Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Don Cherry Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Volume VI

My curiosity is now satisfied.

This is one of a long-running annual series by Canadian commentary Don Cherry. Think of him as the Donald Trump of professional hockey.

I found Rock' Em Sock' Em 6 [VHS] in the used bookstore operated at a public library in my Northern Ontario city. The price - a very reasonable dime.

A few things stand out from watching this hour-long video.

1. The production values are cheap. Great gobs of money were definitely not spent constructing the set where Cherry introduces the different chapters of his video. They include not very funny bloopers, some very entertaining excerpts from his Coaches Cornere segments from CBC Television's Hockey Night in Canada and great saves by goalies.

2. There's no context for what audiences are watching. I didn't know until the end credits that this video came out in the mid-19990s. I could have guessed that based on some of the players I saw - such as Sault Ste. Marie native Paul DiPietro playing for the Montreal Canadiens. But why doesn't Cherry talk about the season and show how teams fared to set up what audiences are going to watch.

3. Rock 'Em Sock 'Em didn't feature many fights. Cherry loves when players drop the gloves. I expected more fights to be featured. I'm not complaining about the lack of fisticuffs, but I was surprised at how few bouts were showcased.

4. Cherry does offer some tips to young players at the end of the video. Thanks, Coach. Good idea.

5. The constant throbbing instrumental music accompanying mostly slo-mo images gets old fast. How about hearing sounds from the actual games?

6. Players featured in Rock' Em Sock' Em 6 [VHS] include Curtis Joseph, Kirk McLean, Andy Moog, Jeremy Roenick, Claude Lemieux, Adam Graves and the still active Jaromir Jagr.

7. Cherry's commentary is often tiresome. "He's a beauty." Blecch. "I tell ya." Please. Cherry does work in a "left wing pinkos" reference. Oh, Don. Such the card.

RATING: 6/10

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

24 - Season Eight (2010)

Currently watching final season of 24.

I'm not hopeful after viewing the first three episodes.

Watching 24 typically involves a lot of eye rolling at some of the crazier plot twists.

But, boy, are there some outlandish plot developments early in this Fox Television program's final season.


UPDATE: Glad to see enjoyment value picked up considerably now that I'm at episode 20.

Give credit to the writers for a plot that keeps surprising, albeit in some pretty unbelievable ways.

Jack Bauer just did something pretty reprehensible in the last episode I watched. That's marred my feelings about this final season.

UPDATE: I'm sure it's not a coincidence 24's final season is set in New York City - site of terrorist attack on World Trade Center in 2001. Good to see Sutherland's character out on the streets. So much of 24 is set in closed sets where passersby are seldom seen.

UPDATE: Two more episodes to watch. There's plenty of tension and mind games going on - much like past seasons of 24. But Bauer's actions in recent episodes are concerning. 24 has included some gruesome scenes in past seasons, but there's several examples of ramped-up brutality that are very unsettling. I can't recommend this year's episodes to children, nor can I in good faith suggest adults tune in either.

RATING: 6/10

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Fear is what stands out in my mind watching The Thin Red Line

American soldiers fighting the Japanese during the Second World War are scared of what's going to happen. Death is a real possibility.

There's a lot of voiceover prattle in this movie - most of which this movie fan doesn't get.

Fast forward through those parts if needed and settle in with a war film that drew far less movie-goers than Saving Private Ryan.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Jim Caviezel was Jesus in The Passion of the Christ and the title character in Wyatt Earp in 1994.

The Thin Red Line was director Terrence Malik's first feature film in 20 years. Days of Heaven was released in 1978. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, director and cinematography, but won none.

That's John Savage as Sgt. McCron.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I Want to Live! (1958)

Stap yourselves in, folks.

Susan Hayward gives a tour-de-force performance in this crackling 1958 drama from director Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music).

I Want To Live, based on true events, was nominated for six Academy Awards, but only Hayward brought home a trophy for her performance as Barbara Graham. The honour is very well deserved. Her Graham is a fiery character, determined and explosive when she's been wronged.

Graham is a petty criminal - passing plenty of bad cheques, prostitution, perjury to cover for her friends. But her brushes with the law take a dire turn when she's accused of murdering an elderly woman.

Here's one crime she didn't commit, but she's found guilty and sentenced to death. She has a young boy from a third marriage that went sour. Graham has somebody to live for. She's seen another party girl, Peg (Virginia Vincent), turn her life around and becoming a self-confessed "square."

