I was really looking forward to this movie and seeing Eric Clapton live although without a guitar. Well… I did see Eric but sadly I left the movie early totally bored and a little pissed off. The film is not very much about his music and much more about his messed-up life which I really did not need to know about. It went on and on as he bounced from one failed relationship to another including a really messed up on with the wife of his good buddy George Harrison. Also we delved into his drug and alcohol abuse until I thought it would never end. While he had a surprise in learning that his real mother abandoned him, he was actually raised very lovingly by his grandparents, was reasonably well off and after Cream dissolved, very very rich. So all this “suffering” happened at his mansion in Surrey or his friend’s homes in South Kensington, two of the wealthiest places on earth. He never suffered for lack of money and we heard lots about just hanging around the mansion with his friends and various girl friends doing cocaine and dope and ultimately heroin and then alcohol. The movie really started to drag and I left near the end thinking this guy really had no excuse for all this. Sadly this movie has spoiled Eric for me. I will take a break from listening to his music for a bit and hope it will not last because his latest stuff is very good but this demented wallowing in his so-called sorry life was just too much. If you are a big fan and love his music and his suffering for sure enjoy. However if you would rather not be bothered by that just put on Layla (don’t worry what inspired it) and don’t let this movie spoil it for you.
I chose this film because of the actors primarily. I really like Benedict Cumberbatch whether he is Sherlock or Dr. Strange but I am also a big fan of Michael Shannon. The subject of the film is the fight between Edison and Westinghouse to build an electric grid to light our cities and run our machines. Edison favoured direct current and Westinghouse favoured alternating current and ultimately won. The film is not about the physics or the engineering but more about the men themselves. I was afraid it might be amazingly boring but it is anything but. Filmed with interesting special effects to recreate the era and with a great script and acting it was very entertaining. Electric grid? I hear you ask. Yawn. Well we just take it all for granted but it was only just over a 100 years ago that these two men managed to envision and create the grid that basically runs everything we have today. How we even lived before then is a wonder if you think about how ubiquitous electricity is today and how incredibly upset we are if the power goes off for even an hour. So it was a really big deal and these guys were its inventors. The director captures all that and more. Definitely worth your time to watch. Oh yeah, Edison invented sound recording and film as well so bear that in mind as you watch the movie, listen to the music and remember that it’s the electrical grid that brought that all to you.
I was not as keen about this movie as some. I chose it because of Ed Harris being the lead and because it was about photography and Kodachrome which is one of my favourite Paul Simon songs. It is a story about a professional photographer played by Ed Harris who is dying and has four rolls of film he took many years ago that he wants to develop. Sadly, the last place that will develop the film is closing soon and there will be no one who will be able to develop the film. He asks his son to drive him to the developer before it closes and before he dies. The problem is that the two are estranged and have been for many years. The road trip will bring them to reconciliation of course. This comment is the reason I did not like the film. It was a tear jerker that was totally predictable and so I quickly wanted to fast forward to the end. However there are many things in the favour of the film. First and foremost, the cast. Harris is great as the terminally ill photographer/dad and the supporting cast of the son and full time nurse who accompanies them are also very good. Secondly, the film was shot pretty much entirely in Toronto although it is supposed to be happening in New York, Chicago and Kansas. Third it was shot on 35mm Kodak film just to be true to the story. So… I can’t really hate it too much. Also I was totally happy with the Q and A that featured Ed Harris who is really funny and saved the whole experience for me. He was brilliant dealing with some dumb audience questions like: How do you play a dying man? He responded that he was not really so much younger than the character in the film and he had experience of seeing close family members die recently and well “I’m an actor and like… I act”
Glad I saw it and particularly glad to have heard Ed Harris talk about his acting.
This movie is a documentary that will likely cause you to consider taking all your invested income and put it under your mattress for safe keeping. You may have thought the 2008 market crash was bad but you just need to see this film to see how easily money can be taken from your mutual funds and pension investments to settle in the back pockets of Chinese capitalists and North American investors who are expert in shorting stock market investments. The film is scary to the max as you learn how ordinary people have been hurt by Chinese entrepreneurs who managed to fraudulently draw major investment into fake or nearly fake Chinese companies. The money lost by investors is in the billions and the scams are still going on. They take advantage of the deregulation of the stock market and the underfunding of the agencies set up to protect investors. This is an important film that deserves more attention but may very well not get it. Nonetheless it was interesting to see and the audience present for the screening were not just lefties like me but clearly many more well to do investors. The Q and A afterwards included the star of the film, an American investment company CEO who has lobbied hard to increase regulation but who freely admitted that he currently shorts these stocks and benefits from the lack of regulation. His opening line in the film is: “All the people in this film are evil…. Including me.”
Armando Iannucci is the director of great political satire most notably VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame. This movie is very much in that tradition. As satire both VEEP and this film move between comedy and making you feel slightly uncomfortable. This film tells the story of Stalin’s death and the subsequent events as members of the politburo fight for power and control. Stalin was one of the world’s most cruel and controlling dictators and his sudden death left a void that created a real crisis for the Soviet Union. The contest mainly between Khrushchev and Beria, the head of the secret service, was a devious and ruthless competition for power. Iannucci however manages to create a comic look at the struggle without taking away from the cruelty of the regime or the power struggle. The film did not shy away from the violence and reign of terror that Stalin created but managed to build comic relief and distraction in the relationships among the surviving members of the politburo. The cast is amazing including Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin among other lesser known character actors. The acting was smart with all the key roles contributing to the overall story. The Q and A was one of the best I have attended. Iannucci and four of the actors including Buscemi were there. Iannucci and Buscemi were particularly eloquent, funny and informative in their comments and we learned a lot about how the film was put together including rehearsals and use of improvisation when necessary. All in all an excellent experience and a film worth your time to see.
Frederick Wiseman is an 87-year-old documentary director who has been making films for over 50 years and in that time produced 45 features. In the early days his films were political and in some cases banned. More recently his films are more descriptive and focussed on community life such as Brooklyn and Berkeley, artistic groups like the ballet and institutions like the National Gallery in London and this film about the New York Public Library. These later films are very long so if you choose to see them I recommend renting them and have the ability to pause and return. This is by no means to suggest they are boring. Wiseman has no script or apparent agenda. In this case of Ex Libris we are taken on a tour of the main branch on 5th Ave. and visits to other branches throughout the city. He filmed visitors, staff meetings, board meetings, meeting of local community groups, librarians, library workers and many scenes of life in the library. In doing so he illustrates the central role of this library and libraries in general as they provide resources and nurture for the communities they serve. We saw a great interview with Elvis Costello, meetings of teachers in black communities, got educated about the nature of racism in the US, and many other events. We also learned about the problems of loaning e-books, convincing city councils to provide funding and how do deal with the homeless who use the sites for shelter. It was a fascinating look at one of society’s most important institutions and specifically in New York City. An excellent film. Sadly Wiseman was not here for a Q and A but that is because he is in the process of making another film. I can hardly wait. I have a review of the National Gallery documentary in an earlier blog post – 2014. Enjoy.
Oh right. If you want to see another entirely different picture of the main branch of the New York Public Library check out The Day After Tomorrow, a sci-fi film about apocalyptic climate change starring Jake Gyllenhaal. LOL