Monday, August 03, 2020

Some Starry Night 

Sometimes the Universe doesn't care for your plans.

As Toronto finally joins the rest of Ontario in “Stage Three”, which sounds more like a cancer diagnosis than a pandemic economic recovery plan, we’re trying to return to normal except we really aren’t. We’ve had almost 40,000 cases of COVID-19 with almost 2800 deaths, so there’s really nothing normal here, new normal or otherwise. Whether it’s all the restaurants that can’t fully re-open or the closure of movie theatres or the fact that travelling somewhere, anywhere, now feels unnecessarily risky, the pandemic has sucked a good deal of fun from the summer. More than the pandemic however is my own skin which won’t quite heal from the urticaria that has plagued me for the last eighteen months. Fun in the sun is a no-go. Stepping out in the searing bright sunshine almost immediately leads to painful hives. I’d love to go for a paddle but sitting in kayak sweating would be my undoing. A cool swim might be the perfect summer treat until I have to shower and soap up which may turn my skin into a living version of kimchi.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on the stuff I can enjoy this summer instead of all the stuff I’ll miss due to either the Pandemic or Urticaria. I might not get the long rides, kayaking or swims but there will be hammock hangs, grilled meats, home made ice cream, and movies on a shiny, new TV beneath the chill of the A/C.

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Thursday, July 02, 2020

Seen in June 

Hilda and Twig off on an adventure. Image via The Movie DB.

As the days grow longer it’s harder to find screen time. Ha! During a pandemic lockdown there is more time than ever. The presence of so much time would absolutely flummox Einstein or Hawking. Where did it come from and where it is going? Straight down my gullet via my eye sockets that’s where. Here’s what my eyes swallowed whole this month.

Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist William
Friedkin, director of The French Connection, The Exorcist and To Live and Die in LA, is interviewed at length on the making of The Exorcist. This is sort of dull only because most of the film is just Friedkin expounding on his film and influences, which is exactly the sort of crap I love. Unfortunately, most of the other principle players and contributors have passed away so we really don’t get their view at all. Now if only I had the guts to watch The Exorcist.

Hilda S01
This is a wonderfully cute cartoon for kids full of fantastical giants, trolls, elves and magic all encountered by an adventurous little girl. The show is based on a comic book and maintains the really lovely quality of colour and line that is so gorgeously rendered in this compact show full of personality and wonder.

Space Force. Journey to the unneccesary. Image via The Movie DB.

Space Force S01
Apple TV+
In the parlance of our times, I binged this show waiting for something funny to happen but it never did. This show has plenty of talent such as Steve Carrll and John Malkovich trying to do a send up of the newly formed branch of the military issued by POTUS with the ridiculous name of Space Force but unfortunately there are times they take themselves a little seriously. This could’ve been Avenue 5, HBO’s space based comedy, with a purpose but instead it’s stuck somewhere in between a workplace comedy and a family drama. It’s toothless as a political farce. I laughed out loud once; when an American chimp astronaut is captured by a Chinese space station, Carell praises his brave simian comrade while admonishing him under his breath with, “He’d better not talk!"

Upload S01
Amazon Prime
I binge watched this show thinking, “there's something here” but there wasn’t. Another futuristic comedy in which our lead, Nathan, is seriously injured in an accident and is prematurely uploaded to a posh afterlife by his girlfriend. In the future, when you die, you can have your consciousness saved to a hard drive with a virtual reality. The more you spend the better your afterlife is. In this scenario, Nathan’s customer support representative, considered his “angel”, unexpectedly (well, not really) falls in love with him. Troubles and what not, ensue.

Cheer Up
High school-aged Finnish Teen-agers compete for top spot in competitive cheerleading. They finish last in the standings, but first in your heart. It’s really a lovely documentary showing kids going through family troubles, getting on with life and trying to jump from a human pyramid with a smile on their face.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Didi & Gogo Take a Ride 

You meet all kinds on Toronto's streetcars.

On a street car one Saturday, sitting behind me were a couple of real quality chaps. Their use of language was not sublime but limited, basic and coarse. I could smell their cheap, damp cigarette residue a mile away. 

One of them was clearly a native Torontonian as he called to his travelling companion:
“Phil! Phil! Phil…”

“Yeh, what?”

“That was my old school right there.”

“There’s nothing there.”

Phil was obviously the more observant of the two. He had pointed out several times that “there’s nobody there. What’s that bitch talkin’ bout? There ain’t nobody there.”

“I know, sh**head, it was my school. Gone now.”

“Probably gonna be a new condo or some other f**king bulls**.”


I learned two things about this man and his travelling companion. He grew up in Toronto, and now even in his late-50s he hasn’t ventured far. He, at some point got an education (a fact belied by his grammar). He is most likely Catholic. Though the school at some point was referred to as Regent Park/Duke of York was only recently purchased by the Catholic School Board for redevelopment as a new school, he used its “Saint something-or-other” as its designation, a practice I only know to have been done by Catholic schools. Protestant schools were far more likely to name a school after an alcoholic or racist white guy. In any event, it is currently an empty site. I remember when the school was demolished and how the dust was constantly in the air while the machines did their work. More telling was the smell of mould, like musty, mildewy books most likely left to be churned up and crushed along with the brick and cement. 

