TxMike

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Reviews

Annie Live!
(2021)

A live performance of Annie is always welcome!
This is a continuation of a tradition. Annie is a time-tested story and knows no skin color. It is at its core surviving and making something of a non ideal situation. Little Orphan Annie, a real American success story.

My wife and I really enjoyed it. The production numbers were good, all the singing was passable, some excellent. They seemed to feature Daddy Warbucks a bit more, no doubt because of who was in the role. The young actress that played Annie was a good choice. The other kids, dancers and acrobats, were all excellent.

Live on NBC. Good production!

The Green Knight
(2021)

Based on a 14th century poem about Sir Gawain.
Before I viewed this movie I was aware of the polarized reviews and ratings, some think it is great while others consider it a complete miss. So I was curious.

It is a lesser-known story on the fringes of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Sir Gawain (they pronounce it 'GAW-in') is the King's nephew, it is Christmas, and a mysterious Green Knight shows up, inviting a challenge. None of the Knights step up but Gawain does.

Then a year later, on Christmas, he must travel 'six days north' to meet up with the Green Knight again, to settle the score.

My wife and I viewed it at home on BluRay from our public library. At just over two hours it was a fantastical, mystical movie. It has very accomplished actors who play their roles well. The locations (shot in Ireland) and cinematography are excellent all the way through. The sound track is really great. That's all the good stuff.

The not-so-good is that the story is very obscure much of the time. Things happened (like, what was up with the blindfolded woman who never spoke?) that cannot easily be interpreted as part of the story. So what we end up with is a pretty good viewing experience that leaves you figuratively scratching your head and wondering, "What was that all about?"

I am glad I watched it, I doubt that I will ever want to watch it again. The "making of" extra on the disc contains lots of discussion for those wanting to dig deeper into it. I viewed some of it. The cast and filmmakers clearly had a good time making it.

Pig
(2021)

Unconventional love story, a man and his pig.
I'm not sure what I expected but what I got surprised me. I like Nic Cage but I don't always like the choices he makes. This role is a good one. He is a wilderness man in Oregon, the state with the best hunting for truffles. He lives in a very rustic cabin, gets supplied delivered weekly, in exchange he provides top quality truffles. We see him early making a rustic mushroom tart, we get a sense of what his former career might have been.

The incident happens very early in the movie, at the 11 minute mark, when in the dead of night men break in, knock him unconscious, and steal his prize pig. The rest of the movie is his efforts to find his pig and get it back. More because of his attachment to the pig, not so much for his truffle hunting.

The overall theme is dealing with loss and grief, and not only one person or one loss. It is not a superficial story that one can pay scant attention to. Cage is really good in the role, as a former top chef who dropped out of the mainstream.

On DVD from my public library. My wife skipped.

Nine Days
(2020)

The process to identify a new soul to become a human.
This is a really "different" story and in the DVD extras we find the writer-director was inspired by a suicide in his own extended family. Not knowing anything else one might expect an environment of glass and white walls, images of beings dressed in long flowing robes, observing people via some form of advanced technology unknown to the real world.

Instead we see a person, once alive and named Will, in what seems to be an old house in the salt flats of Utah and observing people on 15 or 20 color TV sets from the 1980s. He takes notes and by the number of days in the notations some are approaching 30 years of age. Some lives are recorded on VHS tapes. Then something tragic happens and he must interview a number of souls to pick one to become a human on Earth. For those who are rejected it is the end of the line, they will never get another chance. The process will take nine days.

I'm not sure how to think of this story, perhaps best as an allegory of our own lives. How we go about our lives, how we make decisions, including decisions of morals. There is no question the movie makes one think and my wife and I enjoyed the almost 2 hours of viewing. However in reality is will be quickly forgotten.

At home on DVD from our public library.

Chateau Christmas
(2020)

Pleasant Hallmark movie with a musical theme.
Like most Hallmark movies it is filmed in Canada but set somewhere else, in this case Boulder Colorado and surrounding areas. It is nearing Christmas and many families are vacationing at the Chateau.

It revolves around two 30-something musicians who were once in a serious relationship but parted when she became a world-renowned pianist and began touring the world to perform. He stayed in Colorado and eventually got his PhD in music and became a music professor. Now they surprise each other by being at the Chateau at the same time. Further their old college friend talks them into helping the Chateau put on a big Christmas concert.

Being a Hallmark movie we know what will happen and it is fun watching it get there. Just a nice, clean story and pleasant entertainment. I was feeling I was in Pleasantville.

At home, my wife and I watched it on DVD from our public library.

