December 28th, 2020

This week is a tale of two reviews for the same topic; Mulan.  I had never seen the Disney animated original back in 1998.   Knowing that I was going to view the updated real life version I decided to check out the original.   Mulan (1998): The animated version is a musical and tells the story from the 15th Century with the Chinese emperor engaging a conscripted army (one male person from each household) to engage with the horrible Huns who have invaded the northern territory.   Mulan’s elderly father has two daughters and a wife.  Eldest daughter Mulan is a tomboy who isn’t interested in being “matched” by the local matchmaker.   Dad volunteers to be conscripted and fight despite a wonky leg.   Mulan decides (against the family wishes) to take his armour, sword and horse to fight in his place.   She is part of a group of new recruits.    Before she arrives, she meets up with a small dragon, voiced by Eddie Murphy who is the comic relief.    His role is very much the same as Donkey in <strong>Shrek</strong>.   Shrek was from 2001, but it also seems to channel 1992 Aladdin (which was also recently remade in real life).   In short Mulan acts as a young man, and then saves the platoon from the Hun hoard and ultimately the Emperor.   I doubt that I am giving anything away by stating this.   The songs are okay.   Eddie Murphy has a couple funny lines.   The ultimate battle sequence Mulan does something that in hindsight isn’t all that remarkable, but it took some outside of the box thinking.   The Forbidden City entanglement was more than a little unbelievable.   This is a story of a strong woman in times of great repression.   She overcomes cultural challenges and proves her worth to her father, her family and her Emperor.    I know more than a few women who look upon this in a favourable light.   For me, it was okay.

The latest Mulan released on Disney+ was from 2020 and unlike more recent re-makes from Disney is not a true translation.   In most instances the musical aspects are supplemented so that the now live version is longer than the 90 minute animated feature.    Many Disney remakes have done this like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.    In this instance the music is eliminated entirely, and I think to the peril of the overall look and feel.   There is a more serious tone as the young Mulan attends training and eventually encounters a new character, a female witch, who is assisting the Huns.   Mulan’s family speaks of women being labelled as witches and this is obviously not a good situation.   Ultimately the witch and Mulan have more encounters.   This is a significant difference to the original.   There are other scenes as well including the romantic interest who are also very different.  Adding the witch along with other changes didn’t make the story better. In fact I found it a distraction. I wasn’t expecting to do a full scale comparison between the two, but I kept being reminded how different the live version was to the original. Disney+ wanted a significant contribution to watch this when it was first released. I am glad that I didn’t spend the money for it. This is beloved story for many. Having seen it twice in the last week, I don’t feel as though it is something that has added to my Disney catalogue of movies worth watching. So I would avoid this one.

Finally, the Mandalorian Season 2 was completed with the conclusion which I have to admit was a little bit of a surprise. We had learned earlier that the Baby Yoda could potentially engage with some Jedi, although there weren’t many left by sitting atop that one mountain where he was snatched by the bad guys. I won’t reveal more than that. I will say that the technology for making actors younger isn’t really as good one would be hoping. Enough said on the subject. I did enjoy the season, however I would say that for two seasons there were more than a few episodes that felt like filler. By the last couple of episodes it was better and moved along. Was this a satisfactory ending to it? Meh, I don’t know. Was it worth watching, sure. I am more impressed frankly with the ability to have the episodes LOOK like they are filmed in Tunisia and other places in the Star Wars universe. They weren’t. They are projected screens on sound stages. You never would know it in looking at it. There is a documentary about the technology in bringing this series forward, and it was good to see. The ongoing technology is evolving so very quickly. Still. Real actors are a benefit and add to the viewer caring and being engaged.

December 14th, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy: Newly released on Netflix, this is a new Ron Howard film with a very good cast, principally starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams. In a recent listing of Best Performances, both of these two actors were mentioned for this story. This is a movie based upon a best selling book. The casting and make up teams have done an excellent job to find talent and then make them look like their real life counterparts. In a rural farm area of Kentucky this family has its origins and we learn that it goes all the way back to the Hatfields and McCoy feud. They are poor, with few prospects. The family moves to small town Ohio early in the lives of the children. The story has three generations with Close playing the Grandma, Amy Adams playing the Mom and then two siblings. The young man was bullied and a bit awkward, but smart enough and finds himself on the verge of breaking free of this rural life. The challenge is that his Mom especially, finds ways to bring him back. Not generally being an Amy Adams fan, I can say that here she plays a character that is very difficult to like. She is what one thinks when you hear the term “hillbilly” or “redneck”. She isn’t a Mother of the Year candidate nor is her Mom. It is not a family really that you would wish to share a holiday meal. If August: Osage County has a dysfunctional aspect, these people have them beat. In the end, I was scratching my head about some of the decisions of the young man. I can understand family and being there for them, but I can also make a compelling case that he helps his family more if he can find a way to break free from the life. I cannot recommend this, but the performances were decent, however unlikeable that they were. Close who is one of the most nominated people without an Oscar will likely garner another nomination here. I won’t predict if she can break her streak.

