Triple feature: Movies for baby boomer audiences

The two months leading up to the annual Oscar ceremony in Hollywood is pretty much the only time of year movies are released that appeal to baby boomers. From December to mid-February there are actually some decent movies in theatres that don’t involve monsters, wall-to-wall violence, sci-fi, zombies or irreversible annihilation of the planet. I’ve recently viewed three movies up for awards that I think you might find interesting:

VICE: Christian Bale is a chameleon. His characterization of former Vice-President Dick Cheney is stunning and so different from the Irving Rosenfeld character he portrayed so well in American Hustleor is it really so different after all? If the current state of America politics doesn’t already make you feel sick, then this movie will put you over the top. Lies, corruption and self-serving politicians aren’t unique to the current administration; it goes back decades and this movie reminds us just how rotten and vulnerable the system truly is. Under George W. Bush, Cheney pulled the strings that manipulated not just a weak, naïve president but entire nations, costing untold lives in a wrong-headed war that benefited his private sector interests.

As a side note here, my friend Louise informed me this week that it was Christian Bale who played the young leading character “Jim” in the wonderful film Empire of the Sun in 1987. It was the story of a young British boy imprisoned by the Japanese in southeast Asia during the second world war. It’s worth checking out on your streaming service too.

GREEN BOOK: Baby boomers lived through the years of racial segregation, civil unrest and demands for equal rights that characterized the sixties in the United States. It’s not news but there’s so much more to be learned from this movie that throws light on current tensions and the ongoing struggle for change. During the 1950s a small green book was available for African Americans in the southern states that directed them to black-only accommodation, restaurants and other services that existed in a racially segregated country.

When black Jamaican-born concert pianist Don Shirley, otherwise known as Doc Shirley, a classical and jazz pianist played by Mahershala Ali is hired to play a series of concerts in the southern states, he hires tough New York bouncer Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen as his driver/bodyguard. The inevitable racial tensions and conflicts arise and remind us that racial intolerance runs deep in the south and continues to some degree even today. As in the movie The Help, I was reminded that these events took place within our lifetime, not that long ago. At the end of the movie, it was revealed that the story was based on real characters and events, which I wish I’d known at the beginning as it would have made the movie even more meaningful.

And, if you haven’t seen Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises about the Russian mafia in London, England, it’s a must-see on your streaming service. If you weren’t already a Viggo Mortensen fan, this one will definitely convert you. But it is a tad graphic.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Seeing Melissa McCarthy in a dramatic role was part of the appeal of seeing this movie based on the true life story of writer Lee Israel. In her mid-fifties, Israel was a has-been best-selling author who once penned New York Times best-sellers on the lives of Talullah Bankhead and Dorothy Kilgallen. When her biography of Estée Lauder failed to sell she was a broke and unemployed alcoholic. Living with her sick cat in a decrepit apartment and several months behind in her rent, she’s desperate for money.

She accidently stumbles on a scheme to make money writing forged letters from famous people like Fanny Brice and Noël Coward. She discovers there’s a market for such documents and with the help of a similarly down-and-out gay friend John played superbly by Richard E. Grant, they deceive collectors to the tune of more than four hundred forgeries before they are brought down by the FBI. The movie is slow and depressing but I thoroughly enjoyed it. McCarthy was perfection in the role of Lee Israel and the sound track of bluesy music was wonderful accompaniment.

I’m confident you will enjoy any or all of these three movies. While none of them can be called uplifting, they are a must-see nonetheless. Chances are there will be nothing more for baby boomers to go see at the theatre until next December so grab ’em while you can. Or wait and view them on your streaming service if you can manage to enjoy a movie without a bucket of theatre popcorn and an over-priced pail of Diet Coke.

Perry was scandalized.

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Triple feature: Movies for baby boomer audiences
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My Generation changed history, forever

For ninety glorious minutes one afternoon last week I was twenty years old again. I immersed myself in every delicious minute of (Sir) Michael Caine’s documentary My Generation playing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Bloor Street West near Bathurst in Toronto. The film is a macro view of life in swingin’ London in the 1960s, the historical genesis and touchstone for baby boomers.

The film particularly resonated with me personally because I was in London in September 1967 while traveling around Europe for five months. I had just turned twenty. Watching all those old films of baby boomers in their sixties’ gear walking down Carnaby Street put me right back there on those warm, sunny September days fifty-one years ago, when all the store windows featured reproduction Twiggy mannequins with starry eyes, an androgynous haircut and that famous wonderful face. Ironically, many of the boomer cultural icons like Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and certainly Michael Caine weren’t even baby boomers. They were born in the early 1940s but we’re prepared to overlook that in the name of revolution.

