November 14, 2022

The Crown: Season 5 was just released on Netflix with an all new older cast as Queen Elizabeth ages. Now we have Imelda Stauton as the Queen. I have to admit that Clare Foy, seen in the first seen of episode 1 when she attends the ceremonial launch and naming of the Brittania, her official ship for touring, is my Queen Elizabeth. I think that she did such a masterful portrayal, and I can’t seem to get Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix out of my head when I see Stauton now. Dolores was such a nasty character and you wished for bad things to happen to her.

I feel much the same about the casting of Jonathan Pryce as Phillip, and for the new Charles played by Dominic West, known by me as the guy in The Affair. How appropriate! I do think that in bringing in Elizabeth Debicki as Diana was brilliant casting. She towers over West, and in truth is a woman at 6 feet 3 inches tall, but she has nailed the mannerisms and speech of the former Princess. She was excellent in Widows and Tenet. Having only watched the first episode, I can say that she is portraying the ill fated Princess admirably. I can see why King Charles, now that the Queen in real life has passed away, would not be anxious to have this released so near his coronation. Episode 1 is entitled Queen Victoria Syndrome, shows Charles to just be a dick. From engaging with Prime Minister John Major separately to discuss having the Queen give up her crown early to allow the next generation to take power, to his treatment of Diana as he dismisses his bride who only seems to want his attention and love. He is incapable of doing so. The reference to Queen Victoria Syndrome is with any longstanding monarch that the people grow to feel has become out of touch with her people.

Apparently the meeting with Major never took place, according to Major himself, and others have weighed in to speak about the inaccuracies to reality. Netflix is quick to point out that this is “entertainment” and they don’t profess this to be historically accurate. Still. Charles comes off again as being less sympathetic and whining that he is so progressive and deserves his chance to show what he can do. Given the love for the Queen, and despite the polls back in the 90s that felt she was “out of touch”, certainly when it came to Diana, there is little doubt that no one would support Charles on the throne sooner than he got it this year. Helen Mirren in The Queen, showed this magnificently and the struggles that the Queen had in dealing with the death of someone who was no longer part of the Royal family. In this episode, the not-so-subtle suggestion that the Brittania and the Queen herself were in need of a modernization/refurbishment is played out. Diana is the loving Mom to the two boys, and they adore her. As Major points out to his wife on a visit to the Royals, he seems them as not an example for the people to admire and emulate but as the entitled, isolated, whiny, dysfunctional group that they have become.

I look forward to more in this excellent series.

Love Is Blind: Season 3 came to a close and it had its fair share of surprises, and also predictable banter. From a surprise factor, those couple that decided to actually get married in the final two episodes were surprising to be sure. I had pegged a couple of those differently. Can I understand why they made their own very personal choices? Absolutely. Who ever wants to get married in a matter of weeks to someone who was a complete stranger?

It seems silly to expect that the little experiment would ever work, with so many challenges facing a young couple. The initial connection is within pods where they cannot see one another; one is expected to fall in love with the person and connect without added complexities of looks. Then they meet once they have proposed. Of course those who are motivated to be on TV and get their 15 minutes of fame are tempted to get hitched. Then the real world somewhat sets in as they meet other people from the pods and other couples. In this season, a couple of the young men show their immaturity and voice their thoughts about some of the other candidates of the opposite sex to their betrothed! What a mistake! For me this is mind candy, seeing how relationships unfold and either connect or fall apart. In some ways it is almost miraculous that couple decide to go through with it. The producers do find a way to keep picking at scabs for the couples as they revisit awkwards moments and places where people were not acting on their best behaviour. Of course, we as an audience only see what they show us, and all those many hours outside this show that were never ever brought forward. Families play a big part, and some decide that they will not support their own child in this endeavor. This is quite a surprise to me, as any family who would boycott a wedding for their child just surprises me. At the same time, there is evidence as to why they exactly that as part of the show. If you like this sort of thing, this delivers as expected. You will enjoy. If you don’t, then you’ll want to stay away.

February 28th, 2022

First of all, I would like to congratulate Jessica Chastain for winning the SAG Award last night for Best Actress, for her role of Tammy Faye Bakker. I have been a long time fan, and although I don’t think of this as the strongest year for nominees (far from it), it is still recognition and acknowledgement. The Eyes of Tammy Faye, that I reviewed and didn’t love, was a project that she had worked on for 10 years. Getting that together, assembling the cast and getting the financing cannot be easy. Sadly the pandemic is hitting all the revenues from the film industry. So kudos to her in bringing it home. I will suggest that Andrew Garfield was robbed in the Best Actor category. For a guy who professed that he couldn’t sing, he was amazing in his role in Tick Tick Boom. I was very pleased to see that Jean Smart for Hacks won which was a great performance! If you haven’t seen it, check out that series.

