November 15th, 2021

There wasn’t an edition published last week since I was away and had little access to the computer (on purpose).

Scenes From A Marriage (1973): Jessica Chastain had worked previously with Liv Ullman, the Norwegian actress and director on films like Miss Julie. Ullman is widely regarded as one of the best European actresses, although I have to admit that I am not all that familiar with her work. She frequently worked with Ingmar Bergman. This movie, which was originally a TV series as well, was the original inspiration for the recently released series starring Chastain and the everywhere-man Oscar Isaac. It follows the same chapter pattern with moments in time with the primary couple, Marianne and Johan. In the first chapter, Marianne and Johan have their friends over for a dinner and drinks and it eventually becomes a more tense scene with the friends shouting their gripes about their relationship and a desire to end it. Marianne is a family law lawyer and Johan is an assistant professor. Marianne is able to be a source of legal counsel eventually through the end of the conversation. Chastain was an IT manager in the more recent storyline. In that first chapter Marianne and Johan have been together for ten years. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the latest version nor this one. There are many similarities between the two series but there are also some material differences. I don’t spoil that much to reveal that in this version, Johan comes early to their cottage property and announces that he has fallen in love with someone else. He will be setting off to Paris with this new person the next day for a number of months. I think audiences from the seventies where divorce was not so prevalent than it is today would be more accepting of the reaction of Marianne upon hearing this news. I am not sure that today’s viewers would be as accepting. Then again, this is true of much of the relationship between these two people. The underlying theme is that some people, whether together or not, seem to gravitate to one another. Maybe they are more mature in accepting the wishes of a spouse who questions the relationship they have? Perhaps they are less spiteful and looking for revenge, all very human emotions that don’t seem to show themselves. I am not sure. As things progress the sides have flipped from the latest version where it was Chastain who looked for more, and requested the divorce. Johan seems a little less manipulative in this series. The children are not seen and rarely spoken about except for Marianne to request that Johan try and make an effort to remember their birthdays. Rather matter-of-factly it is mentioned that the children don’t really want to see their father. The other theme that extends into both is this idea that there is no clean break. When children are involved that is absolutely the case. However when some of the scenes are played out, one wonders whether that ability to see it as just a momentary lapse can override a real betrayal. There are certain things that I feel are non-negotiable in a relationship, and in one of the later episodes it can be seen to occur. It was surprising and unexpected that it went there, but even more surprising that later there is a further meeting up. It was interesting to review, to compare and contrast the two versions. I can see where Chastain felt that there was updating necessary, and for her the stronger more independent woman of a household. Isaac in the later version is more sympathetic. Johan far less so, even while mumbling about how sorry he is in his life, at virtually every stage. There is no doubt that even with this 70s version that I still see Little Children comparisons. Still Marianne is more a victim in this circumstance throughout. After all is said and done, it doesn’t really speak too highly of the institution of marriage.

Webb-TV - Se Scener ur ett äktenskap i SVT Play - Gratis streaming

Johan and Marianne discuss their relationship.

Silk Road: I have to admit that I haven’t heard much about Silk Road as a website until recently, and most of it is through books about the principal true character named Ross Ulbricht. Ross is a brilliant young man born in 1984, who struggled like many young people to find his niche. He had broad visions for himself as someone who could “change the world”. He was also very much a libertarian in the truest sense of the word. He believed generally that people, and notably Americans, have the right to do whatever they want with no government interference. He was attending University of Texas, and was about to finish as an engineer. His father notably looked upon him as a person who couldn’t apply himself and never seemed to finish what he started. In 2010, he came up with the idea that he could set up an anonymous marketplace where people could buy and sell anything, including drugs, which he regarded as a personal choice. He would not allow firearms or child pornography or the like. He had a view that using TOR, which encrypted the users identity and making payments in untraceable Bitcoin that there would be no taxes and no government interference. The postal service and couriers would be used to cut out to criminal undercurrent of the current on-the-street and illegal business. He set up his site. It became a news story through the website Gawker, and then took off.

