Monday, April 11, 2022

A Certain Loss of Grace 

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Early spring in Toronto is a wretched sight. The snow has melted and muddied the soggy parks. The puddled pathways are dirty with mashed litter pressed into every crevice. The city's trees, still dormant, are barren, brown and lifeless. Any green on the grass is but a stain. The hems of buildings are splattered dark with damp and mildew. Every grey building is smudged into the grey sky. Toronto looks like a place that was once affluent, but is now down on its luck, exhaling "a certain loss of grace" as Italo Calvino* might say. It's as though the wet of the season has washed all the colours away. The wealthy have left behind their mansions, long since converted to boarding houses, so sub-divided and mean, that their inner smallness bursts down slanted stairs, past improvised doors and out cracked windows. The coldness of the air is the only thing suppressing the earthy rot from blooming. Gusts of wind whip around corners carrying a confetti of garbage and a skitter of empty plastic bottles.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Seen in March 


David Bowie as the most believable alien ever.

In like a lion, out like a lamb, past the Ides of March and beyond. My time was stolen by work, podcasts and Wordle, but I did find the time to watch some classics, a cult classic, maybe a new classic and a few duds.

Semi-Pro
Amazon Prime
Semi-entertaining is more like it. This movie about a struggling American Basketball team fighting for a chance to be one of the four teams to join the NBA feels like a string of seven-minute sketches strung together on the off chance it may make a story, but it does not. It's also a Will Ferrell vehicle where he plays the team owner, player-coach who is sensational promoter of a sub-par on-court product. I suppose there are some chuckles seeing Ferrell flail between being a nightclub impresario in platform shoes to an out of shape 1970s basketball player but not enough. Woody Harrelson is brought into the story as a secondary narrative of redemption or something but there's not much here to redeem.

The Righteous Gemstones S02
Crave
The second season of Danny McBride's HBO comedy about a roguish family who operate a successful evangelist church does not disappoint.


Tiffany Hadish crosses the line to catch a killer.

The Afterparty
Apple TV+
This eight episode mini-series murder-mystery-comedy is packed to the rafters with comedic talent and is a lot of fun as a sort of "Rashomon-like" take on those Agatha Christie murder mysteries. In each episode the lead detective, played by Tiffany Hadish, listens to a suspect tell their version of the events that led to the death of the party's host, Xavier, a Beiber-esque pop star played by Dave Franco. As Hadish's character says, everybody is the star of their own movie.

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Friday, April 01, 2022

Vernal 

I'm not sure what the Rites of Spring are but I'm sure this woman does.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020, and on March 11, 2020, declared it a pandemic.

On March 13, 2020, my company ordered working from home as mandatory.

The 2022 Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurred at 11:33 a.m. on Sunday, March 20.

As of March 21, 2022, but only until April 27, 2022, masking will continue to be mandatory in the following settings:
  • Public transit;
  • Health care settings;
  • Retirement homes;
  • Long-term care homes; and
  • Congregate care and living settings.

It seems almost poetic that the lifting of pandemic restrictions, just over two years after it began, happened very near the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. Like a new beginning. Here in Toronto, we've seen a pretty mixed winter with mostly crummy weather but also some surprisingly sunny days. Recently, on a sunny Sunday morning, the air had that febrile mix of wetness, warmness, freshness and mildew like a sweaty animal on a breezy day. This was followed by a freezing northwesterly wind that brought rain, snow and ice pellets, which dashed all of our hopes and dreams.

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

Seen in February 


This Eakins painting isn't a scene from The Power of the Dog, but could be.

It's been a long, hard, two-year long winter. I've probably re-watched more old favourites than discovering new things and to be honest, maybe I haven't been that interested in "challenging" film or television so maybe that explains my tepid viewing lately. You be the judge.


A typically lush scene from Arcane

Arcane S01
Netflix
Yet another video game to television series conversion that has left fans craving for more. This is a sort of “Steampunk” kind of fantasy world in which magic powers mechanical devices and opens portals but it’s also a world cleaved between the “haves” and “have nots” and the conflict between those worlds divides friends and families. It’s a well written show with a few recognizable actors as voice talent but more importantly it is strikingly beautifully animated. It apparently took four years to realize, and despite being renewed for a second season, the producers have already said another season is at least two years away. Hopefully they can maintain the quality of animation and make it worth the wait.


Oh, we're going to talk about Bruno.