Nightmare Alley: Another movie where the impressive cast is simply let down by a story that was boring. I was not engaged in this long winded story in the least. Set in the 1940s, in a carnival setting that roams from town to town there is the talents of people like Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, and director/writer Guillermo Del Toro. This is a remake of a movie from 1947. It falls flat. Cooper is the focus as a guy who does something nasty in the first few frames and then “runs away to the circus”. He meets up with a cast of characters who perform shows and fool the public for money. He learns some tricks of the trade and is introduced to the skill of clairvoyance. Generally it is the ability to be extra perceptive, and make choices about people generally, like young men will have issues with their father and women their mothers. People care about health, wealth and love. He meets Rooney Mara. Things happen. Later we see Cooper flying higher in society and looking to impress and be paid by a wealthy man. He is believing in his own “abilities” and selling others on it. The ultimate conclusion comes full circle, but it isn’t really satisfying. I note that even with this star studded cast, that no Oscar nominations came from it. None were justified. It seemed forced, with no real ability to draw the audience into the suspense. I had not realized until after watching that this was a remake. It makes sense, because the look and feel is very much what one might expect from the 40s. Updating the cast is window dressing for a story that is well entrenched in its time. The running time was 2:20 which is too long. I think the opening scenes with the carnival could be shorter. The point could have been made there sooner. In the end, this isn’t Best Picture nor is it worth spending this amount of time on. Sadly. I had such high hopes going into it with this cast.

Love is Blind: I watched Season 2 on Netflix. This is a guilty pleasure really. Such cheese in the evening to watch so many people enter into this “experiment” for which they are all so quick to refer. The premise is simple. Put 15 young men and women in a place for 10 days where they cannot see one another, but can only talk. Only upon being engaged can you actually meet this person, and try to cement the relationship. After a trip to Cancun and some time together back in the home city, in this case Chicago, do you have to ultimately decide whether to actually get married. That decision is left to the bitter end with friends and family in attendance at a full on ceremony. Every one who enters this show knows what they are getting into at this point. There are no surprises there. The editting of course makes a huge difference and I wouldn’t ever place a bet on who would remain together because much isn’t shown to us. If off-camera the couple had a blazing, three alarm argument about something that we didn’t see, we have no context in which to know where the participants head is at. They ALL want to be married. They ALL are in love with the concept of love. But are they finding the right person for them using this format. Of course the show wants to create drama to keep viewers engaged. This was a good season, I felt, because there were couples at different stages. Some more connected than others. Some where one party was more connected. Others still had issues with family and loved ones. The ultimate reveal was a good culmination of events. Obviously I won’t reveal who stayed with whom. But if you like this sort of thing, this is mind candy that although a little longer than it needs to be, can still be fun on a winter day.

April 27th, 2020

I am a fan of the body of work that Willem Dafoe has put together over his career.  I think he shows a great deal of flexibility in the roles that he portrays.  He is another in a long line of actors who embodies the people he is portraying (living or fictional).   I recently saw him in The Lighthouse, which I reviewed just last week.  He has been around a long time, and at the age of 65yo, he is showing no signs of stopping.   He has played Jesus of Nazareth in the controversial (at the time) Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ.   He also played the unfortunate Sgt. Elias in Platoon.   He has been nominated four times for an Oscar including in the performance of the film At Eternity’s Gate that I have been meaning to see.   I actually ended up renting this from the Cineplex website.   It was a deal.   All that preamble about Willem Dafoe was to say that his performance in this is excellent.  This time he plays Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch born painter who’s fame and recognition only came to pass after he passed away.   Van Gogh died at his own hand (which was the prevailing thought) when he was 38yo.  Young.  Too young.  Dafoe plays the tortured soul well.  But he is far too old to portray the artist.  I would have thought that a younger actor could be found.  Despite the age, it is still a well told and performed story.  This movie has an alternate idea on how Vincent met his untimely end.   It also brings forth the idea of a ledger which was given to Vincent and was later returned to the person filled with his sketches.   This ledger was only discovered in 2016.   Remarkable and not without controversy.   The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam denies its authenticity.  The film focuses on the time Van Gogh spent in Arles France after deciding to leave Paris, along with fellow artist Paul Gaugin (played by Oscar Isaac, who is also very good).    You see the loneliness of Van Gigh and his desire for love, friendship and acceptance.  He and Gaugin were friends but as they have a falling out, he suffers as Gaugin leaves.  Later Van Gogh readily acknowledges that despite his art not being well accepted, this is how he sees the world.   He is looking to have people see the world through his eyes.  He loves nature, and he paints nature because for him it is perfect.   This film is filmed interestingly too.  Plenty of tight facial shots and filters (like a yellow hue) which reflects Vincent’s focus on sunlight.   It reminds me a little of Terrence Malick, but I hesitate to mention this director in the same breath as Malick.   It was just an impression.   I am glad that I sought this out, and it brought forward some new ideas about the life of Vincent Van Gogh.   Sadly his younger brother Theo didn’t live much longer than Vincent did, and was dead within a year.   The brothers were so very close.   For a man who the people of Arles France didn’t want in their town near the end, he has left a more memorable lasting worldwide impact than any of them likely.