Safe (series): Safe is a 2018 series starring Dexter star Michael C. Hall. That is a series that I did not watch, but is held in high regard. It is from the author Harlon Cobin, who writes popular crime/drama books. It is an 8 part series, with the typical who-dunnit style. A young person is dead, and the daughter of a prominent doctor (Hall) is missing. Hall, like most fathers would do, is scrambling to find his daughter, and doing some detective work of his own. The police are involved, and they too are following up on leads. The characters in this small gated community are all pretty tightly linked. They are friends, or neighbours and are bound by some collective history. The good doctor’s wife has passed away from cancer, and we see her being buried in the opening sequence. Her death has created tension in his household with his two daughters. The elder one goes missing. The story unfolds rather slowly as various people and their agendas are revealed. The viewer is left thinking about who the ultimate culprit is as the series comes to its close in the final episode. I will reveal nothing further than those higher details. I often wonder about the motivations and actions of various characters, in this instance the teenage mind at times needs to be forgiven. The adults and their situations are a little more perplexing. Was this worthwhile, or at least on par with a Broadchurch (season 1), The Bodyguard (UK series with Rob Stark)or The Fall? No. I can’t say that. It tries hard and means well, but I can’t put it up to those levels of quality. But if you have seen all of those, you can give it a go.

The Mandalorian (Episode 14: The Tragedy) again kept the momentum moving forward after the quality Episode 13, although not the same extent. Baby Yoda is taken to the planet that was discussed and manages to do the expected. Meanwhile, the new Empire leader is busy with trying to re-acquire the Asset. The two parties converge at this site.

SPOILER ALERT. The Mandalorian runs into Boba Fett (hard to not name the character without having a more fullsome discussion about him). Maybe I have the timelines wrong with respect to the Mandalorian but I don’t think so. Boba Fett found and captured frozen Han Solo and brought him to Jabba the Hutt in Empire Strikes Back. In Return of the Jedi, he was seen in Jabba’s chambers and nodded to the bounty hunter (Leia) who brought forth Chewie to Jabba. Boba Fett rather unceremoniously and lamely was felled by a half-blind Han Solo who turned around with a weapon and inadvertently launched Boba Fett’s jet pack to plunge him hard into the wall of Jabba’s sail barge and have him fall into the pit of the Sarlacc (ending with a belch). So seeing him here (with the same actor from Episode II: Attack of the Clones) was odd. It’s the thing about Star Wars people, we remember these not so insignificant plot points and then question how it all ties together. And maybe I am totally off but I am reading The Mandalorian is set 5 years AFTER the Luke timeline but before Rey and the latest episodes. So that doesn’t really work for me. Is Boba Fett resurrected somehow? Did he survive being “slowly digested over a thousand years” as C-3P0 exclaimed in the Sarlacc? Unknown but it makes little sense to bring him back here where there is a universe of characters that could be used that aren’t dead.

December 7th, 2020

So this week on Disney+ I was able to view the following:

