Thursday, January 19, 2017

La La Land: Monday, January 9 2017

La La Land is written and directed by Damien Chazelle. In high school, he wanted to be a drummer, but he says himself he "knew instinctively he never had the talent to be a great musician". He went back to filmmaking, his first love, studying the subject at Harvard University, graduating in 2007. He is now 32 years old, and already has had a distinguished career. His film, Whiplash, won many accolades, and Chazelle has established himself as a leading member of the filmmaking community. La La Land is being hailed by many critics as a wonderful product of his fantastic genius.

After all the positive critique, I was looking forward to being amused, entertained, and uplifted by this musical comedy. Instead I was, primarily, bored: I would have walked out in the middle of the production but for my friends who wanted to see it to the end. I suffered through the rest of the film. As a singer myself, I was insulted that anyone would think I might enjoy hearing Emma Stone try to sing. I also used to play the piano, and wasn't too impressed by the ability of Ryan Gosling to play that instrument. Apparently he had learned to play especially for this production. It might have been better if he had mimed the performance of a pianist who could actually play reasonably well.

I totally didn't relate to the two main characters. The couple meet on a motorway traffic jam, during which the drivers get out of their cars to do acrobatics to pass the time. When the cars begin to move, the leading lady is distracted and not fast enough in getting going. The leading man draws out from immediately behind her, and then passes slowly enough to "give her the bird". She does the same back to him, I think. This established in my mind that Mia Dolan, played by Emma Stone, is not too swift, and Sebastian Wilder, played by Ryan Gosling, is an immature, rude person. Their actions from then on reinforced this initial impression.

All the singing was bad, the dancing uninspired, the music a cacophony of sound, the acting stilted and unrealistic, and the story line unbelievable. The cinematography has left me with the impression that life in Los Angeles is largely carried out in the dark. Altogether, I definitely did not like this film. I was pleased to find at least one honest review, that echoes my remarks. Chazelle wants to be a filmmaker. If I were he, I would be consulting my inner self to confirm that I really should pursue that line of work.

La La Land won Golden Globes, in the category Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. It had very little competition. My choice would have been to give this award to Florence Foster Jenkins. At least that film made me laugh.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fences: Monday, December 26 2016

Fences is based on a play of the same name (1983) by August Wilson, which won a Pulitzer Prize and an Emmy Award. Wilson wrote the screenplay before he died in 2005. Set in Pittsburgh, it explores the experience of Black people in the United States. The film feels like a stage play, and the drama lies in the characters of the people.

Denzel Washington directs the film, and also stars as Troy Maxson. The direction is tight, and kept my attention riveted throughout. No problem in trying to stay awake because of boredom. The performance as Troy Maxson by Washington is masterly, and shows off his abilities in a way some of his other roles haven't. Viola Davis plays Troy's wife, Rose Maxson. All I can say is, she is incredible, and I was totally impressed by her. No question that this is Oscars material. I also was moved by Jovan Adepo as Cory Maxson, Troy's youngest son.

Fences is a story told by a Black man about the lives of Black people. It is authentic and the acting is so superb it feels like real life. Troy and Rose, and all the others in the film, will remain with me. If this film wins the Oscar as Best Picture, it will be because it is worth it. It certainly won't be because it is a concession to the pressures of tokenism.

The additional appeal of this film for me is that the story is universal. It unfolds before us; a handsome, charismatic man, with a charming personality, whom we want to like, and the effect he has on his family. A charmer outside his family, he is a domineering bully inside it. Rose loves him, but is also afraid of him. She has stuck to him throughout their marriage, and in a dynamic speech, reminds him of this, and that she has given up her own life for him. This is the feminists' nightmare; it applies to all such relationships, no matter what colour the skin. Rose has no economic power as she is dependent on Troy for money. She is also following an external code of behaviour, rather than what she really needs or even wants. She moved me greatly as she voiced the situation that so many women are trapped within.

Fences is a fantastic film, but not happy or uplifting. It's almost too true to life, and is a tragedy. Troy, who has so much going for him in his good looks and charming personality, good job, loving wife and son, is his own worst enemy, as are tragic heroes. And as all tragic heroes, he is beyond redemption. He is totally not self- aware, so can't change. As do all narcissists, he has a destructive effect on the people around him. He has so much, and could have been so happy, but instead, he is constantly carping on about how life is treating him so unfairly. We really want to be on his side, but his behaviour and attitudes prevent that.

I am a great fan of Denzel Washington, and although I admire and appreciate his performance in this role, I was so disappointed to end up not liking his character. In real life, there is no excuse for anyone being totally egocentric. I could find no excuse for Troy's behaviour in this film.

It would appear that all the old guidelines around making entertainment are being overthrown. Is it enough that the story line is real life, and not dramatic, per se? Is it enough that the acting is so fantastic that the character is realistic, but just a very ordinary person? Why were the guidelines developed if this is true? Isn't it because this is not true, that writers have analysed what makes an entertaining story, and followed the results of research?

This film is worth seeing because technically it is so good, and the performances are a delight, but don't expect, or hope, to be uplifted. This is not a "feel-good" movie, and left me with a feeling of despair at the psychologically immature condition of so many of the human race of all skin colours.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Allied: Monday, December 19 2016

Allied, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Steven Knight, pretty accurately recreates the atmosphere of the Second World War into which the story is set. It's dark and bleak, as the world seemed during that time.

The film stars Brad Pit as Max Vatan, and Marion Cotillard as Marianne Beausejour. I'm not a member of the Brad Pit fan club, and this performance didn't cause me to rush to join. Botox really does make it difficult to show emotion, as was demonstrated by Brad Pit in this part. Perhaps it was meant that he play the character with so little warmth. It left me not even particularly liking Vatan. Marion Cotillard is a French actress, and has won many awards. She is very beautiful, happily married, and expecting her second child. She has issued a denial that she was having an affair with Pit during Allied. As Pit's co-star, she plays her part well, but with little passion. Both she and Pit seemed to be simply going through the motions. They left me cold.

The film seemed hackneyed, even boring, and a disappointment. It has so many talented people involved in its production, surely it ought to have been better than it is.

Lion: Monday, December 12 2016

Lion is an Australian-American-British drama, based on the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. The story line is simple. An Australian couple, who have decided they don't want to add any biological children of their own to the world, adopt two young boys from India. One of the boys, Saroo, suddenly, at age 25, decides to find his biological mother, using Google maps. He had become lost as a five-year-old, and now wants to go home.

