May 9th, 2022

The Survivor: Ben Foster stars in this newly released film. It is the story of Auschwitz survivor Harry Haft, who boxed his way while in the concentration camp to stay alive. He later after the war was a boxer professionally with modest success, but he did fight the great, undefeated Rocky Marciano. 43 of Marciano’s 49 fights were won by Knock Out. Harry was not that good. But this really isn’t a boxing movie. It is a movie about Harry surviving, through any means necessary. Then dealing with the aftermath in his life, and during, of the choices that he has made. Early in the film, quite by chance a German officer notes Harry fighting abilties and then decides that he can protect him, and make money off of him with betting on fights against other Jewish inmates. These bare fisted matches lasted until one pugilist went down and couldn’t continue. Harry wins, in fights where the loser is shot on this spot. Terrifying and incredible. Harry has to deal with this pressure, but also the scorn of his own people. They resent the fact that he fought and defeated men who were then executed. He became the executioner of sorts to these people. Little are they thinking that he is simply trying to survive in horrendous circumstances. Meanwhile, in his personal life, he was separated from his girlfriend during the war and he had no idea if she was living or dead. Memories of her, and getting back to her, were a driving force in his will to survive. Later after the war, he meets up with a woman while looking for any work possible. But his memories and thoughts of this girlfriend still linger. He suffers from PTSD, with vivid images of atrocities in which he saw first hand. But he seems to move on with his life, a marriage with kids and a boxing match that made a name for himself. Stories like these are fascinating to watch, because they are a glimpse into a horrific past. Tremendous empathy is created for a man who had impossible choices to make, with guilt that would shatter lesser men. He has a loving wife, played by Vicky Krieps (also in Phantom Thread) who loves and supports him but sees the pain that he has endured. She also suffers. This isn’t a feel good movie, but it one to experience. No Holocaust-related movie will be uplifting and joyful since the subject matter and timing is so terrifying. However, survivors and their stories should be told. In this tale, people around Harry would tell him NOT to speak of his history, bacause “no one is interested in that”. Perhaps they felt that it would bring shame to Harry or make people look upon him as that executioner. I am glad that he decided to share with a local newspaper man. Because of this he was able to bring his life around full circle addressing some of the hurt that he experienced. Ben Foster does an excellent job of bringing this bloody tale to light. His eyes say so much as Harry struggles, but there is a fierceness too. A rage that he can channel which allows him to carry out what needs to be done. Well worth watching.

Gaslit: I watched a couple more episodes of Gaslit last night. The Julia Roberts character was locked into her hotel room, and not allowed out for a period of time against her will. The Watergate perpetrators are shown to be the ragtag, poorly organized lot that many suspected that they were. John Dean continues to take hits as this somewhat dazed and confused young lawyer who despite seeing the challenges in what he is asked to do, seems to set out to do them anyway. Yet fate can step in for this series and keep his hands relatively clean for a guy who comes across as more than a little scattered. It is not a look which matches my previous ideas of the eventual Legal Counsel to the President. It is interesting theatre. More to come.

Julia: Continues to be fun as Julia becomes more famous and her shows are helping to support the entire PBS enterprise in Boston. Sarah Lancashire channel Julia Child well verbally, but she is prettier than the Julia who was on TV. I can’t help but seeing a little bit of John Lithgow from The World According to Garp in her.

John Lithgow in The World According to Garp
Sarah Lancashire as Julia Child

What amazes me about Julia is her energy, and all the projects that she has going on at once. She isn’t a spring chicken when her fame took off. She was writing cook books, doing her show and managing her own house. This series is a good insight into her life as the TV personna began to take off.