Graham does have a few friends in her corner, including newspaper reporter Ed Montgomery (Simon Oakland) who wrote sensational stories about her court experience, but now wonders if Graham is innocent.

Watch this film. I Want To Live is a keeper.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: That's Gavin MacLeod, from The Love Boat and Mary Tyler Moore, as a police lieutenant. I didn't recognize him. Glad I watched the end credits.

Prison chaplain Rev. Devers is played by John Marley. He was Jack Woltz in The Godfather.

Wow. Simon Oakland, who I remember from my childhood as Brig. Gen. Thomas Moore in television's Black Sheep Squadron, as reporter Ed Montgomery.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)

David Carr gets the best moment in Page One: Inside the New York Times.
The media reporter for The New York Times is attending a conference. He holds up a printout of articles featured on a news aggregator's website. Next, Carr presents the same printout with all the newspaper stories cut out. The page is littered with holes.
Message: newspapers create content that people read online. Fewer newspapers, less content.
I'm a print journalist so this film is tailor made for a film film like myself.
Declining readership, and the move of advertising dollars from print to online, have prompted plenty of job cuts in the newspaper industry. My newspaper employed five editors when I started. Now, there's one. Five reporters now try to cover what eight did before. Papers have stopped operating too. In Canada, the Guelph Mercury in Ontario no longer publishes. The Mercury was a daily paper in a city with a population topping 100,000. Not anymore.
Director Andrew Rossi (Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven, Ivory Tower) spent a year covering the media beat at The New York Times. The 12-month stretch saw some major stories break in the industry including the bankruptcy of the Tribune media company and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks' release of classified diplomatic cables.
We see Times' staff consider edited video released by Assange and their probing television footage suggesting American military involvement in Iraq is over. What gets covered? What is news?
Page One does point to missteps done by major players in the newspaper industry that have contributed to its woes. Carl Bernstein, who broke Watergate for The Washington Post, points the finger at Gannett Media for cutting jobs and hobbling papers that were strong in their markets. Classified and employment advertising - lost to upstarts such as Craigslist. Carr points the finger at "decades of organizational hubris."
But, a hobbled media hurts democratic societies, various NYT staff warn because government and business is not being held accountable for their actions. Could Watergate happen today with decimated editorial departments? Bernstein himself notes the Post is "a lesser paper" because of job cuts.
To have strong media "to really gather information," says NYT executive editor Bill Keller, is "essential to a functioning democracy."
"It just doesn't work if people don't know," he says.
What this reporter would like to see is another documentary follow a newspaper in a smaller town. What happens when school board meetings don't get covered when there's no newspaper staff to attend? How is municipal government watched for its actions?
Another neat thing about Page One is an accompanying book (Page One: Inside The New York Times) with a series of essays bout the newspaper business. These pieces are short - less than 10 minutes to read per contributing writer. I'd suggest reading the book before or after viewing Page One.
Strong media - newspaper, radio, television, online - offer more coverage in the communities they serve. Competition keeps reporters on their toes so they don't get complacent. Politicians, police, school board officials and businesses know their actions will be watched.
Page One offers a look at what if that coverage no longer exists.
RATING: 8/10

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Classic Albums: U2 The Joshua Tree

U2 The Joshua Tree is an album that's taken root since its 1987 release.
The band's fifth album has sold an impressive 25 million copies. (For fun, Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and Phil Collins' No Jacket Required also sold the same number of copies.)
The Joshua Tree earned U2 two Grammy Awards, album of the year and best rock performance by a duo or group.
Two singles from the album, With or Without You and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, hit No. 1 in the United States.
2017 marks the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree's release.
Beat the rush and watch Classic Albums - U2: The Joshua Tree now.
This film fan is also a huge lover of music. The Classic Albums series has explored how more than 40 albums, including Peter Gabriel's So, Steely Dan's Aja and The Doors' self-titled 1967 album were created.
The approach is the same with each album. Give some background about the band before said album came out. Interview the musicians and producers associated with the album. Include snippets of a contemporary performance of some of the album's songs, cut in music video and live concert footage. Voila, an hour-long episode of Classic Albums.
Too bad my DVD copy of Classic Albums - U2: The Joshua Tree included no bonus footage.
But you do get to see Daniel Lanois and Bono sitting side-by-side at a mixing board talking about the album's songs (Bono on I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For: "It's a very odd sounding song."), The Edge sharing his favorite guitar solo from The Joshua Tree. Hint - it's "the most chilled non-dramatic guitar part," who came up with the drum loop to start Mothers of the Disappeared and how many versions of Bullet the Blue Sky were brought together.
Adam Clayton gets one of the doc's best lines when he describes The Edge's demo of Where the Streets Have No Name: "It just seemed like a way of f------ the band up."
Co-producer Brian Eno makes a neat observation about "the creative collision" that helped create The Joshua Tree near the episode's end.
Don't recall previous Classic Albums' episodes delving into B sides, but Sweetest Thing gets some love here. A good chunk of the video for the flip side of Where the Streets Have No Name rounds out this doc.
RATING: 8/10
FUN FACTS: U2 became the third rock band to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine following the release of Where the Streets Have No Name. The Beatles and The Who were first and second.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)