Lion is directed by Garth David, and this is his feature debut. It shows: the direction could have been tightened up considerably. The two-hours long film seemed very slow, and I had a problem staying awake. It was interesting to see India, although the parts we visited were colourful, if not too inspiring. There were also some views of Tasmania, which was interesting. We know the ending, of course, but much more tension could have been injected into script. I found the conclusion melodramatic, and it made me feel uncomfortable. It all seemed so stale, and contrived. It might have been better as a thriller, rather than a conscious tear-jerker. I was bored a lot of the time, which is why I fell asleep. Not too good a beginning for Garth David, in my opinion. He might be better to stick to his commercials.

Sunny Pawar played the young Saroo, and was delightful in his part. Dev Patel played 25-year-old Saroo Brierley, and is so good-looking he is great eye candy. He did act well too. Everyone else in the film acted appropriately. I'm not a fan of Nicole Kidman. She has never been very expressive, and botox doesn't lend itself to facial expressions. The Australian couple left me cold. I couldn't relate to them.

Apparently, audiences are liking Lion. For younger people who haven't been exposed to too much, it probably is enjoyable. If you want to have your emotions played on, this is your film.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Manchester by the Sea: Monday, November 28 2016

Manchester by the Sea, directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan, is an American drama (2016). It has received high praise from the critics, and is, indeed, a beautifully crafted film. It will be surprising if it doesn't feature prominently in the Oscars.

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, plays the part perfectly. Lonergan brings out the best in each of the actors, and the film seems like a piece out of real life. Michelle Williams, as Randi, Lee's ex-wife, is amazing. She and Affleck play off each other in what must be one of the most moving scenes in any film. Randi is telling Lee that she has forgiven him, and needs his forgiveness for what she now sees as dreadful things she once said to him. She is incredible, and brings many people in the audience to tears. Randi has matured, and moved on with her life. This so contrasts with Lee, who can't forgive her because he can't forgive himself, it is pathetic, in the full sense of that word.

The problem for an audience of laypeople, who only want to be entertained, is that Manchester by the Sea is often boring, as my friend, Maureen commented. Real life isn't really too interesting as entertainment, and in this case, the story of a loser, a wastrel who can't accept responsibility, isn't really too much fun. In fact, I found that the emotions aroused in me were not the ones that the director had hoped I would feel. Lee Chandler had certainly not been brought up to come to terms with the past and forgive it, and get on with life. Instead, he is wallowing in it. Tragic figures, I've come to realise, evoke impatience in me, and a feeling of wanting to shake some sense into them. Everyone has bad experiences in life. We all have to mature, and learn how to close the door with acceptance. We learn how to move on and get on with life. My friend, Loretta, found this film the most depressing she has ever seen. I gathered from her that she wasn't entertained either.

As my friend, Brian, said, when story-telling is taught, the hero is meant to grow, evolve, and learn something from any traumatic experience. This brings a sense of satisfaction for the audience. In the case of Lee Chandler, he seemed to be incapable of changing. He is a dark, brooding, pitiful figure, slinking off into the dark night of an unfulfilled, dreary, unchanging, alcohol-filled life. No suggestion that Lee Chandler might recognize he is mentally ill, and ought to be consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist to help him regain a proper balance in his outlook on life.  No wonder Loretta was so saddened. There is no hope.

This raised more questions in my mind. What is entertainment? Is it's purpose to show off the abilities of the director, cast, and other experts who are involved in the creation? Is it wise to introduce the average layperson to a new concept of the leading person in a story? Is real life so fascinating that it is pleasing to have it played out in front of us? Is an immature person, crippled by his life experiences, a happy choice as hero?

I guess the box office will make the final judgement. Neither I, nor any of my friends, would advise anyone to see Manchester by the Sea. Not, that is, unless they want to be bored or depressed. Word of mouth advertising won't be working positively in this case.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Nocturnal Animals: Monday, November 21 2016

Nocturnal Animals is based on the novel, Tony and Susan (1993), by Austin Wright. The film is described as a neo-noir, psychological thriller. Neo-noir is the modern version of film noir, with many elements in common. The hero is often trapped in a desperate situation, and the dark lighting and unusual camera angles in the film reflect his despair. The story can use flashbacks, and usually involves crime and human emotions such as jealousy or greed. There is often an amoral policeman or detective involved in the action. The whole atmosphere is hopeless, and unrelieved black.

Produced and directed by Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals includes these elements. Revenge is the human emotion prominent in the film. The story revolves around a book being read by Susan Morrow, played by Amy Adams. The author is her first husband, Hutton Morrow played by Jake Gyllenhaal, whom she has divorced, telling him his writing was of a poor standard. He has sent her a first copy of his successful book, which is to be published shortly. Susan is impressed, and when they set up a dinner date, Hutton Morrow gets his revenge on his ex-wife, by standing her up. The film ends with her sitting waiting, and waiting. We know he won't come, as, eventually, does she.

The book is played out before our eyes, as Susan reads it. It is definitely in the neo-noir genre. Desperate situation, dark and violent, it reminded me of Hamlet as all the main characters end up dead. Justice is done, and seen to be done, which I always like, but in this case with so much violence it leaves a sour feeling behind. As does Hamlet. I guess some people nowadays no more need a happy ending than did some of the audiences of Shakespeare's time. Perhaps it is a movie that would appeal to males rather than females.

This is a powerful film, made by consummate professionals, and will probably be in the Oscars. The acting is fantastic, as is the direction, and every facet of the cinematic arts. Jake Gyllenhaal is memorable as Tony Hastings, the chief character in the book. He will probably receive an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes, the amoral policeman, is also difficult to forget.

Did I enjoy Nocturnal Animals? I admired the professional skills of everyone involved in its creation. Would I recommend it to others? It you have a strong stomach for violence, and don't miss a happy ending, this might be the film for you. I would say it has come out of the darker side of the male mind, and perhaps it takes a similar mind set to enjoy. Definitely not my mind set.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dr. Strange: Monday, November 14 2016

Dr. Strange (2016), with Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, is an American superhero film, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Directed and written by Scott Derrickson, Dr. Strange is a fun movie. Fantasy, from the world of comics; it is entertaining.

Dr. Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon, learns the mystic arts from the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, and uses them to save the world from Evil. That simple outline is enlarged by great story line detail, fantastic special effects, magic arts, a great musical score, and incredible acting. The film is everything one would expect from Marvel Studios. Benedict Cumberbatch brings echoes of his Sherlock Holmes character to this part. He really is such a great actor, and such a joy to watch. 

Chiwetel Ejiofor is perfect as Karl Mordo. He is another great actor who is a delight to observe in action. The character, Baron Karl Mordo, has been changed, and for the better. There is a depth to him, and a complexity to his character, that is a great improvement. Instead of being an enemy to Dr. Strange, he has become an ally. Although these are comic characters, therefore we don't expect much character development, room has now been left for the relationship between Dr. Strange and Karl Mordo to grow. As the film ends, we see Dr. Strange talking with Thor and his brother Loki. The stage is being set for a sequel, and it would appear it will involve Thor and Loki searching to find Odin, their father. Dr. Strange will be helping in the search, and it will be disappointing if Mordo isn't part of the team.