Circuit Affirms Life Sentence for 'Silk Road' Creator | New York Law Journal

At the same time, there is a disgraced police officer who was an effective street cop, but had also become an addict. He had a well publicized incident that had him at an Addiction Centre and later psychiatric help for his demons. He is played by Jason Clarke in this movie. He isn’t fired, but placed with the cyber-security unit at the DEA with all the other computer geeks (no disrespect intended). He hears through a street source that drugs can be purchased through the web and he wants to track it down. His path crosses with Ulbrecht as he tries to gain his confidence. For me, the more intriguing aspect of this story is the Bitcoin. It was the currency of choice for the underworld. At the time, people were transacting in Bitcoin when its value was around $121. Ulbricht took a 10% commission fee for every transaction that took place. When he was arrested in 2013, the federal government seized 144,000 bitcoin. It is believed that the Silk Road commissions from 2011 to 2013 were closer to 600,000 Bitcoin. In mid 2014, the Government auctioned off 30,000 of his coins. All nine auctions went to a venture capitalist for $19M. Bitcoin today is trading at $64,307 USD and those 30,000 Bitcoin are worth $1.9B. And Ulbrecht’s fortune for the 144,000 Bitcoin would be $9.26B!!! Quite remarkable. He was convicted on only a few charges and when you see what happens, if you don’t know the story, I think that you will be shocked. This is a guy who believed in the free economy, not in any way impacted by the Government, yet he lived in modest means, and for all his talk of freedom he moved from place to place and couldn’t enjoy the fruits of his labours. He was always in fear of being arrested. He was a workaholic and that work consumed him. Yes he impacted the world, but at what price? Time and again stories show the drive for brilliance and impact is lost because of other flaws and insecurities. He is serving life sentences. His Mom actively propositioned Donald Trump as President to pardon him. He didn’t. So he remains there. This is an intriguing story moreso than the movie was. The movie was okay, but the subject matter is worthwhile checking into. Bitcoin has become mainstream, with Elon Musk being a major player, but it still smacks of a currency for the underground to me. I had a hockey buddy talk about what he thought the value of a Bitcoin and he was right. He was mining Bitcoin at the time. These people who have made all these riches from Bitcoin might want to investigate how the electrical grid can be boosted to allow all these transactions, and electric cars to take over. For further insight into that, see John Oliver’s piece from Last Week Tonight from last week.


October 18, 2021

Just in case you aren’t seeing enough Oscar Isaac these days, here are a couple more times to view him and his considerable talents before you see him playing Duke Leto Atreides in Dune next week. I have already mentioned in previous reviews the ongoing series Scenes From A Marriage where he is paired with Jessica Chastain. Last Sunday night the final installment of this series took place on Crave/HBO. As mentioned earlier this is a series, with episodes released in consecutive weeks and this was the last one. Episode five of five. Time has passed and our couple, with a young daughter between them, have been living apart. As we begin, Jonathan is getting ready to meet up with Mira. The structure of this series ensures that we don’t really know how much time has passed between the episodes. For the most part we have seen Mira acting in the most manipulative way, with Jonathan reacting to her. He has been hurt. He was surprised earlier in the series and has still be trying to put the pieces back together for himself. In some ways, this series reminds me of the movie Little Children with Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. There the adults were running around with no consideration for anything but their own needs. They left behind a trail of shattered lives. In some ways watching someone on screen do things that you are not emotionally engaged with can allow for better clarity. Jonathan’s actions often I felt were not seeing the bigger picture. His love for his wife, even when she was acting solely in her best interest, blinds him. I think that he comes off as an innocent party who has things happen to him, and he is left to try and put together the pieces for himself afterwards. This final episode turns this around somewhat. Jonathan as things unfold is doing things that I can’t imagine him ever doing before the previous episodes take place. He seems to be moving on, and then he does things that run contrary to that thinking. We can see where this journey has taken him. It’s not a positive place, and he will explain at length his justification. Mira meanwhile has been moving forward with her career, and has slowed down her relationships. Ultimately these scenes from a marriage don’t paint a very positive story. That likely is the point, and stories of good communication with people working together towards common goals wouldn’t give us much to talk about. Still. It can be a tough watch, where an actress that I like takes on a persona that is frustratingly annoying. Isaac plays and acts his part well, and they interact well together. This is believable, but not necessarily enjoyable. I wouldn’t want to spend a evening with drinks and conversation with Jonathan and Mira, although I suspect that, like in the first episode, that they can put together a good show, and say much by what they don’t say to one another.

