs in this in the slapstick variety, but overall I can echo the sentiments that “I didn’t hate it”.

I realize that I have never reviewed the 1999 sci-fi classic The Matrix.  It was on Crave again Sunday night and I find that this is easily watchable time and time again.  It was a innovative for its time by the wire work that was done on the stunts.  This was part one in what turned out to be a three part series.   This, by far, is the best of the series.   In short, a computer hacker, played by Keanu Reeves, is intrigued by some outsider computer felons making his online news feeds.   He leads a double life as a hacker himself, but also works as a worker bee in a software company.   In dramatic fashion he learns that his life in the world as he knows it isn’t what he imagines.   In fact, he learns that the humans have become slaves and live in a virtual world to keep them mentally occupied.  A virtual prison for their entire lives, to serve the machines, a product of Artificial Intelligence.   The story traces the battle between the machines and their agents and the people trying to survive in the real world.   There is an excellent supporting cast with Laurence Fishburne, Carrie Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano and Hugo Weaving.   Together they tell an exciting, compelling, unique sci fi story in search of The One who live save humanity and end the destructive war with the machines.   There is a scene fairly early on where Neo (Reeves) is interviewed by an agent and it turns in an unexpected direction.   I was hooked from that point onward.   This is a good time to point out that a new Matrix movie has been announced for 2022.  The story is unknown.   Given the scope of the original three episodes, and the ultimate conclusion I am uncertain where this new episode can continue, but I guess we will all find out.  Reeves is back as Neo.  Carrie Ann Moss is back as well.  Reeves was 35yo in 1999.  Twenty two years later it will be interesting to see how the new Neo will look.   They are apparently filming this now.