Black Beauty: This is a remake (of a remake of a remake) – no less than 8 movies on the subject – from Disney starring Mackenzie Foy (from Interstellar fame as younger Jessica Chastain) and Iain Glenn (Jorah Mormont of GOT) and finally and surprisingly the voice of Kate Winslet. The previous versions in both TV and screen I have not watched, so I am seeing for the first time. With Disney these days it seems if you can’t come out with original content, recycle or sequel what you already have. Recent examples would include Lion King, Jungle Book, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, and of course Star Wars. The former movies are all computer graphics re-doing of the original cartoon. Scary enough when you list them all – curse you Jon Favreau!! Anyway, a girl loses her parents in a tragic car accident (what is a Disney story without parental death after all?) and she is sent to live with her horse trainer uncle. He works on a ranch where part of what they do is purchase wild mustangs and look to “break them” and resell them. Black Beauty is one such spirited mustang that he is charged with training. The horse is stubborn, and we know this because the horse is voiced by Kate Winslet. It’s a distraction really to have an outwardly thinking horse, I won’t say talking because the lips at least aren’t moving like Mr Ed. How do we really know what the horse is thinking? How does the writer? Unknown to me, but then again it’s a movie so I will ignore the disbelief to see where it all leads. The young girl connects with the horse, and that allows her to respect her Uncle a little bit more. The horse matures but ultimately needs to be sold off, and separated from the young girl – who continues to grow herself. She at some point has a summer away with a very wealthy family with a very large ranch and they jump horses. I hadn’t seen the actress in a while and it was good to see Mormont, but in the end this story didn’t really impact me. I suppose that I am not really the target market for this; young girls and women would be. I think in part I was expecting this to be a remake of National Velvet that starred Elizabeth Taylor in 1944. It is decidedly not that. The movie ends with a cheesey whimper and isn’t really very uplifting. But there are pretty horses. There are young girls showing their independence. This will have a market, but for me I can’t really recommend it.

The Mandalorian, Season 2, Episode 5, story chapter 13 called The Jedi, was I think the best and most interesting episode of this season series, and perhaps through the entire show. It seems that much of Season 2 has been filler stories where the Mandalorian has been taking on sideline stories, helping those who he doesn’t really need to do anything for, but does so to allow there to be something to do. Why he would put his own life at risk for a person he could overcome much more easily isn’t explained. Finally, mercifully, we have him meet up with a character of some skill and ability. Rosario Dawson (yea!!) plays Ahsoka Tanu who is a Jedi. As an aside I really like Dawson and I would like to see her work more. She brings an edge, she has intelligence and character. I liked seeing her here. Her character is from The Clone Wars, the cartoon series that I have not completed, where she is an apprentice and working alongside other Jedi like Annakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi. Now a full fledged Jedi, she is making an attack on a walled town where a new leader has been oppressing the locals. She is here to help. The Mandalorian impresses the local bad ass, who engages him to try and kill the Jedi for a reward. The story continues. Not only was there Rosario Dawson here, but Michael Biehn from Terminator movie, Kyle Reese. It was good to see him, even more aged than expected. Overall, some quality action. Things happened and the story of the Baby Yoda, now named, gets to inch forward. This wasn’t just action for the sake of action, but it had purpose. I hope that there is more to be seen from Dawson going forward.

November 23, 2020

Snow falls on Toronto for really the first time this Winter. Covid cases are rising as the snow is falling. It means for this city that as of this day at midnight, we are under further restrictions (no barbers, restaurants closing, gatherings limited to immediate family etc. It is disappointing to be back here but this virus seems to be very aggressive and resilient. What it means from this blog point of view, is that I have more time to watch and report on what I am seeing. So let’s start with the lows and work towards the highs.

Home Sweet Hell: A long time ago in the heydays of Grey’s Anatomy on TV, and later films like Knocked Up, Katharine Heigl was an up and coming actress, who was given the opportunity to become an A-lister. Then she got derailed. She complained publicly about her role in Knocked Up and pissed off the Director and Writer. She then butted horns with the writer from Grey’s Anatomy. Further she demanded more and more money, and basically was looked upon as “difficult”. I have to admit that I am not a fan, but I did enjoyed Knocked Up. My favourite scene was when she meets with the Seth Rogan character to tell him that she was unexpectedly expecting. Too funny. All that background to show how the mighty have fallen. Home Sweet Hell is a 2015 film where she plays a cold, calculating housewife with money, who is married to a man who has a job selling furniture store owned by her father. Then the darkness descends as the husband has an affair to which she needs to react. It goes in a direction that you don’t really expect, but then again you don’t really care. Heigl plays a woman who is just nasty. Maybe she is leveraging her already toxic reputation and embracing it, but it doesn’t really work. In the end I cannot recommend but in truth it’s not really readily available (I saw on Amazon Prime and there is plenty more there to watch instead). So pass.