The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great film.

Seeing movie ads with American critic's Joel Siegel's tagline, "You'll want to stand up and cheer," really irritated me as a younger film fan. But, the late Siegel's line works well here. I can't remember being this wrapped up, and excited, about a movie since the original Spider-Man hit the screen in 2002.

Please appreciate I went to a lot of movies in the 1980s. Teen sex comedies, Private School, Private Lessons, etc. etc. dominated the big screen's depiction of young adults. Fortunately better efforts occasionally appeared, including Pretty In Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful.

Here, director Stephen Chbosky brings his own book to the big screen in a 2012 release.

Charlie is having a tough time with life before he even starts Grade 9. A friend committed suicide. His much-loved aunt died in a collision. He's struggling with his mental health. "I need to turn things around," he declares early on.

High school doesn't start well. Former classmates want nothing to do with him. He's targeted by bullying by older students. Charlie eats alone at lunch.

Then he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson).

They're seniors who take Charlie under their wing. Patrick and Sam share Charlie's love of music. It's hard to nail down a date here, but the presence of mix tapes suggests Perks is set in the 1980s.

Things get complicated. Charlie likes Sam. She tends to gravitate to guys who treat her bad. Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) is another member of Patrick's circle of friends. She gets interested in Charlie. He's never had a girlfriend before and is a little confounded about how relationships work.

Perks works for so many reasons. It's funny, especially with Patrick's pronouncements. Perks is a romance. Charlie and Sam connect. She's trying to get into college. There's other guys. He's not quite sure what to do. Charlie struggles with his mental health. Things start to get better once he meets Patrick and Sam. His well-being takes a big hit when tensions rise within the group when he's torn between Mary Elizabeth and Sam.

I give Perks marks too for touching on abuse in dating relationships. That's something I don't remember seeing in a teen film before.

I missed this film when it came out. Maybe it didn't play in my city. But The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. Watch this movie.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Neat. Internet Movie Database reports Ezra Miller will appear as The Flash in a 2018 feature.

Logan Lerman, I've seen you at least once before. You were in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma in 2007.

Cool. Paul Rudd, who appears as English teacher Mr. Anderson, was in another teen film well worth seeing, 1995's Clueless.

This older film fan couldn't help but think of Mary Stuart Masteron, from Some Kind of Wonderful, when watching Emma Watson.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Boyhood (2014)

What a sight to see.

Richard Linklater's Boyhood is about an American family was shot over 12 years.

There's no series of actors playing the children of Ethan Hawke and Patrica Arquette.

That's Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater audiences are seeing from childhood to adulthood.

Boyhood offers guides along the way to show the passage of time - references to Facebook, the 2008 American presidential election, Twilight, Star Wars and Lady Gaga (I think).

Mom (Arquette) succeeds in her professional life, but keeps striking out in her relationships.

Dad (Hawke) makes up for being away from his kids when they're young with advice that's usually bang-on.

This site is for films released 10 or more years ago, but I couldn't resist taking a look at Boyhood.

Arquette won an Oscar for best supporting actress. The film was nominated for five other Academy Awards including best picture, director and actor. Sandra Adair also rightfully received an Oscar nod for editing 12 years of footage together.

See this film.

RATING: 8/10

Wayne's World (1992)

Wayne's World, party on. Not so much.