April 18th, 2022

Return to Space: So while recovering from Covid, I was flipping through some online news items last week and hadn’t remembered seeing anything about this at all:

April 8th, the Axiom crew of four launched and meets up with ISS

I had watched closely the launch a year ago with Bob and Doug the astronauts on the Falcon rocket meeting up with the ISS for their 60+ day mission. It was exciting to see a US launched space craft with human passengers off into the heavens to re-start American efforts in space. The Netflix documentary covers Elon Musk and his desire through the privately owned Spacex to have humans be interplanetary. Such a bold vision for a guy who had begun as a Dot Com billionaire with the sale of Pay Pal. From there he begins this thought, along with a little start up company called Tesla! If you think that you have a busy life, imagine what Elon’s life is like everyday! This enterprise, well detailed in the documentary shows that not everyone was on board with the Obama Administration plan to have a public-private partnership in sharing the expense of space travel. At congressional hearings, there was Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan stating that this program was doomed to fail. Hurtful comments to the young Musk who idolized these men as a young man, as they were the inspiration to return to space from their voyages to the moon in the late 60s and early 70s. Sadly after the space shuttle, the US efforts stalled and there wasn’t much done towards the moon or mars. Musk wanted to change that. I admire Musk and him utilizing his brains, business acumen and vast wealth to seek goals that aren’t about him, but rather moving human kind forward. Unlike say a Bill Gates, who spends money on parks which is valuable but a less lofty goal, Musk sees this enterprise as vital to advancing the species. He states that technology isn’t a given and we cannot expect the window of opportunity to head to other worlds to last forever. The Egyptians made the pyramids and then stopped, and lost the ability. The Romans built aquaducts and lost the ability to do so. The US was on the moon and 50 years later hadn’t been back. This is exciting, like the technology used to recover the first stage booster rockets and re-use them. It is heart warming as a Musk is seen to truly care about the responsibility to returning to astronauts who are also Dads safely back to earth. It shows vision and determination, and an international cooperation (like working side by side with Russians) to achieve something memorable. I hope that we are not becoming so casual about these achievements that a launch ten days ago does not become common place and taken for granted. Great things are happening at SpaceX. Let’s hope the moon base and then Mars come next.

Gaming Wall Street: This is a two episode documentary that shows what mankind can do, especially financially driven people, when money is at the top of what motivates them. In the wake of The Big Short, where the bankers and investors packaged up useless high risk mortgages and passed them off as safe investments, there is this tale of the “meme stocks” which have been made popular by a group or ordinary discount investors who band together to drive up the prices. All this to combat against the short sellers. The main stock in question is GameStop, the retailer of video game systems and games at local malls everywhere. Sadly their business model has fallen on bad times (like Blockbuster with renting DVDs) because of online downloading of games from manufacturers. The stock was failing. But these investors decide not to see and drive up the price. This goes against what Wall Street pundits were betting on, as they had bet on the stock to fail and go down, otherwise known as shorting the stock. But by driving up the price, these average investors were forcing those Shorts to cover their bet and lose millions of dollars. The tale unfolds. What you discover is that nothing was learned from 2008 and the approached collapse of the financial system. No one was arrested from that situation, despite the obvious illegal activity. The same players find another game to play, in this instance called Naked Shorts, where if they cannot secure the actual stocks that they are betting against, they create them out of thin air. These people create nothing, make nothing and profit from pure gambling. The simple solution may be to just outlaw short selling of stocks, but where is the fun in that? The ultimate message that as an ordinary investor that the big players really manage the game and make the rules. One can only hope to ride a wave and not get crushed. Watch with some knowledge that you may not always like what you hear. I wouldn’t be looking to have most of my retirement money, like one of the ordinary investors, in GameStop stock long term.