Miss Baja: On Crave, this is a story of a latina make up artist. She lives in LA, and decides to go to Tijuana to attend a beauty pageant with her best friend. This 2019 film stars Gina Rodriguez, who looks a lot like Eva Mendes, and also Michelle Rodriguez who is no relation to her. In short, she attends a pre-pageant party where a group of local thugs tries to take out the Police Sheriff where she ultimately gets taken hostage by the thug leader, and he wants her to do some things to advance his cause. You see, he is in a battle with the corrupt Policy Sherriff and looks for an opportunity to take him out. It is a convoluted story where ultimately they look to make a young woman dressed in heels and tight dresses do things that we guys can be only amazed. Apparently this is a remake of a 2011 film. I have to admit that I don’t see any need to do this once again. There are moments you are uncertain about how the heroine will react about her predicament, and the US DEA don’t help her in her cause. So pass once again.

Emma: Another remake that didn’t need to be made. The most interesting aspect for me is how the star in this version Anya-Taylor Joy is talked about everywhere for her work in Queen’s Gambit, and justifiably so. Emma is the Jane Austen story, the late 18th Century British writer, who also wrote Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. It’s a period piece, and generally I can enjoy period pieces (Downton Abbey comes to mind, or Elizabeth and many many others). In it, there is the privileged, “handsome, almost 21yo” from her community who befriends the young Harriet. Emma is a match maker of some repute and decides to step away from matchmaking for a time. This is a slow story of romantic intrigue. There are young men, encircling various women of various stations. Class plays an all important role where one is expected to stay in their class or look to move up. Bill Nighy plays the eccentric father to Emma, and provides some welcome comic relief. In the end I kept thinking to myself that this movie would have been intolerable to watch with Gwyneth Paltrow starring from back in 1996. Joy plays spoiled well enough but you don’t necessarily feel the need to physically put her in her place, unlike Paltrow who is that way 24/7. So I would take the suggestion that Alison gave me to give this one a pass. It is beautifully shot, with excellent colours, chateaus, horses and costumes. But pretty pictures don’t necessarily sustain the interest.

Papillon: When I was a teen, I read the Henri Charriere arguable autobiographical book Papillon about his days as a prisoner at various prisons in French Guyana. It was a compelling page turner and I would recommend that book to anyone. It provides a detailed history of the places and people that he encountered. At that time who knew how much one could place in a small receptical and put up your rear end. The 1973 movie starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman was a decent telling of the story. Generally movies are challenged to put on screen the full story told in a book. This is such a story, with such scope and breadth. I had thought that the McQueen version was not really in need of a refresh. Then in 2017 they did exactly that with Rami Malek playing the Hoffman Degas character and Charlie Hunnam playing McQueen. There is more time spent in Paris and the charge made against Papillon, so named for the butterfly tattoo on his chest. He is wrongfully convicted of murder and sent into exile like 80,000+ of his countrymen to prison colonies. The conditions in these camps were horrendous. There was hard labour, poor food and fellow inmates who were out to kill one another for their stash. Ultimately it is a story of escape, and solitary confinement – where one man can spend years by himself and remarkably survive. This was a descent rendering of the story, but I still prefer the book.

Secretariat: this 2010 film, available on Disney+ is about the famed Triple Crown winning horse from the early 1970s. It stars Diane Lane and John Malkovich. It is reminiscent of Seabiscuit which was a 2003 Oscar nominee. Seabiscuit is a better film. But that doesn’t take away from this one. The challenges for the Lane character were very real, and by chance coin flip she ended up with the famed horse (she lost the toss). Despite family pressures, a father who was ailing, and an industry which is largely male dominated, she manages to the find the people necessary to cultivate a unique talent. Breeding of course is paramount in the horse world, but at the same time there is heart, desire, competitiveness which is seemingly individual. Secretariat’s father was Bold Ruler, who sired many horses, but this one is widely regarded as the greatest horse of all time. I enjoyed this movie, and it has a good emotional hitch. Diane Lane is very good and Malkovich although not French Canadian plays Secretariat’s trainer as quite eccentric. There is Canadian element too with both the trainer and the rider being Canadian. These two played important roles in the development of this remarkable horse. Certainly this is worthy of a watch if you have any interest in sport or horses.

