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.