I loved Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, a Celtic mystic who is also steeped in the mysticism of Asia. She is a chameleon as an actress. Each part she plays is such a totally different creation. I'm a fan! This character, too, has been changed, and improved in the process. It has broadened the world of Dr. Strange, and brought it more into the modern world. 

 All the other actors were well-cast and fitted smoothly into the film. A highly professional production in all the areas of the cinematic arts, the film has been highly acclaimed, and earned a large, well-deserved, box office reward.

Even although I, and my friends, are not the target audience, we enjoyed the film. This is the ideal movie for anyone wanting fantasy, magic, and the modern version of a slightly old-fashioned story.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

TSO: Thursday, November 3 2016

Roy Thomson Hall with CN Tower 
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra shared another lovely afternoon with me and John. What an interesting concert!

Conductor James Gaffigan is considered by many to be the most outstanding young American composer working today. Having heard him conduct these fascinating pieces from the 1920s, it was obvious why.

The first piece, La creation du monde, Op. 81, was composed by Darius Milhaud in 1923 for the Swedish Ballet. It has as its theme, African myths around the creation of life. Milhaud adopted the same orchestra as used in Harlem by jazz musicians: seventeen solo instruments. In the music, there is the feel of jazz, but in a classical setting. This gives the piece a modern sound, and must have been appropriate for the ballet.

The second piece, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op 26, by Sergei Prokofiev, was composed in 1921. This is an intricate work, highly complex, modern in idiom, but acceptable to the layperson's ear. It is the most popular of Prokofiev's concertos. Canadian pianist, Jon Kimura Parker, was the soloist. He is an accomplished performer, and did not disappoint. What a musical treat it was, to hear him play this concerto! He was given a much-deserved standing ovation.

The third work was by Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op 10. Composed in 1924-25, it begins in a light mood, but the last two movements are much darker. This darkness is softened by expressive solos from different instruments. Apparently Shostakovich was in a depressed state of mind when he wrote the final two movements. The final effect was to achieve a balance between all four movements. This piece, too, received a standing ovation.

The concert program was deliberately chosen from music composed in the 1920s. At that time, this music was considered outrageous, and avant garde. Now, almost one hundred years later, it sounds wonderfully modern and fascinating. The audience was privileged to hear this music played by an orchestra of the international standard of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and led by a conductor who encouraged it to play its best. The conductor is vital to a good performance by any orchestra, even one of the high standard of the TSO. The musicians of the orchestra must have enjoyed playing as much as the audience enjoyed listening to them.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Moonlight: Monday, November 7 2015

Moonlight is the second film directed by Barry Jenkins. The first, Medicine for Melancholy, was set in California, where Jenkins lives. Moonlight is set mainly in Miami, where Jenkins grew up. Jenkins also wrote the screenplay. The film is based on the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. The critics have been unanimous in their praise for this film. It has already won many awards and is being suggested for the Oscars.

There is so much to say about this film. It's a love story about two homosexual men: it begins when they are boys; it continues as they grow into teenagers; it ends as they come together as grown men. But it is so much more than that. It is a look into the lives of two young Black men; from their difficult childhoods, through their troubled teens, and finally, their early manhood. The deceptively simple story is told objectively, but with such sensitivity it is deeply moving. This is a story told by Black men about Black men. It has an authenticity about it that comes from having a true understanding of the subject from the inside; not from the outside looking into what is someone else's environment. This is not a slick, polished film that is purely entertainment. This is a work of art. It made me think of Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, by F.H. Varley of the Canadian Group of Seven. A single tree, blown by the strong wind, with Georgian Bay behind it. Such a common subject: who but a true artist would be able to create such a beautiful piece of art from it. Moonlight is just such a beautiful piece, from an artist who is finding his voice. This film is in a class of its own. If it wins the Oscars, it will be on its own merits.

Director Barry Jenkins
The performance by each actor is so true, it seems as if we are watching real people. I particularly liked Mahershala Ali as Juan, Trevante Rhodes as Chiron / Black, and Andre Holland as adult Kevin. Having said that, all the cast were equally good in their parts. I felt I was watching real life, and could feel for the characters. This is rare in my experience.

The flow from child, to teenager, to adult, using three actors for Chiron and Kevin, was seamless. The cinematography is interesting. The use of the hand-held camera by James Laxton, the cinematographer, at the beginning of the film sets the atmosphere as unsophisticated. The musical score lends itself to the film. The direction is by the hand of a coming master. Barry Jenkins has a mature understanding, and sympathy for, human nature that is rare in one so young. He was born in 1979, in Liberty City, Miami, and had what could only be called an unprivileged upbringing. This he has used to create a masterpiece. One criticism I would make is that perhaps there ought to have been sub-titles. The dialogue was almost too authentic: it became unintelligible at times. I found that caused me to miss some of the nuances of the story. I caught up by reading the synopsis in Wikipedia, but feel I need to see the film again to catch the pieces I missed. A second viewing would allow me to appreciate the film more.

I look forward to seeing the future work of Barry Jenkins. I understand he is already involved in a series based on The Underground Railway (2016), a book by Colson Whitehead, and a screenplay based on the life of Claressa Shields, the first American boxer to win two Olympic golds in a row, in 2012 and again in 2016. I hope he is also going to be directing as well as writing. I've become a fan, and will definitely be following his career. Here is a great Black voice, beginning to create Black cinema as an art form, standing uniquely alone and based on authenticity.

A film worth seeing for so many reasons!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

American Pastoral: Monday, October 31 2016

The film, American Pastoral is based on the book of the same name, by Philip Roth, published in 1997. The book won the Pulitzer Prize the following year, and was designated one of the hundred all time greatest novels by Time. The New York Times, in 2006, adjudicated it a runner-up in the "What is the Greatest Work of American Fiction in the last 25 years?" Set in the 1960's, during a time of great social upheaval, the main part of the book takes place during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. It's messages are pertinent to that time, but still resonate today. Social upheaval in a society can affect even those who are trying to ignore it. A seemly perfect life is not always what it seems on the surface. We ignore what is going on around us in the public sphere at our peril. We disconnect from our family, being too busy for them, at risk of losing them.

There had been two proposed directors for the film, but both had declined to accept the challenge of making a film from a book of such prominence and depth. Ewan McGregor had already been signed up to play the leading role, and believed deeply in the project. He had always wanted to direct, and here was his chance. He accepted, despite many misgivings. His direction is amazingly competent for a novice. If it lacks the sure touch of a master, it shows definite promise. To make this film must not have been easy as the subject matter is so profound. Everything else about the film is highly professional.