The Card Counter: Oscar Isaac returns in this latest release where he plays a guy with a checkered past, and a rather uneventful present. As we meet him, he is making a living by moving from place to place and playing cards. We learn that he has taught himself to play cards and work the Blackjack tables. He explains how card counting works early on but he is also plays a mean game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, where “you play the person and not the house”. He is successful but not to the point of drawing attention to himself. He meets a young man who has a chip on his shoulder and wants to avenge some prior wrong. He knows our card player previously. How he knows him unfolds slowly in pieces and flashbacks. The young man has a beef with a man giving a presentation played by Willem Dafoe. Isaac’s character takes the young man under his wing. He sees a young man with passion but not a lot of sense about planning and executing on a complex plan. I had expected to see this plot travel the path of The Colour of Money, with the veteran showing the ropes to a young man as they work together to make scores. Not the case here. Yes, there is a “money person” who finds promising card talent and bankrolls their efforts (think Molly’s Game) and the veteran (Isaac) only looking to play for a very short period of time. But it takes a left turn. Rather than working together, Isaac wants something different. He reveals more about himself and we see more of his past, and his interest in the Dafoe character. It builds and then changes. I was surprised. It was a human story, and reflected a life that many people cannot relate to. In the end, seeing Isaac plays these very different roles in both look and experience is fun to watch. He is one of the most versatile actors out there today and he is getting plenty of quality roles. I look forward to seeing him next weekend in Dune. This is not action packed. It has its own pace and takes it time to develop the story of the protagonist. If you like Isaac, and want to see more of him. This is worth watching. If you want a greater pace with car chases and action scenes then it isn’t for you.

September 27, 2021

In and Of Itself: Back on Feb 1st I reviewed this movie directed by Frank Oz. I re-watched it again as it was just released on Crave. I enjoyed it thoroughly once again. It is a one man show from a guy named Derek DelGaudio. It is hard to describe it in a single word really. It is part philosophy, part illusion, part parlour trick and altogether interesting. I won’t describe it further because it bears viewing with fresh eyes. So if you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Scenes From A Marriage (Episode 3): This show is on weekly at present. Once again it stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. Both are very good in it. It is slow. It can be painful. The character that Jessica plays, for me, is one that is becoming less and less admirable. That likely isn’t a desired trait, or perhaps reflects exactly what the producers had intended; not all people act admirably. So this can be a mirror to what people experience. Episodes one and two have the changes within this marriage beginning. They have been together for quite some time, and she had some news which resulted in a particular direction. Then, once again, she had in episode two after some passage of time some more news that she wanted to bring to her husband. This episode is really a continuation of that news after some time has passed. It is a tough position for the husband to play in this context. Isaac plays it very well. He has been in reactive mode, trying to adjust his life. He has also sought out to evaluate himself and his contribution to the recent happenings. After all there are always two people in any relationship and rarely it would be solely one person who is making decisions in a vacuum. There were moments here that I was actively cringing and speaking aloud for the husband to choose a different path. If you are watching this, you will know when I mean. I will continue to watch.

Last Week Tonight: This ongoing series from John Oliver is always fun for me. The host makes interesting commentary on the news of the day, then has segments of other items of interest. It is done with humour, but also a critical eye. His news item this week was addressing the refugees seeking to enter the US from Haiti and how they have been turned back. At times forcibly with border agents on horseback. His other segment was on Voting Rights and how certain States (mostly red Republican States) are putting forth legislation to limit the ability to vote or at least curtail its availability. Mail-in voting, specific ID requirements etc. are being put forth which can have a disproportionate impact on the non-white voters. There isn’t much of a surprise there, but it is an effort that President Biden isn’t really taking too seriously. Finally he did a segment on Duck Stamps, which was quite funny. These are stamps that are generally sold to hunters, but also collectors. 97% of the proceeds is used to save wildlife habitation and during its life, has raised over $1B. Each year a team selects the art to be chosen from a list of entries. John’s team entered a number of suggestions.

Here is one of them (note the dog from Nintendo’s Duck Hunt in the back):

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver "Duck Hunt" by Eric Joyner | eBay
Last Week Tonight Failed Entry for 2022 Duck Stamp now up for auction

All his entries failed to get consideration from the judges, but he is now auctioning them off with all contributions going to the charity. It was all very funny. In the same way as his purchase of Russell Crowe’s divorce movie paraphernalia or having Danbury CT name their waste management plant in his name. Enjoy!

September 20th, 2021

This week I watched some older films and the new release on Crave with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: This is a classic movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture back in 1975. It also won Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher and Best Director, Milos Forman. Forman also directed Amadeus. It is an iconic role for Nicholson. This is role where Jack Nicholson actually plays a role than playing himself. He plays Randall McMurphy who is convicted felon, who thinks that being in a psychiatric hospital is better than being in a prison with assigned work details. He meets up with Nurse Ratched an experienced tough-as-nails, no nonsense woman who runs her floor like a well oiled machine. Over time one questions whether she really is looking to improve the lives of her patience, or rather this is an affirmation daily of her superiority. She isn’t to be challenged. In comes McMurphy who quickly looks to upend her structured existence with her patients. The patients are all men, and are important to dynamic. There are some well known actors here in their early days like Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd. The story is really a power play between McMurphy who challenges the other patients and pushes them to be more independent, and Nurse Ratched. McMurphy has an impact on each and every one of them becoming the somewhat leader of this motley group. The acting is first rate all around. I was re-visiting this because I haven’t reviewed it, but I had seen it a long time ago. The performance of the Chief is one that has struck me more upon another viewing. Forman tells this story, one that my brother read in high school, but was unread by me, in a moving way where the performances shine and you get a sense about an aspect of life for some that wouldn’t normally be seen. The story remains as effective today as back in the 70s. People are people, even though I expect that shock treatment is no longer used as a means of “treating” people with mental challenges.