Together Together
(2021)

After it gets going, a nicely interesting and entertaining movie about a different kind of relationship.
The story (written and directed by a woman) is not often (if ever) told in movies, a single man wants to start a family and hires a young woman to be a surrogate. The man is intelligent and successful and 45. The young woman had a speed bump as a teenager and now at 26 she works in a coffee shop in San Francisco. But she is lovely and intelligent and has aspirations to finish her degree.

So the movie is about their nine months, from his selecting her to giving birth. How each handles the novel "relationship" and how they gradually form a great friendship through the process. I can't say enough about Patti Harrison who plays the young woman. I had never heard of her before but she is just perfect in the role. Had it been any other actress the movie would have suffered. Ed Helms is established, he always does a good job.

Anyway my wife and I really enjoyed it, much of the script writing is novel and interesting. We watched it at home on DVD from our public library.

Free Guy
(2021)

Highly entertaining, borrows from a number of older movies.
Ryan Reynolds is in good form as the bank teller who is a character in a video game, but his creators managed to also build in some A. I. As a result he doesn't know he is just an NPC and begins to have a mind of his own which creates issues with the gaming publisher. Plus he becomes very attracted to a woman in the real world. (Hard to explain easily.)

As I watched it, totally entertained, I was reminded of a number of older movies, whether it was conscious or not I don't know. Mostly was "Pleasantville" where Bud (Tobey Mcguire) became the catalyst to get TV show characters to realize they didn't have to do the same thing every day, they could exercise some options. Free Guy does that in this movie.

Other movies include "Inception" where programming can change streets and buildings. "Groundhog Day" because Guy starts out every day exactly the same. "The Matrix" for obvious reasons. "The Truman Show" where outsiders are watching what is going on in the show. Guy uses a light saber from "Star Wars" and the shield from "Captain America." And even Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo" where a movie character walks out of the screen and begins to interact with a woman who is a fan of the movie.

It all works very well together and my wife and I were totally entertained. At home on DVD from our public library. It was shot mostly in Massachusetts locations, including Boston.

Sweet Autumn
(2020)

Autumn in Vermont and Maple Syrup candy.
We found this Hallmark movie on DVD from our public library. It is set in Vermont in the Autumn but was filmed in Canada, as are most Hallmark movies. And, as with all of them, no violence, bad language, or sex. Well there was one or two kisses.

All in all it is pretty cheesy, the dialog is simple and the acting is adequate. The story is sparked by the death of Aunt Dee who ran a popular candy store in the town, her will left the store half each to her niece and the son of a good friend. Her motive all along was to be a matchmaker.

We found it an entertaining way to pass 80 minutes or so, quickly forgettable but interesting nonetheless.

The Wheel of Time
(2021)

Beautiful scenery and fantastical characters.
This came available streaming on Amazon this week. I watched the first three episodes, the only ones released so far.

From reading comments I learned that this show is based on (or inspired by) a set of books with a very avid fan base. I am not at all familiar with those so I just take the show for what I see. One student of the genre wrote an analysis and decided LOTR and GOT represent extremes and this show, WOT, fits somewhere between those two.

The main character is played by Rosamund Pike, I've seen her in other things and I like her. Here her character is described by some as a female Gandalf with magical, mystical powers. They are searching for someone about 20, to be the Dragon Reborn, who they think will repair their "broken" world.

Theirs looks like a Medieval type of world, people ride horses and their ammunition is arrows. Plus they fight with swords and axes. But it is a fictional world or maybe an alternate universe.

The scenery and cinematography are outstanding. At first I thought it might be New Zealand but it is in fact Eastern Europe. I've never been there but I wish I had. It is gorgeous.

While I enjoyed the viewing in truth this is not my favorite type of show. I enjoy the characters but I don't get into the mystical, fantastical parts of it. That and the story overall just don't interest me that much. I will likely continue to watch additional episodes as they are released but as a time-killer. More than anything I enjoy the visuals.

As Luck Would Have It
(2021)

Tom Branson leaves Downton Abbey to star in this Hallmark movie set in Ireland.
Being a Hallmark movie my wife and I knew what to expect. They are all clean and follow the Hallmark formula. Attractive single woman and attractive single man are attracted to each other but some big differences need to be worked out before they can find real love.

In this story she is a USA based negotiator for a big company that buys properties and builds hotels and resorts. She is sent to a quaint village on the Irish coast to do a deal but the locals don't want to sell unless the old, run-down castle can be preserved. The village badly needs money.

He (a real Irishman) seems to be the local jack of all trades. He runs the pub, he makes his own Irish whiskey, he is involved in the yearly matchmaking festival, and a few other things. Including having played Tom Branson on Downton Abbey.

