Monday, November 15, 2021

Seen in October

Marvel's What If… asks all the big (nerd) questions. Image via The Movie Db

October rolled over me like a fever dream. Hot. Cold. Done. Did that just happen? It can't be? The leaves are still on the trees? Believe it or not, October saw me attend a film festival in real life and go to an actual movie theatre for the first time in over eighteen months, since March, 2020 (when we saw Parasite). Here's what I saw, streamed and in a real live theatre.

What If… S01
Marvel's lively animated series attempts to open our minds to a vast, prismatic "multi-verse": a reality where infinite parallel universes co-exist providing their writers an opportunity to play with well established characters and scenarios and twist them like so much wind-blown laundry on the line. What if Peggy Carter jumped into the experiment to create a super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers? What if Doctor Strange had become obsessed with saving the love of his life? What if Ultron, the artificial life form created by Tony Stark, had defeated The Avengers? Et cetera, et cetera. On one hand, this series brings to life a fan-loved comic book series, while on the other it provides Marvel the ultimate "out" and a way to re-invent any of their character franchises. One problem with any Marvel film is because they've created this world where anything can happen, they've lowered the stakes so much, it becomes hard to care. While each episode is a fun romp through the Marvel Universe's canon, the last two episodes are probably the wild ride you've been waiting for. Jeffrey Wright is a highlight of the series for me, as he voices the character of The Watcher. The Watcher isn't a pervy creep hiding behind a bush, but a cosmic being who observes various worlds… from behind a cosmic bush? Anyway, the show's look and animation style is pretty great and it's all a bit of fun, though as each 30-minute felt longer, I'm guessing a lot of people would find it tedious so this is probably for fans only.

The Procession
A stylish animated short about a woman speaking from the afterlife to her grieving husband who is struggling to cope through his family's funeral traditions.

Ted Lasso S02
Apple TV+
I've read a smattering of Internet comments and articles on how this show addresses "toxic masculinity" and now I'd like a turn. Yes, season one of this show was a charming comic salve about an American football coach, played by Jason Sudekis, struggling to coach an English Football club, but it had little to no depth and I'm not sure it deserved its tsunami of Emmy nominations. Season two, however is something different. A lot of the show focusses either on characters like Ted Lasso as an alternative to aggressive male stereotypes or, toxically masculine stereotypes addressing why they are the way they are. There are also characters becoming better versions of their masculine selves. A surprisingly emotional moment after a devastating team loss leads to one such confrontation. While three or four male characters work to redefine their masculinity within the sporting world, the two main female leads learn how they can defy female stereotypes to become captains of business without giving up on being feminine. Meanwhile, yet another male lead, initially sweet and mild mannered, tires of being the pussycat in the lion's den (or puppy in the Diamond Dogs) and learns success is found by becoming the very a-hole he despised.  That said, Ted Lasso has become a much better program than the one fêted for its original season.
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Sunday, November 07, 2021

It Was(n't) a Very Good Year

My dad by a river's edge, before I was born. Date unknown, photographer, presumably my mother.

A piece of luggage, I suppose, is a fitting place to find a memory. As I packed a rarely used garment bag (I hardly ever travel with a suit) with my costume for Halloween night, I thought to reduce some weight by removing the laptop liner. Unexpectedly, there were some items still inside the insert’s many pockets. Mostly there were bandages for foot blisters which I painfully discovered were common when I travel. This is probably because I ride a bike everywhere, and on trips where walking is more common, it turns out I’m a bit of a tenderfoot. There was also a faded receipt.

At first I thought it was an overlooked business expense but then I saw the time and date and instantly knew what it was.

Tim Horton’s Toronto Int’l Airport,
JAN07 '14   9:27 AM

It was the day I travelled back to St. John’s for my father’s funeral.

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Friday, October 29, 2021

Road Tripping

Road trips used to be a lot harder.

In August I flew back to Newfoundland. It was the most expensive flight I’ve purchased in years. The flight was delayed twice and, if you count the train ride to Pearson, the wait at the gate and the time filling out COVID documentation once I landed, I was wearing a mask and breathing with difficultly for over seven hours. This is how we travel now. Not by hook or by crook but by cautious and respectful steps.

In contrast, in September, Julia and I took a road trip a few hours outside of Toronto where we listened to our own music and podcasts, took our own time, took the road less travelled, snacked on our snacks and spoke and laughed entirely unmasked.

I’m not generally a fan of the road trip by car. The stress of driving on a 400-series Ontario highway combined with junk food, intermittent radio, carefully timed bathroom breaks, not to mention other idiot drivers, all while sealed inside a ton or so of steel, glass and plastic seems more like torture by boredom than fun. By comparison, nothing comes close to the thrill and genuine freedom of heading out on the open road with just your bike and a couple of stuffed panniers. When you bike it takes a day to cover the same distance you might go in an hour by car but you remember every minute of that day and every kilometre of that journey. It is so visceral. The sun or (god forbid) rain on your cheeks, the aromas in your nose, the wind buffeting you, the sounds from roadside woods or creeks all become unforgettable. The journey isn’t just the way you got somewhere on your vacation but it is the vacation.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Welcome to the Working Week 

What breed am I? Couch potato.