David Strathairn plays Nathan Zuckerman, who narrates the story. The book uses this framework throughout, with Zuckerman's comments breaking up the action at different points. The film would perhaps have been improved if it had followed the same pattern. Although we are held spellbound for long periods at a time, it might have been easier on the audience if there had been some lightening of the drama.

Ewan McGregor plays Seymour "Swede" Levov, a former high school star athlete and a successful Jewish American businessman. In this part, McGregor shows the quality of his acting, which is fantastic. Dakota Fanning plays Merry Levov, his daughter; Jennifer Connelly plays Dawn Dwyer Levov, his wife. They are both incredible in their roles. Fanning shows such hatred of her loving parents, her home, and her country, it's amazing. She is such a beautiful woman, yet she becomes positively ugly as she displays her immaturity. Connelly is lovely to look at, and this film shows her at her best. I was struck by her lack of vanity, as she is shown also without makeup in some scenes, and looking older and more realistic. I've become a fan of these women.

Seymour, the father, and Merry, the daughter, seem to me tragic figures. Like Shakespeare's Hamlet, they are obsessed by their emotions, cannot accept reality, and the consequences are horrifying for them, and everyone around them.

Merry has been affected by the Vietnam War and the social unrest in the sixties. Influenced by the American Marxist political ideology, she has been taught to hate her businessman father and the comfortable life he has given her. In her eyes, he is a capitalist and therefore evil. She rejects him, and her society, by committing a terrorist act. She continues on this ideological path, choosing to live in poverty and squalor. This demonstrates what can happen when an individual is in rebellion against the mainstream lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is seldom that the person can work through any ideology, political or religious, and understand what it has wrought.

What I also found interesting is that Seymour is a second generation business owner. He inherited the business from his father. He may remember the struggles of his parent in setting up and maintaining the business, but he didn't experience those agonies himself. Merry is the third generation, and has no idea of what it cost her grandfather to establish the business. She hardly seems to understand what hard work it would be for her father to keep the business going. We've all heard the old adage, "From rags to riches, and back to rags, in three generations". This film illustrates that saying.

We can feel for Seymour, "Swede". How painful for a parent to lose a child to an ideology! However, he is a tragic figure because he cannot accept his daughter's choices. We see no self-searching to examine his own role in those choices. What could he possibly have done to her for her to hate him so much? What had society done to her for her to turn her back on it? Had he perhaps been too busy with his business to spare any time for her? Instead of looking into himself and facing any guilt feelings he may have been suppressing, he can't accept what she has become and let her go. His immaturity is reflected in his daughter. Instead of examining the reality that she has been given a privileged life by her parents and society, she has chosen to believe an ideology which has ruined her life. It certainly isn't making her happy.

What struck me was that this strong message is so applicable today. If we substitute a moderate, kindly Muslim American family, this tragedy could be played out, giving it a Muslim setting.

The book is a masterpiece. The film is certainly worth seeing. It will probably appear in the Oscars.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Accountant: Monday, October 24 2016

The Accountant is a thriller, and as such, certainly delivers a punch, as it were. It is violent, as we expect of these kind of films, but the violence is part of the story-line. Like sex in movies, this is acceptable if it is not dwelt on. The film is a professional production of a high calibre. More than just a crime action drama, it is thought-provoking on a cerebral level.

Director Gavin O'Connor is more than competent, and developing as a director. His future work ought to be intriguing. Screenwriter Bill Dubuque writes well, but it is a pity he didn't realise that so many flashbacks and sub-plots would make the plot difficult to follow for many people. The occasional flashback to illustrate a character's childhood is acceptable, but too many can be distracting. Sub-plots are all very well, but in a story-line already carrying more than one message, a little like overkill. Perhaps Richard Pearson could have done more with the editing.

Ben Affleck, as Christian Wolff the autistic accountant, is fantastic, as we would expect. This part gives him an opportunity to show his ability as an actor. His portrayal of the character added greatly to the film, and is one that will be unforgettable. It brings to mind the Oscars. Will this film be part of the lineup? Will Affleck be given a nomination for Best Actor? The rest of the cast is excellent; the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is interesting; and the music by Mark Isham is totally appropriate and never intrudes.

Altogether, an entertaining movie, and one I and my friends enjoyed. There is talk of a sequel!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Monday, October 17 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a fantasy, and, as a lover of fantasy, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Tim Burton, the director, is a master of this genre, and this film is a masterpiece. Need I say, the direction is superb!

Everything else about the film is fantastic. The actors are well cast. The acting is believable. The cinematography is lovely. The music is so totally appropriate. We are left with the question in our minds, is this story simply the product of the troubled mind of Jake, or could it actually be reality? Lovely!

Asa Butterfield plays Jake; Eva Green plays Miss Peregrine; Samuel L. Jackson makes a good villain; Judi Dench and Terence Stamp have parts; the rest of the cast is of an equally high calibre. Eve Green is particularly enjoyable as Miss Peregrine. She has star quality written all over her very beautiful self!

The film, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, is based on the first novel by the same name by Ranson Riggs. It is classified as young adult literature, dark fantasy, and has been a New York Times best seller. It is definitely not for young children, and only for adults who like this genre and don't have over-active imaginations. The film filled my dreams for at least two nights after I had seen it. Pleasurably!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Girl on the Train: Monday, October 10 2016

The Girl on the Train is based on the novel by the same name, by Paula Hawkins. My Book Group read the book in February this year, and were not too impressed. It had the feeling of a contrived best-seller. 

Picked up by Dreamworks and produced by Marc Platt, the film is much better than the book. Directed by Tate Taylor, the film is a highly professional production. The screenplay was written by Erin Cressida Wilson, and is well done. In spite of the good writing, the movie still had the same flaws as the book. Because it is narrated in the voices of the three women characters, it was difficult to follow the plot if one hadn't read the book. The characters are stereotypical, and not fleshed out enough for us to have any real feelings for any of them. I say this in spite of the fact that Rachel Watson, the main character, is played by Emily Blunt. Her performance is a delight to watch, if a little bit dark in tone. But, then, the film is dark in tone throughout. The music was particularly appropriate, creating a suitable sense of menace. 

Haley Bennet as Megan Hipwell, and Rebecca Ferguson as Anna Watson, are both beautiful women. Unfortunately, in the film they look so much alike that it made it difficult to tell them apart at times. Alison Janney as Detective Sgt. Riley, is outstanding, as one would expect of her. The rest of the cast are ideal for their parts, and the acting is of a high standard. The location has been moved from London, England, to Westchester, New York. I didn't mind that, but some people might. I liked the American houses, and the neighbourhood of the action.