I remember being behind the wheel driving some friends during Christmas or reading week break from university. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody started to play on the radio. Head banging ensued when the opera part ended and the rock section began. This would make a good scene for a movie, I thought.

Then I saw Wayne's World on the big screen when I was going to teacher's college in Barrie in 1992.

Mike Myers captured my idea and, let's be honest, reached a heck of a lot more movie-goers than your humble scribe.

I revisited Myers' film 24 years later.

My thoughts - there are some very funny scenes here, others are definitely ho-hum.

Wayne and best buddy Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) broadcast their community cable TV show, Wayne's World, from Wayne's basement.

The show's success makes up for Wayne's lack of accomplishments with a career. "I have an extensive collection of name tags and hair nets," he notes early on.

Producer Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe) catches the late-night hijinks and senses a prime business opportunity. Pair Wayne's World with arcade tycoon Noah Vanderhoft (Brian Doyle-Murray). Yes, kids, for a lot of years, went to arcades to play video games.

Getting handed $5,000 each is too much for Wayne and Garth to start asking too many questions, ie. what's in the contract. Strange that Garth breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience about his uneasiness about doing business with Benjamin, but he signs anyways.

The production moves from the suburbs to the television studio. Wayne finds, surprise, surprise, doing business with the big boys means he no longer has total control over his show. He feuds with Benjamin, makes friend of Vanderhoft and risks losing his promising rock with babe-a-licious rocker Cassandra (Tia Carrere).

Along the way, there's pop culture references that may be a little dated to audiences now - television's Laverne and Shirley, Terminator II and Scooby Doo.

As a Canadian, it's fun to see Myers' nods to his roots by having some of the film's action take place at Mikita Doughuts, no coubt a reference to the Tim Hortons' chain north of the 49th parallel and Wayne and Garth playing street hockey. Naturally, they yell out "Car" and "game on" in-between plays. I'll also give marks for Wayne learning Cantonese to impress Cassandra. Too bad this scene drags on a bit too long.

Alice Cooper has a cameo. Too bad it's not very funny.

Wayne's World is not excellent, but not bad.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: That's the late Chris Farley as the security guard Wayne and Garth meet at the Alice Cooper concert.

Ione Skye, woman of my university dreams, how could I not recognize you in this film. Need to go back and see when Elyse appears in this film.

Oh, Ed O'Neill from television's Married with Children is the manager of Mikita's. His scenes are not that funny.

Myers and Carvey won best on-screen duo from MTV Movie Awards in 2003. Excellent!

I feel sorry for Lara Flynn Boyle. She's wasted here as Wayne's ex-girlfriend who just can't get over the break-up.

Wayne's World II followed a year later.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

Sorry, Clint, your film didn't make my day.

The television mini-series The Pacific set the bar very high for stories depicting the battle for the island of Iwo Jima during the Second World War.

The Pacific was very intense with action sequences that brought this film fan to the edge of his seat. Stories of the lives of American soldiers were also powerful.

Director Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima isn't so much about combat, but trying to survive near-certain death. There's little tension here.

Japanese soldier Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) wasn't keen to enlist. He was told he was signing up. A baker by trade, his concern is to get home to his wife and young child.

That desire to live doesn't fit in well when he's a Japanese soldier tasked with defending Iwo Jima from American invasion. There's no realistic chance of the Japanese winning. They have no air or naval support. Tanks are out of commission. Supplies, such as food and ammunition, are scarce. Rather, their goal is to hold the Americans off for as long as possible and die in service to their country.

Saigo gets some much-needed help from the new commander of the American forces, General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe). He's not keen on seeing his troops punished - such as Saigo when he wonders why the Japanese just don't surrender. Kuribayashi spent time in the United States before the start of the Second World War. His view on warfare isn't shared by some of his subordinate officers.

Letters to and from soldiers serving on Iwo Jima come up throughout the film. Correspondence, especially as the end nears, offers a chance for soldiers to forget about their dire situation.

Letters from Iwo Jima was nominated for four Oscars, including best picture and direction. It's OK, but not great. There are better war films to watch.

RATING: 7/10

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Big Short (2015)

Movie-goers, cash in with The Big Short.

It's rare I get to the movies these days due to work and other commitments. DVDs keep me entertained at home. I'm glad I saw this American film while it's still in theatres.

Andy McKay's drama about what caused the 2008 economic meltdown in the United States is fascinating viewing.