It was another long day full of meetings, conversations, planning and deadlines. Another late supper and another day that ended on the couch flipping between late night talking heads and their celebrity guests. The THC/CBD oil was starting to kick when I decided I'd had enough and stood up to head to bed. As I usually do, I checked my phone to see when my first meeting of the next day would be. Oddly, there were no meetings  because, as I came to realize, I was looking at Saturday in my calendar. Only then did it occur to me that it was Friday night. This is a day that shall live in infamy. The time I forgot it was Friday.

You often hear retired people forgetting what day of the week it is, because, well, why would it matter? I can sometimes picture the same thing happening to me but it never occurred to me that I might not remember what day it was because I was so busy.

The affluence of doing absolutely nothing is something I cherish. I realize I live easier than most but I don’t feel “rich” or wealthy. I think of the wealthy as those who don’t need to work to pay for their lifestyle and they don’t have to work to even build more wealth. "Money makes money," as they say. Yet it occurred to me that the freedom to do nothing but lie around listening to podcasts, flipping through a magazine or a book, or watching a film is a kind of wealth many cannot experience. 

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Friday, October 15, 2021

Seen in Augustember 

The lady arrives, in First Cow. Image via The Movie Db.
I've been lax in my accounting of films and television I've watched this summer and now autumn. Who knows what temporal anomaly I've fallen into but there are parts of life that often take precedence over tracking what I've been watching from the nest of my couch. Thus this attempt to catch up.

In August
Locked Down
This is a film about the COVID lockdown, set during the lockdown, filmed during the lockdown about a relationship breakdown. It’s also a heist film. Imagine that just as you and your life partner had called it quits on your long term relationship, you and everyone else has been ordered to stay at home in quarantine. This is the situation that Linda (Anne Hathaway) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejifor) find themselves in. After weeks of trying to avoid each other in the same London townhouse events occur that find them both struggling to continue while separate  opportunities converge into one. Linda is charged with emptying the famed Harrod’s department store as part of a COVID shutdown, including a valuable gem, while Paxton is a driver assigned to do the pickup. The wheels are set in motion for an unique heist. The madness of the early months of quarantine are accurately captured; Paxton spending days in sweats with unkempt hair, Linda over-consuming white wine in between attending video call for work. Yet, somehow the thrill and juice of the heist feels missing. Perhaps the filmmakers, while working under pandemic protocols, lost the verve to create art and fell beneath the cloud of COVID itself. Who could blame them?

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, in First Cow, no, wait, that's First Man. Image via The Movie Db.
First Man
Ryan Gosling plays famed astronaut Neil Armstrong from his early days as a gifted engineer up to the point of his first steps on the moon. This depiction of his life is framed by the personal loss of his daughter, through the alienation of his family due to the demands of being an early NASA astronaut, up to the fateful moment when he uttered the words, “…one small step for man.” It took many people to put a human on the moon, and Armstrong’s story is just one but he was also an exceptional person on a team of exceptional people.

Amazon Prime
Kate Beckinsale is Lindy, someone who’s anger management treatment includes self-administered shock therapy. She also seems to be a highly skilled fightet/bouncer. This odd combination is just the grist to set in motion a series of increasingly violent set pieces. In the end, her journey to find the killer of a new boyfriend is a ruse. Dear filmmakers, we know how it feels to be deceived and manipulated, unfortunately we can’t just zap ourselves out of our anger.

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Saturday, September 11, 2021


Procession of the pope of fools. Édouard de Beaumont, 1844


This is a word that was new to me. It appeared in an article about one of the many new books in the growing genre about the 45th president of the Disunited States, and was used to describe that administration. It means a form of government run by the least competent or least suitable citizens (from the Greek "Kakistos" for "worst" + "cracy).  I have to admit that I had assumed the proper word for this was Idiocracy from the title of Mike Judge's unfortunately prophetic 2006 film. Despite that, I immediately felt the word’s power and comedy. Look at all those “K's”. Words with "k" are the funniest words, so says comedy expert Krusty the Clown (along with Neil Simon and H. L. Mencken) . Pity poor Kazakhstan who will never be taken seriously, only because the country's name has too many k's in its name (Canada is only one k away from being a total laugh-riot).

Over the last sixteen months or so, when scientists and health professionals have been embattled by onslaughts of disinformation, conspiracy and outright lies, it occurred to me that we not only lack trusted figures in authority but that even if we did, who would listen? It should be noted that as countries like the US, Canada and the UK have had 70-75% of its citizens have been partially vaccinated against COVID-19 and one would assume that those same people would want to be fully vaccinated. Considering that some people can’t risk vaccination due to a medical condition or that many others don’t have the means to get to a vaccination centre or book a vaccination because they don’t have Internet access that means less than 20% doesn’t want to be vaccinated. Sure some are “vaccine hesitant” but they make a surprisingly small percentage while the significant rest are really “anti-vaxxers”. Thus they are making it harder to get over the 90% herd immunity marker (though we aren’t counting grade-school-aged kids not able to get the vaccine so that 90% vaccination number may not be accurate).

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