The final climax, when the disloyal, cheating spouse receives his just desserts at the hands of his ex-wife and current wife, must be cathartic for the many women who have suffered from the actions of similar men. I'm not too sure what many men would feel about it. 

Altogether, a competent production, perhaps sharing with the book the feeling of being a contrived money-maker. The Girl on the Train was entertaining, and I found I enjoyed the film, much to my surprise. I went to see it simply to find out what had been done with the book. The book has been improved. The movie is worth seeing if you are looking for light entertainment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Heller's Angels: Saturday, October 1 2016

Heller's Angels is an excellent documentary about Marianne Heller and her founding of the Inner City Angels. I was privileged to be invited to attend a small, private screening, here in Toronto. The producer, Jenny Baboolai, hopes that the film will be appearing in the Hot Docs Festival.

It all began in 1969, when Marianne met Doug Balmer, who was at that time Principal of the Duke of York, the first school in Toronto designated as Inner City. He was keen to have the Arts in the school, and Marianne offered to work with him to achieve that goal. She was looking for a worthwhile project to which she could devote her energies, and here it was. She embraced it wholeheartedly.   

Balmer had rescued an old streetcar from the City, and he gave it to Marianne to use as a base. Marianne, herself, paid for the Young People's Theatre to introduce the children of the Duke of York School to the magical world of theatre. Then artists in various fields were invited, and paid by Marianne, to work with the children, demonstrating their art, and encouraging the children to use their own creativity to produce art. The bus became a children’s centre where they could discover the world of Art. Parents were encouraged to become involved, and many events were created in the bus, and also in the playground on which it sat.

Marianne then approached many prominent people in Toronto to be Angels and contribute to her project. She called her new organization the Inner City Angels, in honour of those who gave generously. Marianne's many supporters included Mayor David Crombie.

Marianne extended the program to other schools in the city. She would approach them with the offer of artists to work with the pupils, paid for by her Angels. The schools willingly accepted these offers, and both the artists and the children benefited.
When Marianne pointed out to  "Honest" Ed Mirvish that empty seats in his theatres were not good for the performers, he agreed. He gave her his fullest support, and, more importantly,  gave her unsold tickets to theatre productions in his theatres in the city, including Opera and Ballet. Many bus-loads of inner city school children were ferried to shows, which were often their first introduction to these Arts. This was the beginning of No Empty Seats. Tickets were often given to parents so that they too could fill the empty seats. The recipients of the tickets were happy, and so were the theatre owners, and especially the performers: much better to play to a full house.

Marianne now called on other Theatre owners to donate empty seats. This they did willingly, and the project grew. Maryanne became friendly with Robert Swerdlow of the Global Village Theatre, and discovered that the owners of the Toronto Theatre didn’t know each other. She invited them to her home for their first meeting, where they were introduced to each other. They discovered that it was to their great advantage to be acquainted with each other. Thus began what became the Toronto Theatre Alliance.

When it was first proposed that the present-day Eaton Centre be built, Scadding House stood 150 feet away from its present location. It was the home of Henry Scadding, rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, which also stood in the way of the planned new development. Many citizens of Toronto were concerned that the church and manse would be demolished to make way for the new Centre. Their efforts saved the church, but John Bennet and Louis Shore of the Board of Education were specially interested in Scadding House. They approached Marianne to raise funds from her many Angels to have the house moved close to the Church. The developers had agreed to include it in the space for what now is Trinity Square, at the Eaton Centre. Scadding House was moved. The Inner City Angels now moved into Scadding House. In 1978, Marianne, as Executive Director of the organization, had an office there. She was instrumental in having a little theatre built under the House where shows were put on for the Inner City School children. Art programs were conducted, there was a Children’s Library, and Scadding House became a place where Inner City children could “hang out”.

The Inner City Angels is now a Charitable Foundation, and is still doing good work, promoting the arts in Toronto inner city schools. Incorporated in 1979, No Empty Seats is also still carrying on the proud tradition begun by Marianne. The Toronto Theatre Alliance is very much to the fore in the world of Toronto theatre.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Dressmaker: Monday, September 24 2016

The Dressmaker, is based on the Gothic novel by the same name written by Australian Rosalie Ham. The film also contains the elements of the Gothic style in that it has the dark themes of revenge, mystery, and suspense, but it is treated as a comedy-drama.

An Australian film, it is created mainly by women. Produced by Sue Maslin, it is directed, and the screenplay is written, by Jocelyn Moorhouse. Kate Winslett as Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage, and Judy Davis as Molly Dunnage, the premier characters, play well off each other.

The film is fantasy, and as such, highly entertaining. Anyone who has lived in a small community will recognize the foibles of human nature that are revealed. Everyone knows all about everyone else. Memories are long; malice abounds; social snobbery persists.

As in a good Western film, a solitary character arrives in town: in this case, Tilly returning home. She is seeking revenge for a past injustice perpetrated against her. The setting is exotic: a small community in the Australian outback. She transforms the town by performing "before" and "after" miracles for the women, using her creative skills as a dressmaker of high couture. She also must have been a hair stylist and cosmetic expert, as that is part of the individual pictures of each woman. The fashions are spectacular, especially the wedding gowns. If you love fashion, this film is such a treat, and is so enjoyable.

One of my friends made the observation that she had never seen such tender love scenes as are in this film between Tilly Dunnage and Teddy McSwiney, played by Liam Hemsworth. This emphasises the fact that it is made by women. Teddy, the love interest playing opposite Kate Winslett as Tilly, is absolutely gorgeous. He is tall, with dark, curly hair, blue eyes, and muscles. And he only has eyes for her. He tells her he wants to take care of her. He pursues her persistently. He woos her, and wins her over for the tender love scenes. He makes his feeling for her clear. This is how women fantasise about sexual encounters. When the sex reaches the stage where it would become interesting to men, the camera cuts it off.

We also have a strip-tease scene. Teddy is asked to remove his clothes so that Tilly can assess his physique for the suit she is going to make for him. There is a "will he, won't he" moment, and a collective chuckle from all the women in the cineplex as he does. His muscles ripple, and the women enjoy the view. The next question that arises is will he remove his jeans? Again, the slight moment of hesitation, as if he were a little bashful, and then he does. Another collective laugh from the women in the audience. He is wearing white boxer underpants: appreciated by the women as those little bikini briefs are not really too flattering. Altogether hilarious!

We learn the dark secret from Tilly's past, she takes her revenge, and then rides out of town again on the rail road. Jocelyn Moorhouse has likened this film to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. In many ways they are similar in that a stranger rides into town, wreak vengeance, changing the town, then rides out again. Once you've said that, this film is not Hollywood, and is made by women, not men.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dressmaker, as did my friends. We found it funny and enjoyable. A "feel good" movie!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Snowden: Monday, September 19 2016

Snowden, the film, is based on two books: The Snowden Files by Luke Harding; and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. It plays almost like a documentary, and it would appear that it is factual. Perhaps not the whole story, it certainly gives the facts as they appeared in the Media. With Oliver Stone as director, the film is, as would be expected, top class in every aspect. The direction is masterly, the acting is superb, the screenplay is excellent: I could go into greater detail, but you get the picture. (Pun unintended!) Definitely Oscar material.

