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Thor: Ragnarok – Taiki Waititi

I really like Marvel Comics movies and of all those I love the Thor movies. With Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki it’s a no miss buddy God franchise. What can I say. Instead of saving the Earth this time Thor saves Asgard from his sister – the evil Hela played but Cate Blanchett. The special effects are great, the supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbach, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, Idris Erlba and especially Jeff Goldblum you really can’t miss. Goldblum is classic in a totally comic role and a new comer – Tessa Thompson also provides great comic relief. I have to admit that comic relief from a script that is totally tongue in cheek is not really necessary, but it is really fun anyway. Not Oscar stuff but truly Great Trash!! I promise. If you like super heroes you will love this movie. Oh by the way, the director Taiki Waititi is a New Zealander and plays a cameo role. You won’t recognize him except by his broad New Zealand accent since he plays a rock creature. The movie is up there with Guardians of the Galaxy in my opinion and I really like Stan Lee taking such delight in having fun with his characters. Oh yeah, Stan Lee also has a cameo. Look for him when you go to see it.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – Steve James

This is one of the movies nominated for Best Feature Length Documentaries. It is a classic documentary in style as it follows the trial of the owners of a small federal bank based in Chinatown in New York City. In 2008 when the mortgage fiasco brought down the world economy this small bank was caught up in the disaster. Despite the fact that the crisis was brought about by huge unregulated banks and finance companies on Wall Street, the New York District Attorney’s office decided to make and example of the Abacus Bank which is the only financial institution to be charged with wrong doing out of the whole financial collapse. A total joke. Abacus was founded and owned by the Sung family with a goal of supporting the Chinese community especially new immigrants. As 2008 crept up the bank had a couple of employees who did do some illegal money laundering and outright theft that the family was not aware of. It was picked up and the DA’s office went into action. After a five-year investigation they charged the bank with fraud and larceny. The case went to trial and the documentary crew followed the family and trial over nearly 3 months. I will not tell you the outcome since you really should see this movie if you like documentaries or you can look it up but I can tell you that you get a close up look at the struggles of a family that truly wanted to do good for their community and got caught up in a crisis to which they contributed almost nothing and it also gives you good insight into the whole financial crisis. Great stuff.

The Post – Director, Steven Spielberg

The Post is a movie I was not that keen to see despite being about the release of the Pentagon Papers and the start of the end of Richard Nixon. It stars Meryl Streep who I have not liked in most if not all her films and lately I have not been overly impressed with the ability of the Post and the NYT etc to hold the US government to account. Not like the good old days so I was not sure I could stomach a film that was going to point to the journalistic integrity of this newspaper now owned by Jeff Bezos who cares only for money and not for truth. As many may be aware the Washington Post was a family owned paper until 2013 when it was sold to Jeff Bezos at which point I decided it could no longer be trusted to be a bastion of integrity. Besides two of my favourite movies are All the President’s Men and Spotlight both of which illustrated investigative journalism at its best and I didn’t want that good taste to be spoiled.

However, I girded myself and headed off to see it. I will confess I was pleasantly surprised. Meryl Streep is very very good as Kay Graham the owner of the paper and Tom Hanks was also excellent as the editor Ben Bradlee. There is a superb supporting cast that all lead to a great movie experience. Unlike the President’s Men and Spotlight, the film does not focus so much on the crime as on the process of acquiring the Pentagon Papers and deciding to publish them. The NYT actually beat them to the punch, but Nixon closed the story done with an injunction against the Times. Daniel Ellsberg turned next to the Post and gave them the same documentation. The Post had to decide if they could publish the story and avoid prosecution for violating the injunction against the Times. The issue was freedom of the press but at the same time the Post had just gone public and a bad legal situation could seriously hurt their chances of attracting investment. So…. They decided to go with the story to defend the first amendment and the freedom of the press. Nixon erupts and takes them to court. In fact all the way to the Supreme Court and…he loses. The story breaks and while there is much more to the Daniel Ellsberg story than the fate of the Washington Post this still made a great movie and… damn it… Meryl Streep deserves her nomination for Best Actress too.

Oh by the way Mathew Rhys played Daniel Ellsberg who has a small role in the movie. Still it is important and recently I heard a couple of interviews with him about his new book, The Doomsday Machine. Ellsberg actually stole documents related to two secret studies undertaken by the US government. He delivered the Vietnam War Pentagon Papers first and hid the other document which was all about the impact of a thermonuclear war which the US clearly was looking at conducting. The title relates to the movie Dr. Strangelove very deliberately. The papers were hidden but then lost (a long story) but Ellsberg now thinks it is worth revisiting given the current president. So I left the theatre and bought the book. I am guessing the movie (Strangelove) and the book by Terry Southern has already been done but this book will be interesting and feed my paranoia.

Atomic Blonde – Director, David Leitch

This is a movie just for fun. Based on a graphic novel set at the time of the Cold War, the story is about a literally kick-ass British MI-5 agent who is sent to Berlin to recover and bring back a double agent who holds secrets both sides want. The times in Berlin are complicated and agents from both sides have become self interested in the isolated world of West Berlin. No one can be trusted as it turns out even the people who sent Charlize to Berlin. This movie has no redeeming social importance whatsoever. It is not in the category of John Le Carre or Len Deighton in terms of accuracy about the Cold War or Berlin or secret agents but it is hugely entertaining. Charlize is supported by an superb cast including David McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman and Sofia Boutella. The latter might be best known as Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond. You know… the alien with the great white and black makeup. I was inspired to buy the graphic novel and the film is totally true to it. Great trash.

Blade Runner: 2049 – Director, Denis Villeneuve

If you liked the original Blade Runner you will love this sequel. Set decades after the first film you will find the dystopic future has not improved much. This time however our hero is Canadian actor Ryan Gosling and his director is also Canadian which in itself makes this a must see for all us north of Trumpland. Villeneuve clearly was a fan of the first film and his recreation of the world first dreamed of by Philip Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is perfect in every way. What is really special is that that the story extends the themes and takes us in some new directions. To tell more would be to spoil what is a great story. This movie I think should have had a Best Picture nomination but instead we get 5 nominations for technical awards such as cinematography and editing. While this film definitely deserves these nods I think the nominators missed out on what is a very special film with a great story to tell. Nonetheless for quality production values and a really fun ride (and as a huge fan of the original) I cannot recommend this movie more highly. May it be blessed with some well deserved wins unlike its predecessor.

A comment – while some movies win awards and are celebrated over others, it is often the case that those winning films are long forgotten while movies that won nothing at the time are the enduring ones. Blade Runner is such a movie. Nominate for only two technical awards in 1983 and losing both to E.T. and Gandhi, I suspect Blade Runner will endure as a classic. While E.T. might also endure I would ask those reading this blog to put up their hands if they have even seen Gandhi or will ever see it again. See? No one. LOL.

Faces Places – Director, JR and Agnes Varda

Filmmaker Agnes Varda and photographer JR teamed up to make this charming film and while I think it is worth a nod for Best Documentary, it may lose out for not being political or serious enough. Together they tour the French countryside looking for places to put faces on. Sounds bizarre but JR’s latest thing is a van that takes giant photos and then he and a team post them on the sides of buildings, rail cars or whatever seems most appropriate. Sometimes it is just gratuitous and funny and sometimes it makes a political point but what makes this film special is the relationship between its two stars. Varda is in her 80’s and JR in his 30’s could be grandson. He clearly thinks she is something special as an artist and the friendship and mutual admiration that grows between them is great to see. For a relaxing but often thought-provoking documentary I cannot recommend it more highly. Enjoy.

Dunkirk – Director, Christopher Nolan

Gotta love a good war movie. Dunkirk counts up there with some of the best but I confess I was a bit disappointed. Dunkirk is one of those amazing stories of the Second World War and was one of the major reasons that Britain was able to withstand the German onslaught at the start of the war. The expeditionary force that had been driven to the edge of the French coast by the Nazi Blitzkrieg and might have been totally lost if not for the courage of civilians who took to their small sea going craft to cross the channel and bring the boys home when the navy could not do the job. So I was expecting something like The Longest Day without John Wayne of course. In other words a series of mini stories that all add up to a big story. Instead, Nolan chose to focus on a small number of focussed stories that, while interesting on their own, never really gives the epic size of the story. Kenneth Branagh plays a general caught on the beach and we visit him every now and then to get some sense of the enormous challenge but neither he or the scenes really succeed. Once he gets back to the few personal stories of rescuers and pilots etc it is more engrossing but I still felt a bit cheated. On the plus side this movie has been nominated for most of the technical awards like cinematography, editing etc that tell you it has been very well crafted and in many ways beautiful to watch. Look for it to capture one or more of those awards but Director and Best Picture are not happening.