All in all a nicely entertaining movie, beautifully filmed, viewed at home on DVD from our public library.

The Incredible Shrinking Man
(1957)

We see if a 2" man can outrun a full grown Tarantula.
While I had known about this movie for years I didn't get around to watching it until today, after hearing some positive comments from another source. I was able to get a Criterion restored DVD edition from my public library. Not only does it have an excellent B&W print of the 1957 movie it also includes a few interesting extras.

The movie starts with a view of gentle waves on a large expanse of water, then we see two people on a boat, married and vacationing. As the wife goes below for a couple of beers the husband sees a mysterious white cloud travel over the water and onto him. This was in the years not long after the advent of atomic bombs so it was probably some sort of radioactive cloud. The story plays on the natural fears we all had about the subject (I was 12 when this came out).

They return home and nothing is out of normal until a few months later when the man notices that he is getting lighter and shorter, very gradually. The doctors can't find anything abnormal except his shrinking. At one point they think they have arrested it, but that was temporary.

Most of the movie is the man dealing with the inevitable. The story goes roughly through the seven stages of grief, ending with acceptance and hope. We see him at 2 inches tall deal with his wife not being able to hear him, the pet cat wanting to eat him, as well as a Tarantula in the cellar.

Overall the best hint of what the author had in mind for the story is when the voice over near the conclusion says "God doesn't recognize zero", meaning no matter how small you might become you still matter.

Interesting movie and of course a classic. The special effects, like green screen used for a small man among others, are crude by modern standards but I suppose pretty good for the 1950s.

Anything for Jackson
(2020)

Horror movie on a budget, I only made it half-way.
Upfront, I did not watch the whole movie, I quit at about the half-way point because it failed to engage my interest.

The way the movie starts I thought it was going to be a dark comedy. A doctor and his wife lure and kidnap a pregnant woman who was a patient of his. Their plan was to somehow use demonic rituals to restore their dead grandson into this unborn baby. But as it turned more and more Satanistic I became less and less interested.

So I turned it off and watched something more uplifting. On DVD from my public library, my wife (wisely) skipped. Seems to be a Canadian production but its IMDb page doesn't have much information.

No Man of God
(2021)

Factual dramatization of Ted Bundy's last few years in prison.
As a person of the 1960s and 1970s I of course knew of Ted Bundy but never took the time to dig deeper into his story. Elijah Wood plays the FBI agent who spends time over several years with Bundy as part of a larger new initiative developing tools for profiling killers. Luke Kirby is really great in the Bundy role, I found myself almost believing I was seeing Bundy himself.

This is a good movie in that it is well made and gripping, especially the last half hour or so. But it is not a good story, a serial killer who by his own admission had at least 30 victims. Why did he do them? Because he wanted to.

On DVD from my public library. My wife skipped, not in the mood for this type of movie.

Nova: Universe Revealed: Alien Worlds
(2021)
Episode 19, Season 48

NOVA, life on other worlds? Will we ever visit them?
As a Scientist with a life-long fascination with space and the stars I always look forward to NOVA, especially when the topic is other worlds. This program covers what we think we know about requirements for life and some of the techniques used in recent decades to search the rest of the universe for signs of intelligent life. Like Keppler which Astronomers think has uncovered thousands of planets around distant stars. The reason I say "think" is because all the methods are indirect, we have not actually observed, optically, one of those planets.

There is one glaring omission in programs like this. They mention some stars are 50 light years away, some 124 light years away, some much farther. So even if (a big "IF") we could figure out how to get a space craft up to one-tenth the speed of light, it would take 500 or 1,000 or 10,000 years to travel to one, even just to send a probe. The reality is likely a somewhat slower maximum speed, requiring even greater thousands of years.

So the search for life in alien worlds is strictly academic, strictly for curiosity, because from all that we know today about space travel we could never get to one of them. Or if we ever did life on Earth would likely have ended by the time the craft arrived there.

To me that discussion needs to be clearly included in these sorts of programs, it is a critical part of the discussion.

Long Weekend
(2021)

Not your usual cookie cutter Rom-Com.
In fact it isn't really a comedy, more of a romantic movie with some humor sprinkled in. I like movies that use a unique approach and this one does. It isn't a great movie but it is entertaining enough.

My wife and I watched it at home on DVD from our public library. At the 27 minute mark she said spontaneously "This isn't a very good movie." Part of that was motivated by the filthy language the Wayans character used, and some of it in front of the small child. Poor script writing I suppose.

Then something dramatic happened about the 32 minute mark, something that changed the whole complexion of the man-woman relationship. Now we understood why she seems so vague and so unusual and why she carried thousands of dollars of cash in her purse.

