Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Seen in… May 

Hey hey, the gang's all here. Image via The Movie DB

A month of crowd-pleasing blockbusters and one worthy Oscar winner. We’ve had such a warm (nay, hot) spring in Toronto that it feels like summer is already here. There’s ice cream to be had, air conditioned theatres to soak in and warm evening bike rides over wet streets to be enjoyed. There’s no denying good movies make summers better. Who am I kidding? Every summer needs some cheesy movies too.

Avengers: Infinity Wars
Almost a decade of Marvel films have alluded to or directly led to this film and it’s second half coming out next year and it a big way it feels like Marvel is still playing with us. These films have contributed to a culture of not being able to discuss a film without risk of spoilers. How can you talk about a movie when you don’t want to be the bad guy who ruins it for everyone else? Along with television series such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, we’ve all participated in the oddest conspiracy of silence since JFK’s notorious philandering. Yet, I’ll try to give my two bits without giving anything away.

In this film we begin moments after the film Thor Ragnarok ended only to find Thor, his brother Loki and Hulk defeated by the purple-skinned evil lord of the Universe, Thanos. We then briefly see various members of Earth’s mightiest heroes living their lives; during a stroll in the park, on a school field trip, negotiating a lunch order, when the long missing Bruce Banner appears out of the sky to warn of the approach of Thanos. We learn of Thanos’ desire to complete his magic glove (or gauntlet if you prefer) empowered by the mystical and dangerous Infinity Stones and of his plan to use this power to correct the Universe’s overpopulation problem by simply eradicating half of all living things. This is probably the most radical act of environmental terrorism since Greenpeace scaled an oil rig to erect a flag. Thanos sends a trusted lieutenant to take both the Time Stone and Mind Stones (I’m not going to get into it) from the Avengers who is met with resistance from Iron Man, Spider-man, Dr. Strange, et al. Game on. Sort of. We still spend much of the movie re-assembling the team of supers called the Avengers from all corners of the Earth. From Scotland to Africa the band slowly gets back together for one last gig. Scarlet Witch, Vision, Captain America and Black Panther all team up for the mighty battle that we know is coming. Then it is over, seemingly with a snap of Thanos’ fingers. There are a lot of problems with this movie - mostly that you might pay $15 for yet another set-up to yet another movie. At this point we’ve all put so much in the franchise that we want a pay-off which we still don’t get. Worse yet, despite its own scattered, multi-plot, multi-threaded story line, this movie actually takes time to set up yet another franchise rather than just resolve the story we just watched. And, here’s the spoiler alert, a lot of crucial characters die, but we know they aren’t really gone, because they’ve all been given sequels that have yet to happen. Basically, this movie employs a “Time Stone” that feels like it will be kind of an “instant replay” stone or perhaps a magic Mulligan that will restore all of our heroes just in time to save everyone despite having already lost. What that effectively does is remove the stakes. An action or drama depends on high stakes. Will a couple stay together or ruin a family? Will the heist go off without a hitch or will the thieves go to jail? Will a pilot from a farm save the world or will everyone be killed? Marvel has essentially removed the biggest stake of all: death. When the film ended, the crowd I was with left quietly. Not a peep. No excited talk. No hollers of fun or joy. Just quiet. I don’t think it was the quiet of reverence (such as after the ending of Dunkirk) or of shock at what we just witnessed. It was the shock of “meh” and despite that, knowing we would all plunk down another $15 in a year just to see how it all ended.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Image from page 150 of "The Canadian field-naturalist" (1924)

I hate my backpack. I hate all backpacks. I even hate the name. Back. Pack. I hate this entire category of luggage. There was a moment when I thought what a great idea a “No-strap Backback” was, until I realized it was a terrible idea that was also an April Fools prank. Even the most ergonomically designed pack is putting stress on your shoulders and spine (even “strapless” ones). I hate the sweatiness of a pack covering a large portion of my back. What’s the point of wearing breathable fabric outerwear if most of it is covered with a heavy nylon unbreathable pack stuffed with junk?

Of course, it’s not really about the bag itself. Living in a city where you leave your house for hours at a time and don’t have a car to secure personal affects means you have to carry everything you might need with you. I’m fascinated by the “Persona” project where an artist asks to photograph a person and the belongings they deem essential enough to carry with them everyday (a surprising number of people carry two phones and knives - big knives?!) If I emptied out my backpack you’d find an asthma inhaler, a handful of ibuprofen, maybe a protein bar, a couple of notebooks, multiple pens, a phone cable and a backup battery to recharge my phone on the go. Probably the oddest things I carry are part of a repair kit for my bike, namely a wrench and a pump (a compact pump but a pump nonetheless).
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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Seen in… April

Hey there, Brigsby Bear. Image via The Movie Database

This morning I was reading some reviews from users on the site Letterboxd of the latest Marvel movie and some people were simply dumping all over it, while others were gushing with the kind of hyperbole one expects from a fan. In recent years we’ve realized that’s what the Internet has become. A place of divisive thought where everyone poses as an expert. The problem with film criticism (or any form really; art, literary etc) is that you know what you like and what you don’t and you think “like” and “don’t like” equals “good” and “bad”. Yet this is not so and that’s why “critics” exist and a lot of the approach is based in literary criticism and theory - so it’s kind of highfalutin and full of $10 words and such. Still, there’s nothing wrong with sharing your opinions about why you like or didn’t like a movie, but being critical isn't capital “C” criticism, which is fine. I realize I can sound like a jerk when I write this stuff. I’m trying to be funny not jerky, but I get how being both unfunny and jerky equals “jerk”. Henceforth, if something sounds jerky remember not to take it too seriously.