Basic Instinct: In 1992, this movie became a sleeper hit and mostly on the performances by Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. Stone shines in a movie that is a psychological thriller and murder mystery. For 1992, there was more nudity and titillations than for its time. There is plenty of frontal nudity. Stone plays an author named Catherine Trammell, who inherited a great deal of wealth from her deceased parents, and writes murder mystery books. Her books tend mirror people and characters in her life. There are some classic scenes like the interview scene with Stone in the white dress. She uncrosses and crosses her legs in full view of her male police, legal interviewers. Later there is a bedroom scene where a scarf is used and then an ice pick comes into play. The players get more entangled and the story moves on, with the audience not knowing whether Trammell did or didn’t do what occurs. Is this an Academy winner? No. But is it entertaining? Yes. One can view and wonder about how this will all unfold. If the reader doesn’t feel like watching this, likely male teenagers in the house will.

Scarface: This is an iconic role for Al Pacino. For a man who has played many incredible roles, including the unforgettable Michael Corleone in The Godfather, this is one for which many people will think of him first. His Cuban accent is forced, but this 1983 movie directed by Brian De Palma is a tour de force for Pacino in a role of a Cuban exile who becomes a major drug king pin in Miami. He plays Tony Montana. Like the other movies reviewed, this movie has some memorable scenes, like the early scene in the motel with the Columbians. There are also many lines used that have become part of the every vernacular of life like “Say hello to my little friend” and “All I Have In This World Is My Balls And My Word, And I Don’t Break ‘Em For No One!” and “In This Country, You Gotta Make The Money First. Then When You Get The Money, You Get The Power. Then When You Get The Power, Then You Get The Women.” Steven Bauer plays his best friend and side kick. From a new immigrant to the US, to a dish washer, he has street smarts and ambitions for bigger things. The end always justifies the means. He will do anything to get ahead. He has a hair trigger temper when it comes to his sister. He lives boldly and passionately with a strong business sense. Together he and his best friend rise in the Miami drug world. Tony has early visions of owning the world. He meets his boss’ girlfriend, played by Michelle Pfeiffer and is immediately struck by her. Early advice on having longevity in the cocaine business from that old boss is quickly forgotten. The story is one of unbridled ambition and excess. If the entire focus of a life is making money and getting ahead, something can get lost. Usually this can mean relationships, with family or friends or both. This is a remake of a film from 1932 of the same name. This addresses the cocaine drug scene in Miami in ways that weren’t seen before. The performance of Pacino makes it, and the circumstances that reveal just how crazy this business was, along with the participation of bankers, legislators and the Columbians.

Scenes From A Marriage: This new series on Crave was just released last week. It plays each Sunday. Yesterday the second episode was played. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain play a married couple with a young daughter. Chastain plays a woman who works at an IT company. She is the bread winner in the family. Isaac plays a professor who is the primary caregiver for the daughter. The first episode was slow but got better as the wife has some interesting news. The couple needs to deal with it. The series is a re-make of the 1973 series from Ingmar Bergman. Michelle Williams was apparently supposed to star in it, but she bowed out. Chastain stepped in. These two played a married couple from A Most Violent Year. They are former classmates from Julliard School. Like Revolutionary Road, with Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio from a few years ago I wonder why these dramas about marriage have to seem so miserable. I suppose that there wouldn’t be much drama if things all went swimmingly in a blissful union of two people so deeply intertwined. Life is more complicated than that. Especially when there are children involved, there are painful discussions that take place. Decisions are made, and they are never easy. There is deep hurt and emotion. Things both said and unsaid. The ebbs and flows of connection and disconnect. Rarely is it that two people are in sync at the same time. One is almost always on a different plain at a different time. One doesn’t enjoy this, and the scenes that are painful but you experience them. In many ways, this isn’t for younger viewers. They don’t have the life experience to understand that this can be very real. Love for the young can be very black and white, an absolute. The truth can be that it is more shades. The simple act of packing a bag can be more impactful emotionally, and tell you a lot about the people involved, than you might expect. Two episodes in, I enjoy the performances. I will continue to watch.