A highly professional production, it appears totally objective. It puts forward the point of view not only of Snowden, but of the military intelligence and many people who view Snowden as a traitor, and of ordinary people both for and against the collection of surveillance of private emails by the CIA. If you were going to see this film thinking it would confirm your viewpoint on the subject of Snowden's whistle-blowing, you will be disappointed whichever way you swing.

I found it interesting to visit the website of the CIA. I find it hard to believe that these people who are dedicated to protecting the American people, would really bother themselves with the emails of ordinary people, as was Snowden's concern. The volume of material that was being monitored would in itself preclude that surely? Do we really think that the CIA cares what we write in our emails when it's larger concern is catching terrorists? Surely their search programs have key words that trigger attention, which would exclude the majority of emails? Do you care more that they are finding threats to our national security, or that they are maybe, just maybe, wasting their time reading your innocuous emails? Does anyone who puts nude pictures of themselves on the internet care who looks at them? Whose problem is it if they are perused by interested males?

Many questions are raised. Was Snowden, as some people claimed, a courageous revealer of the secret activities of the Intelligence Agencies, not only of the United States but of other allied countries? Did he do his country a great service by making these revelations? Was he, as others believe, a traitor betraying not only his country's intelligence secrets to the whole world, but those of his country's allies? Had he taken a vow of secrecy when he was employed by those intelligence agencies, which he violated? Are the virtues of loyalty, faithfulness, and not telling tales, no longer considered virtues?

Apparently there were already internal concern by high-ranking staff, that the NSA might have been over-reaching in it's intelligence gathering. Questions were being asked that, in any case, would have lead to changes being made in legislation.

Did Snowden have ulterior motives for his actions? Why did he flee to Hong Kong in China, then on to Russia? There is a connection to Australian Julian Assange of Wikileaks infamy? Wikileaks, apparently, aided in his relocation in Russia.

Snowden is presently employed in Moscow, Russia, which is just as well for him. Whistleblowers in the United States have difficulty finding employment as future employers question their integrity and loyalty.

Are whistle-blowers always outsiders who don't have the full picture of the situation that is of concern to them, as was the case with Snowden? Is the better course of action to find out if there is internal concern over the issue? Perhaps a few discrete inquires would give an answer? Snowden, the film, certainly raises these questions. It is usual when a person is in disagreement with a work-related situation, that that person resigns. Was Snowden unusually brave in his betrayal of his country, or did he have a plan?

The Washington Post, which was the first American newspaper to be involved in the Snowden Affair, has just now, on September 17, published an article stating that they oppose the idea of his being given a pardon by President Obama. Many Human Rights groups are pushing for this pardon. Was it designed that this film come out to raise support for that pardon?

Snowden is a "must see"! It's not entertaining in the accepted sense of that word, but I found it fascinating because it appears so non-partisan, and simply, clearly, lays out the facts as known. Of course, it is laying out the facts from Snowden's point of view.  It is thought-provoking, and in light of the application for a pardon by President Obama, timely.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sully: Monday, September 12 2015

Sully is a highly gripping film. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it holds the attention throughout. It was fascinating to be in the cockpit of Airways Flight 1549 that was landed by it pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, on the Hudson River. To my surprise, I found I was deeply moved when it became obvious the depth of his heroism and professionalism in keeping his head, deciding what to do, and doing it. Also the professionalism of his co-pilot and the rest of the crew.

A flock of Canadian Geese being sucked into the engines had put both engines out of action. Fortunately for everyone, Sully was a pilot with 40 years experience, and his instincts guided him in his actions. His co-pilot, Jeff, trusted him and worked with him. They brought the plane down safely on the river, and saved all 155 people aboard. If this story were fiction, probably it would be considered too far-fetched.

Within minutes, the New York first responders were on the scene. Ferries were diverted to take passengers from the flight on board. Helicopters plucked people from the river before they died of hypothermia. Not one passenger died. All were saved.

The film also deals with the normal enquiry that had to be held afterwards. To an outsider, the process may seems unduly harsh, but has to be gone through. Insurance claims are one of the important reasons this has to be done. Everyone understands that, but it may have been as tense as the film indicates for Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot, Jeffrey Skiles, until the final judgement was given.

Even although we know the story of Sully, and it's outcome, this film is enthralling. The screenplay is written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the autobiography Highest Duty. The direction by Clint Eastwood, is, of course, by a professional master. The acting by Tom Hanks as Captain Sullenberger, is equally masterful. First Officer Jeff Skiles is played by Aaron Eckhart. He, and the rest of the cast, are also masters of their craft (pun unintended!). A must see, it would be unbelievable if Sully is not among the Oscar nominations for this year.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Tale of Love and Darkness: Monday, September 5 2016

The film, A Tale of Love and Darkness, is based on the best-selling, autobiographical novel of the same name, by Israeli author, Amos Oz, first published in Hebrew in 2002. He is writing as an older man, looking back at his childhood and his parents, especially his mother. Set in Jerusalem, in the late 1940s, the backdrop is the ending of the British Mandate and the creation of the Jewish State of Israel. We see a little of this, but I would have liked to see more. This film is a dark telling of a sad story of a woman who couldn't rise above her horrific past life. The trauma of leaving behind what had been a happy, comfortable life, and the murder of practically all her family by the Nazis, was more than she could bear. No doubt, the story of so many people who fled to Israel, it's not an uplifting tale. The poverty that the newcomers suffered is not inspiring. The lack of love between the author's parents is not encouraging. Natalie Portman's portrayal of a woman suffering from clinical depression is impressive, but not particularly attractive. I found myself sympathizing with her husband, and even condoning his unfaithfulness. He tried so hard, but she spurned him.

Natalie Portman was born in Israel, which perhaps helps explain her obviously deep feeling for this story. We can guess at those feelings as she expresses them in this, her debut as a screen-writer and director. The film is so dark it has left me thinking it was in monochrome. The people are all so miserable, I really would prefer not to be around them. The story is so depressing, this is certainly not a feel-good movie. Hopefully, Portman will consider her audience when she makes her next film, and not see her art as simply a self-indulgent expression of her own pain. This can perhaps be forgiven once, but certainly not a second time if she wants to find a larger following. Not having read the book, I find it hard to understand why it was so popular. I prefer stories of people rising above adversary, not wallowing in it and allowing it to defeat them.