Narrating My Generation, Michael Caine used many clips from his “Alfie” days to take us on the magical mystery tour of our past. Voice-overs by Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltry, David Bailey, Twiggy, Penelope Tree, Mary Quant, David Hockney and many other sixties icons brought context to the flashes of still and moving film on the screen. Strangely, they didn’t show current pictures of them which would probably have made a lot of us feel a whole lot better about how we’ve aged. I remember having a giant black and white poster of Michael Caine as Harry Palmer on the wall beside my bed at Willard Hall in 1966-67. At 6’2″, blonde and gorgeous, in my eyes he was perfection.

The sixties launched a fashion and cultural revolution.

Michael Caine is the personification of what the sixties movement meant in the social context of 1960s England, saying “For the first time the future was shaped by young people.” After the deprivations and repression of the war and its followup years, the boomer generation, for the first time in history, shaped history. The rigid British class system was attacked and dismantled by young, creative working class talent. Never before had cockneys like Caine, Twiggy, and David Bailey or working class lads like The Beatles and Rolling Stones been able to rise above their station and achieve notoriety for their talent, pushing aside The Establishment.

When I was in England in 1967, like everyone else at that time, I listened faithfully to pirate Radio Caroline. It offered all the latest in-demand pop music, the polar opposite of BBC fare and they broadcast from an unregistered ship that moved around about three miles off the coast of England. If you haven’t already seen the movie “Pirate Radio” be sure to check it out on Netflix or another streaming source. Amazing! The soundtrack alone is mind-blowing.

The audience was obviously full of boomers and as we were sitting in the dark watching, I could hear laughs and assorted other vocal reactions to the scenes unfolding on the screen. So much recognition of our past. It was totally indulgent. The only problem was it moved too quickly and ended too soon. I could have sat there for at least another half hour as there was so much more that happened way back then that wasn’t covered. The pace was rather frenetic toward the end of the film. But it was still a glorious trip down memory lane. Because it’s a documentary with a limited audience it may be hard to find in local theatres but you can get it on iTunes. It’s a boomer must-see. Gen X’ers, Ys and millennials have a lot to thank us for.

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Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 describes . . . the horror . . . the horror

As if we weren’t frightened enough already by what’s happening south of the border, Michael Moore just added the finishing touches with his current documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 which is now showing in movie theatres. (Coincidently, I’m also currently reading FEAR by Bob Woodward.) Call me a masochist but watching the fall of the United States of America is fascinating and tragically sad at the same time. We knew when we went to see Fahrenheit 11/9, written, produced and directed by Moore, that it would be an unsettling experience and our worst fears were realized.

The breakdown of American society and the corruption of their democratic system are sad to witness. Most of the movie’s content is predictable—how on earth did someone like Donald Trump ever get elected and what does the future hold? Moore spares no one in his condemnation of politicians. Both the Republican and Democrat parties are rotten within, to the extent that Democratic party big-wigs cheated Bernie Saunders out of winning certain states by falsifying the voting results to put third-place Hillary in the lead.

Understandably, a great of time is devoted to the tragedy of the water system in Flint, Michigan, Moore’s home town. It’s a metaphor for greater social problems. Citizens are being exposed to permanent, irreversible health problems as a result of drinking polluted water with a high lead content, something that was totally preventable, fixable and still remains unfixed. Even President Obama was complicit. When he visited Flint, a largely black community, the locals thought that finally they would get their water source rerouted from the Flint River to its original safe source, Lake Huron. They were expecting acknowledgement of their problem, help from FEMA and a return to clean water. Obama even pretended to drink the water, smiled, shook hands with the locals, flew off in Airforce 1—and nothing changed. That lack of action and casting aside of their concerns left the people of Flint feeling defeated. As a result, they realize their legitimate concerns fell on deaf ears and their votes are meaningless.

Undervalued teachers in the United States make less than half what Canadian teachers make. Many live below the poverty line. They had to break with their union and strike for health insurance.

The explanation of the teachers’ strike in various states starting with West Virginia was particularly enlightening. Teachers’ wages are below the poverty level in many American states (very different from Canada) and when they were on strike the teachers still had food drives and delivered meals to children at home who receive their breakfast and lunch every day through the schools. Otherwise, those children would go hungry. In order for teachers to receive any kind of health insurance, they were required by contract to wear FitBits to confirm they were getting in 10,000 steps a day. This punitive decree was signed into law through the collaboration of a weak union and a fat, old, white-guy governor who probably has never walked 10,000 steps in his life.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is a followup to Moore’s earlier Fahrenheit 9/11 and a riff on November 9th, the day Trump was elected. Moore equates that day with a disaster for America right up there with 9/11. He takes a lot of criticism for his extremism and sensationalism but we need people to draw attention to what’s going on. It’s a disturbing movie but an absolute must-see. No one benefits when everyone looks away and assumes good will prevail. Just ask any German who lived through the 1930s and 1940s.

On the bright side, the surge of indignation and anger over the state of democracy in the United States has prompted many formerly passive, intelligent side liners—a great many of them women—to become involved in the nasty business of politics in an effort to get things back on track. It worked in Iceland where the women took over and got the country sorted out. Hopefully they can put an end to this horror show before it’s too late and the apocalypse occurs.

We caught a matinée and it was reassuring to see so many single boomers in the theatre. The subject matter obviously resonates and they took the time to go see and support Michael Moore’s documentary. I hope you do too.

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Juliet, Naked does not involve nudity (sorry!), but you might want to take a peek anyway.

There’s a reason I haven’t posted any movie reviews lately. That’s because until now there was only one movie in the entire year of 2018 that I thought was worthwhile for baby boomers to see and that was The Book Club. This is not to be confused with The Book Shop which I saw a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t worth the price of admission. I went to see The Book Shop is because it starred the wonderful Bill Nighy and was obviously about books so it offered two potential possibilities. It was an adaptation of Penelope Lively’s novel that really didn’t merit being made into a movie. In fact, there’s such a dearth of movies for boomers that I’m probably going to have to watch The Book Club again just to see something remotely relevant to me.

Anyway, this week I went to see Juliet, Naked starring two of my favourite actors, Ethan Hawke (loved him in Maudie) and Chris O’Dowd. Rose Byrne plays Annie, their mutual love interest. O’Dowd is Duncan, a hapless university professor who has a peculiar obsession with a former rock star called Tucker Crowe, played perfectly by Ethan Hawke. Duncan worships Crowe’s old music and lyrics and hosts a blog for the few Tucker Crowe fans left in the world. As old rockers devoted to sixties music, baby boomers can relate to Duncan’s fascination—who among us isn’t still marveling and analyzing Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Duncan’s partner, Annie doesn’t share his fascination and when she posts a derogatory comment on the blog, the elusive Tucker Crowe who has been hiding for more than twenty years in the United States, responds and they become internet pals. Then things get complicated and at times comical.

I won’t give away the complete story line, but I did enjoy the movie. It was fun; the writing was not too cliché and the British setting in a seaside town was cool to watch. The white cliffs of Dover were visible; the movie’s British origins is what prompted me to give the movie a try. I’m glad I did. It’s light, funny and a lovely way to pass a couple of hours with a bucket of popcorn and pail full of Diet Coke.

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The Book Club is a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours

It’s been eight long months since I’ve been to a movie theatre as there’s simply nothing I’ve wanted to see. And boomers are traditionally big movie fans. We have so many memories of wonderful Saturday afternoon matinées as kids watching westerns, Looney Tunes and The Bowery Boys. Our movie memories probably also include steaming up the car windows at drive-ins or covertly holding hands with high school crushes in a dark theatre on Saturday evening.

Image resultSci-fi, monsters, violence and super heroes are just not my thing. So, I was delighted when The Book Club was released starring four wonderful boomer broads—Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda (although at 80, Fonda’s technically not a boomer). It’s about time a movie was released that appealed to our demographic. It opened against Dead Pool and Avengers on a long weekend which gives you an idea of popular movie fare these days and cinemas are wondering why box office sales are down.

The Book Club follows four sixty-something women who have been friends and fellow book club members for several decades. Candice Bergen plays Sharon, a divorced federal court judge whose ex-husband is predictably engaged to a blonde twinkie half his age. Nothing new or innovative here. Diane Keaton plays herself and a character coincidently also called Diane, an attractive, widowed mother of two grown daughters who treat their mother like a frail relic. A trite premise and not particularly convincing with Keaton in the role, but so the story goes. They’ve decided it’s time she moved away from her friends to occupy a granny flat in the basement of one of her daughters’ homes. Carol, played by Mary Steenburgen is a frustrated wife in need of some lovin’ from her husband played by Craig T. Nelson. Jane Fonda’s Vivian is a wealthy career single lady who owns a successful hotel and allows men into her life only as needed for recreational sex.

