October 24th, 2022

Blonde: This Netflix movie with Ana De Armas as the iconic Marilyn Monroe. It is 2:45 long! This was released at TIFF, and there was a buzz in it that it was rated NC-17. The idea was that it was revealing the hidden life of Marilyn and her relationships along the way. Initially I thought to myself that De Armas doesn’t have the classic Marilyn physique, as she is more slight. She also being Cuban facially would be different. I will say that in mannerisms and facially that she had expert make up and hair. At times, like the performing “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend” that she was a remarkable resemblance.

Ana De Armas remarkably looking like the classic Marilyn

Starting with the childhood with a young Norma Jean and her troubled Mom, the fatherless girl struggles with a family life that is challenging at the best of times. You can see her being forced to grow up sooner than most her age. The relationship with Mom remained strained throughout her life.

Part of controversy in this latest film on Marilyn has been her earlier relationships. Like the suggested threesome that she had with the sons of Edward G Robinson and Charlie Chaplin. The suggestion is that not only was she having this threesome, but she ended up pregnant and decided to end the pregnancy. This factually is up for debate, and it isn’t confirmed. Both of the young men died very young.

Norma Jean with her two BFs (sons of famous Hollywood actors)

Later we see her married to Joe DiMaggio and he is shown as an abusive husband, looking to curtail her career and avoid this sexpot image that had made her famous (and would have been a major attraction no doubt for him to her). But once he has her, he wants to keep the focus on him. Later she marries playwright Arthur Miller, played by Adrian Brody. That was short lived and then near the end of her life is a short snippet with her interacting with JFK, the President as he is on the phone he forces her to do something that she is uncomfortable.

All in all, we have a lengthy film reaffirming the known story of Marilyn as a tragic figure. She was a woman who was a product of her time, but also was a trail blazer. I think that she was shown as being more emotional, crying often and struggling mentally despite her work and career. I watched feeling that the Elton John song “Candle in the Wind” was a really good representation of her life. I think that De Armas did an admirable job. Without her performance the story and film simple fall. She is good enough to watch, but it is too long. I think she is much better than Michelle Williams who played Marilyn with My Week With Marilyn from 2011 with Eddie Redmayne. What we don’t see is the smarter Marilyn who was busy saavy and was active in producing. She was much more than the ditzy, buxom blonde. It was interesting that she referred to a couple of her husbands as “Daddy” which for me is a little troubling. It just seems odd. Perhaps on top of wanting to know who her Dad was, she maybe have looked for a father-figure, but sadly in the end she chose poorly with the men in her life. on top of that I found that the film tried really hard in showing De Armas on film in one of the many well known poses of Marilyn from posters and magazines. The clothing matches, with the black sweater and black and white checkered pants. The bathing suit and the pose with Arthur Miller in the rural setting. All match these pictures in trying to bring them to life.

So is this worth watching? For De Armas, yes. If you set aside that not everything is necessarily factual, then it becomes whether it is entertaining. It was a bit slow for me. It is long and you feel the time. The end showing the end of her life certainly makes some claims that are thought-provoking. Her relationship with Bobby Kennedy was ignored. Having watched Blonde shortly after seeing Respect, two iconic women are shown as figures with troubled childhoods that were quite extreme.

House of the Dragon: Season 1 completed with episode 10 entitled The Black Queen on Sunday. Ten episodes to basically establish that Rhaenyra Targaryen is pissed. She wasn’t REALLY pissed before, but now she is. She was showing signs of maintaining the peace in the way her weak father did, but she has been turning. Sadly this season is muddled and not that compelling. Crave re-showed tthe first episode of Season 1 of Game of Thrones right after this conclusion. The difference is that introduction and this season is dramatic. Morew houses are introduced, competiting interests with Starks, Lannister, White Walkers, Danny etc all in the first episode. This spin off spent ten episodes showing why there was going to be trouble. But it could have been condensed without losing the substance, unlike Season 7 and 8 of Game of Thrones that condensed so quickly that the transformation of Danny from benevolent Queen who was fair but firm to the Mad Queen intent on revenge and destruction was striking and shocking sending fans everywhere to lament the u-turn!

Rhaenyra is pissed

So here we are with a war to get started with various houses, finally addressed by their name, seeking support in a battle to come for the crowd. I don’t feel like cheering for any side really. Rhaenyra’s Uncle played by Matt Smith is a hothead, intent on destruction himself and doesn’t bring about sympathetic feelings. We are missing the Jon, Breanne or Sam or Arya who were more of less likeable characters that one could cheer. Of course it has some of the most unlikeable characters ever, like Joffrey or Ramsey Bolton but they were so nasty that they fun to watch. In the end this was not a great first series nor opening to a new story to tell within Westeros. The bar was raised to probably and admittedly to a standard that no series could ever match (much like Better Call Saul after Breaking Bad). This will have an audience and maintain but for me it will have to show that it is worth the time as they enter into the wartime phase of this Targaryen story. If there are viewers who ask whether they need to have watched all of Game of Thrones in other to watch this, the answer is no. In fact they may benefit to not have all these points of comparison. I guess I can remain hopeful that this can be better.