Portman's writing and direction are excellent, especially for a first film. I hope she chooses a more cheerful subject if she chooses to make another movie. There are so many positive stories to be told about Israel, surely, I hope her mood lifts, now that she has expressed the darker side.

Florence Foster Jenkins: Monday, August 29 2016

What a delightful film! A true story about Florence Foster Jenkins, an American concert singer born in 1868, known for unbelievably bad singing.

The film is a British-French biographical comedy-drama. Directed by Stephen Frears, written by Nicholas Martin, there is never a dull moment.

Meryl Streep is fantastic as Florence Foster Jenkins. Hugh Grant is delightful as St. Clair Bayfield, and Simon Helberg is highly entertaining as Cosme McMoon, the accompanist to Florence. Great casting: also of all the other people in the film. The costumes are good, and altogether, the film is a polished production. I loved it!

The question that sprang to my mind was to ask if Meryl Streep performed the singing herself. There is no indication anywhere I could find that anyone else did. She is brilliant. Having been a singer myself, I could fully appreciate her incredibly good, bad singing. It wasn't just as anyone could screech; it did sound the product of good training. I almost hate to admit that I couldn't stop laughing as Streep sang. She really was so good at being so bad.

I trained in the Italian Bel Canto method of voice production, and also the British method under a teacher from the London Royal School of Music. Florence was training under Carlo Edwards, an assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. I would ask if he were a singer himself, and how had he trained in singing. What method of voice production did he teach? Perhaps she was tone deaf, or even deaf. That would help explain her inability to sing in tune. No amount of training, or any teacher, could help that. In fact, she was suffering from syphilis, and probably the effects were a large part of her problem.

I saw the film as a love story. Hugh Grant was perfect as St. Clair Bayfield, Florence's partner in life. They never married, but were inseparable right up until her death in 1944. Bayfield realised that she couldn't sing, but wanted her to be happy. Music made her happy, so he went along with her ambitions. He made sure that only those who appreciated her were allowed to attend her private concerts. When she finally gave a public concert in 1944, in the Carnegie Hall in New York, soldiers were encouraged to attend. Not understanding her, they laughed at her. Her loyal supporters cheered to drown out their laughter, and Bayfield hid the uncomplimentary reviews in the newspapers. St. Clair's love for Florence was constant, and deeply moving.

Florence loved music, and made it her life. It was so poignant that in spite of all her hard work, she couldn't sing in tune. I felt deeply for her. However, as she is reputed to have said herself on her deathbed, "They may say I couldn't sing, but they can't say I didn't sing!" I love her spirit! She died shortly after her memorable concert in the Carnegie Hall.

One of the most amusing, enjoyable films I have ever seen!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hell or High Water: Monday, August 22 2016

Hell or High Water is a highly entertaining movie in the American Wild West genre. Directed by Scottish director David Mackenzie, it is written by Taylor Sheridan, and this script was the winner of the 2012 Black List of Hollywood. The direction is competent and the film flows. Filmed in New Mexico, the story is set in Texas.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster, play brothers Toby and Tanner Howard. They both are totally believable in their characters. Jeff Bridges is Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger, and Gil Birmingham plays his partner, Alberto Parker, a Comanche. Their relationship could have been played up a little. Hamilton keeps making Comanche jokes, and Parker simply keeps quiet. In a less highly sensitive age, Parker would have been joking back, the two men demonstrating their affection for each other. Instead, I felt that no one was comfortable with the situation that could have been used as comedy.

Texas is depicted as a Bible-thumping place, filled with people toting guns. The inevitable happens: one brother is killed by a fantastic shot by Hamilton. The brother had shot and killed Parker, Hamilton's partner. Hamilton was furious, and this justified him taking out the killer. The other brother escapes any consequence of his criminal actions. The bank is depicted as being a rapacious money gatherer, and it almost seems justified that two clients should rob it. Perhaps that was the modern theme of the story. It was far from the old-fashioned story of two criminals both getting their "just deserts". It has been described as a "socially aware" film. I found it thought-provoking in its attitudes. It's all right to rob a bank if it has given you a mortgage that you default on. It's the bank's fault that you will lose your home because you can't carry a mortgage you probably ought not have taken out in the first place?

Entertaining, if you don't think too deeply about the messages it is conveying.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Equity: Monday, August 15 2016

Equity is an interesting film from the point of view that it is made by women: a rarity even yet. The direction by Meera Menon is excellent; the screenplay by Amy Fox is good; the acting by Anna Gunn as Naomi Bishop is a pleasure to enjoy. All the other characters are believable too. Altogether, an entertaining film.

The story is not too uplifting. The chief character, a driven, career woman in the financial world, is destroyed by a disloyal woman colleague. This is called a feminist film, but surely women in the business world aren't all so unsupportive of each other? Perhaps it is thought to be more interesting if the worse side of human nature is explored?

This wouldn't have been an enjoyable story if it were men who were the main characters. It is no more enjoyable because they are women. It seemed a little too much to formula, as the characters seemed shallow and too much stereotypes.

I would have preferred to see the too topical story of a strong woman, divorced by her husband, father of her children, and her rising above her situation. Instead of her being brought down, I would have liked to see her working hard and becoming a success. It could have been presented as a love story, showing her meeting a powerful man who appreciates her for her strength. Lots of alternative stories could have been more pleasurable!

I was glad I had seen it, and supported the women in their efforts.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond: Monday, August 8 2016

Star Trek: Beyond is exactly what one would expect. Director Justin Lin makes sure that there is never a dull moment. We get to feel what it might be like to ride a starship into the wild yonder. There are fights galore, to keep us on the edges of our seats. The challenges are great. Will Captain Kirk and his crew survive to make a sequel? What would have happened to the great Star Trek series of TV programs if they don't? Although we know the outcome, it still is all visually exciting. 3D glasses make it all so much more than the TV series.

The casting has been so well done. Chris Pine as Captain James Tiberius Kirk is perfect. He fills the role of commanding officer of the USS Enterprise convincingly, and is a good prelude to William Shatner's unforgettable performance in that part. Zachary Quinto is a gorgeous Commander Spock, first officer and science officer, one of my favourite characters. Karl Urban plays Lieutenant Commander Leonard McCoy, M.D., chief medical officer, and reminds us often of DeForest Kelley, of the original series. Simon Pegg as Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, second officer and chief engineer, is the epitome of a Scottish engineer. This character is a reminder of the times when Glasgow, Scotland, was one of the leading centres of engineering in the world, and Scottish engineers were prized.

The other members of the crew were all perfect in their parts, and it was such a pleasure watching their performances. The stage was set for the next episode with the acceptance of a new character into Starfleet. She is Jaylah, an alien scavenger, played by Sofia Boutella. The interplay between Jaylah and Scotty looks as if it will be very interesting. We are seeing a star in the making.