Julia: I have finished the first four episodes of this series, with four more to come. I continue to enjoy the series and think that the lead actress has done an admirable job channeling Julia. In many ways this is a woman power story, with the men dithering around and not seeing the vision of TV nor of viewers being interessted in watching a woman demonstrate French cooking. The women around Julia are the ones who see her excellence, her presence and passion. She is ideally suited to the task and they are commited to making her a success. There are glimmers of hope as the station manager supports her from early days. His wife likes the program, and he likes what she is serving for dinner as a result. There is a real buzz around the show, and the other enterprising female producer has taken it upon herself to syndicate the show and sell it to other local public broadcasting stations. A first. For those of us used to The Food Network, the early days of public television are fun to see. I remember Graham Kerr, the Gallopping Gourmet and his endless cups of wine and cooking in clarified butter. He wouldn’t have been on TV without Julia and her program’s success.

After Life: I have completed two short seasons of this three season series starring Ricky Gervais, both writing and directing. It centres around his character Tony, who has had his 20+ year marriage end with the death of his wife to cancer. They were connected. They were happy. He works at a small local free newspaper, with a cast of characters, not unlike The Office. Tony is struggling, and has suicidal thoughts. He sees his lack of caring about those around him as allowing his grumpy old man to come out. He has an adorable dog. If it all sounds depressing, it isn’t. Rather it can be very funny while also having moments of warmth. He has a very cutting sense of humour, and can be very brutal. He is vulger. I laugh. Not everybody may. His interactions with others in the town, like the postman, a lady who lost her husband and sit by his graveside each day or the nurse who helps with his Dad who is a bit scattered in a home are good. Two of the characters from Seasons 1 and 2 don’t show up for the final Season 3. It was a bit of a surprise. But I still enjoy and wonder where they will take this series for the conclusion.

April 11 2022

First of all, a shout out to my brother who won the Oscars Pool that I created. I am thinking that he should be betting with his record. To put it into perspective, he was able to get 38 points, 4 more than my eldest son. He only missed ONE question for Best Cinematography out of 23 categories. Damn impressive. Alison was third with 27 points. I sadly in a tie for fourth with 16 points.

Death On The Nile: Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and she was a prolofic mystery, who-dun-it mystery writer. She wrote Murder on the Orient Express, among many others. Her writings have been put into TV series, like Agatha Christie Mysteries and others in BBC and elsewhere. Kenneth Branagh has brought Orient Express to the big screen back in 2017. I have not see it. Given this result, I likely won’t seek it out. This story is brought with another star studded cast. Among the stars include Wonder Woman Gal Gadot. Ridley Scott is involved for executive producing, while Branagh directs. The focal point is the French detective Hercule Poirot. Gal Gadot is the main star with a supporting cast that includes Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, and Tom Bateman. In this story Poirot is shown early as a young soldier at the front in 1918. He makes an observation which is game changing for his platoon during an offensive push. It basically gives the message that he is a smart and observant guy. Time moves forward and he observes a couple on the dancefloor being very connected (Hammer and Emma McKay) and she is a friend of Gadot who arrives with much fanfare and paparazzi at this club. Jazz music is playing as the couple danced provacatively. As an aside, the band was playing electric guitars in a time noted as 1937. I do believe that this is early for the use of the electric guitar and I would have expected to hear more big band music. Incidentally, it was in 1936 when was first used by jazz musician Charlie Christian. Anyway, the story went forward as the young Emma McKay encourages her fiance to dance with the dazzling Gadot character. It ends up resulting in the fiance dumping his paramour and opted instead to marry the Gadot character. They decide to have a honeymoon on the Nile in a grandiose side-wheel boat. All of this, of course, in CGI that makes this look more like a TV movie than ready for the big screen. The underlying theme in this episode is people will do a lot for love. People start to get knocked off in mysterious circumstances. Now the survivors turn to Poirot to provide some insight into the murders. Was I entertained? Somewhat. It wasn’t overly convincing. I will confess to having some ideas on the true murderer. The end wasn’t a surprise. Can I recommend this? Not really.