Article on the Van Gogh ledger:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/nov/15/newly-discovered-van-gogh-drawings-labelled-imitations-museum

Friday night I noted that the Spanish film Pain and Glory was on Crave.  Starring the Academy nominated Antonio Banderas as an aging director looking back upon his life.   The film is at the beginning focused on the director, who has been unable to work as a director because of constant ailments (primarily back pain).   He is asked about attending the reissuance in theatres of a film made many years before.   He is asked too about bringing the principal actor who he has spoken to in 32 years, because he didn’t take direct well and his vision.   They meet.   They begin to chat more and interact.  All the while the past of this director is shown with his mother (played by Penelope Cruz) and his father and their struggles.  He was a precocious boy, who sang beautifully, and wrote and read well.   Mom always wanted the best for him.   Layers of his life come to light and you as viewer see more and more.  It takes some unexpected turns, as life can do.   Much like Vincent who feels that he can only be a painter and was meant to be a painter, this man was meant to be a director.  When he isn’t, then he is lost with no purpose.   As he reconnects, and better understands his life, he learns about himself.    This is a satisfying story well told and well acted.   It was nominated for Best Foreign Film.    Justifiably so.   As the director for Parasite Boon Joon Ho would say (I paraphrase) “some of the best films have subtitles”.

I finished Season 2 of Westworld.  This is a series where one has to pay attention.  The story jumps around a lot, between the situations and the characters.   It has some heavy hitters with Ed Harris, and Sir Anthony Hopkins.  Evan Rachel Wood plays Dolores Abernathy as a robot character in a scripted story who seeks freedom.   Thandie Newton plays another robot character, looking to find a protect a daughter in her story that she swore to save.   I do think that the most interesting character is Bernard, played by Jeffrey Wright, who is a go-between with the human outside world and the robots.   Roles flip back and forth.  Hunter becomes hunted.  Slave is made master, or at the least in a position to better control their destiny.  The series underscores the dangers of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and playing God.   It is a significant investment in time.   I am hearing that season 3 is better than season 2.   Not sure that I recommend to readers to spend that time, but maybe I can view Season 3 and see whether this is in fact the case.

And finally, from the serious and sublime to the mindless and stupid.  If you liked twenty-something relationship train wreck Love is Blind, then NetFlix’s Too Hot to Handle may be right up your alley.   In it, we have model-like twenty-somethings who are uber-sexual, and think to a person they are “at that and a bag of chips”.  They enter to a month long stay at a tropical paradise, and then find out that the $100,000 prize has money deducted for kissing, sexual touching or masturbation.   This from a group who collectively measure themselves with suntan lotion bottles and brag of having sex every day with different people (the days of AIDS have long since left and are forgotten).   Some readily admit to “not being that bright” while others just plainly show it (“I don’t even know where Australia is” from a Florida blonde).   Vancouver model Francesca shows herself not only to be vindictive, but also so confident in herself and her ability to get and keep anybody, that she just screams out to have a lesson in humility.   There is a vague interest in teaching some valuable relationship lessons to these young people, but they fall in most cases on deaf ears.    There is plenty of eye candy for male and female viewers with bikinis and body builder bodies in various forms of undress.   This is mind candy in the truest sense of the word where you can shut off your mind and picture the beaches in Mexico.   In this last week of April, thoughts of a beach, any beach is a welcome escape.

March 30th, 2020 – COVID-19 spreads

Week One of self-quarantine is complete.  I feel fine.  No symptoms of any kind (knock wood) but this is the right thing to do.  There is so much information and misinformation out there.  We have world leaders being indecisive and others doing what they can.   I think that we should all be learning from what is happening in places which are ahead of North America (like Italy, Spain, Germany).  This staying at home and not interacting will mean no cinema visits for a while, and lots of movies at home.   Even Hollywood blockbusters like the new James Bond are being impacted.  More scary will be how new movies won’t be made at all for the foreseeable future.   So there will be a delayed effect as films go on hiatus.  Could make the 2021 Oscars an interesting show since 2020 movies will, for the most part, already be filmed and in post production.