It was such a disappointment to see Krall/Captain Balthazer Edison, covered with so much makeup. It would be nice to have seen more of his face. It also was upsetting to see him blown off into space. Hopefully he will live to appear in another Star Trek movie. Idris Elba, who plays this part, is a leading English actor, and it would be enjoyable to see more of him. Perhaps he will appear in the sequel as the ruler of a planet on which competition is the ruling philosophy. Perhaps he will have modified the philosophy into working hard and achieving the best results, competing against past performances to produce one's personal best, as is part of the modern Unites States philosophy. He can combine it with the cooperation and friendliness of the Starfleet philosophy. Both are essential to a fully functioning society. It doesn't have to be either /or.

Star Trek: Beyond is a fun movie! I found it highly entertaining, but then, I love science fiction.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cafe Society: Monday, August 1 2016

Cafe Society, written and directed by Woody Allen, is a delightful film if you are a fan of Woody Allen's work. I consider him a highly intelligent film genius, with great insight into human nature, so I enjoyed this, his latest production. Billed as a romantic, comedy-drama, it is written and directed brilliantly. The ambience throughout is evocative of the 1930s, and everything seems of a piece from the costumes to the sets. The film is infused with a sepia tone, like old photographs from that era, and the cinematography is outstandingly beautiful. In my opinion, the film is a true work of art. Beautifully crafted, and created by the hand of a master filmmaker.

Gangsters are usually equated with Italians or the Irish, but in this film we are introduced to, what was new for me, Jewish gangsters. They aren't really any different from the others. The Italians and the Irish have always been depicted as closely affiliated with the Church of Rome, but the Jewish gangsters seem to be secular. There is no Synagogue of Jerusalem. They use the same method of disposing of people who are problems: a concrete coffin. It has occurred to me in the past, to wonder how many of the fantastic buildings we see in the large, American cities have offerings of human sacrifices in their foundations. Shades of the pagans of old!

One amusing highlight of the plot is when Bobby is scattering the ashes of his brother, Ben the gangster. It is mentioned that Ben had converted to Christianity because he wanted to be forgiven and go to Heaven in the afterlife. Judaism is much more pragmatic than Christianity, and doesn't offer an afterlife. Woody doesn't spell it out as I have done, but as a student of comparative religions, I appreciated Woody's joke.

The acting is superb. Jesse Eisenberg's Bobby Dorfman is  totally different from his Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder. He is appealing in this part, and I actually felt for him. Kirsten Stewart as Vonnie is equally attractive, and I felt for her too. Steve Carell as Phil, Bobby's uncle, is unrecognizable, and plays the part believably. As a fan of Steve Carell, I enjoyed his performance. Jeanie Berlin delivers a delightful cameo as Bobby's mother.

Cafe Society ends with Bobby and Vonnie, separated from each other, bringing in the New Year with their respective spouses. As the year dies and is reborn, we see them both gazing sadly into space. What are they thinking, is the question we are left with. It seemed to me they were wondering if life would have been very different if they had made different choices. Does this reflect what Woody Allen, at 80 years of age, may himself feel about life?

I like Woody Allen's wittiness, and use of the English language. I also like his deep understanding of New York Jews, and his ability to laugh at, and with, his people with deep affection. This is such a Scottish trait too, so I relate.

I enjoyed the film, and laughed out loud, which is unusual. It really was funny in parts.

Our Kind of Spy: Monday, July 25 2016

Our Kind of Spy is a British spy thriller adapted from John le Carre's novel of the same name. It is a film made by intelligent people, for an intelligent audience. Susanna White directed superbly, and keeps the tension at varying levels throughout the film, which holds our attention throughout. The acting is superb, and each character is totally believable. Ewan McGregor as Professor Peregrine "Perry" Makepiece, of course, is excellent. Stellan Skarsgard as Dima, the Russian money-launderer, Naomie Harris as Gail Perkins, Perry's lawyer wife, also give good performances.

I was particularly interested in Damian Lewis as Hector. He is a magnificent actor, already with a long, distinguished career. His Soames of the Forsyte Saga was unforgettable. His Marine Sgt. Nicolas Brody in Homelands is another totally different creation. I wonder how many people will even recognize Damian Lewis as Hector in Our Kind of Spy. Here, he is far removed from any of his previous characters. He has even changed his voice and way of speaking. Watching him present Hector was one of the highlights of the movie for me.

I seem to have seen too many movies created by morons for adolescents with not too much between their ears; it is a delight to be able to say I thoroughly enjoyed this film.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Captain Fantastic: Monday, July 18 2016

Captain Fantastic is written and directed by Matt Ross, and stars Viggo Mortensen as Captain Fantastic. He is the father of six children he has been rearing in the wilderness alone. His wife is in an institute for bipolar sufferers. He is a hippie who hasn't grown up beyond that phase, and he is bringing up his family to celebrate the birthday of Noam Chomsky, the Canadian idealist, rather than Christmas, the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth. That says it all! He is lost in the strange world of the utopian past! I couldn't identify with him in any way as he seemed such a fool.

The film opens with a scene where one of Captain Fantastic's children is "blooded" after taking down a first deer for food for the family. I found it difficult to then fit in all the "Progressive" stuff he was demonstrating: living in a tent; growing food; griping about "big corporations". The Captain became for me a caricature.

When we meet the Captain's extended family, they too are caricatures of modern Americans, living out in the wilds of suburbia. They were shown as being ill-educated: it was demonstrated that the young people know nothing about the American Constitution. Probably the adults don't either. They seemed to be a little above the level of simply grunting, but not too much. I seem to remember they were into guns. But then, so were Captain Fantastic's children. A mockery is made of a traditional Roman Catholic funeral, with Captain Fantastic arriving with his family, all dressed in outlandish 1970's dress, and announcing that burial was against his wife's wishes. She had become a Buddhist and had declared in her will that she wanted to be cremated.

The film has the feeling of trying to convey some message. Whatever the message is, it is very mixed. My friend got the impression that it was being pointed out that it is difficult to reintegrate into modern society if one has lived outside it. I was left with a feeling of great thankfulness that the world has moved forward, and the sooner the out-dated caricatures are of the past, the better. Hopefully, most Americans are of a higher level of intelligence than those depicted in this movie.

Captain Fantastic could be treated as a study of bigoted, confused thinking on the part of the writer director. Was he putting forward the hippie idea of life as good, on not? Was he trying satire? If so, he wasn't pulling it off. I wasn't sure if he was sneering at everyone, even his chief character. This makes it difficult to relate to anyone or anything.

I didn't find it amusing. Mildly entertaining? Perhaps. But it left a bad taste.