Encanto
Disney+
Set in a magical Colombian village, this animated movie is about an enchanted family where each generation discovers a magical ability they share with their family and the prosperity of the village. All but one of the family received an enchanted gift, the easy going Mirabel, who is happy to celebrate her sisters, aunts and uncles until her lack of magic threatens to pull the family apart (or something). This animated musical shows a level of quality usually reserved for Pixar projects (also part of the Disney family), and apart from the animation, it also has some standout musical numbers, like the virally spread “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”. The popularity of the songs isn’t too surprising, given the composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was one of the creative talents behind the successful Broadway show, Hamilton.


Riz Ahmed as Ruben.

Sound of Metal
Crave
Imagine your life is music. Not just your job but also all of your personal relationships. Then one day, that slight ringing in your ears becomes a rapidly developing deafness. Riz Ahmed is excellent as the drummer Ruben whose world starts coming apart when, already struggling with sobriety, he discovers he’s losing his hearing. Desperate to save his relationship to both music and his partner, he finds a community where deafness and substance abuse are treated together. Ruben submits to his new reality but still holds on to the hope that a cochlear implant surgery can resurrect his old life. There are too many lessons and journeys to be considered here but just know this is an excellent film that gives insight into a world few of us know but also into emotions we can all recognize.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Lil' Sleep


Lots of little sleeps.

As we drove from Peterborough to our AirBnB reservation, the September darkness was already well established over the small highway. I'd forgotten just how dark a rural road could be. The darkness on an unknown route only heightened my anxiety that we would be arriving late. The latest check-in time was set at 9:00 PM but by Google's ever-knowing, all-seeing wisdom, our arrival would be closer to 9:15 PM. Still, fifteen minutes didn't seem such a great sin. When we did arrive as the GPS had predicted, we were worried that the host had left as all of the lights in the house were off. We knocked on the door and checked our phones by the light of the motion-sensitive porch light. It was roughly 9:20 PM when the host appeared at the door, clearly in some annoyance and apparently having just got up out of bed. "I had a headache and you guys were late so I couldn't wait anymore and went to bed." she said with hand held to furrowed brown and a head full of pillow brushed hair.

"My god." I thought to myself, "she went to bed just after 9 PM and fell deeply asleep in less than fifteen minutes?" I was more shocked that an adult would go to bed at 9 PM than anything else I may have been worried about. I mean, it wouldn't be odd for me to nod off if I were watching television at 9 at night, but upon awaking I wouldn't get up and go to bed because… well, I just awoke from a nap. 10 PM is my witching hour. It's when my mind awakens, when the creative juices start flowing. Yet, society says go to bed and science says you need about eight hours of continuous sleep. Enter pandemic.

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Sunday, February 06, 2022

Seen in January 


The mysterious vault from the Apple TV+ series, Foundation. Image via The Movie Db.

Clearly, the long nights and cold days of January meant I finished seasons I was watching months before and made time for more films, which explains how this month's listing is longer than December's. I hope you find something to amuse you après ski or a walk in the snow.



Sly and the Family Stone wow the Harlem crowd in Summer of Soul. Image via The Movie Db.

Summer of Soul
Disney+
In 1969, a summer festival took place over 6 weeks in Harlem, New York. It happened at the same time as a more famed festival in Woodstock, New York. Guess which one got all the attention. For decades footage of the Harlem music festival languished until brought to life recently. Concert scenes are intercut with contemporary interviews of some who attended and some who performed, providing greater context for what we were seeing. And what we see is great. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Sly and Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone, played through heat, sun and rain while a large appreciative crowd swayed, danced and sang along. While the festival may have been a response to the previous summer's violent protests, it also seemed a harbinger of the increasing confidence and cultural influence of Black Americans.

Big Mouth S05
Netflix
From "love bugs" to "hate worms" to a puppet-filled Christmas parody, this sometimes crass, sometimes sweet animated comedy from Nick Kroll (and others) continues to be worthy, if somewhat more "ribald" companion piece to Netflix's other adolescent sex comedy series, Sex Education.

The Suicide Squad
Crave
This second version of the previous "Suicide Squad" is greatly improved by writer/director James Gunn. If you don't already know, the premise is that a lower tier of DC Comic villains are released from prison to form a team to do dirty work for the government. This dirty work offers some no-win situation against all odds that is only complicated by an explosive device implanted in the villains' necks in case they go "off book" or step out of line (thus the title, The Suicide Squad). Despite the improved writing and film making that embraces the absurdity of the premise and characters (that range from trained assassins to a talking shark-man hybrid), this film still didn't offer that much of anything new. John Cena as "Peacemaker", a killer who would "murder every last man, woman and child for peace" is a surprise standout, which is probably what led to his spinoff series on HBO.

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