Dark Waters: This 2019 film starring Mark Ruffalo was a surprise find for me, as I had thought it by name was another Sci-Fi thriller type film. Also starring Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins it is rather the story of one lawyer’s struggle to battle against chemical monolith Dupont and their product Teflon. Everyone knows teflon. Developed in the Second World War to protect tanks, it was further developed to be used on kitchenware. The trouble was it is also a carcinogen. The chemical industry was self-regulated and decided that the billions in sales were more important than the health of their own workers, or in communities in West Virginia where the sludge was dumped. The story is really a re-telling of the Erin Brockovich story in California. The main difference is that this product is everywhere! The chemical is likely in all of us already. The lawyer Robert Bilott had been a corporate defense attorney (defnding many chemical companies already as an environmental lawyer) but not Dupont. He then switched sides and took them on for over 20+ years. This was eye-opening and scary at the same time. Self-regulation in such a powerful industry where they financially support candidates and are the life blood to various communities is a difficult way to expect those companies to do the right thing. It is yet another story of large corporations acting in their self-interest and ignoring the greater community good, but at the cost of many lives. Well worth watching if you want to rethink what you eat and drink and how you prepare your food.

Latest episodes on Disney + of Right Stuff and Mandalorian were both “Meh”. They were neither compelling nor moving the overall story along far. I would like to see both make positive strides. I am not convinced yet that The Right Stuff series is an improvement on the previous movie. The verdict is still out on that one.

November 2, 2020

So it snowed last night here in Toronto. Can’t say that I am anxious to see the Winter coming back this way. Add to the cold and the darkness, since we also fell back Saturday night for Daylight Savings Time, plus a new surge in Covid-19 cases, and it means that we here are more isolated once again and holed up inside our own places for the time being. It means no theatres (closed down once again) and watching some of the seemingly infinite content on the streaming services. So here goes:

Just Mercy: from the book by Bryan Stevenson, unread by me so far, about a young black Harvard schooled lawyer from Delaware, who decides after an internship in the criminal justice system in Alabama to head there and defend those on death row. Michael B Jordan (of Black Panther fame) plays the young Stevenson. He has managed to secure a grant from the Federal Government, and proceeds down to Alabama to meet clients. One in particular, played by Jamie Foxx is a young black man who was convicted of killing an 18-yo white teenager in a store in a small town where To Kill A Mockingbird was set. The irony is not lost on the viewer. This movie is timely in that it shows, once again, how in 1989 (not ancient history) that discrimination and unequal treatment (and defending) under the law is very prevalent. As this week there is a Presidential election, don’t forget too that in the US, District Attorneys, Sheriffs and Judges are all voted on as well. This is NOT the case in Canada, where these positions are appointed. Nevertheless, what the viewer sees is a system where the Sheriff and D.A. have on one man’s testimony, which was coerced out of him, had a man (Johnny D) convicted for first degree murder with the death penalty. This was a high profile case, where they relied on the shaky testimony of that previously convicted witness over 20 plus people in Johnny D’s community who swear under oath that he was not even in the town the day of the murder. The viewer will be amazed at the results. There are good performances all around, and I can easily recommend this movie.

Soul of America is a very interesting documentary which speaks to this particular time in American history. Seen through the eyes of Vanderbilt professor and former editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham, this is the story from his best selling 2018 book of the same name. In it, he explains how despite to hyperbole and protestations of news groups these days, he sees this time as a logical extension to what has transpired over in the US to date. In his mind, progress seems to made on issues like rascism, equality, women’s rights etc but then the tide will ebb back. He sees various Presidents, a couple notables like Woodrow Wilson and FDR are mentioned, but they still have their moments of questionable behaviour like the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. In his argument, there are Angels and Darkness, and for the time being we are in a time of darkness. This is no small part to a population who reads less, listens less (to radio for example) and gets their information from online sources. My more recent reviews will show how each person is targeted in that “newsfeed” and there isn’t a sense of collective understanding. So these factors have conspired to bring about this schism in American society. So rather than being surprised by what he sees, he thinks that we can learn from history (like the 1930s with the Depression, or the 1960s with the civil rights movement) and hope to find a leader who wishes to lead. This was instructive and informative and shed light on a checkered past which can hopefully guide the future that should be given direction sometime this month after tomorrow’s election.

Fahrenheit 451: Michael Shannon and Michael B Jordan star in this story from Ray Bradbury. From a Canadian perspective, it was filmed in and around Toronto and Hamilton. The story itself is another dystopian future society where a centralized government is burning all the books so that the collective society can be told what to think. It’s not a compelling story to me as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, which now is a new series out on Showcase. Overall it was okay. I can’t recommend it, even though I always enjoy the intense Michael Shannon in his roles.