Don't be discouraged by fears of being completely lost with all the business terms tossed around in this five-time Academy Award nominated film. Chances are you'll get enough of what's going on to follow the story. Hey, there's even folks such as pop singer Selena Gomez to help explain some of the financial products discussed.

Three different groups of investors, including hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale), eager up-and-comers Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another money manager with a deep distrust of the big banks, all realize the same thing. There's a lot of rot in mortgages being given to American residents. A crash is not far off. They all decide to put money down betting the American housing market will fail. Their decision stuns others who are convinced the market is rock solid and their foolish quest will cost them millions. Easy to think a decade ago, but Burry's estimate of a second quarter correction in 2008 was spot on.

The Big Short is a beacon of hope for those who think outside the box. Burry faced vehement opposition from his main backer. Investors wanted out. Geller and Shipley wanted to make their mark and found, at a young age, what more experienced investment gurus were missing. With the help of Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), an investor who has taken himself out of the investment game, they succeed. Baum is angry at a lot of things. How so many bad mortgages are being doled out by American banks astonishes him.

Watching The Big Short raises the big questions: How could this happen and why weren't more people punished?

The film gets a bit preachy at times, but that's a small caveat. See this film. Now, I want to read Michael Lewis' book (The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine) that serves as basis for this movie.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: The Big Short is up for five Oscars including best film, director and actor for Bale.

Soap opera fans may remember Finn Wittrock as Damon Miller in All My Children.

That's Marisa Tomei as Carell's wife.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Zodiac (2007)

The true story of a serial killer in the San Francisco area makes for compelling viewing in Zodiac.

Solid casting with Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr., in the leads is a big plus in this solid 2007 thriller from director David Fincher (The Social Network, Panic Room).

The killer, Zodiac, kills his first two victims in 1969. More follow. There's threats of taking out a school bus filled with children. Hundreds of suspects are investigated.

A cartoonist with the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), becomes obsessed with the investigation. He pinches garbage out of crime reporter Paul Avery's garbage. He's played by Downey, Jr.

Ruffalo is Insp. David Toschi, who along with partner Insp. William Armstrong, tries to find out who's responsible.

It's Graysmith who perseveres with the case, pouring over documents related to the investigation long after police have put the case on the back burner. That's because the search was still continuing in 1991. Graysmith's dedication puts his marriage to Melanie (Chloe Sevigny) on the rocks and threatens to fill his apartment with boxes of information about the murderer.

There's also a generous amount of humour in this film to balance the horror of brutal violence doled out to young couples and cabbies.

DVD of Zodiac I watched was just the film. No extras. There's a two-disc edition with interviews with Zodiac investigators. That sounds interesting.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: John Carroll Lynch, who appears as murder suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, made his film debut in Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Green Zone (2010)

Oh, no. Not again.

A few months ago I watched director Sydney Pollack's last film, The Interpreter, and was stunned with how badly the film ended. I noted how long it had been, mercifully, since I'd seen a movie fall apart so badly in the last few minutes. Up until the silly ending, The Interpreter wasn't half bad.

Green Zone is an even better movie for most of its running length, but here's another movie with another jaw-dropping finale. Folks, ending like these are frustrating given the previous entertainment value.

Here, Matt Damon is Chief Warrant Officer Miller. His job is to find the expected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq following the American government's overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But each time his men secure a site, they find nothing. Miller is dubious of the quality of intelligence being supplied to the American forces. Military brass don't take kindly to his suggestions that something isn't right.

This soldier is very idealistic. He wants to find the weapons that could kill many. Miller is being shut out from the work he's trying to do. He finds an ally in a CIA agent, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who is also skeptical of what the American army is suggesting re: WMD. American government official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), warns Miller not to ask too many questions.

So, we have the American government pulling one way for what it wants to see happen in Iraq with the CIA warning if Uncle Sam doesn't make nice with former Hussein military leader Al Rawi (Igal Naor), Iraq will slip further into chaos.

Damon is fine as the no-nonsense Miller. Gleeson and Kinnear offer solid support work. The action scenes are taut.

But the ending, yikes. The moralizing from Miller about America losing potential help in the future, too much. Miller's actions at the film's end, hard to believe.

Green Zone quickly goes from half-decent to pretty lousy. Too bad.

RATING: 5/10

FUN FACTS: The Green Zone is directed by Paul Greengrass, who directed Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy.