Film review: Won’t you be my neighbor? (2018)

I have long had a soft spot for Fred Rogers, host of the long running children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, that I used to watch with my children when they were little. This was not because of the show itself. While its wholesome messages were universal and timeless, the presentation unabashedly aimed itself at very young children and its languid pace, low production values, and simple format made it somewhat dull for adults. It did not have the fast pace and dualistic sensibilities of Sesame Street that catered to children and also to their parents. The reason I like him was because of a very specific incident that occurred when my older daughter was just about to enter kindergarten at the local public school.
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Film review: The Death of Stalin (2017)

I had been eagerly anticipating the release of this film ever since I heard about its debut in England lost November. This is because it is the creation of Armando Iannucci, who has a string of successful political satires such as the British TV series The Thick of It, the American TV series Veep, and the transatlantic comedy film In The Loop (2009) that dealt with how the American and British governments colluded to sell the phony case for the invasion of Iraq. Iannucci is a writer of sharp insight and dialogue and the topic of this film, dealing with all the political infighting for power immediately following the death of Stalin, got rave reviews on its release.
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Why bother to give him a code name at all?

The actress Eunice Grayson died yesterday at the age of 90. It was she who cued up the moment when Sean Connery would, as James Bond in Dr No, first say his name in the iconic way that has been parodied mercilessly so many times.

What always struck me is that the only people who ever called Bond by his code name of 007 were his co-workers in British intelligence. He himself would tell everyone his real name, even when introduced to his enemies, which seemed to make having a code name utterly pointless.

As a piece of trivia, the actual voices of Grayson and many of the ‘Bond girls’ (as they were referred to) in the films made in the 1960s and 1970s were never used but instead were overdubbed by voiceover artist Nikki van der Zyl. Why, I don’t know, but it did reinforce the impression that they were largely scenery and interchangeable.

TV review: The Good Place

This is a pretty funny show that has a clever premise. It involves Kristen Bell playing Eleanor Shellstrop, a thirtyish woman who opens her eyes and finds herself facing Michael, an elderly man played by Ted Danson. Michael tells her that she has died but that everything is fine because in the afterlife she is in The Good Place. Who ends up in The Good Place is determined entirely by an algorithm that assigns a numerical score (positive or negative) for every single act on Earth and then computes the final tally. Only the people who have lived the most exemplary lives on Earth end up there. He tells her that The Good Place is divided up into communities of exactly 322 people with each community designed by an architect of the afterlife and this one is his first design. Each person is assigned a soul mate and hers is Chidi Anagonye (played by William Jackson Harper) who was a professor of moral philosophy when he was alive.
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Film review: Spectre (2015) (Spoilers!)

The James Bond series has really got to be treated as straight-up comedies. In the Roger Moore era, the campy humor was more explicit with Moore’s wisecracks letting the audience know that it was all utterly ridiculous. In the Daniel Craig era there seemed to be an attempt to revive the original Sean Connery darker vibe of the hero being more ruthless and cold-blooded, willing to use more freely his license to kill. But despite Bond’s somber expression throughout, this film is a real hoot that had me laughing at its unintended humor.
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The special effects in the Hugo train crash scene

I recently watched the charming 2011 film Hugo set in 1931 about an orphaned boy who, trying to avoid being sent to an orphanage, lives secretly in a railway station in Paris in the area where the large clock tower is. The film is directed by Martin Scorsese and is quite different from the gangster films that he is famous for. A key scene involves a train whose brakes fail and it crashes through the barriers at the end of the track and out of a window before falling to the street below. The idea for this was based on an actual accident that occurred in 1895 in the Montparnasse terminal and was captured in this iconic photograph.

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Film review: Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

My uneven relationship with this mega-franchise continues. After reasonably enjoying the first three installments (episodes IV, V, VI), I was totally turned off by the first of the prequel trilogy (episode I) and swore off the next two. When the series was rebooted, I heard good things about episode VII The Force Awakens and found it reasonably enjoyable, although it seemed to be simply a remake of the original episode IV. Last night I watched the most recent episode and it was really awful.
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If I were Roman Polanski …

… I would keep my mouth shut and hope that people just forget about me. Polanski is the film director who pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year old minor after drugging her, and then fled abroad to escape serving his punishment. Following the recent spate of charges of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has expelled him, along with Bill Cosby. Why it did so long after his conviction is clear. Cosby was recently found guilty for his actions and expelling him while keeping Polanski would have raised awkward questions.
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Film review: The Young Karl Marx (2017)

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth (1818-1883). I recently watched this film that covers the period when the young Marx became friends with Friedrich Engels, a relationship that lasted a lifetime. It deals with the period from 1843-1849, a time as Marx, his wife Jenny, and his young daughter moved from Paris to Brussels before ending up in London. The film ends with Marx and Engels publishing the Communist Manifesto.
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The magnificent Glenda Jackson

Younger generations may not have heard of Glenda Jackson, the fine British actress of stage and film who won two Academy Awards for best actress (Women in Love (1970) and A Touch of Class (1973)). She was always a fiery socialist and her outrage at what Margaret Thatcher was doing led her to give up her acting career and enter parliament as a Labour MP, serving from 1993 to 2015. After she left, she went back to the stage and this year, at the age of 81, she has been nominated for a Tony award for her role in Edward Albee’s play Three Tall Women.
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