When Vivian presents Fifty Shades of Grey as the book club’s new reading assignment the other three women are skeptical. I was worried the movie might treat reading this book as too shocking for the group and was prepared to be indignant. Baby boomers, as you recall invented the sexual revolution in the sixties and that line of thinking would just be incongruent with reality. To the script writers’ credit, the group’s disapproval stemmed from irrevelance which was more believable and credible. Reading the Fifty Shades series ignites some minor reevaluations of their lives. Sharon the judge tries online dating; Carol tries Viagra on her disinterested husband; Vivian tries keeping her distance from an old lover, beautifully played by Don Johnson; Diane conveniently meets a handsome single man on a plane, which is a rather gratuitous twist considering how remote the chances of something like that happening actually are.

Jane Fonda, playing Vivian was the least impressive of the four book club members.

The movie had some genuinely good belly laughs and although a bit predictable, was overall rather enjoyable. Candice Bergen was by far my favourite of the four actresses. She looked like a more beautiful version of most of us—no longer the svelte character she played in Murphy Brown and her Book Club character was the most believable and appealing. Diane Keaton was Diane Keaton and her character was damn lucky to meet Mr. Right. Mary Steenburgen was OK but I’m personally not a huge fan of her style and delivery. Jane Fonda was the least agreeable of all four characters. Fonda played Vivian much the same way she played Grace on TV’s Grace and Frankie—tense, angst-ridden and over-acted. Despite her excellent plastic surgery, Fonda could barely move her upper lip which was distracting.

Famous movie stars don’t necessarily guarantee stars by movie reviewers.The Globe and Mail gave The Book Club only one measly star which I thought was a bit harsh. On the way home from the theatre, a radio review I listened to was similarly dismissive of the movie. But the radio review was offered by two young guys which explains their take on its appeal. Hardly reliable or fair. My boomer gal pals and I had a nice afternoon. The movie was light, funny and entertaining. It won’t win any awards but there was plenty to relate to and we considered it great fun. Giant kudos to whoever for having the courage to produce a movie with all four leading ladies over the age of 65. Take that, action hero fans. I only hope I don’t have to wait another eight months to find another movie that has even the remotest appeal for baby boomers. Remember, we’re still here!

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All The Money In The World . . . doesn’t buy happiness

John Paul Getty III with his mother Gail after his release.

If you’re a boomer like me, you probably remember the sensational newspaper coverage of a brutal kidnapping in the early seventies. Paul Getty, the sixteen-year-old grandson of the world’s richest man J. Paul Getty, was snatched off the street in Rome and held for ransom of $17 million. The drama played out for several months. Getty Sr. refused to pay the ransom while the Calabrian organized crime ring who kidnapped him grew increasingly desperate. I clearly remember the universal shock and horror when we read that the kidnappers amputated Getty Jr.’s ear and sent it to a newspaper to a) prove that they still had him and, b) to confirm their commitment to following through with further amputations unless their demands were met.

Watching the movie All The Money In The World filled in all the background information that was missing and forgotten about the notorious kidnapping. The substitution of fallen-from-grace Kevin Spacey with Canadian Christopher Plummer was a deft move. Plumber was perfect in his portrayal of Getty Sr. as a calculating, dispassionate, eccentric old billionaire. He protected his fortune greedily while indulging his passion for collecting art with the love and dedication he should have afforded his own family. Casting of Charlie Plummer as Paul Getty Jr. was also excellent and he even somewhat resembled Michelle Williams who played Getty Jr.’s mother. Williams played Gail Getty with just the right amount of angst, indignation and anger. Gail married a Getty son and divorced him without any form of compensation from the Getty family in order to retain custody of her three children. That decision left her broke and incapable of raising the ransom money herself leaving her at the mercy of her former father-in-law.

Michelle Williams played Getty Jr.’s mother Gail, accompanied by Mark Wahlberg as Getty Sr.’s negotiator.

All The Money In The World is a good movie. Not only do we learn the story behind the story, but we’re treated to beautiful shots of Rome and the Italian countryside. We watch the negotiations for a $17 million ransom drop over time as the kidnapping ‘contract’ is sold to a second crime ring. And, there are the obvious conclusions to be drawn about ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ and the disastrous effects it often has on second and third generations in wealthy families. My gal pals and I really enjoyed our couple of hours watching this movie and I’m confident you will too. We gave it four beautifully manicured thumbs-up.

You are special mes très chères.

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