You Are Here: Come From Away Story: If you haven’t seen the musical Come From Away, then this documentary will not only address the background source story, but also the reaction and follow up from its release and success. I have to say that this moving story makes me a very proud Canadian. Sure we Canadians are viewed globally as being “nice” and “polite” but this further shows small town Canada, Maritime Canada and all of its special gifts which we get as a country but can often forget. The story begins with the terrible events of September 11, 2001, where on a bright and sunny morning two commercial aircraft are hijacked and slammed into the World Trade Center in New York, as well as taken from midair over Pennsylvania. Once the threat is identified, all aircraft worldwide heading towards the US are grounded. For many that means being forced to land in Gander Newfoundland, the furthermost east airport in North America. Gander is a very small town, with a population of roughly 7000. Thirty eight (38) widebody jets landed at Gander that day, with total passengers of 6600. The passengers came from throughout the globe and were initially kept on board and told nothing about world events for the first 24 hours. The people of Gander didn’t know what to expect, but had to act quickly to find food and shelter for their new shocked guests. Boy did they respond! They housed, fed, clothed all of these guests and treated them as their own. They showed Eastern hospitality as only they can do so. When those planes left up to five days later, they left as new friends and family. A couple from the Sheridan College Theatre program decided to interview the people involved and created a musical called Come From Away. It has been a smash hit, and nominated for 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and won for Best Direction. The rest of the story is just heart warming, as you see the people who out of the kindness in their hearts did what they felt was the right thing, and get to see the results of these actions. This story does show that love can triumph over hatred; that kindness can overcome uncertain times. People can rise up collectively and be counted and view others as fellow human beings, worthy of assistance and a hug. If you haven’t seen Come From Away the Musical, check it out. If you don’t know this story, check out this documentary for a short time of warmth in cold and dark days that we have presently.

The Mandalorian Season 2: Disney has only released the first episode of season 2, to much fan fare. You see the practical part of me thinks on this story, that the Mandalorian really shouldn’t risk his neck or that of the child for the sake of this Marshall. Overpower him, kill him and get back what you want. Roll credits. But it’s not really an episode. Then again, this particular story doesn’t move the tale of returning the Child to his kind either.

1991: This a Canadian/Quebec film currently on Netflix. It is a university relationship movie with a young man who thinks he has found his partner, although he hasn’t really told her as such. She decides to take a semester in Italy over a summer and invites him to go along. His parents seeing a lack of funds and no real motive for him to go push back in colourful and funny Quebec style (certainly the Mom does). There are a couple of smiles as I watch this and you try to anticipate what happens to this young man on his travels. It was okay. I can’t recommend it beyond being an escape from watching reality TV.

December 2nd, 2019

Netflix Has been busy financing films and putting many directly to streaming.   They stepped up most recently with the latest Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman.   I am not certain whether the reunion between Robert DeNiro, director Scorsese and Joe Pesci in another collaboration (like Raging Bull, Good Fellas and Casino beforehand) is more notable than the use of CGI to make the almost 80 year old actors younger.   The Irishman also has Al Pacino (seen on screen with DeNiro for the first time since 1995’s Heat) and Harvey Keitel.   The impressive cast is brought together to tell the story of Frank Sheeran who was the muscle and hitman for a number of powerful people in the 1950s-1960s, and was heavily involved in the Teamster’s Union Jimmy Hoffa story.   Studios balked at financing this, and Netflix decided to step in.   It had a short release in the theatres (but when you announce a short timeline when it will be streamed, you doom the box office for it).   In short the 3.5 hour time is too long.  It takes too long to develop the early introduced trip to Detroit.   These actors for me look just a little off.  And I say that now, not knowing exactly what it was, but I think it is their gait and how they move versus how their faces look outwardly and their voices.   Early on, a young DeNiro is needing assistance with his ice truck.   The dark hair and lack of lines on his face belie the body posture.   It just doesn’t fit.  DeNiro does an admirable job in the role.   He yet again plays a man without a soul (in 2017 playing Bernie Madoff who watched his family disintegrate with his Ponzi scheme, without any apparent conscience about it).   Sheeran as a person is distant and shows a remarkable lack of conscience all in the name of doing what he is told, and legalities be damned (his lawyer can manage to get him off certain crimes without consequence).   I was waiting while watching to see a Pesci rant.   It came from Pacino instead, who seemingly comes to newfound life as he rants about the people surrounding him and keep doing things that look suspicious for investigating eyes from the Federal Government.   It aggravates a man who is full of pride and feels himself worthy of more respect than some provide him.   It is a downfall according to the story.   I didn’t know a lot about the Hoffa story.   This provides a perspective.   I enjoyed it but it dragged, and it didn’t need to.   Worth checking out and it may yield some Award nominations in the New Year.