Love is Blind 3: As a guilty pleasure, one that I take no pride in watching, this season performs as you would expect. People in their 20s and early 30s who want a kick start on love (and exposure to the world on a grand scale) put themself in a show where they meet people but from behind a screen. They learn about the person/personality and not relying on looks so much. Traits like honesty, being well spoken, funny, intelligent and well rounded shine on through. But like the similar show Married at First Sight, then the business of being together and a couple takes over. Of course it is a train wreck, and of course there is a history of failure in these shows. Still people sign up for it.

While having her male suitor pour his heart out to her, Raven decides to work out

I found this season with Raven and her actions particularly troubling. Being behind a blind means that the person on the other side doesn’t see you. Of course they later WILL see you when the series is played. Raven the pilates instructor, decides during the latter stages of really hearing about someone’s character to work out while half-listening to the guy ramble on. How rude! This is your potentail mate, and fiance, and you decide that hearing about him isn’t as important as doing some crunches or stretches? But the show gets all types. Sadly they focus in pretty quickly on those that will be moving to the next stages and you don’t really see the other potential companions and what they talked about. Raven decides to participate further despite her lack of focus. Others include people who propose in what seems way too soon! They are professing love with someone that they barely know, and without seeing them. Quite a leap to take, as the cameras roll. But they get to hang out in California in a nice mansion. I will continue watching to see what transpires and then await the after-show where we find that none of them have stuck together. Sometimes you just have to check out and entertain with mind candy. Hallowe’en is coming after all!


October 17, 2022

House of the Dragon: Episode 9 of this 10 episode first season was released last night for this series. I am struggling with the pace of it, and how dark it has all been. If I had wanted to watch a retelling of the Henry VIII story with Elizabeth and all those characters and scheming then I could watch that series. In fact I have watched that series, Becoming Elizabeth, not that long ago. Or one can watch Elizabeth and its sequels, with marvelous Cate Blanchett. Instead, we have many years, and a surprising number of actor replacements in this first season. It trudges along slowly as the dithering King ambles through life while trying to “just get along” with everyone. Meanwhile he fires and rehires inexplicably a Hand who has obvious ideas on how to manipulate him. Why there isn’t someone, anyone, better and more loyal to the King leaves one scratching their hand. Mercifully, and not to spoil it too badly, the King who looks more and more like a White Walker with each episode passes away. But before he does so, he does something with his dying breath with leaves his wife, the Queen with thoughts about succession. Let the scheming begin.

The battle for the Crown begins

For me, the principal difference in this series versus Game of Thrones continues to be that we are focusing on one family really, as opposed to a number of powerful families with competing interests, along with The Wall (manned by The Black), the White Walkers and the dragons. In this instance, of course we have dragons, but none of the others. The happenings over these last eight episodes could have been covered in half an hour, rather than over eight! I was also thinking last night that it is likely coincidence that the troublesome family in Harry Potter, the Malfoys, and the Targaryens both have long flowing white hair and pale skin. It difficult to cheer for any of them, as opposed to GOT where there were clear lines of those to cheer for like the Starks, Jon Snow, and Danny. Each of them had obstacles to overcome, and there were supporting secondary characters who each had their place with compelling stories like Brianne of Tarth or Jaqen H’ghar of the Faceless Men of Braavos or even The Hound. None of that is happening here in this series. Instead there is the well known story of succession and plotting to take the crown, with a plot device which seems forced at best. With all the hype, anticipation and money spent on this venture, I think that HBO must feel a little cheated with the promises of continued glory in Westeros. Sure there are more dragons, although we aren’t really seeing them, but story isn’t as vibrant, with nowhere near the same turnover in characters that the audience begins to like before they are eliminated with prejudice! There is one more episode to go, and Season 2 has already been green lit, but one hopes that this setting the table for more compelling TV to come can occur. So far, it all has been very much of a letdown.

Speed: One the interesting aspects of posting weekly is the need to actually watch more content each and every week. I need to remind myself at times when Alison and I started working together and writing the reviews down. Because before that time, there won’t have been such a review. I saw on Crave this past weekend that Speed from 1994 (!!) was on with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It quite simply is a lot of fun! This is what movies can be, with a heart pumping exhilaration ride through the streets of LA. Written by Canadian Graham Yost, whose father was Elwy Yost who was the host of public TV’s Saturday Night at the Movies, this movie grabs one by the lapels from the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the very end. Much like Indiana Jones, one goes from one tense scene to another, with very little space in between to take a breather. The story is about a bomber seeking money as his due for his years of public service through ransom demands in scenarios. Played brilliantly by Dennis Hopper, he begins in an elevator in a high rise building threatening passengers in an elevator unless they give him $3M. Enter LAPD officer Jack Traven, played by Reeves who’s replaying Johnny Utah basically from Point Break and his partner Harry, played by Jeff Daniels. They have other ideas on how to foil the plans of the Mad Man. Without spoiling too much, the crux of the story has Jack dealing with a crosstown City Bus that has a bomb which gets armed when the bus hits 50 mph, and it will explode if thereafter the bus goes below that 50mph threshold. In LA traffic, how does one actually do that?

