Les Miserables

Having seen the live stage version at least twice, and the previous movie musical with Russel Crowe and Hugh Jackman, I have to say that I enjoyed the latest BBC production of Les Miserables the best. The new version, which we were able to stream on CBC Gem, is not a musical. And it’s cast is not made up of A-listers, but you should recognize names like Dominic West (the Wire), David Oyelowo (Selma), and Olivia Colman (The Crown).

I found a new appreciation for this latest installment of the timeless classic because I got a better understanding of the story. Perhaps the music and lack of backstory in the stage versions left me with more questions than answers as to the overall plot. For the unaware, Les Miserables takes place in France after Napoleon and the French Revolution.

It’s a sad rags to riches to rags tale that is shown in eight parts, currently available for streaming or downloading. Cathryn and I loved the story and both give it a 9 out of 10.

Totally Under Control

Totally Under Control is a new documentary and not fake news that follows the Trump administration’s response to the Covid – 19 pandemic in the United States. I don’t usually get too involved in politics, especially those south of the Canadian border, but in considering current world events I’m posting my review of this film.

Having recently finished the book, ‘The Fifth Risk“, about the undoing of democracy in the U.S., I wasn’t too surprised by the Trump administration’s political mishandling of a pandemic, that had they had been warned about and planned for in advance.

We are all aware of Trump’s bold-faced lies and how he bullies his way through every conversation, on or off-camera. Like the book (written separately from the documentary and by a different author), Totally Under Control points out Trump’s basic flaw – that he doesn’t believe in science.

Case in point is global warming, but I won’t go there. When he took over for the Obama administration, he pretended he was back on his television show, and fired all kinds of scientists and experts who were in charge unimportant things like their nuclear arsenal and disease control. Then, for reasons only known to him, he replaced them with family members and rich buddies.

This documentary was secretly made while the pandemic was spreading around the world, and it includes interviews with disease experts and even some of Trump’s own staff. I think it was very well presented, and probably strategically released just before the election. Judge it for yourself.

I watched it on Prime and there are clips on YouTube.

Rants, Raves, and Reviews – Ford v Ferrari

ford-v-ferrari-onesheet-1-1559568904First off, let me make it clear that I’m not a motorhead or even a car buff. I rarely watch car racing events on television. Having said that I have to admit I’ve enjoyed some movies that have covered the sport in the past. Leery of the mixed reviews for the Mr. Rogers movie, Cathryn and I took a chance on Ford v Ferrari. I say that because the trailers made the movie look goofy.

They say not to judge a book by it’s cover and the same holds true for movie titles. “They” were definitely right in this case. The story was easy to fall into with catchy tunes and upbeat music that brought more to life than roaring engines and squealing tires. The characters did seem a bit odd, but they were real people that had a profound impact on the production and racing of automobiles.

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Rants, Raves & Reviews – The Irishman

imagesAt three and a half hours, I”m glad we watched this movie on Netflix at home and not at the movie theatre – I would have needed at least two bathroom breaks. Honestly, there’s no reason to see this flick on the big screen. There’s no special cinematography to gawk at, but if you’re into seeing blood spatter left by the guy who paints houses, then go for it.

Being a fan of gangster films, and hearing of the star-studded cast and special aging effects, I was a bit hyped and looked forward to seeing this movie. For me, it was a let-down. Granted, the cast and acting was top-notch but the plot steered us toward certain events in history and then left us hanging. Millennials and those unaware of politics and history will be totally lost.

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Rants, Raves & Reviews: Judy

imagesWhere were the new movie releases this past summer? And I don’t mean the remakes of superhero flicks. I’m talking about good drama or even action movies – blockbusters that used to debut in July or August, or even September. Are they saving all the good movies for November, just in time for Oscar nominations perhaps? It would seem so with the list of releases set for this winter season.

Cathryn and I couldn’t remember the last time we went to a movie so we were happy to get out and see Judy, with Renee Zellweger portraying the famous singer Judy Garland. The previews looked enticing and the reviews raved about Renee and the story.

I didn’t know much about Garland prior to the movie, other than her performance in the Wizard of Oz. The film is about her life during and after Oz, and it taught me a lot. Considering what the movie executives did to the young actress, it was no surprise that she died at the age of 47.

The story was bleak at times, but many hollywood biographies usually are. As she was in real life, the movie Garland was likeable and easy to root for. Zellweger nailed the part and will surely win some awards for her performance. I felt as though I was on an emotional roller coaster following this woman’s life. The ending was heart-warming and a tear-jerker.