Worth a look for anyone who an enjoy a movie that veers off into an unexpected direction.

Bates Motel
(2013)

Prequel to the 1960s movie 'Psycho', now streaming.
In the 1960 movie 'Psycho', Marion Crane, on the run after a theft, finds herself at the Bates Motel. She interacts with an adult Norman Bates, actor was almost 30, and never actually meets Norman's mother, Norma, for reasons we learn about later.

This TV series is a modern day prequel to all that. In it Norma takes the money after her husband's accidental death (during season #1 we learn exactly how he died) and travels with her son to the Oregon coast (filmed in Canada) and buys the shuttered motel and the old house behind it on the hill. Fairly accurately recreating what we see in 'Psycho'.

Norman is 17 and a junior in high school, and he experiences the normal high school conflicts. But early we see that Norman is somewhat "different", a prelude to the adult Norman we see in the movie. As the series moves along we get more and more examples of how he is different. His mother Norma is young, attractive, and vivacious, but with a really hot temper when something grates on her. She has what looks to be a psychologically unhealthy desire to be close and loving with her son. And highly controlling.

So they move to this new community and together they begin fixing up the house and motel, renaming it to 'Bates Motel.' A killing happens early (is it a 'murder'?) and the body is disposed of, only to come back in a haunting manner. In another complication Norman's estranged older half brother shows up uninvited and insinuates himself into the household, conflicts arise.

All-in-all an interesting and absorbing series. Now in 2021 it is streaming on NBC's Peacock channel, it is easy to watch part of an episode and the app re-starts you next visit where you left off.

I am a fan of the movie 'Psycho' and have become a fan of this TV series. It is written such that everything we see Norman experience is consistent with what we know will be the adult Norman in the 1960s movie.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
(2021)

Lots of Superheros in one 4-hour movie.
I enjoyed this movie. It is a bit long so I watched it in three sittings and considering how much the story covered it probably needed four hours. It is of course filled with computer generated characters and special effects but that is not what I like best. For me the quieter scenes where characters actually conversed were the best.

I have been enjoying various versions of Supercharacters since I was a kid, in the early 1960s. I enjoy the fantasy, the chance to escape real life for a while. This movie checked all the boxes.

I watched it at home on a DVD set (2 discs) from my public library. Curiously they chose to issue it in 4:3 screen ratio instead of the more common 16:9 or other wide screen ratio. The discs only have the movie, no extras. My wife skipped, not her type of movie.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
(2021)

Biographical movie, Cumberbatch really shines.
Louis (loo-eee) Wain was a British artist who lived 1860 to 1939, dying a month before he would have turned 79. He also fashioned himself as a composer and an inventor although those never came to fruition. He had theories about electricity but nothing practical like Tesla.

However he made his reputation with cats, especially drawing cats in all kinds of real and fantasy situations. That is his lasting legacy. Within his family, himself and his five female siblings, were some types of mental illness. All this is prominent in this movie.

Before watching it I knew nothing of Louis Wain and now find him to be a fascinating person. I already knew Benedict Cumberbatch to be one of the better working actors currently and he certainly hits a home run as the colorful and eccentric Wain.

My wife and I watched it at home on Amazon streaming.

Holly & Ivy
(2020)

One of the better Hallmark movies.
My wife and I enjoyed this Hallmark movie after our weekly steak dinner and wine. Unlike most this one is filmed in Utah and not in Canada. Not that there is anything wrong with Canada.

Set in Wisconsin, it starts leading up to Christmas. A 26-yr-old single woman moves to town with a degree in Library Sciences, a newly purchased "fixer upper" house, but no job yet. Pretty quickly she meets a young man who runs a local construction business. They hit it off pretty quickly.

But the bigger story is her next door neighbor, a single woman with two daughters and a terminal illness. With no other family will the young lady, new in town, step up and volunteer to care for the two girls?

A really good story about friendship, family, and following your dreams. At home on DVD from our public library. One of the better Hallmark movies we have seen.

Blithe Spirit
(2020)

Remake of the Noel Coward stage play.
This has been made into movies a number of times with pretty well the same premise, a writer suffers writer's block and enlists the help of a medium to summons a helpful spirit. Quite unexpectedly his deceased wife, gone for seven years, shows up. She is the spirit in this title, "blithe" simply means "showing a casual and cheerful indifference considered to be callous or improper." And that she is.

I have not seen the play nor any of the prior movies so I can't make any comparisons. I like the actors here, I have seen most of them in prior movies and/or TV shows, including "Downton Abby." They all do fine but this is just a whimsical farce, the writer ending up dealing with a wife of five years, a deceased wife, and the deadline to convert his novel into a movie script. Then there are a number of further complications.