Jack and Annie driving through LA traffic

The plot continues with various attempts to deal creatively with the issue. On the bus, there is Annie, played by Sandra Bullock in her breakout role, as a passenger who had too many speeding tickets and caught this daily commute bus for her at the last second. Of course there are sensational things that happen where one has to suspend disbelief, but it is fun to just go with it. You care about the characters. You are intrigued to see how they possibly can extricate themselves from the predicament. The Bomber is “crazy, not stupid” and seems to always be one step ahead of the police. This movie was made for $30M at the time and made over $350M. It is still compelling today. There isn’t a lot of CGI, if any, and one is engaged from beginning to end. Reeves at this, or any for that matter, isn’t all that versatile as an actor however he is very good at playing this action role. As the young, cocky, ambitious police officer who is just doing his duty to stop the bad guys, and “not get dead” he has plenty of ideas on how to address a problem, often thinking outside the box. Daniels’ Harry is a good partner for him, as he can be more of the brains while Jack acts out the stunts. This is definitely worth your time if you can find it somewhere. If it was in a theatre it would be even better!

August 29th, 2022

House of the Dragon: I managed to watch the first episode of this highly anticipated prequel to Game of Thrones. I had made a point of not watching the trailers, and ignoring the reviews because I wanted to see this with fresh eyes, not tainted or with impressions. Let this prequel stand on its own, especially given that I had just recently finished reading Book 5 of Game of Thrones Dances with Dragons. This is set 172 years before the time of Danearys Targaryen and Jon Snow. The focus is the Targaryen family and the succession from one King to another, and then later. This is a time when the Targaryen’s have up to 11 dragons, and rule with an iron fist. The aging and ailing King doesn’t have a male heir, and there is a Council meeting to bring people together and select the successor. Rather than the eldest daughter, he chooses a brother Vicerys I, and the aim is to avoid internal family conflict for the throne. Vicerys I, nine years later, also wants to ensure his line and name by having a male heir. He has a daughter, Raneyra and a wife who is pregnant once again. The new King believes with all his being that this pregnancy is a male child. All of this speaks to English history with real rulers like Henry VIII and others. The quest for power and formalize succession are important. The new King also has a brother, Daemon played ruthlessly by Matt Smith, who you will remember from playing younger Prince Phillip in The Crown and a well-known Doctor Who. He is presently heir to the current throne with no male child occuring to date. The Queen has had very difficult pregnancies. Meanwhile, much like Elizabeth, the new King’s Raneyra is feeling a little bit left out and unloved. The King has appointed his brother Daemon to various posts and is having difficulty keeping control over the actions of him. For his part, Daemon feels that his brother is weak, and not ruling adequately the kingdom, allowing far too much lawlessness in times in which war hasn’t been an issue, but it seems that the people have become more aggressive towards each other. Daemon sees his role as fixing that. The brother’s butt heads and the King’s advisors wish to make sure that he is aware of what Daemon is doing. Things happen. Some of it is gruesome in a Game of Thrones way.

Vicerys I seated left and brother Daemon on right clash

My first impression is how much there is borrowed from the real life tales of the British Monarchy. Good material to be sure. Plenty of intrigue, lots of drama, positioning for the crown. Game of Thrones had an energy. Much of it early on came from the various houses with families and people with their own motives and perspectives. It was less a good versus evil, although the impression left was that the audience should be cheering on Family Stark, the Wards of the North. Having just finished Becoming Elizabeth, this feels in some ways like that. There can be a little bit of Succession in here too, with the squabbling siblings. Much has been spent on the production design, the sets, costumes all of it. HBO is not being cheap with a flagship series. It shows. I did watch recently too a show about the making of Game of Thrones, and the ending season and the same care is going into it. Am I fully engaged yet? Not sure. Like many things it will take time to connect with the characters. It is obvious that Daemon is set up as an ambitious trouble-maker, taking sides against his own brother, who has many issues in which to deal. The issues grow. I also don’t have a feeling for Raneyra who’s dramatic entrance of riding a dragon was exciting. The dragons are always cool. There has to be a foundation laid, and this is a start. I of course will see more, and look forward to catching upon Episode 2 in short order. It is fair at this point, but not outstanding. I am going to remain hopeful for more. Stay tuned.