But back to Didi and Gogo (I’m not sure why I called them that? They were like the two hobos of Waiting for Godot but I’ve long forgotten Beckett’s character names). Why was I being such a petty jerk in my assessment of them? Classic classism I guess. In all honesty I thought to myself, “Why am I so annoyed by these two troglodytes and why do I think they are troglodytes? What is a troglodyte?” Well, firstly, they didn’t sit together but instead, separately took up two seats each (I believe the term is “Man-spreading”), and sat with an additional row between them all while carrying on a conversation by basically yelling to each other. I mean if you want to talk then sit closer together. Everything about them, especially the way they spoke, full of cursing (particularly cursing about other people they spoke of) and just their overall – what? Aura? Body language? Whatever it was, it is exactly the same tiny clues that they would pick up from me to assume I was some hipster douchebag (designery eye-glasses, jaunty scarf, tapered jeans, thoughtfully unshaven, scowling while scrolling through my iPhone or countless other unsaid characteristics I’m unaware of). 

This topic fascinates me. How quickly we pile up tiny indicators to put people in box. I do it so often I’m genuinely surprised when someone I’ve quantified turns out to be very different. I remind myself not to “judge a book by its cover” even if a lot of books are easily and correctly judged by the design of the jacket photo or illustration. Still there are a lot of books in this world with easily judged covers and even more people who by the tilt of their head, their manner of dress and speech are probably exactly the kind of person you think they are. 

This still doesn’t explain why I was so annoyed by their unlimited and entirely meaningless conversation. Its volume? Loud and annoying. Its content? Dull and pointless. Their rudeness, loudness and assumed appropriation of the space was driving me nuts. Why should I care? Why should everyone else apply societal norms but these two can flout them? It was almost as though their complete lack of agency in every other part of their lives entitled them to exert themselves as much as possible in this public realm. And here I thought I was the entitled one? In truth, I am pretty lucky. Born in the right place at the right time - the proverbial third base so I guess I can let these guys have their moment of empowerment, after all, while I can steal a base at a leisurely stroll, they might never make it home.


Monday, June 22, 2020

Seen in May 

Famous plane attack scene from North by Northwest
Cary Grant in the most cinematic way to try to kill someone in North by Northwest. Image via The Movie DB
It turns out, the merry month of May was spent on the couch watching the world go by through many panes of glass (windows, monitors, televisions). Yet it was also a good month. Snacks were snacked and television streamed directly into my head. What can I say? Times like this require a diversion or two. Here's what diverted me in May.

North by Northwest

One of my favourite films and a huge hit for Hitchcock, this story starts as a case of mistaken identity and kicks of a road trip, cross country chase with Cary Grant as a cad of an advertising executive desperate to find out the identity of George Kaplan, a cipher whom James Mason wants dead. It all leads to more famous non sequitur set pieces like Grant being lured to a corn field where someone tries to kill him with a crop duster. Why? Because it’s fantastic cinema that’s why. Oh and why not through in the world’s most glamorous industrial designer, Eva Marie Saint while you’re at it because Hitch had a fetish for platinum blondes. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen this but only this time did I realize the title of the film comes from the moment Grant finally is told everything and plans to film northwest from Illinois to South Dakota leaving from the Northwest Airlines airport gates. Is it convoluted? Of course. Is it complicated? Sure. It’s pure Hitchcock in Technicolor with one of the best damn movie scores of all time by Hitchcock regular Bernard Herrmann.

Westworld S03
HBO on Crave

Fans dumped on this Sci-fi series about a bunch of androids who self-actualize and work to save themselves by infiltrating human society for being too slow and cerebral but HBO persevered and added plenty of action sequences to keep the energy up. In general, this show does suffer from alluding to a great secret that will blow our minds, only to hold out so long that by the time the secret is revealed we forgot why we wanted to know. In season two we discover the park known as Westworld was nothing more than a way to harvest data from the human guests. In this season we discover the humans are as programmed as the robots. We’ve given so much of ourselves to the apps that dominate our lives that now those apps dominate us! Well d’uh. Several recent and important elections manipulated data and misinformation so effectively that a failed real estate developer/reality game show host became president of the United States. Yet, with this plot point aside, seeing Dolores work her technical mastery throughout our very connected future lives was a lot of fun. Though I really doubt exposing people to their own data would cause an anarchistic collapse of society.


Another Hitchcock classic filmed to give the perception of single take which gives the whole film a surprisingly stagey feel. The film opens when two college chums reveal they’ve just killed another old classmate solely for the kicks. He was a mediocre person. They were superior people. Why shouldn’t they create their own moral universe. The film seems to take this as some kind of valid argument that any intelligent person couldn’t dismiss in minutes yet it plays out throughout the film as the killers stash the body in the very apartment where they are hosting a soirée. Their old college professor played by Jimmy Stewart senses something is awry and spends the evening trying to pry out what has happened to the missing colleague. Despite some clumsy moments it’s a pretty incredible set up with the lighting changing from afternoon to dusk and a giant nearby neon sign suggesting the word “strangle” burning just outside the apartment window.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

I Can Get Used to This Lifestyle 

"The COVID-19 Lockdown has cleaned the air over Nepal and northern India. So much so that for the first time in many years, Mt Everest can be seen again from Kathmandu Valley even though it is 200km away." via the Nepali Times

That didn’t take long. Happy one hundred days of self-isolation and counting. I realized as I was making breakfast that I’ve consumed at least 2 kilograms of oatmeal and a litre of maple syrup in that time. I’ve also seen just how much chocolate a man can eat given 3 months in isolation. For me this isolation thing has been fine. Still working. Still getting paid. Full pantry. Yet there is a weirdness that everything is different and it will take awhile for that to go away. The air is cleaner, the waters of the Venice canals have cleared (no sign of dolphins however), people are riding bikes everywhere and everything is different now. How different? This different:

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

21 Things That Will Be Different in the Future 

image of an office in a parking lot
The Office of the Future

The question keeps coming up. After a global epidemic has ravaged our populations and our economies, what will the future look like? What will the future of work be; what will the future of travel be; what will entertainment, sports, or restaurants look like? I think I have some answers.
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