It is just an entertaining diversion of a comedy, I watched it at home on DVD from my public library. My wife skipped, she was not in a comedy mood last night.

Trigger Point
(2021)

Plays like a discount priced Jason Borne movie.
This is a peculiar movie, it runs only 85 minutes and plays more like a pilot for a TV series. In fact on TV, with commercials, it would occupy a two-hour running time. My wife and I watched it at home on DVD from our public library. The story is too choppy and the point-blank killings too frequent to come across as a good movie. More like a TV crime drama. Mostly entertaining but not deep.

Apparently the producers had hopes it would be the first of a trilogy and it ends with a number of unresolved questions. For these reasons I can't rate it higher than 4. Frankly even just watching it I can't explain why several operatives were assassinated and what kind of illegal activity is at the core of the snafu.

I could not recommend this movie to anyone I know.

Nova: Universe Revealed: Milky Way
(2021)
Episode 18, Season 48

A brand new look at our Milky Way Galaxy, featuring Hubble and Gaia telescopes.
NOVA is perhaps my favorite programming of all. This episode which I viewed tonight on PBS brings me back to my childhood in the 1960s, laying on an inflated tractor tire inner tube at night, looking up at the stars in the summer sky and wondering what it is all about.

This episode focuses on what the two telescopes, Hubble and Gaia, have told us about our universe, and particularly about the Milky Way. I already knew a lot about Hubble but nothing about Gaia, launched in 2013. In essence it is parked at the L2 point almost a million miles from Earth, away from the Sun. There it makes the yearly trip around the Sun, while doing so constantly monitoring the stars in the Milky Way. Creating this almost 200 million mile base of a triangle it is able to determine the actual distance of each star, their distances relative to each other, and their motions. Now we have a real 3 dimensional map of our galaxy.

This is fascinating work. I am a scientist, I understand what they are doing, and I am still amazed at what they are learning. This program is well structured and enlightening. Well done NOVA.

Anyone not already familiar with the Lagrangian points can do a simple web search and find out more. Search on "Lagrange Points: Parking Places in Space." It isn't difficult to grasp.

Spirit Untamed
(2021)

Quite entertaining animated tale.
A young girl lost her mother years earlier in a horse riding accident. When that happened she was sent to the city to be raised by her aunt and granddad, a big-time politician. However being too precocious for the city life at about 11 or 12 she and her aunt travel by train to reunite with her dad. Along the way the girl sees a family of wild horses running alongside and behind the train.

Later in the rustic town the girl is reunited with the horses as thieves try to capture them. With a lot of patience and persistence the girl finally gets the one horse, she names it Spirit, to accept her. From there they get involved in unbelievable adventures along with two other young girls and their horses. In the end they have to go on an unauthorized adventure to help capture the crooks.

The animation is very pleasant and the voice acting appropriate. A nicely enjoyable lightweight animated movie. I don't understand the several very harsh reviews, it is just a pleasant movie.

At home on DVD from my public library, my wife was on the golf course experiencing her own unique adventure.

Endangered Species
(2021)

I didn't believe the poor reviews but they are mostly accurate.
The makers of this movie had a good intent, to point out the problem of poachers in Africa, focusing here on Kenya. To do it they developed a fictional story of a family of four, plus their daughter's boyfriend, traveling for a vacation observing wildlife in Kenya. To me the most interesting part of the movie happens during the last 30 minutes.

My wife started watching with me, at home on DVD from our public library. She gave up and left the room after about 20 minutes. The vacationers are so annoying that I was hoping some animals would eat them quickly and put us viewers out of our misery. But that didn't happen.

Anyway this is mostly a miss, it was interesting enough because unless you watch a truly poor movie occasionally you can't really appreciate the good movies with well-written scripts.

Those Who Wish Me Dead
(2021)

Sufficient excitement but overall not that good of a story.
This movie sort of cheats the viewer. The central theme involves a man who is a "forensics auditor", he finds things that indicate corruption and crime. He has something big that will incriminate powerful people in Florida so assassins are sent to get rid of him. However the story never touches on what the evidence might be or who might be corrupt. Instead the whole movie is about the two assassins who travel to Montana to eliminate the man and his young son.

However there is a subordinate story of a female firefighter who made a bad read of the wind and it resulted in some unnecessary deaths. She is having trouble moving past that.

So as the viewer, what do we have to root for? To see that the bad guys, really bad guys, real killing machines, get their due.

My wife and I watched it on DVD from our public library. In addition to the underwhelming nature of the story, the script includes so much filthy language that it takes away much of the enjoyment of the quiet moments.

Hard to recommend to anyone.

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