The Mandalorian (episode 1) has become the most watched streaming episode of all time at 100 million views surpassing the Netflix Stranger Things.  Although I wasn’t moved by the end of Episode 1, I have continued to watch.   The Jawa fight in episode 2 was a little silly, and the abilities of The Child when dealing with the one-horned dinosaur are skeptical (I am later to learn apparently the Child is already 50 years old).   Episode 3 for me was better as “Mando” grows a conscience and wanting to better understand what was going to happen to The Child.   He becomes an outcast from the Guild where he had been working and their poster child of success.   Episode 4 “dropped” on US Thanksgiving Friday.   A couple new characters are introduced and a new planet that could hold some sanctuary.   The story is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Blondie or The Stranger in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly or High Plains Drifter.   He is a loner and someone who is a mercenary, but is showing signs of sympathy for those around them.   Again the production value is excellent.  It looks every bit a Star Wars film, but it should for the $100M spent on it.  Bryce Dallas Howard directed this fourth installment.   In this episode the Mandalorian is looking for a safe haven and seeking somewhere for The Child to remain and be raised.   Mando helps out an oppressed and defenseless group all the while making a few new friends.   The ending is predictable as the series moves on.   I still have to wonder how on a planet, one can’t find another place to live!!   I don’t know people in Macedonia and what they are doing.  I couldn’t find one of them by just having been given a name alone, but anyway.   I will continue to watch.  Of course the Disney marketing machine is in full on swing with the latest (and supposedly last) Skywalker trilogy film.  I have to admit that I am not optimistic.

Finally Nextflix released the latest film from Alicia Vikander, and actress who I really like.  She has some impressive roles to her credit including a Best Supporting Actress Oscar from The Danish Girl Earthquake Bird is the latest story but it was not overly compelling.   Vikander does her best to play the young woman living in Tokyo with a mysterious past.  She plays the cello in a quartet, and lives a rather simple life.   One day a complete stranger takes her picture (old school with a SLR (single lens reflex) camera).   She stops immediately and engages with the stranger.  Later she meets an American woman looking for a roommate and someone who speaks Japanese.   Along comes Vikander.   The young American is played by Riley Keough.   Soon enough the three are spending time together.  Undercutting this story is a seeming back story where Vikander is being questioned by police.  It seems there has been a murder, or at the very least a disappearance, and she is brought in for questioning.   It is slow.  It’s not overly engaging, despite the star power.   As part of the story, you unravel the backstory to the Vikander character.   She looks tired for much of the time and this is done on purpose.   The Japanese cast is pretty good, and the young photographer is a good balance of handsome and rogue.   I can’t recommend.

November 18th, 2019

I had mentioned on Remembrance Day that I would go out and see the re-make Midway.   This latest version is directed by Independence Day (1996) and Godzilla (1998) Roland Emmerich.   The most notable stars are Woody Harrelson as Admiral Nimitz, Dennis Quaid as Admiral Halsey.  Other real people are played by less known actors but they acquit themselves pretty well.   Deadpool baddie, Ed Skrein, plays Dick Best very well.   This story has been told many times before, and in my opinion more realistically by others.   My underlining challenge is the expansive use of CGI in virtually all of the sequences.   This, in many ways, is a requirement because the ships, the planes, the people and locations are all vastly changed since 1941.  In 1976, that version had Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and James Coburn as leads.    It was more melo-dramatic, with Heston and his son having a strained relationship.   But they had some Japanese Zeros, which were used in-the-day TV shows like Blacksheep Squadron, with Robert “I dare you to knock off this battery” Conrad.    This version for the battle sequences, and we get into them quickly, looks like a video game.   Planes are dive bombing and making surprising moves.   Bullets and tracers are all over the place and seemed out of a Star Wars movie.   The story begins with Pearl Harbor, and then to the bombing of Tokyo, which was addressed in the film Pearl Harbor (2001) which leveraged Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett in a Titanic like struggle post-Pearl.   Then the battle of Coral Sea, unseen while the Americans show how their intelligence, who faltered so badly on December 7th, rallied to prove their value for the anticipated next move on Midway island.   There are scenes of John Ford making his film on location at Midway during the battle.   That was new.    Finally we end up with the battle at Midway.  The Americans who are outmanned and have a decidedly weaker position in ships need to catch a break and have anticipated the Japanese next move well.   Well fate would have them making the right choices.  The sea battles against the Japanese aircraft carriers are more CGI extravaganzas; more arcade game that reality.   I liked the fact that real people who actually fought (Dick Best as an aviator) and Bruno Gaido amongst others were used.    In the end, I was glad to have seen it but I can’t recommend it