Spiderman: No Way Home: I will confess that I am not a superhero guy, which is no surprise to those who know me and read these blog entries. Further, I am not a spiderman guy at all. I feel as though it has been overdone. Before we allow one set of movies to sink in, then another reboot occured. From Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst, to the Andrew Garfield iteration and now Tom Holland. Tom Holland brought Spiderman into the Iron Man, and the Avengers universe. Adding in a character like Doctor Strange, adds in another dimension, with multiple timelines. And by timelines we have the villians from previous Spiderman films who don’t recognize the Tom Holland character who need to be put back into their own times. Doc Oct is there, along with Wilem Dafoe as The Green Goblin, and Sand Man etc. It was confusing. Returning a villain to his version of the Spiderman world is just odd. I won’t delve into more of the plot, but this was THE movie in the theatres last year. It grossed insane amounts of money and that confuses me. Not every movie needs to be an Oscar contender. Hell movies like the recently reviewed Fast & Furious are prime examples of movies that are just meant to entertain. This isn’t for me. Sure Tom Holland has personality, and he is engaging as a Spiderman. There are new gadgets that Spiderman can be equipped with, which was entirely new. I don’t know the comics. I don’t know the backstory and therefore I feel that it is difficult to comment further. Will there be more of these? Let’s not kid ourslves, there will be plenty of these movies to come. I know that I don’t need to pay to see these in the theatre, but if they are on a free streaming service then I can check them out.

Julia: This is a new series from HBO Max. For me, my limited knowledge of Julia Child was Meryl Streep as Julia in Julie & Julia with Amy Adams. I own the book Mastering The Art of French Cooking. After watching that movie I was moved to make Boeuf Bourginon.

Sarah Lancashire embodies Julia Child. I have watched the first two episodes and I think that she is excellent. Julia Child was passionate about her husband, France, and her food. These shows are all about the food really. This show focuses on the time after the cook book was released, her husband Paul has retired from the diplomatic service and she is looking to establish herself as a TV personality. In episode one, we see David Hyde Pierce playing Paul not really being overly supportive of Julia’s idea of starting a new career into TV. We take TV for granted. Back in her day, however, she didn’t own a TV, and there was skepticism over whether TV would last. This is shocking to my generation and later. But also this was the early days of “Public Television”. Those who grovel for money shamelessly in the Membership drives. Julia had the ambition to think that she could diversify the way that Amercian housewives are going to cook in the household. Back in the day of Swanson frozen dinners, this was revolutionary, along with the thoughts of using real herbs. Julia was passionate about having recipes that had everyday ingredients in the average grocery store. To say that she was a main contributor in the way that we eat today wouldn’t be overstating it. I have finished two episodes and look forward to more. David Hype Pierce isn’t as supportive to Julia as the Stanley Tucci version of Paul in Julie & Julia. I like the idea of understanding in putting together a 30 minute show on making a lengthy dish like Coq au Vin. It looks delicious. Julia Child was a visionary, and a trail blazer in which today’s networks like Food Network and all its stars all can thank her. Remember that her times were more all about the men, and the women were supporting cast members only. Well worth the view.

The Ultimatum: this new Netflix series comes from the same team, Nick Lachey and his wife, who brought forth Love is Blind. Love is Blind was the where singles never laid eyes on the other person, and had to propose to them before laying eyes on them. They spoke to each other in dates through an opaque glass. It was preposterous and mind candy really. In this series there are six Austin Texas based couples where one of the parties wants to force the other party to marry them. They have come to this show to have a marry up or walk away discussion. The kicker in this is that you do this in front of the other person that you want to marry. In this show, they then choose another of those people in the couples to live with for three weeks! Oh and they all live in the same building and then have conversations with the other members of their sex on (Girls Night Out and Boys Night). It is remarkable and scary at the same time. These 20s age people are dealing with their own relationships and thinking that they to get married straight away and have kids. It is a train wreck. But it is crazy fun to watch. After three weeks with the “New Accelerated Marriage” then they are to return to their original partner. Oh what fun! If these shows aren’t your thing, stay away. If you want tears and drama, this is for you.