I guess I feel guilty about saying how bad Temple of Doom was…

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1 & 2

This is a surprisingly great adaptation of the movies to a continuing series of 30 minute episodes. If you know and love Sam Raimi’s films, The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, then this is a slam dunk as the same level of gore, fright, camp and humour are maintained and balanced throughout. Bruce Campbell is back as the eponymous Ash, and we find that he’s pretty much the same immature, irresponsible slayer of evil he was 30 years ago. Somehow Ash has kept the evil book of the dead, the Necronomicon, that opens a portal of evilness upon the world without consequence for all the time that has passed between the original movies and today but of course, that couldn’t last if you want to make a series about the forces of evil fighting a one-handed guy who uses a chainsaw as a prosthetic. You’d think seeing our hero and his new young friends getting into and out of more evil circumstances would grow old but after 20 episodes it’s just as fun as the first time.

Between a rock and a hard place and a disappointing sequel. Image via The Movie Database

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Eew and ugh. Despite Spielberg’s deftness with the camera this is a terrible movie, only partly due to the deafness of the script. It would be pointless to go back to an old movie and be critical of its political correctness but luckily there is no reason to revisit this movie anyway. The movie begins with our hero, Indiana Jones narrowly escaping what looks like a more interesting adventure only to board a plane set to crash over India. Since the previous film, Jones has for no reason, picked up a 10 or 11-year-old sidekick (who annoying yells every line), swapped his previous love interest of Karen Allen for a tag along night club performer, Kate Capshaw but maintained his trademark swagger. This unlikely trio wind up in a tiny Indian village that has lost a sacred stone which Indy, without much provocation, decides to help retrieve it. What follows is pretty bad. I tend to think of this film like the 3 Star Wars where a series goes off the rails, but fortunately the film that followed (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) was one of the best.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Seen in… March

Phantom Thread Image via The Movie DB

A busy month left me squeezing in only a few movies, one documentary and a new season of Jessica Jones. In truth I did spend a lot of time rewatching 3 seasons of Silicon Valley while learning how to use a newly procured sewing machine so that I could hem some pants. All I can say is that seamstresses are underpaid. After failing to program my viewing for Black History Month I thought I’d have another go around International Women’s Day. This also did not go as planned and again was a reminder to just treat every month as an opportunity to see stories of the Black American experience or from the female perspective.

Phantom Thread

P.T. Anderson has done it again. He made a masterful film that was incredibly beautiful and dull until he twisted the knife. I feel like the theatre is really the only place to see this type of movie because you paid for it and then you feel obliged to stick around and pay attention. If this were a movie you were watching at home you probably would have abandoned it to make a sandwich and turned it off before the turn in the story. Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock (snicker) an extraordinarily talented and renowned dressmaker and designer. He’s also an obsessive narcissist with a strong Machiavellian streak who suffers bouts of deep depression. He has a habit of taking young models as his muse and discarding them when he’s done, until he meets his match in will and focus, Alma. Alma is a beautiful young woman who happens to have a naturally perfect dress size. As their relationship strengthens so too does Reynolds’ control over Alma until she begins to feel more like a fitting mannequin than partner. The odd thing about Reynolds’ mistreatment of women is that he is surrounded by them and his sister, who is the only one who seems to keep any eye on the business is a particular influence. This movie reminds me of older films of the 70s where a quiet desperate power dynamic was playing out before our eyes. In the end, I’m not sure you could really say what this film is about (Relationships? Co-dependence? Creativity? Love? Depression? All of the above?) which is exactly what leaves it sticking around in your head after having seen it. It also reminded me of a more recent film, The Duke of Burgundy but I’ll leave it to you to make your own connections.

Annihilation Image via The Movie DB


Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former marine, whose husband disappeared a year earlier on a military mission and returns only to become seriously ill almost on her doorstep. While rushing to the hospital Lena and her husband are immediately stopped, taken into custody and quarantined by government agents. It turns out, Lena’s husband was part of an expeditionary force that entered a remote area which has become contaminated (in a manner of speaking) after a meteorite crashes there. The contaminated zone, dubbed “The Shimmer” is growing and no one who has entered has returned. With the goal of discovering what has infected her husband Lena volunteers to join quartet of fierce women for another mission into the zone. It is only asked once why the team are entirely female, with the only answer being they were the right personnel for the job. Within The Shimmer, the team lose all sense of time, directions and purpose. In this sense, it is very much like Tarkovsky’s Stalker. What they discover is part mind-blowing sci-fi, part thrill of the unknown and part philosophical quandary. In this sense, it is very much like Ridley Scott’s Alien. In the end, Lena prevails or at least the thing that Lena has become.
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Monday, April 16, 2018

Stomach to Ground Control 

Image via the Florida Center for Instructional Technology

Me to stomach: Hey, what’s up?

Stomach: Um? How do you feel about staying home today?

Me: Why?
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