Cathryn and I both enjoyed the movie. She gave it a 10. I gave it an 8.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

HollywoodI think Cathryn and I may have felt this way about the last Quentin Tarantino movie we went to see; it sucked and was one of the worst movies we’ve ever seen. The best part of the movie was the soundtrack – lots of great songs from the 60’s and 70’s. Those responsible for set locations and wardrobe did a great job in reviving memorabilia and the fashion of the time.

To be fair we enjoyed some of the acting and the interaction between Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. Small parts or cameos by other big names weren’t enough to make this movie enjoyable. It started out slow and continued to painfully drag along right up until the explosive ending that was completely different than the real life events it mimicked.

Two other people in the audience left about half way through the yawner and we both considered following suit. I almost nodded off twice. Cathryn finally bailed about fifteen minutes before the ending which I thought was completely ridiculous. The whole movie was too long and drawn out.

In considering the little things we liked about the movie we’re each generously giving this flick a 2 out of 10.

Rocketman

rocketmanI had to think about this movie for a couple days to let it sink in. Given that time to mull it over I have to say I was not impressed by Rocketman – the story of Elton John. Cathryn loved the movie so this review will give you both perspectives. She liked the music selection and thought the actors playing John as a child and adult (Taron Egerton) did a fabulous job.

The film accurately mimicked many of the rock star’s wild and crazy outfits, but made no attempt to play his music in the order the songs were released. Theatrical creativity must have been the point since the song lyrics were used to describe the events of the artist’s stage in life. Oddly enough, it was Bernie Taupin who wrote the lyrics and Elton added the music.

For me the story dwells too long on Reg Dwight’s (Elton John) woe is me childhood. They show us how he came up with his stage name – the second half taken from John Lennon, but that fact in not true. Granted, John was executive producer of the movie, but he obviously decided to portray his life as he perceived it and not as how it actually happened. Thus there are other historical inaccuracies.

I was also unimpressed with the movie being a fantasy musical. I thought it took away from many of the great songs that I love. Nothing in the reviews I read said anything about the format. Overall the movie was still entertaining with a couple of zen moments to put you in the zone.

I rated it a 5 and Cathryn a 10 out of 10.

John Wick – 300 (Parabellum)

parabellumI use the number 300 instead of 3 – for the third installment of the John Wick, the master assassin. Seeing the film with an action-appreciating buddy, we couldn’t keep track of the bad guys killed by Wick. He commented later that it was the highest body count he’d ever seen in a movie, a bold statement considering other slaughter movies we’d seen, like Rambo 3 or Hacksaw Ridge.

I’ve always liked Keanu Reeves and that includes his John Wick character, but I started to chuckle after his first 30 or 40 kills. The man deserves credit for the way he handles himself in the action sequences – basically a two hour long chase and fight scene. He masterfully handles an assortment of weapons that must have taken hours of practice to successfully operate.

If you don’t mind a few dozen blood-spattering head shots and an overly violent plot, this movie could be for you. I do find it odd though, in this day and age, how movie makers can present us with such mindless slaughter, and add a dry touch of humor to make the film more entertaining. In a way this movie reminded me of the Walking Dead – the bad guys weren’t dead until you shot them in the head, in many cases more than once.

Enough about the violence. The movie has a highly paid all-star cast, perhaps to give the flick some credibility with movie buffs. I have to say I was shocked at the other online reviews I read from sites like Roger Ebert and company. So maybe it was just me…and my buddy, who thought there was enough carnage to call the John Wick movies a trilogy and leave it at that.

Cathryn could never have sat through this movie with her eyes open. I don’t think my buddy was too impressed. For the sake of mindless entertainment I give it 5 out of 10.

Mary Queen of Scots

maryHere’s a movie for all you Outlander fans. It’s about two different Queens from two different countries trying to control their own kingdoms, while maneuvering to combine the two and decide who will rule the British Empire.

It’s a true story that takes you behind the scenes of Scottish and English royalty, revealing their personalities, quirks, ambitions and idiosyncrasies. There is plotting and deceit and treachery that offer twists and turns throughout the story.

There are only a few recognizable faces in the cast, but the acting was superb. Outlander fans might also recognize some of the scenery and at least one castle in particular. Although the flick wasn’t one we were dying to see, Cathryn and I enjoyed it, both giving it a 7 out of 10.