For much of the enjoyable and fun Ford v Ferrari, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, the more appropriate title would be Ford v Ford.  Damon plays American Carroll Shelby, the automaking and racing legend and Bale the English driver and mechanic Ken Miles.   Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts, the son of the legend American car-maker himself, is looking to turn around failing sales in the late 1950s, and wants to invigorate sales with younger people.   He is advised that he should turn to racing to find the solution.   A new generation with Second World War veteran parents are looking to have fun and not drive their parents cars.   Ford is a large corporation, with many layers of management and plenty of ideas on how to move forward.   These ideas don’t necessarily coincide with giving some unpredictable and headstrong racers the fate of the future sales of the Corporation.   I wonder how those named executives would feel about how their fathers are portrayed?    It is not flattering.   Bale and Damon do their best on the track all the while fending off the forces who work against them both.   Chances are taken, gambles are made.   Ultimately it takes them to Le Mans 24 hour race.   I did not know about the racing history in the mid 1960s.   Ferrari was the team to beat with multiple wins.   Ford has manufactured a new race car, the GT 40 MK II.  For the race car enthusiast there is a feast for the eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of these race cars.   I saw the film in IMAX, and it was seat rumbling fun.  From the close ups in the car while driving, to test drives to squeeze more speed out of this car you can almost smell the fumes and feel the oil and dirt on your face.    There are some great race sequences from preliminary races to the final race in Le Mans.   Ford v Ferrari opened at TIFF, to some good reviews.   I would echo those reviews and recommend some time to see this on the big screen.  Incidentally, this movie shows the value in learning to drive a manual transmission, as crucial moves in the races are made through effective gear shifts.   Tally ho!  Incidentally, Shelby was married seven times.   Seven!   Lee Iacocca plays a prominent role and was witness to a great many of the events which occurred.   He fairs better than Leo Beebe in the eyes of the storytelling.

Finally, Disney + has been announced and they are seducing new subscribers to their new service.   Part of the enticement is the introduction of a new eight episode Star Wars side story The Mandalorian.  Jon Favreau of Jungle Book and live Lion King direction has penned and produced this story.   The first two episodes are on Disney +.   Disney + offers a free 7 day trial.   Given these first two episodes, I can’t say that I am seeing the need to subscribe longer than the free trial.   The time is right after the fall of the Empire from Return of the Jedi, but before the rise of the First Order.  Order hasn’t been restored to the galaxy.  These shows look amazing.   The sets, the locations, the costumes are all first rate.   The lead character is a bounty hunter, and looking very much like Boba Fett and Jango Fett (certainly the mask is very similar).  This Mandalorian is a man of few words and we do not see his face.   In episode 1 at the beginning, he has gathered a few bounties and gone to collect.  Carl Weathers, the head of the Bounty Hunters Guild, offers him less than what was initially offered for those brought in and then sends him on a secret mission to find an asset.   This asset at the end of episode is shown and I have to admit to being surprised and dumbfounded.

There is part of me that thinks the new Star Wars Rise of Skywalker film will have some of its premise justified through this series.  The part that is a mystery for me is the whole aspect of the Emperor in the new Episode IX returning to play an important role.   Ugh.   For me, the Emperor died at the hands of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.  Full stop.   However much Obi Wan, Yoda and even Anakin can return as apparitions, I have no sense that the Sith can do the same.   But then again, all new abilities of Jedi and Sith alike I suppose can be introduced at any time, notwithstanding what the previous films have shown.   So without disclosing much more about the end of episode 1, I am torn watching this and seeing some of the scenes proposed.  You will know when you see them, should you choose to watch.   Other things that can be questioned, would be (as in Star Wars The Force Awakens), the abilities of characters to know how to make and repair older spacecraft.   Rey knew how to repair the Millennium Falcon, and pilot it.   In this series, the Mandalorian can not only fly and older space craft, but he can fully put it back together piece by piece in short order.   Can’t say I would fly into space, and go into hyperspace with a machine I was also the mechanic on.   But clearly these new characters are multi-talented!  But there are more circular stories, that seemingly all have to intertwine into tight and neat little packages.