As for movies, I am realizing as I am writing and reviewing Frozen II, that I don’t appear to have ever reviewed the original Frozen.  I can remedy that now.   So back in 2013, Disney released a princess-based traditional story about Nordic royal family.   I give away nothing in saying that, like most Disney movies, there is parental death.   The two sisters (princesses) in the story need to make due.   They are close.   The elder sister has a magical gift, which if used improperly could be harmful.  This is shown early on as the younger sister almost has an accident.   Things happen.   There are a couple memorable songs like “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” and the mega-hit “Let It Go”.   Idina Menzel belts out the hit and it is the inspiring anthem for that character.  What worked best for me with Frozen was how it veered into non-traditional territory, in dealing with the “damsel in distress”.   Anna and Elsa aren’t Snow White, or Ariel or Belle awaiting their Prince Charming.   The story unfolds in a way that was satisfying and appropriate for today’s audiences.

Frozen II was the inevitable sequel, given the tremendous success of the original.   It took six years to finally get there, but the main characters all return.  As in any time a successful original is followed up, you run the risk of trying to repeat success while bringing something new for the characters.   Disney has shown that they are more than capable of doing this with the Toy Story franchise.   I can’t say that this was as successful.  The songs weren’t as memorable.  The story provides more backstory to the royal family and its earlier days when the father of the princesses was a young man.    It involves an enchanted forest and relations amongst peoples of different cultures.   It is believable in the grand scheme of things.   In the end it was decent.  If you haven’t seen the first, see it first.  Feel free to stop there, as you will be missing out on not very much.   If you like the characters and want to see more of them, then feel free to watch the sequel.

On Netflix I was told about at-home viewing parties for people (mostly women) with the series (11 episodes including a reunion at the end) for Love Is Blind.   In many ways it mirrors, and uses the success of The Bachelor series to its advantage.   The premise is one of putting together 12 men and women together who are both ready to settle down and get married.   The twist is that these groups are segregated apart and cannot see one another as they get to know one another.   They talk in pods, where in this small room is a couch and carpet and they can talk with the other person.   They can talk as often as they wish, after what appears to be a speed-dating introduction where you meet everyone going from pod to pod.   The idea is that one party needs to propose marriage to the other.  The social experiment is to see whether love is truly blind.   It was a three-week event.   Remarkably six couples actually propose to one another in the pods.   They are obviously the focus.   Once they propose they get to actually lay eyes on the other person.   The big reveal.   Once the couples pair off, they are whisked away to Cancun Mexico and see if their relationship can become more physical.   Physical becomes an operative word between some of the couples.   They spend time there, and then head back to Atlanta and live in a condo building all together.   They are given their phones back and have introductions to friends and families as they prepare their weddings.   Let the drama begin throughout.   For those looking for some mindless escapism, this could be the vehicle.   You don’t have to see rising COVID-19 cases.   You don’t hear about ventilator shortages and no mask wearing.   It is a train wreck to be sure, with a flawed premise.  I don’t think many would believe that love is blind.  We all recognize that there are economic, physical, family, race, religion, geographic, career aspects of who we are that impact on our potential partner.   Sometimes love can overcome.  So watch.   In the end, as in most of these series, you are only privy to what you see.   Editing is a marvelous thing for putting forth the characters involved in the light that the producers want to achieve to make you continue to watch.   For what it is, I watched it to the end.   It delivered on what it is.

Finally I re-watched Bugsy, the 1991 film starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, where the two met and feel in love for real.  This is the movie about Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, the NY mobster who also was a flamboyant ladies man, and loved living the life of a gangster.   It was nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, and Best Actor, and Supporting Actor.   Amazingly to me, Annette Bening was not nominated here.  She has been nominated four times before and has never won.  Playing Virginia Hill, she shows spunk and attitude which turns Ben Siegel for a loop.   I had showed this movie to my youngest as he has been to Vegas, and this shows the initial inspiration for Vegas.   Vegas in the 1940s was a small insignificant town in the desert.  With the completion the Hoover Dam, though, it would have all the electricity that it would need and water.   Siegel saw this inspiration, and convinced his good friend Meyer Lansky to invest the mobs money.   Siegel had a temper and Beatty shows the volatility of the man, and just how quickly he could turn around and bring himself back.   As the Lanksy character says early on, Siegel’s flaw was that “he doesn’t respect money”.   He was an idea man, and wanted to leave something behind;  make a lasting impression.    There are quality performances all around from Ben Kingsley (Lansky) to Harvey Keitel (Mickey Cohen) and others.   Beatty and Bening steal the show and the chemistry between them is undeniable.   Silence of the Lambs won the Best Picture that year, justifiably, but this was a very good film and worth your time if you are looking for something to watch at home.

Stay safe all.  Stay healthy.  Stay home.